Ro­hingya refugee writ­ers dial into Myan­mar po­etry slam

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Yangon, Myan­mar - Di­vided by ha­tred but united over the writ­ten word, Ro­hingya po­ets in Bangladesh­i refugee camps joined Bud­dhist bards in Myan­mar by video link as part of a ground­break­ing po­etry fes­ti­val in a coun­try reel­ing from geno­cide al­le­ga­tions.

Five Ro­hingya writ­ers took part in the three-day ‘Po­etry for Hu­man­ity’ event in Yangon, with three speak­ing live by video link to a packed room while two had sent pre-recorded readings, fear­ing their stut­ter­ing con­nec­tion would not hold up.

They drew ap­plause for verses on the blood­shed that forced hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya to flee their homes in north­ern Rakhine state - and also for their re­silience.

‘ My words are taller than the walls put be­tween Bud­dhists and Mus­lims. My words are stronger than the ha­tred de­signed for me,’ reads one verse from writer Mayyu Ali’s poem My Words.

He fled with his fam­ily to the Bangladesh­i camps where he has helped bring to­gether a group of around 150 refugees sharing a pas­sion for po­etry.

“I want to show Burmese peo­ple that the Ro­hingya are also Burmese. We also love Myan­mar,” the 27 year old said.

Po­ets once vexed Myan­mar’s cen­sor­ship-ob­sessed for­mer mil­i­tary junta.

Now younger writ­ers are keep­ing the art form alive as a form of dis­sent un­der the civil­ian gov­ern­ment of Aung San Suu Kyi, which has de­fended the crack­down against the Ro­hingya.

The fes­ti­val came in a week of height­ened sen­si­tiv­ity over the cri­sis.

The In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice ruled on Thurs­day there was enough ev­i­dence to pur­sue al­le­ga­tions that Myan­mar com­mit­ted geno­cide against the Ro­hingya, and or­dered the coun­try to com­ply with ur­gent mea­sures to pro­tect the mi­nor­ity.

Some 740,000 fled over the bor­der to es­cape a bloody mil­i­tary crack­down in 2017 that is thought to have killed thou­sands.

Yet the mi­nor­ity evoke lit­tle sym­pa­thy in Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar, where even the word ‘Ro­hingya’ is taboo.

Many in­stead re­fer to them pe­jo­ra­tively as ‘Ben­gali’, sug­gest­ing they are il­le­gal in­ter­lop­ers from Bangladesh.

Fes­ti­val or­gan­iser Maung Saungkha, who was jailed for six months in 2016 for writ­ing a poem deemed defam­a­tory to the for­mer pres­i­dent, says ac­knowl­edg­ing the word ‘Ro­hingya’ is a first step to­wards prevent­ing more hu­man rights abuses.

“We hope peo­ple will learn about equal rights and about treat­ing dif­fer­ent peo­ple in a hu­mane way.”

Forty po­ets from across Myan­mar re­cite works in var­i­ous lan­guages in­clud­ing Burmese, but the fo­cus is on re­con­nect­ing the es­tranged Mus­lim mi­nor­ity.

Eth­nic Rakhine writer Won Roe trav­elled espe­cially from his home state, where deep di­vi­sions pre­vail be­tween the mainly Bud­dhist Rakhine and re­main­ing Ro­hingya Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.

Rakhine mobs stand ac­cused of com­mit­ting atroc­i­ties against the Ro­hingya along­side se­cu­rity forces.

But Won Roe is con­vinced po­etry can act as a ‘bridge be­tween com­mu­ni­ties’ and worked closely, if vir­tu­ally, with Mayyu Ali ahead of the event.

“I see him as a poet, a friend,” Won Roe said.


A Bud­dhist monk at an event in which Ro­hingya po­ets re­cited po­etry via a video link in Yangon on Satur­day

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