Friday, August 21, 2009

Response to the Press Release of the ‘Rohingyas’ (Part-4)

By Khin Maung Saw, Berlin, Germany

D. ‘Rohingya’ population growth

The population growth of the ‘Rohingyas’ is really a miracle.

Since the word "Rohan" is neither Arakanese nor Bengali word, but only the Bengali pronunciation of Ywa-Haun (Ra-Haun), today nobody can guess what this word means unless one knows the back ground of this word.

Most of the "Rohingyas" nowadays are no more the descendants of the ‘Ra-haun-Tha’ and the
surrendered Mujahid Rebels, instead real illegal immigrants coming from Bangladesh for various reasons, settled down inside Burma in 1970 during the Bangladesh Liberation War and later.

Their population growth is a miracle and always happens after a cyclone hits Bangladesh. Most of them are illiterates, know nothing about history but have only heard the name "Rohingyas" and claim to be. Some Muslims in Burma and Bangladesh helping them also don't know the origin of this word and created fanciful stories. They even misinterpreted the word "Rohan" as the whole Arakan and wrote in their journals that "Rohan" means "Arakan" in Arabic; they were the founders of Arakan and so forth.

VI. Are the following Racial Statements or Comparing and Contrasting two groups of peoples?

Time has changed and the ideas and thinking of people has changed. The terms once considered as ‘normal’ has become ‘politically incorrect’ and terms once considered derogatory can be normal nowadays. Now I would like to cite the following statements written by some British writers comparing the peoples of Burma and the peoples of the Subcontinent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). What kind of comments can we give nowadays? Are they racial statements or comparing and contrasting two groups of peoples?

1. The Report of the Joint Select Committee on the Government of India Bill. 1919, III. Clause 41: where it was written that "after hearing evidence the Committee have not advised that Burma should be included within the scheme. They do not doubt but that the Burmese have deserved and should receive a Constitution analogous to that provided in this Bill for their Indian fellowsubjects. But Burma is only by accident part of the responsibility of the Governor General of India. The Burmese are as distinct from the Indians in race and language as they are from the British".

Please note that, here the British used the term 'the Burmese', which according to their definition, represents all peoples of Burma including Arakanese. They did not use the term 'the Burman', which according to their definition, represents only the majority ethnic group, the Bamas.

2. The Report of the Indian Statutory Commission vol. II London, 1930, vol. II § 224: In 1927, The Indian Statutory Commission, popularly known as the "Simon Commission", was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon. This Commission gave its opinion that "we hold that the first step towards the attainment of full responsible government in Burma is the separation of Burma from the rest of British India....We would add that Burma's political connection with India is wholly arbitrary and unnatural. It was established by the British rulers of India by force of arms and being maintained for the sake of administrative convenience. It is not an association of two peoples having natural affinity tending towards union ... there is nothing common between the two peoples.

3. Captain Symes who was sent by the Viceroy of India on Embassy to the court of Bodawphaya in 1795 wrote: "The general disposition or temperament of the Burmese is strikingly in contrast with that of the natives of India from whom they are separated only by a narrow range of mountains. The physical difference between these nations is also very great. The Burmese are lively, inquisitive, active, grace, hot-tempered and impatient. The unworthy passion of jealousy, which makes most nations of the East hide their women within the walls of a harem and surround them with guards, seems to have no place in the minds of this extraordinary and more liberal people. Burmese wives and daughters are not concealed from the sight of men, and are allowed to mix as freely with the latter as in Europe. ------- Women in the Burman country are not only good housewives, but also manage the more important commercial affairs of their husbands and attend to their outdoor business matters. They are extremely industrious and are said to be good mothers and faithful wives."

VII. Analysis of the ‘Rohingya Problem’

A. Why some writers were trapped by "Rohingyas": If one carefully scrutinizes all available authentic historical and etymological facts it comes out clearly that there was no ethnic group called "Rohingya" in Arakan as well as in Burma, and it is only an invented name in the late 1950's. Arakan was and is not a Muslim state. The Kingdom of Mrauk U was not established by the ‘Rohingyas’ as they claimed. All kings of the Mrauk U dynasty were Buddhists. Some kings had assumed Muslim Titles but all of them were donors of many temples in Mrauk U as well as in other parts of Arakan.

Even though, some of the international journalists favoured the dishonest claims of the ‘Rohingyas’. Why?

The answer is very clear. Most of them are only writers and neither etymological scholars nor
historical researchers. They don't know the real history of Arakan as well as the history of Burma, however, they made their conclusions based only on many correct points; that the present government in Burma (SLORC earlier and SPDC later) is a military dictatorship, did not surrender the power to the party who won in the election in 1990, put the opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for no reason, discriminating other ethnic minorities of Burma and violating a lot of human rights. The news about the military abuses against the ‘Rohingyas’ was also more or less true. Hence, they concluded that all claims of the ‘Rohingyas’ to be the truth.

B. Bad Image of the various Burmese Military Governments since 1962

The various Burmese Military Governments of Burma since 1962 have and never had a good
reputation and image, neither in the internal nor in the international media. They are well known for never respecting human rights. To maintain their power, the various military authorities in Burma used and still use tanks and machine guns to brutally crush down any anti-government demonstration of the majority population and students even those demonstrations organized, led and participated in by Buddhists monks.

On this basis the international media neither trusted the SLORC/SPDC nor the various Burmese
Military Juntas, even if sometimes, though very rarely, the statement of the junta could be true.

Therefore, it is no wonder; some of the writers unwittingly supported the "Rohingyas" and their
claims. Some Muslims backing them were also trapped, when they issued their "fantastic historical claims".

C. Who immigrate to where:

If we compare Burma and Bangladesh by means of population density, we will see that Bangladesh has one of the highest in the world while Burma has a very low one. Natural catastrophes, like storms, cyclones and floods hit Bangladesh every year, but rarely Burma. Soil fertility in the Rakhine State is much better than that of Bangladesh. Burma was a very rich country compared to East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). Even now, although Burma has become a poor country, the way of life in Burma is much easier than that in Bangladesh. Besides, Burma has more space, so logically who immigrates where does not need to be explained.

During East Pakistan's struggle for independence from West Pakistan to establish a new nation which is now Bangladesh, many war refugees ran to Arakan (the Rakhine State of Burma). It was the main reason why Burma immediately recognised the new nation, disregarding the anger and objections of Pakistan. As usual, however, the then military government of Burma (The Revolutionary Council headed by Gen. Ne Win) did not like any UN observers, particularly from the UNHCR, coming to Burma. So, they did not report anything about the refugees, preferring a solution through bilateral agreements. Some refugees returned to Bangladesh as a result, but eventually they went back to the Rakhine State of Burma (Arakan). Many of them were arrested as illegal immigrants. Almost all of them had to learn the Burmese language in the jails because they could not speak Burmese as well as any other language of Burma, although Burmese language is the official language of Burma as well as the ‘Lingua Franca’ or ‘the Language of Communication’ between one ethnic minority group to the other group. The only language they could speak was Chittagonian Bengali!

Since the border of Burma was neither properly controlled nor well guarded with barbed wires and walls, nobody can say when they came over to Burma or since when they have lived there. Had they invited UN observers during the time of the civil war in East Pakistan, this problem would not have evolved.

Both "Rohingyas" problems, 1978 and 1991, came about a few months after a cyclone hit Bangladesh. Even India, the world's largest democracy, whose people are of the same historical and racial background as those people from Bangladesh, raised barbed wires along their borders with Bangladesh to prevent illegal immigration towards their side.

In the case of the ‘Boat People’, it is human nature for the people of a poor country to seek their fortune in a more prosperous country. Nowadays, there are about two million Burmese and other ethnic minorities working in Thailand and Malaysia either as legal or illegal immigrant workers. Many Mexicans entered into USA illegally, African Boat People wanted to enter one of the soils of EU, many Afghans, Chinese and Subcontinent people were taken by human traffickers as illegal immigrants to Western Europe, USA, Canada and Australia.

Bangladesh is a poor country and very overpopulated. Malaysia is the nearest rich Muslim country. Hence, no wonder, most of the poor Bangladeshis wanted to go to Malaysia to seek their luck. If they said the truth that they were from Bangladesh, they would be considered only as illegal immigrants and turned back. Since ‘Rohingyas’ speak the same language and have the same culture as the Chittagonian Bengalis, it is ‘the golden opportunity’ for them to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and claimed to be ‘Rohingyas’ as they were taught by the human traffickers.

Similarly, some asylum seekers in Germany coming with Burmese Passports, claimed to be from the Shan State of Burma, however, they could neither speak Shan nor Burmese, the only language they could speak was Chinese! Later, it appeared that they came from China, bought fake Burmese passports and asked for asylum. This happens only because the military government of Burma has a very bad image which many people from contiguous countries can take advantage of.

D. ‘Rohingyas’ for Burmese Citizenship:

Some liberal foreign journalist, Burma Scholars, politicians and writers argued that the "Rohingyas", even if most of them were the descendants of illegal immigrants and many war refugees of the East Pakistan Independence War in 1970, deserve to have the right to be naturalized as citizens of Burma since they have lived inside Burmese territory for more than ten years.

To that suggestion, the present author personally have no objection as long as the ‘Rohingyas’ want to live peacefully side by side with the Buddhists Rakhaings who are the natives of Arakan and ‘Bummi Puttras’ of that region and as long as ‘Rohingyas’ do not make dishonest claims and want to turn the traditional Buddhist land into a Muslim state. I don’t know what the majority of Rakhaings would say. I don’t represent any organisation and therefore I cannot speak for them, but can only suggest. I hope it may also be possible that many Rakhaings would share my view. However, it will not be easy under this present government. The present Military Junta is well known as hard liners, very xenophobic and too ethno-centric. It may be easier to do this under a democratically elected government through “give and take” policy.

In any case, one should not forget the fact that every sovereign nation has their own immigration and naturalization laws which others should respect, for example Malaysia has the ‘Bummi Puttra’ law. We should not forget the fact that Burma is not an immigrant land. In spite of that, in the past, in 1950's U Nu was so generous and had granted about 150000 (one hundred and fifty thousand) illegal immigrants of East Pakistan Burmese citizenship and the rest were tolerated to stay in Burma without any identity or as foreigners.

Even "the most democratic country on the earth", the United States of America" do not grant
citizenship automatically to many offspring of the Mexicans who were born inside the U.S.A., because their parents came illegally to the U.S.A., and lived there as illegal immigrants. They usually live in California, Arizona and Texas, and everybody knows that these territories historically belonged to Mexico.

It is also a similar problem for the People of the Subcontinent, Sri Lanka and the West Indies who reside in The United Kingdom, "the Mother of Democracy” although these people belong to the "British Common Wealth". Many of them demonstrated in the U.K. with the slogan "We are here because you were there!"

So do many Turks in Germany. Some of them came to Germany as ‘Guest Workers’ invited by the then West-German Government in the 1950’s. Some of them live there more than 40 years and their children were born in Germany, however, these children won’t be granted German citizenship automatically, unless or otherwise they apply for that and go through some legal procedures. Here, the present author likes to point out a very similar situation. There are two Muslim-dominated districts in Berlin, namely Kreuzberg and Neukoelln Districts. Assuming, the Turks had asked for the rights of ‘Indigenous Muslims of Germany’, their Autonomous Region and issued fabricated histories such as they had established the above mentioned two districts because Muslims lived in Berlin since the time of German Emperors because Ottoman Empire and German Empire (Deutsche Reich) were Military Allies and so on, how would the German populace react?

E. Liberal groups of "Rohingyas", their approaches and responses:

Some liberal groups of "Rohingyas" have changed their tactics. They admitted that the term
"Rohingya" was not a historical name instead it is an invented name in the 1950's. However, they wished that the new or the invented name "Rohingya" should be accepted because the name of an ethnic group can be changed if that group wishes. They argued that the ethnic group who used to be called "Talaings" by the Burmese in the Burmese chronicles are now called ‘Mons’ due to their request, and also an ethnic group called "Shan-Tayok" (Tai-Chinese) are now renamed as "Ko-kant".. Therefore, Chittagonian Bengali Muslims could be accepted as "Rohingyas", a new indigenous ethnic group in Burma.

They tried to make emergency courses for these ‘Rohingyas’ to learn written and spoken Burmese which is the official and language of communication in the Union of Burma, to enable their people to communicate with other Burmese citizens and assimilate with other peoples of Burma, because till now almost all ‘Rohingyas’ can speak only their mother tongue which is the Bengali Chittagong Dialect. Apart from that, many of them are illiterates.

For that issue, not only the Military Government, but also many people of Burma, especially the
Buddhists, particularly the Rakhaings, on the other hand, counter-argued that the "Rohingyas" do not fall in the same category as the Mons and the Ko-kants because they were and are not an indigenous ethnic group of Burma like the Mons and the Ko-kants. Mon is the historical ethnic group of Burma. They came to Burma even earlier than the Burmese, had the civilization and established Mon Kingdoms in the place called Lower Burma nowadays. Burmese adapted Theravada Buddhism as well as scripts from the Mons. The names Mon and Talaing were parallel used since the Pagan Dynasty. Hence, if they do not like to be called Talaings but only Mon, it is their wish and it must be accepted. Ko-kants People are named due to the region where they live. However, ‘Rohingya’ is neither the name of the region of their origin nor a historical name.

‘Rohingya’ people were new settlers and therefore their descendants can be considered to be citizens but not as an indigenous ethnic group. This is very similar to the "Bhummi Puttra" (literally, "Son of the Motherland", here it means indigenous ethnic group) Law in Malaysia. Hence, according to them, the name "Rohingya" could be accepted as an ethnic group now living in Burma like Chinese, Indian, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, but neither as a historical ethnic group nor can be recognized as an indigenous ethnic group of Burma.
Hence, the solution to the ‘Rohingya’ problem may be easy to say, however, difficult to manage. Both sides have to compromise, otherwise it will be a political dead-end.

VII. Conclusion:

If one carefully scrutinizes all available authentic historical and etymological facts it comes out clearly that there was no ethnic group called "Rohingya" in Arakan as well as in Burma, and it is only an invented name in the 1950's. All claims of the "Rohingyas" are baseless and found out to be incorrect.

Boat People came direct from Bangladesh and not from Arakan. They were caned by the human traffickers. Just to get asylum in an ASEAN country they have to fabricate some tragic stories and had to claim to be ‘Rohingyas’.

In any case, I have to be very careful to present this article in a very neutral way so that the paper does not read either as an attack on "Rohingyas" or as a polemical piece aimed at "Rohingyas", nor be seen as a racial writing. The biggest worry for me is: This article might be misinterpreted as an indirect support for the position of the very brutal Burmese Military Junta.

Here, I sincerely suggest to the "Rohingyas" to change their tactics. Instead of attacking all people who do not support their dishonest claims they should attack the Burmese Military Junta only. In the mean time they should learn to speak, read and write Burmese, especially the Rakhaing Dialect, and make friends with other ethnic groups of Burma, particularly with the Rakhaings who are the natives and majority of that state. Instead of demanding for the rights of an indigenous ethnic minority of Arakan by inventing fabricated and fanciful histories and trying to turn the traditional Buddhist land of Arakan into a Muslim state, they should be honest and just request to be granted the right to permanent residential status and then the right to be naturalized citizens of Burma step by step to which the Arakanese people (Rakhaings) will have no objection.


Khin Maung Saw
Former Lecturer in Burma Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
Former ‘Scholar in Residence’, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA.


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