A his­tory of per­se­cu­tion: The Ro­hingya Mus­lims

By some ac­counts, they are de­scen­dants of Arab, Turk­ish or Mon­gol traders and sol­diers

Gulf News - - Asia/ Philippines -

Nearly 400,000 Ro­hingya Mus­lims have fled re­newed vi­o­lence in Myan­mar, cross­ing the bor­der in Bangladesh in waves. It is the lat­est chap­ter in a long and tu­mul­tuous his­tory of the Ro­hingya, the world’s largest state­less pop­u­la­tion.

Be­fore the most re­cent surge of vi­o­lence, there were more than one mil­lion Ro­hingyas in Myan­mar’s restive Rakhine state. But the ques­tions of who they are, how many live in Myan­mar and when they ar­rived is hotly dis­puted, highly emo­tive and be­hind much of the cur­rent un­rest.

Here is a brief his­tory of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lims.

When did they first ar­rive in Myan­mar?

By some ac­counts, they are de­scen­dants of Arab, Turk­ish or Mon­gol traders and sol­diers who in the 15th cen­tury mi­grated to Rakhine state. Other his­to­ri­ans say they em­i­grated from Bangladesh in sev­eral waves, a widely held view among most Myan­marese. For cen­turies they lived peace­fully along­side Bud­dhists in the in­de­pen­dent king­dom.

Up­heaval en­sued from the late 18th cen­tury.

In 1784 the king­dom was con­quered by the Burmese and later by the Bri­tish fol­low­ing the first An­glo-Burmese war of 1824-1826. Un­der Bri­tish rule, a large num­ber ar­rived to work as farm­ers and later as mil­i­tary re­cruits. “In the 1830s there was a mas­sive in­flux of Mus­lim peas­ants from neigh­bour­ing Ben­gal, mostly to work in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor,” said So­phie Bois­seau du Rocher, South­east Asia ex­pert at the French In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions.

By 1912, more than 30 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion of Arakan state were Mus­lim, up from 5 per cent in 1869, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish cen­sus data cited by his­to­rian Jac­ques Lei­der.

When did ten­sions start?

Ten­sions be­tween the Ro­hingya Mus­lims and the Bud­dhists date back to the be­gin­ning of Bri­tish rule in 1824. As part of their di­vide-and-rule pol­icy, Bri­tish colonists favoured Mus­lims at the ex­pense of other groups. They re­cruited them as sol­diers dur­ing the Se­cond World War, pit­ting them against Bud­dhists aligned with the Ja­panese as the war played out on Burmese soil. Their sta­tus was for­ti­fied in 1947 when a new Con­sti­tu­tion was drafted, en­shrin­ing them with full le­gal and vot­ing rights — which would be later stripped and ren­der them state­less.

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