The Conspiracy of Silence
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.