Panic in Bangalore. Muslims say, “If you feel unsafe, come to our homes, mosques.”


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

Assam burning

Assam burning

In July 2012, ethnic violence in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam erupted between the Bengali-speaking Muslim immigrants and the indigenous Bodos. Nearly 80 people died during last month alone. 400,000 people have been displaced from almost 400 villages, and are sheltered in 270 relief camps.

The Muslim population in the North-East consists of refugees who migrated before the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 from the erstwhile East Pakistan. Currently, Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh, are infiltrating into the region. This violent outbreak is due in part to the rising ethnic nationalism (most notably Bodo nationalism) and diaspora politics

On 27 July 2012, Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi blamed the national government for its delay in sending the army to riot-hit areas. The following day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the relief camps in Kokrajhar and said the recent violence is a blot on the face of India.

Desecration of Amar Jawan Jyoti

Desecration of Amar Jawan Jyoti

On 11 August 2012, a protest was organised by the Raza Academy against the attacks on Muslims in Assam and in Myanmar was held at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. The protest was attended by two other groups, Sunni Jamaitul Ulma and Jamate Raza-e-Mustafa. It ended in violence, leading to two deaths and 54 injured including 45 policemen. The most disturbing images were those of miscreants demolishing the “Amar Jawan Jyoti” a symbol of Indian Valour.

Now, the people from the North-East living in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune are on their guard against aftershocks and repercussions. Thousands of people are fleeing the southern city of Bangalore amid rumours. They said that text messages were circulating, which warned of attacks by Muslims in retaliation for communal violence in their home state.

However, leaders from the Bangalore’s Muslim community assured students from the North-East with regard to their personal safety in Bangalore. Because panic-stricken men and women from the North-East continue to get out of Bangalore, leaders of the local Muslim community talked with student representatives and assured them that there would be almost nothing to be worried. Akbar Ali, convener of the Muslim welfare association said those people who seriously feel quite unsafe in their home are welcome to come to the homes of Muslims and to the mosques to take shelter. Ali also told the students that there was no need to worry. “We will protect you, but please do not leave the city. It is your city as much as ours,” reassured Ali.

Hundreds of students and workers from Assam thronged Bangalore’s main railway station on Thursday to try to board trains leaving the city, while officials tried to assure them of their safety.

The Central government and the Karnataka State government say emphatically that there is no need for the people from the North-East living in Bangalore to return to their homes as there is no imminent threat to them in the City.

The police are monitoring social-networking sites to find those creating this panic. Though the level of panic has come down as compared to Wednesday, people continue to leave the city. People from the North-East say that as per the messages or rumours being circulated, the attacks could come after the 20th of this month; hence, they did not want to be here at that time. However, the Bangalore police say that no incidents have been reported on any attack on citizens from the North-East in the city. Their message says, “Do not panic or heed to rumours. In case you need help, please call the control room.”

The state administration, on the other hand, is doing all it can to assure the panic-stricken people that they were safe within the city. Law Minister, Suresh Kumar, when contacted informed that he met with most of the people at the railway station and assured them of their safety. Most of the people want to go home to their parents as there have been incidents that prompted them to leave the city.The latest developments:

  • The Ministry of Home Affairs has ordered monitoring of social networking and online community websites to identify those who are misreporting facts and throe spreading rumours through email messages to trigger communal violence.
  • Acknowledging that rumours and threatening text messages are fuelling tension, the Prime Minister said, “We must work together to ensure that all people from other states do not feel threatened by rumour-mongering and SMSes. We have to maintain peace at any cost.” He also urged all political parties to “work together to give a feeling of confidence” to all people affected in the recent violence in Assam.
  • In Bangalore, for the second night in a row, two special trains departed for Guwahati, in addition to the regular train that runs every evening. Officials say the rush is partly because of the long weekend. But some students from states like Assam and Manipur say their parents are worried about their safety and want them back at home.
  • Bangalore Police Commissioner Jyothiprakash Mirji visited the railway station to reiterate, “No incidents have been reported of attack on North-Eastern citizens in Bangalore. Do not panic or pay heed to rumour.”
  • Student representatives of Bangalore’s north-eastern community met on Thursday morning with Muslim leaders who have said they will continue to disseminate messages of peace. “Those feeling unsafe may take shelter in our homes and mosques. But please do not leave the city. It is yours as much as it is mine,” said Akbar Ali, Convenor, Bangalore’s Muslim Welfare Association.
  • Jagadish Shettar, who heads the BJP government in Karnataka, met students from the North-East on Thursday and said, “We are all with you…there is nothing to worry (about).” He also reassured them that nobody has been attacked in the state as a result of the ethnic violence in Assam. A helpline has been set up for the north-eastern community in the city.
  • Indians from the North-East, living in cities like Bangalore, should stay where they are, said Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Thursday afternoon. He phoned the Chief Minister of Karnataka on Wednesday and asked that his administration ensure the safety of students and young professionals in Bangalore.
  • After reports of new ethnic violence in Assam, the Army will be deployed in the state to help maintain law and order; the state government has formally sought its assistance today. Nine columns of the Army (about 600 personnel) will be stationed in Nalbari, an important town in Lower Assam which has been hit by ethnic violence.
  • A car was set ablaze on Wednesday night in Baksa, which is in lower Assam, and was one of the districts affected in the recent clashes between Bodo tribal and Bengali-speaking Muslims. Angry locals, in response, torched a bus and a bridge on Thursday morning. Nearly 80 people have died in the last month in the ethnic clashes. Till recently, four lakh people were packed into relief camps.
  • In New Delhi, senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said, “Panic due to rumours in Karnataka is a very serious issue. The Karnataka government will do everything to protect the people from the North-East. It is a case of concerted effort to create a divide among people.” She also urged the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to build confidence among people from the North-East who study or work in cities like Hyderabad and Pune.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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Was the Rakhine Buddhist Woman Raped or Married by a Rohingya Muslim Man?


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Myanmar, formerly Burma, has a diverse ethnic and religious make-up. Now, there are at least 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in the country. However, they are not recognized as one of its ethnic group by the government. According to the United Nations, the Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. In 1982, the military junta stripped off all citizen rights of the Rohingyas through a so-called “Citizenship Law” thus making them the only stateless community of the world.

A man walks through a neighborhood that was burnt in recent violence in Sittwe, June 16, 2012.

A man walks through a neighborhood that was burnt in recent violence in Sittwe, June 16, 2012.

In late May this year, sectarian violence erupted between Buddhists and Rohingyas in the Rakhine (or Arakan) province of Western Myanmar.

We are faced with conflicting reports from all quarters.

According to “Voice of America,” the violence broke out in late May after three Muslim men were accused of raping and murdering a young Buddhist woman and 10 Muslims were killed in an apparent revenge attack.

However, according to Pakistan’s “The News,” Intikhab Alam Suri, President, Human Rights Network says that on May 28, a Buddhist girl embraced Islam and married a Muslim man. This infuriated the Buddhist community. They resorted to vengeance. They stopped a bus carrying Muslim pilgrims and killed some of them.

Which version is true?

Thein Sein, President of Myanmar

Thein Sein, President of Myanmar

No one knows for sure how many died in this ethnic violence. President Thein Sein dismissed such speculations in comments carried by the state-controlled “New Light of Myanmar.” He said he was “disheartened by the hairsplitting of the media.” He insisted that only 77 people – 31 Rakhine Buddhists and 46 Rohingya Muslims – have died. However, some rights groups and media reports suggest the figure may be higher.

The issue has prompted a wave of criticism by Muslim and non-Muslims the world over. Some view the conflict as a case of religious persecution against the Muslims. The Saudi-based Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also urged a probe into the violence.

Rights groups have also called for Burma to do more to protect the Rohingya. Human Rights Watch said in a recent report that Burmese security forces have committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against the group in the aftermath of the sectarian violence.

Who are these Rohingyas?

Some historians like Khalilur Rahman trace the history of Rohingyas way back to the 8th century CE when an Arab trading ship was wrecked near Ramree Island. The Arakanese king ordered the execution of the Arab traders and the crew.

Jahiruddin Ahmed and Nazir Ahmed, former president and Secretary of Arakan Muslim Conference dispute this story. They say that the descendants of the ship wrecked Arabs are currently known as ‘Thambu Kya‘ Muslims and are now residing along the Arakan sea-shore. According to them, Rohingyas are descendants of the inhabitants of Ruha in Afghanistan.

In 1799, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton published an article titled “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire.” In it, he states: “I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan…”

After King Narameikhla (1430–1434) retained his throne with the help of the Sultan of Bengal of that time, Indian Muslims of Bengal started arriving in Rakhine.

According to another historian, Dr. Maung Maung, there is no such word as Rohingya to be found in the census survey conducted by the British in 1824. The British census of 1891 reported 58,255 Muslims in Arakan. By 1911, the Muslim population increased to 178,647.

During the British Colonial rule, a large number of Bengali farmers migrated to the fertile valleys of Arakan. The waves of migration were primarily due to the requirement of cheap labor from British India to work in the paddy fields. Immigrants from Bengal, mainly from the Chittagong region moved en masse into western townships of Arakan. Migration of Indians into Burma was not just restricted to Arakan.

A Burmese historian, Thant Myint-U writes: “At the beginning of the 20th century, Indians were arriving in Burma at the rate of no less than a quarter million per year. The numbers rose steadily. In 1927, immigration reached its peak with 480,000 people. Rangoon outweighed New York City as the greatest immigration port in the world. This was out of a total population of only 13 million; it was equivalent to the United Kingdom today taking 2 million people a year.”

By then, in most of the large cities in Burma, Rangoon, Akyab, Bassein, Moulmein, the Indian immigrants formed a majority of the population. The indigenous Burmese felt helpless under the British rule, and reacted against the Indians with a “racism that combined feelings of superiority and fear.”

The immigration’s impact was particularly acute in Arakan, one of less populated regions. In 1939, the British authorities were aware of the long-term animosity between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingyas. They formed a special Investigation Commission led by James Ester, and Tin Tut to study the issue of Muslim immigration in the Rakhine state. The commission recommended securing the border; however, with the onset of World War II, the British retreated from Arakan.

Burmese historians like Khin Maung Saw have claimed that before 1950s, the term Rohingya has never appeared in Burmese history. This observation coincides with that of a historian Aye Chan from Kanda University of International Studies, Chiba, Japan. He states that the term Rohingya was created in 1950s by the descendants of Bengalis, who migrated into Arakan during the Colonial Era. He further argued that the term cannot be found in any historical source in any language before 1950s. However, he stated that it did not mean Muslim communities have not existed in Arakan before 1824.

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