The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide by Azeem Ibrahim- Review

Title: The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide

Author: Azeem Ibrahim

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 235

Price: Rs. 599

Everyone talks about the Rohingya community and people do play politics on their misery. The fact is the Rohingyas are from the Myanmar and they are persecuted. It is one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. Multi-ethnic Myanmar (former Burma) is moving towards democracy. The people are mainly Buddhist. There are more than 40,000 Rohingyas in India. There is a move to deport most of them back to Myanmar. The matter is also before the Supreme Court of India. People in India do talk about Rohingyas. But, opinion is divided on how to deal with them.

More than five and a half lakh Rohingyas have fled their homes in Myanmar and took shelter in Bangladesh since 25th August to escape violence in the wake of a military operation launched after Rohingya militants attacked security posts in Rakhine state. They are Muslims. The authorities in Myanmar prefer to call them by any other name but Rohingyas. They claim that the Rohingyas are in fact Bengalis. Over the years, the Rohingyas have become stateless people.

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide written by Azeem Ibrahim narrates the suffering of the community. Myanmar became independent on January 4, 1948 and it was considered as a rich country. Myanmar is primarily ruled by Burman. Non-Burman ethnic groups like Shan, Karen, Rohingyas are largely inhabited in various parts. Since independence, Burma is facing serious ethnical crisis. There was lot of expectations from Nobel peace winner and de facto Aung San Suu Kyi. But, she is not pro-active on the Rohingyas issue. The author is too critical of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Rakhine province was known as Arakans prior to British conquest. In 1942 ethnic violence, the earlier mixed population of Rohingyas and Rakhines (Mainly Buddhist) became separated. Now most of the Rohingyas live in the Northern districts.

The author says Rohingyas faced restrictions immediately after independence. But, retained a degree of political involvement even in 1990 but it was eroded in the period up to the partial restoration of democracy in 2010 and since then. In the present parliament, there is no Muslim parliamentarian.

In all these years, movement for the restoration of democracy was going on. The 1988 revolt was crushed by military. Military junta was forced to hold elections in 1990 which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD) won easily. But, the military annulled the elections announcing that the military junta will remain in power until a new constitution was created. Many of the NLD leaders flee to India, Thailand and other places and took shelter. Again, in September 2007, there were massive protests known as Saffron Revolution. Even it was suppressed. But, it brought together NLD and Buddhist monks. NLD boycotted elections in 2010 as many of their leaders were in prison. Following mass movement and international pressure military junta was formally dissolved in 2011 and by-elections were held in forty-five constituencies, NLD participated and won forty-three.

NLD won landslide victory in 2015 elections. But, Aung San Suu Kyi could not become President because of the constitution created by military. It bars people with foreign spouses from the top job. Obviously, such anti-people provision was made to keep Aung San Suu Kyi away from becoming President.

In a preface to the South Asian Edition, Azeem writes,” She (Aung San Suu Kyi) claimed that ‘despite all our efforts we could not stop conflict’ when she has done nothing since the earlier sectarian violence in 2016 to deal with the situation. She claims that there have been ‘no clearing operations since 5 September’ when western journalists based in Bangladesh report seeing fresh fires in villages in Myanmar.” The persecution of Rohingyas was going on all these years and they continued to flee to Bangladesh and Malaysia.

The persecution of the Rohingyas must be stopped. Those Rohingyas who have fled the country of their origin should be taken back. On 2nd November, Aung San Suu Kyi visited the Rakhine province. It is believed that she only said three things to the people: they should live peacefully, the government is there to help them, and they should not quarrel among each other.  The reality is she does not have full authority. Still, military plays an important role. The International community has high expectations from the Nobel peace winner. India has offered development assistance to Rakhine state. Understandably, Rohingyas will not return to Myanmar unless they get concrete assurance from the Myanmar regime. Keeping in mind international laws Bangladesh also cannot compel refugees to return to Myanmar.

The countries of the South and South-East Asia needs to realise the importance of peaceful coexistence. They must respect various ethnic groups and minority religions. The multiculturalism must be preserved. The Myanmar government must ensure that the Rohingyas regain proper citizenship. It is also the responsibility of international community to see that Rohingyas are settled in the state of Rakhine with dignity.

The book gives details of how Rohingyas are being discriminated since independence and Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for democracy. The book helps in removing many misconceptions about Rohingyas.

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