Rohingya refugees: Both a pressure and a threat to Bangladesh

Dhaka,  Fri,  09 December 2016
Published : 30 Nov 2016, 19:57:19 | Updated : 30 Nov 2016, 20:01:51

Rohingya refugees: Both a pressure and a threat to Bangladesh

Jafar Ahmed Chowdhury
Wishing good luck to Myanmar and Nobel laureate Aung San Suuk Kyi this writer wrote an article in the Financial Express on November 14, 2015. After one year, the writer is writing with great shock about the alleged genocide of the Rohingyas in the Rakhain province of Myanmar. 

It was found from pictures captured by the satellite and released by  Human Rights Watch that 830 houses were gutted and more than a hundred civilian Rohingya Muslims were killed by Myanmar army during October 22 to November 10. This has led hundreds of Rohingyas to flee their homeland and try to take shelter in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is continuously trying to push them back. Still, thousands have reportedly entered the country. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has sought co-operation of international community in solving the Rohingya problem of the Rakhine province of Myanmar. Bangladesh foreign minister made this call in a meeting with foreign diplomats and representatives of international organisations in Dhaka on November 25.

Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingyas as their citizens. Even the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi terms them Bengalees. The largest population of Myanmar, the Buddhists, consider the Rohingyas illegal immigrants. There are about one million Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine province. They have no voting rights. They are not allowed to go to any place other then their own neighbourhood. They are confined to their huts. 

History suggests that Rohingya Muslims have been living in the Rakhine state for centuries. After the first Mongol invasion of Burma (now Myanmar) in 1287, there were four principal powers/kingdoms, among other small kingdoms,. Those were:  Kingdom of Ava, Hanthawaddy Kingdom, Kingdom of Mayauk-U (Arakan) and the Shan states. There were conflicts, wars and sometimes friendship among these Kingdoms.

In the 15th century, the Muslim Sultans of Bengal were very powerful. Arakan or the Kingdom of Mayauk-U had to establish good relation with the Sultan of Bengal. At that time Gaur was the capital. Narameikhla, the king of Arakan was ousted by the King of Ava in early 15th century. He took refuge in Gour. He came in contact with Muslim philosophy and culture there. In 1430, King Narameikhla was reinstated with the help of a vast army supplied by Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah, son of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. King Narameikhla accepted Islam and took the Muslim name of Samoon Sulaiman Shah. Good cultural, economical and political relations were established between Arakan and Bengal. Bengali was accepted as the chief cultural language at the Arakan court. During the later period there emerged in Arakan many poets and litterateurs including the great poet Alawol. In 1434, Naranu, brother of Sulaiman Shah ascended the throne under the Muslim title of Ali Khan. In 1459, Ali Khan was succeeded by his son Kalima Shah. Rukunuddin Barbak Shah was the Sultan of Bengal during that time. It may be mentioned that Chittagong was under direct control of Bengal Sultans. Kalima Shah was succeeded by his son Moukbul Shah in 1482. Chronologically, all successive rulers of Arakan had Muslim names (Mohammad Shah Noorullah Shah, Sheikh Abdullah Shah, Ali Shah, Illiyas Shah, Jalal Shah, Azad Shah etc.) Because of disorder in Arakan and tyranny of the foreigners (English and Portuguese), it was finally annexed by the Mughals in 1666. About the Muslim rulers in Arakan, historian G.E. Harvey in his book "History of Burma" wrote that the kings had Muslim titles, but they did not profess it in public due to political reasons. They had also Buddist names. Harvey termed them  "Muslim-Buddist Kings of Arakan".

Arakan was prosperous because of its free trade with Bengal and Malacca. These Kings, however, issued coins bearing Qalima in Persian Scripts and allowed Muslim missionaries to preach Islam. Shah Kadir, Shah Musa and Shah Hanu Mea were great Muslim missionaries in Arakan. The largest section of the Arakanese people embraced Islam. Many mosques and madrashas were established in Arakan.

Towards the middle of the 18th century, a royal dynasty was established in Rangoon (Yangoon) by a local chief named Alompra. His successors extended their territory in different directions. They captured Arakan, Jaintia and Manipur (Assam). In 1824, Lord Amherst declared war against Burma (Myanmar). A fierce battle was fought. Finally a treaty, called the Treaty of Yandaboo, was concluded by which the provinces of Arakan, Assam and Tenasserim were annexed to the British empire. The Burmese King had to cede all claims to the petty states of Cachar, Jaintia and Manipur and also agreed to pay one million pound as indemnity. In 1852, during the governorship of Lord Dalhousie, the British captured Rangoon, Pegu and Bassein and lower Burma. In 1886, the whole of Burma was annexed to the British Indian Empire. It was given the status of a province. Later, in 1937 the British separated Burma (Myanmar) from India and granted the colony a new constitution calling for a fully elected assembly. 

In the beginning of the 20th century an organisation named Young Meh's Buddhist association (YMBA) was formed. Their demand was to oust the Indians, the Marwaris (Hindu businessmen) and the Mehmans (Muslim businessmen) and the Bengalees on the one hand and seek autonomy, on the other. This led to the emergence of political parties in Myanmar in 1930s and 1940s.

Burma got independence in 1948. Since then, the country has been into one of the largest running civil wars. This also includes the killing and driving out the Indians including the Bengalees. The toll was heavy on the Muslim-populated Arakan state. Killing and driving out of Muslims (Rohingyas) took place at intervals.

Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace laureate and believed to be a champion of democracy. But as the state of things suggests, she can not come out of the prejudice that brands the Rohingya Muslims as Bangladeshis. The influx of the Rohingyas refugees into Bangladesh is both a pressure and threat to Bangladesh on various accounts.

The Rohingya Muslims are at present the most persecuted people in the world. The condemnation and reactions of the United Nations, the western world and the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) are feeble. Bangladesh has possibly no choice but to raise the issue in the UN and team up with the neighbouring countries (India, China Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia) to settle the Rohingya issue. Diplomatic initiative should aim at stopping refugee influx into Bangladesh and seeking international cooperation towards ensuring the security of life and property of the ill-fated Rohingya Muslims.

The writer, a former secretary to the GoB, is an economist.

chowdhuryjafar@ymail.com

 
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