Rakhine’s other Mus­lims seek lib­er­a­tion via iden­ti­fi­ca­tion

The Myanmar Times - - News - THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­times.com

LIKE their bet­ter-known fel­low fol­low­ers of Is­lam who self-iden­tify as Ro­hingya, mi­nor­ity Ka­man Mus­lims are hope­ful that their lives will im­prove un­der the Na­tional League for Democ­racy gov­ern­ment.

The dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two Mus­lim groups – the for­mer largely state­less, the lat­ter os­ten­si­bly recog­nised as en­ti­tled to the rights of full cit­i­zen­ship – has been more the­ory than re­al­ity for thou­sands of Ka­man who have strug­gled to ob­tain iden­tity cards and are of­ten sub­ject to some of the same re­stric­tions that the per­se­cuted Ro­hingya have en­dured.

Ka­man politi­cians are work­ing to change that, how­ever, with a re­newed push to see na­tional ID cards is­sued to those who lack them. A meet­ing to dis­cuss ID is­suance to Ka­man Mus­lims in Sit­twe is slated with a lo­cal im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer in the com­ing days.

“We got an ap­point­ment with the lo­cal im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer to dis­cuss ID cards for the Ka­man from Sit­twe. Around 2000 Ka­man ap­plied for ID cards in 2014 but only 38 peo­ple got the ID card,” said U Tin Hlaing Win, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Ka­man Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Party (KNDP).

Young Ka­man del­e­gates to an Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence held at the end of last month raised the is­sue at that fo­rum, telling The Myan­mar Times that be­ing mis­taken for “Ben­galis” – a term many use to de­scribe the Ro­hingya, im­ply­ing they are il­le­gal im­mi­grants – could pre­vent Ka­man Mus­lims from freely trav­el­ling.

“As far as I’m con­cerned, our big­gest prob­lem is get­ting na­tional ID cards to prove that we are Ka­man, to travel freely for ed­u­ca­tion or busi­ness mat­ters,” said Ko Sett Paing Soe of the Ka­man Youth Alert As­so­ci­a­tion. “Af­ter the con­flict in Rakhine [State], the sit­u­a­tion be­came worse than be­fore.”

More than 100,000 peo­ple, mostly Ro­hingya but also pop­u­la­tions of Ka­man and Rakhine Bud­dhists, were dis­placed by the 2012 vi­o­lence, which pit­ted the state’s ma­jor­ity Bud­dhists against its mi­nor­ity Mus­lims.

“We are eth­nic Ka­man, from among the 135 eth­nic groups recog­nised by the gov­ern­ment. We are so sad be­cause peo­ple are think­ing of us as Ben­gali,” said Ma Aye Myat Mon, a 25-year-old eth­nic Ka­man woman, re­fer­ring to the fact that Ka­man are enu­mer­ated as one of Myan­mar’s “of­fi­cial” eth­nic­i­ties, while self-iden­ti­fy­ing Ro­hingya are not.

U Tin Hlaing Win said there was rea­son for op­ti­mism un­der the new gov­ern­ment, with ID cards re­cently is­sued to Ka­man Mus­lims in the is­land town of Ram­bre.

“Now the NLD gov­ern­ment gave ID cards to Ka­man peo­ple from Ram­bre. That’s a ba­sic right of eth­nic peo­ple. We are not for­eign­ers,” he said.

In a pa­per pre­sented at the Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence last month, the Ka­man del­e­gates said most Ka­man peo­ple from Ram­bre con­tinue to live in IDP camps, as they have done since the 2012 con­flict.

U Tin Hlaing Win added, “It’s an im­por­tant mat­ter to get ID cards for peo­ple who live in Rakhine, a con­flict zone of re­li­gious and Ben­gali af­fairs. We Ka­man are a mi­nor­ity group among the Rakhine and Ben­galis. If we can’t prove our­selves as Ka­man, they will call us Ben­gali or In­dian. We need strong iden­ti­fy­ing proof.”

In Thandwe town­ship, about 4000 Ka­man peo­ple have ap­plied to be scru­ti­nised and is­sued IDs. Most eth­nic Ka­man in Rakhine State live in Sit­twe, Kyauk­phyu and Thandwe town­ships, as well as Yan­bye town.

Es­ti­mates of how many Ka­man live in Myan­mar vary widely, with of­fi­cial fig­ures from the 2014 cen­sus not yet re­leased.

More than 100,000 peo­ple are thought to hold gov­ern­ment-is­sued na­tional ID cards iden­ti­fy­ing them as Ka­man, but U Aye Maung, a for­mer MP and chair of the Arakan Na­tional Party, said the ex­is­tence of “fake Ka­man” skewed that fig­ure.

“They are recog­nised as a mi­nor­ity of Rakhine’s peo­ple who be­lieve in Is­lam. They should have the right to be pro­tected but of­fi­cial pop­u­la­tion num­bers are sus­pect,” U Aye Maung said.

KNDP re­search in 2013 es­ti­mated the Ka­man pop­u­la­tion to be about 50,000. The party’s gen­eral sec­re­tary shed some light on what may be one rea­son for the dis­crep­an­cies.

“Ac­cord­ing to our re­search and knowl­edge trac­ing fam­ily trees, some Ka­man iden­tity card hold­ers were Rakhine plus Ben­gali or Rakhine plus In­dian, not Ka­man. It [iden­tity prob­lems] should be solved by three groups – we Ka­man, the Rakhine and im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties. This prob­lem shouldn’t be blamed only on Ka­man peo­ple,” said U Tin Hlaing Win.

Even ID-hold­ing Ka­man some­times saw rights de­nied un­der the pre­vi­ous junta.

“Dur­ing the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment pe­riod, the mil­i­tary by force or­dered that Ka­man peo­ple did not have the right to travel like other na­tion­al­i­ties; we’ve needed Form No 4 even though we have gen­uine na­tional ID cards,” said U Tin Hlaing Win, re­fer­ring to a doc­u­ment al­low­ing travel.

“Now the new gov­ern­ment has brought some changes for trav­el­ling around the coun­try but there are still prob­lems be­cause trans­porta­tion isn’t gov­ern­ment-owned. We are just de­mand­ing our eth­nic rights. We should en­joy equal rights as other eth­nic peo­ple do,” he added.

‘As far as I’m con­cerned, our big­gest prob­lem is get­ting na­tional ID cards to prove that we are Ka­man.’

Ko Sett Paing Soe Ka­man youth ac­tivist

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