Monday, September 02, 2013

Beyond the story: Rohingya refugees in India

A few weeks back, a social worker friend asked me, 'are you aware of the Rohingya refugees in Hyderabad?' I wasn't, of course. Hyderabad is about 3,400 km away from Burma. And, if anyone was indeed coming from Burma to India,  I would expect them to turn up at places like the north east India or, Andamans or Kolkata or Delhi. But not Hyderabad which is way off the trodden road

Anyway, so once morning I went to meet the refugees. And here is the story that came out as a result of that.

But, sometimes, a community has too many stories to tell and you have too many constraints to take them all in. A video with a 3.30 min cap on it is one what I had. And so, after my video was shot, I went back to meet the refugees again. And again. And here's what I learned.

In Myanmar, women are attacked attacked as mercilessly as men. They are beaten, raped and killed with swords. Most of the attacks happen in the night and often led by the militia. This woman was sleeping when a mob broke open the door of her house. Her husband and son died, while she escaped with a deep wound on the side of her stomach.
Two years later, her wound has healed, but she suffers from trauma.

Rohingyas punished for not supporting the ruling party Nur Alam - a young Rohingya was an activist of National Democratic Party for Development or NDPD. Though it was a registered party, the government didn't allow it to take part in the election. And, right after the election was over, the militia started to arrest, torture and kill its party workers. One day Nur was arrested and his neighbors - most of whom were either supporters of the military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party or Aung San Suu Kyi's party National League for Democracy (NLD) just 'watched'.

The annihilation of Rohingiyas is quite strategized: Hamidul Haque is a teacher. At least he was, until one day his school was burned down by the Burmese militia. Most schools and madrasas are either burned or shut down. Those still standing are so few, you don't see them. Our entire community is now in a state where even if we survive, an entire generation of us will grow up without education.

Also, the Rohingyas are not allowed to study beyond 10th standard.  Nur Kamal a survivor who dared getting enrolled in a college tells this story of horror: "A few weeks after I got enrolled, I was returning home from college. d to commute by the bus every day. That evening, when I got down from the bus, a few policemen surrounded me. They blindfolded me and started beating. They were shouting, ' you want to go to college? we will send you to higher college,'. Then I felt a sharp pain and passed out."

When Nur regained consciousness, his hands had been cut off and he was bleeding profusely.

 Miserable within Burma, miserable outside:   Because none of them are educated beyond school, the Rohingyas cannot have a good life even in a safe environment. For example, in India, they are not staying in a refugee camp. A refugee card issued by the UNHCR also gives them the freedom to go find work in the city. But the only work the Rohingyas can find today is as manual laborer because they have little education and no skills.

We do not want to return to Burma again, says the Rohingyas: This is probably the most painful fact of all: none of the Rohingiyas want to return to Myanmar ever again. They just don't feel it safe there. Since 1960s the Buddhists have started to torture us. We endured it for all these years, but things have gone from bad to worse. We had everything - all valid documents as citizens. We had land, homes, relations, businesses. Now we have nothing. There is nothing to go back for.

The question is, with hundreds of thousands of refugees already on its land, can India be ok with no repatriation of the Rohingyas? The question also is, with no extra help but a refugee card, can these semi-literate Rohingyas  really ensure a better future for their children in this country?
How I wish, there was an answer!

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