Poor Rohingyas can choose neither friends nor foes

Denial of equal citizenship is what unites the Hindus of Bangladesh, Rohingyas in Myanmar and Muslims in India. But all stakeholders seem to look at them through the prism of ‘Islamophobia’

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Garga Chatterjee

In West Bengal, the Rohingya issue has had some play in public discourse. There are a few Rohingya refugees in West Bengal. The Union government has announced that it considers them as illegal immigrants and not refugees and hence liable to be deported.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made her stance clear while saying that it is a humanitarian issue and she would not allow any Rohingya refugee to be deported from West Bengal. The Union government’s attitude on this humanitarian issue has been one of inhumanity, given its otherwise open-door policy on not deporting persecuted religious minorities from neighbouring states.

Thus, Sunni Muslim minorities persecuted in their homeland are not fit for even token verbal compassion compared to other persecuted religious minority groups. Like Sheikh Hasina, in the eyes of anti-Muslim Hindu communal forces, Mamata Banerjee too is a minority appeaser. The few Muslim refugees have apparently plans to completely Islamise West Bengal under the watchful and wilful actions of Mamata Banerjee, who they also accuse of being a closet Muslim.

The fantastic, bordering on the insane, claims of this political front of West Bengal feeds off partly from the Delhi’s plan of making West Bengal a vassal state, an extension of the Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan hegemonic space, partly from the pathological hatred of Muslims many of them actually harbour and partly from the action of Islamists in West Bengal.

Rohingya cause not helped by rabid protests

For example, on this Rohingya issue, multiple protests were held in West Bengal. In Kolkata, the consulate was gheraoed by students and youths. Islamists didn’t join. Some Muslims did. Various hues of Islamists held their own protests. The one by the Student Islamic Organization (SIO) held banners which talked about ‘genocide of Muslims in Burma’, without even mentioning the term Rohingya!

This is ironic because it at this point the crisis still does not fulfil the internationally accepted definition of genocide, neither is it only Muslims who have been affected among the Rohingyas and Burma is now Myanmar, a name change that reflects an ideological shift.

Another such protest by Islamists in Kolkata had a prominent Urdu-speaking loudmouth, with the self-certified authority of talking on the behalf of the 95% Bengali speaking Muslims of Bengal, conjuring up gory images of mass violence. He said that ‘our’ (‘Muslims’ as he imagines them) people might lay down 72 lives but will make sure that the other side has one lakh funerals.

Such things were said in broad daylight peppered by chants of Allah Hu Akbar. One of the main organisers of this protest was also one of the main organisers of the biggest protest in Kolkata (and read the next bit carefully because this is quite amazing and shocking) in support of war criminals of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide!

These are the kind of elements and characters that the Rohingyas find to have risen in their support and that does not help the Rohingya cause. But the utterly friendless Rohingyas cannot practically do much about it, even if they wanted to. And that is the tragedy of the Rohingyas.

Rohingyas victims of the scum of the earth

The Christian fundamentalist nonchalance of USA, the imperial Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology of the Indian Union, the local variants of a hardline pan-Islamist ideology in Bangladesh, West Bengal and in Rakhine state and Burmese Buddhist ethno-nationalism of Myanmar are the major narrative shapers here among the stakeholders. It is an intersection of stupendous hate from an assemblage that collectively represents a significant section of the scum of the earth. The Rohingyas are in the middle of it. And every other ideological ‘enemy’ of the different stakeholders are smaller co-victims.

And yet, the Rohingya issue and all the associated victims of communally inspired oppression, are also products of colonialism and the inherited political and structural nature of the successor states. And these narratives of competitive hate often miss out on the various powerless ones, counted as members of such armies of hate.

Thinker and political activist Khalid Anis Ansari of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, drives this point home – “Rohingya is an ethnic issue and a product of the constitutive violence of the nation-state in general. Homologically, it needs to be placed alongside the Tibet, Kashmir, Baloch and other similar conflicts. The framing of the Rohingya violence through the 'Islamophobic' lens (a replay of the Kashmir conflict) is part of the white imperial 'clash of civilisations' project and legitimises all right wing 'native' voices, through competition and symbiosis, thereby excluding subaltern concerns.”

History bears this out. It had different names in different times. From the Rohingyas of Myanmar to the Hindus of Bangladesh to the Muslims of Hindustan, what unites most of them is a lack of equal citizenship.

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