No matter what term may be used for the planned and organised manner in which atrocities are being unleashed on the Rohingyas in Myanmar, it is nothing short of genocide. Their houses are being razed to the ground, they are being killed indiscriminately, they are being set on fire, and women are being raped en masse. Some try to term this a communal conflict, clashes between Buddhists and Muslims. But that is not so. The Hindus among Rohingyas are facing the same torture and oppression.
The Myanmar government are spreading propaganda that the Rohingyas are involved in militancy. It is as if they are linked to the IS and so must be annihilated. The killing being unleashed by the government is racist genocide, it is fascist. The majority in Myanmar want to drive out the minority Rohingyas and grab their property, land, businesses, homes and everything to amass their own wealth. They are looters.
Driving away Rohingyas is nothing new. The military autocrats of Myanmar were quite happy to do this. It had been hoped that with the advent of democracy, this would end. With international pressure and a mass uprising within the country, the military rulers had to step down from power. In their stead came the ‘daughter of democracy’ Aung San Suu Kyi who was bestowed with the Nobel Prize for Peace. But the fate of the Rohingyas did not change. On the contrary, their sufferings increased. The elected government has no opponents within the country or outside and so quite enthusiastically have commenced on driving away the weak Rohingyas and replacing them with people of their own. The unlawful, occupational and autocratic rulers had an iota of self-awareness. The legitimate, elected and popular government has no such compunctions.
Aung San Suu Kyi was initially silent, but later became vocal. However, her voice was not for the victims, but for the victimisers. She has a nationalist stance. This nationalism is racist, and is capitalist in nature. In the past Hitler was the epitome of such nationalism. Presently Donald Trump has taken the same path. We saw Yahya Khan in the same light. Suu Kyi had been isolated when imprisoned by the military junta. She is no longer alone. She is free now, and the capitalists and fascists around the world are with her.
Capitalism has now taken on the shape of brazen fascism. The world over, the beneficiaries of fascism are oppressing the deprived in every possible way. It’s the same in Myanmar.
The oppressive government says that the Rohingyas are miscreants. In 1971, all the people of Bangladesh were overtly or covertly miscreants in the eyes of the Punjabi forces. Only a handful of people were their collaborators, though they even viewed them as potential miscreants. Annihilation of ‘miscreants’ was carried out in full-swing in 1971. That was genocide. What the Myanmar government is doing now is also genocide. Large numbers of people from Bangladesh, around 10 million, fled to India in fear of their lives. It was not easy for India to bear the burden of these refugees, but they gave shelter to these distressed people, fed them, took care of them. They were aware that these people didn’t come out of choice, they had fled for their lives.
The Indian government’s effort was to ensure that the Bangladeshis could return in safety and dignity to their country. They carried out diplomatic and political efforts to this end. They let the world know what was going on, they garnered international sympathy. They gave responsibility to international aid organisations and took their help. They hoped the refugees would be able to return soon. The problem was resolved in nine months.
The distressed Bangladeshis were huge in number then, but the governments of the capitalist world did not come forward. It was the people of those countries who were for the people of Bangladesh. That was only natural. But the people of the world did not fully know of the atrocities that were being carried out. It was not possible for the media to give adequate coverage. The media was in the hands of the capitalists and the capitalists all had the same narrative, that miscreants were breaking up the country and needed to be brought under control. The journalists were sympathetic and, as far as they could, let the world know of the persecution.
The Rohingyas are unfortunate in many ways. They are not many in number, they are extremely poor and they live in a neglected corner of the world. The world doesn’t keep track of them, does not give them any importance. There is a lack of people to speak out on their behalf. On top of that, the government which is persecuting them is known to be democratic. It is democratic only in the sense that it was elected to power. It has been proved time and again that elected does not mean democratic, and it has been proved yet again in Myanmar. At least India had been by the side of the Bangladeshis, but even neighbouring Bangladesh is not with the Rohingyas. That is the extent of their misfortune.
The predicament of the Rohingyas has been reduced to statistics. It’s all about how many have arrived, how many are in no man’s land, how many dead bodies have floated up on the river Naaf, but there is no news of what is actually happening within the country. Journalists are not being allowed to enter. The interest of the UN agencies is limited and even they are not being allowed to carry out inspections.
Thousand of refuges are streaming to Europe from Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, some paths open and some closed. Many are drowning and many are dying of disease. At least the world is aware about their humanitarian crisis, but there is no way to know the fate of the Rohingyas. The photograph of a Syrian infant lying dead, face down by the the area, have moved the world. They condemned the killers. Innumerable Rohingya infants faced the same brutal fate, but the world remains ignorant. If news of them does reach the world, they are not real children, but statistics.
The evicted Rohingyas are streaming to the Bangladesh border. They have come before, in hundreds, now they are coming in thousands. It is difficult for Bangladesh to accommodate so many Rohingyas. What will Bangladesh do? There is no way to remain aloof. Bangladesh is trying to resist the stream, to push the distressed people back across the border, but is failing to do so. They will not be able to do so. Bangladesh has no choice but to provide shelter to the Rohingya refugees. Firstly, this would be inhuman. Secondly, this would not be possible.
The people of Bangladesh are aware of why people become refugees. They can never forget 1971. Hundreds of thousands of Bengalis had become refugees, not for work or any benefit, but in fear of their lives. It is the same for the Rohingyas. Faced with genocide, they are leaving behind their property, homes, even their loved ones and fleeing for their lives. They are being killed, lost, burnt to death. They are carrying dead bodies, hapless infants and the elderly, in search of safety and shelter. Boats are sinking, lives are lost. If they are not given shelter, what will they do? If we do not give shelter to the distressed Rohingyas today, we will not only be detached from our own history, but from inborn humanity as well.
Shelter, however, is just a temporary matter. It is important that the genocide halts and that the people can return to their homes and resume normal lives. For this the first thing that must be done is to uphold their plight to the world. The issue must be taken to the United Nations and to the Security Council. It must be highlighted that this is not communal conflict, but carefully planned genocide. The so-called international community must be motivated to put pressure on the autocratic government of Myanmar to halt the genocide and take back the refugees. Needless to say, it is urgently required to ask the international relief and rehabilitation agencies for practical assistance.
The main responsibility lies with the government, but the government must be urged to emerge from their inertia and carry out its responsibility with no further delay. Who will do this? There are those who view Rohingyas as a burden and have nothing to say about what is to be done. They may say, at the most, reinforce security at the borders and push away the refugees more forcefully. This is no solution. The streams of these fleeing people are more forceful than any tide. They will break all dams, even human ones, to enter. Whether it is termed as ‘trespassing’ or anything else, they will come, just as they already have come. The hard-hearted may call the Rohingyas low class who will get involved in the drug trade, militancy, theft and robbery and may even pose and voters and enter politics. They forget that that the distressed Rohingyas did not become refugees to carry out all this. They became refugees in the face of racist government’s rifles. They have not come to Bangladesh to carry out crime. It’s the local opportunists who are using them for their own interests. There is no work for the refugees, no means of living and so they fall prey to these opportunists. The real criminal is the Myanmar government who are carrying out the genocide. Just as the Pakistan government rid the country of Hindus and now is driving away the Christian, the Myanmar government is even more speedily and openly driving out the Rohingyas. They will be successful in this mission unless they are stopped.
It is the people of conscience within Bangladesh that have to motivate the government to carry out its duty. It is those who are aware of capitalism and how the avaricious capitalists are behind the refugee problem in Myanmar and elsewhere in the world. They know there is no difference between the brutal Pakistan forces of 1971 and the armed forces of Myanmar in 2017. They also know it is the capitalist world that that endangered the Earth with climate change. The anti-capitalists have much to do. The main task is to break down the capitalist system and establish a system of social proprietorship. Standing up for the helpless people of Myanmar is certainly a stand against capitalism. This is the responsibility of the leftists in Bangladesh and the rest of the world.
* Serajul Islam Chowdhury is Emeritus Professor, Dhaka University and convenor of the national committee for the observance of the October Revolution centennial. This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.