The Con­spir­acy of Si­lence

Southasia - - The last stop - By Anees Jil­lani

T68

he two-na­tion the­ory is based on the pos­tu­late that Mus­lims and Hin­dus con­sti­tute two dis­tinct nations and the In­dian Mus­lims thus de­manded a sep­a­rate home­land for them­selves and even­tu­ally man­aged to get one within a short pe­riod of seven years af­ter the pas­sage of the March 1940 res­o­lu­tion.

If Mus­lims re­ally con­sti­tute one na­tion, then why do we have more than 55 sep­a­rate Mus­lim na­tion-states? This is a di­chotomy that I leave to you to fig­ure out. How­ever, it is noth­ing short of ironic that what to talk of all these states, Pak­istan re­fuses to ac­cept Mus­lims who end up one way or the other on its soil. This in­cludes the Afghans, the Bi­haris, the Ben­galis and Mus­lims be­long­ing to Cen­tral Asia. The predica­ment of the Bi­haris is pa­thet­i­cally sad. The Bi­haris have de­sired to come to Pak­istan for the past four decades and the coun­try con­tin­ues to refuse them en­try.

Re­cently, Mus­lims be­long­ing to Burma’s north­ern Rakhine State, called the Ro­hingyas, are be­ing sent back by one state af­ter an­other af­ter be­ing per­se­cuted by the Burmese on grounds of be­ing Mus­lim and eth­ni­cally dif­fer­ent.

Dozens of Ro­hingyas have so far been killed and close to 50,000 are now dis­placed and stay­ing in 37 camps for in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons (IDPs) in Burma as their homes are de­stroyed. Aid work­ers say the sit­u­a­tion re­mains volatile. The Ro­hingyas ur­gently re­quire food, shel­ter and med­i­cal as­sis­tance.

The sec­tar­ian cum eth­nic vi­o­lence started af­ter the rape and murder of a young Bud­dhist woman by a group of Ro­hingya Mus­lim men on May 28, fol­lowed by a counter at­tack on a bus on June 3, in which ten Mus­lims died. In an ef­fort to quell the vi­o­lence, Burmese Pres­i­dent Thein Sein de­clared a state of emer­gency in Rakhine on June 10.

The Rakhine state is lo­cated next to Bangladesh and it is thus nat­u­ral for the dis­placed to rush to it for safety. How­ever, the Dhaka gov­ern­ment is cal­lously turn­ing back all boats and refugees. Thai­land and In­dia do not want the refugees per­haps due to reli­gious rea­sons, there­fore mak- ing the Ro­hingyas a state­less community. What to talk of oth­ers, Pak­istan which pro­fesses to be an Is­lamic Repub­lic, has not said a word about the plight of these un­for­tu­nate peo­ple and the lo­cal me­dia also fails to give them due cov­er­age. If Pak­istan can­not pro­vide them asy­lum or tem­po­rary refuge, the least that it can do is to pro­vide these refugees some ma­te­rial as­sis­tance.

It goes with­out say­ing that the vi­o­lence poses a threat to Burma’s demo­cratic tran­si­tion and sta­bil­ity. It is crit­i­cal that the Burmese gov­ern­ment intensifies its ef­forts to defuse ten­sion and re­store se­cu­rity to pre­vent the vi­o­lence from spread­ing fur­ther and lifts the state of emer­gency as soon as or­der is re-es­tab­lished.

Dis­crim­i­na­tion against the Mus­lim community, par­tic­u­larly the Ro­hingyas in Rakhine State, dates back cen­turies. His­tor­i­cally, they have been de­nied cit­i­zen­ship, de­prived of free­dom of move­ment as well as other fun­da­men­tal rights. Un­der Burmese law, Rakhine’s 800,000 Ro­hingya are state­less and are not in­cluded in the coun­try’s of­fi­cial list of 135 eth­nic groups. This is a gross vi­o­la­tion of the Ro­hingyas’ univer­sal hu­man rights and the in­ter­na­tional community con­tin­ues to ig­nore their plight.

The Burmese gov­ern­ment should be asked to ini­ti­ate polic­ing ac­tion im­par­tially, in line with hu­man rights stan­dards, and with re­spect for the prin­ci­ples of le­gal­ity, pro­por­tion­al­ity and non-dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Un­der­scor­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, some Burmese have taken to the in­ter­net to ex­press their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with how the sit­u­a­tion has been por­trayed in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia. We all should ex­tend a hand in sup­port­ing Ro­hingyas in the name of hu­man­ity and ask our gov­ern­ment to take some con­crete steps to al­le­vi­ate their suf­fer­ing. Anees Jil­lani is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

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