Rohingya Crisis and the Indian Government’s Response
By Waseem Hussain Rather
There are many stateless communities in the world, but the Rohingyas in Myanmar have been described as the world’s “most persecuted minority” by the United Nations. The Rohingyas are an ethnic community mostly consisting of Muslims who have lived for centuries in Myanmar where Buddhists are in majority. The majority population of the Rohingyas live in the northern Rakhine state and many in and around Maungdow. For centuries the Rakhine was known as Arakan; it was renamed Rakhine by the state’s largest racial group Rakhine. In spite of their historical background in Myanmar according to many historians, the Myanmar government does not recognise them as citizens but considers them as stateless people. They consider them as persons who have migrated to Myanmar during the British rule. They call them as Bengali people, resident foreigners. The tragedy is that in their own country they are not considered as citizens and do not enjoy basic rights like right to freedom of movement, right to education and employment, right to property, right to marriage, etc. The Rohingya people have a different culture and language. They speak Rohingya or Ruaingga, a language that is different from other languages spoken throughout Myanmar. In Myanmar there are 135 official ethnic groups recognised by the government but the Rohingyas are not considered one of them. There were 1-1.5 million Rohingyas in Myanmar. Due to widespread persecution against the Rohingyas since late 1970s, about 1 million of Rohingyas have fled from Myanmar to different countries. For generations the Rohingyas have suffered from violence and discrimination. They faced heavy army repression in the 1970s, 1990s, 2012, 2015 and 2017. According to a UNHCR report, more than 168000 have left Myanmar since 2012. 8700 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh from October 2016 to July 2017, according to data given by International Organisation for Migration. The violence against the Rohingyas diminished in the first half of 2017. The latest cycle of violence against them started in September 2017 and the UN Refugee Agency estimated that 270,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in just two weeks of September. Since the onset of the latest violence, over 700000 Rohingyas have migrated to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar. Due to persecution, violence and crackdowns on the Rohingyas, most of them have migrated to Bangladesh. The other countries where they have migrated to are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and India. Last year the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaid Raad al-Hussein argued that the brutal crackdown by Myanmar government on the Rohingya people “seems a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”
There is no proper timeline for the Rohingyas’ arrival and stay in India but most of the Rohingyas arrived in India after the 2012 wave of violence started against them in the Rakhine state. The Indian government does not have an exact record of Rohingyas living in India. There are about 40000 Rohingyas living in India, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Most of them have reached India from Bangladesh as India does not have a border with the Rakhine state. But according to the UNHCR, there are approximately 14000 Rohingyas living in India in six different locations – Jammu, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Delhi, Nuh in Haryana’s Mewat district and Chennai. The UNHCR has given refugee status to 11000 Rohingyas and the remaining 3000 are asylum seekers. The government of India has given long term visas to 500 Rohingyas which will help them to take admission in schools and open bank accounts. Most of them lives in Jammu and Hyderabad. In an affidavit on 14 September 2017, the government of India told the Supreme Court that the Rohingyas living in India were a “threat to national security” because the government considers them illegal migrants. In 2017, MOS Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju told the parliament that all the Rohingyas in India were illegal migrants and they will be deported soon. The reaction of India towards the Rohingyas surprised many throughout the world because of India’s good record in accepting refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaid Raad al-Hussain criticised the Indian government’s stance on Rohingyas and said, “I deplore current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their state.” Even the UNHCR said that India is bound by International law to protect refugees who are in danger in their home country. While replying to an e-mail from the New Indian Express, the UNHCR office in Delhi said, “the principle of non-refoulement is considered part of a customary International law and therefore is binding on all states whether they have signed the Refugee Convention or not” (Chanda, 2017). Although India is not a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention, it has signed many International Conventions such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention against Torture, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women, Convention against Enforced disappearance and Convention on the rights of child, the Universal Declaration of Hunan Rights, New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, Bangkok Principles on Refugee Treatment. Almost all the above conventions recognise the rights of refugees and many of these conventions affirm the principle of non-refoulment.
The Indian government says that the Rohingyas in India pose a serious threat to internal and national security of India. On the other hand, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti whose party was in power in the state with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says there is no security threat from the Rohingya people and no Rohingya has been found involved in any militancy-related incident in Jammu and Kashmir. There seems to be a contradictory position between the former alliance partners on the Rohingya people in India. While the government of India told the Supreme Court that the Rohingyas in India are a security threat, it launched operation Insaniyat by sending aid to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Does that mean the Rohingyas in India are terrorists and the Rohingyas in Bangladesh are refugees? It seems that the Indian government is confused in its policies on the Rohingyas. The police departments from Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan told the NDTV that no FIR was registered against any Rohingya for any kind of terror links and no evidence of radicalisation was found amongst the Rohingya people. Assuming that some of the Rohingyas in India may have terror links, does that justify the deportation of the entire community? Such threats must be determined on a case by case basis, instead of stigmatizing the whole community.
In 2018, the Supreme Court of India had asked the Indian government to see the Rohingya issue from both the perspectives of national interest and humanitarian values. The three-member bench consisting of Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.M. Khanwilkar said that the “constitution is based on humanitarian values” and urged the government to see the Rohingya issue through the lens of the refugee sufferings. According to the Division Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, it was a ‘large issue’ and an ‘issue of great magnitude’, and therefore, the state has a big role to play, and the role of the state in such a situation ‘has to be multi- pronged’. The bench also told the government: “Do not deport, you can take action if something wrong is found” (Samaddar, 2018). But the government kept on peddling that the Rohingyas are a threat to national security. However, the government hasn’t published any evidence of Rohingyas’ involvement in terrorism. If India deports the Rohingyas to Myanmar, the Fundamental Rights and International Law will be violated. The two Fundamental Rights that will be violated are Article 14, Right to Equality (equality before law and equal protection of laws) and Article 21, Right to Freedom (right to life and personal liberty). The International Law that will be in question is the principle of non-refoulment, which says that no country can send a refugee or asylum seeker to another country where there is a threat to his/her life. Moreover, in the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Indian constitution, Article 51a urges “to promote international peace and security” and Article 51c asks “to foster respect for International Law and treaty obligations…” (Bhatia, 2017).
If the Tibetan refugees can stay in India for decades and even are allowed to form a government in exile, Tamil refugees who were responsible for the assassination of the Prime Minister can live in India, Hindus from Pakistan can get citizenship here and other select refugee groups can stay in India for years, why cannot the Rohingya refugees stay in India? K. C. Singh, a former diplomat, says that India has to take care of the Rohingya refugees who are in India till they are ready to go back, and the conditions in Myanmar allow it. At the moment they are in dire need of help. Despite not signing the Refugee Convention, India has generally never sent refugees back home if they are likely to be persecuted upon return nor has it discriminated between refugees based on their religion. This is a record India has set since centuries. So, one needs to understand the present government’s motives in turning its back on the Rohingya refugees. On humanitarian ground India cannot morally and legally deport the Rohingya people to a country where they are facing persecution, termed as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’ by the United Nations.
Photo: Waseem Hussain
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Waseem Hussain Rather is currently pursuing M.Phil. at the Centre for Diaspora Studies, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, India. His areas of interest include Political Science, Migration, and Diaspora Studies. He can be reached at email@example.com
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