Equating the Wretched

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By Shams Irfan

As Kashmiris watched in horror images of Rohingya Muslims being prosecuted and massacred by government forces, Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Myanmar for his first bilateral state visit.

Given the anger against former Noble Peace Award winner Aung San Suu Kyi, currently the Chief Exective of the tiny South Asian nation, and leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, people in India, particularly in Kashmir, expected Modi to raise the issue of Rohingyas with his counterpart during the visit. But at the end of the bilateral meet when both leaders made a joint statement, it shocked one and all; at least people in Kashmir who thought Modi would forget his party’s politics for a while and see the Rohingya issue from a humanistic prism. But that didn’t happen.

At the joint presser Modi hailed Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under fire for facilitation the ethnic cleansing of helpless Rohingaya minority, and said ‘India understands the problems faced by Myanmar. India shares Myanmar’s concerns over “extremist violence” in the Rakhine state, especially the loss of innocent lives of the people and the military personnel.

His statement was viewed as Delhi’s clean chit to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. Interestingly, Modi’s praise for the Burmese leader came when voices for revocation of her Noble Peace price are getting stronger across the world, especially in the western media.

Quickly Myanmar’s military chief U Min Aung Hliang responded by condemning the recent attack on Amarnath yatra in Kashmir and expressed his sincere condolences for the victims.

Even the joint statement issued at the end of the presser mentioned Kashmir. The statement equated Kashmir’s with Rohingyas, a cause of concern for India and Myanmar!

Myanmar also condemned the “recent attacks in India perpetrated by terrorists from across the borders”. Aung San Suu Kyi, in her remarks, thanked India for taking a strong stand on terror threats that Myanmar faced recently.

Rohingyas are Muslim minority in Buddhist majority Mayanmar, nearly all of whom live in Rakhine state.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government does not recognise Rohingyas as citizens, and want them out of the country. And that is why they are often described as “the world’s most persecuted minority”.

Since the first wave of renewed state violence against Rohingyas, around 146,000 of them have crossed over to neighboring Bangladesh: almost eighty percent of them are women and children, as male members were mostly killed or are hiding in forests.

According to UN officials in Myanmar more than 1,000 Rohingyas may have been killed so far by the state police and army.

Before Modi left for Myanmar his Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiran Rijiju, labeled Rohingya people in India as “illegal immigrants who need to be deported as per law”. Also Rijiju hinted at setting up a taskforce to identify estimated 40,000 Rohingyas who are believed to be living as refugees in India. A major portion of the Rohingya refugees live in Jammu, which interestingly also hosts West Pakistani Refugees (WPR) since 1947. While BJP bats for providing citizenship rights to WPRs, it has made it clear that Rohangyas are not welcome in India. Jammu has already witnessed a massive movement for sending Rohingyas back. At one stage, certain section even issued threats of executing them.

Pertinently, last year Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh promised to move a legislation that would give Hindus and Sikhs, who have sought refuge in India from neighbouring countries, citizenship rights. Interestingly, the bill would exclude Muslim refugees like Rohingyas who want to seek shelter in India.

“The (BJP) government plans to amend the Citizenship Act so that such refugees (Hindus and Sikhs) could be granted Long Term Visas and citizenship without any hindrance,” a Home Ministry official said.

Before 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP in its election manifesto had declared India as “a natural home for persecuted Hindus” who “shall be welcome to seek refuge”.

This policy has irked UNHRC who have so far issued 16,500 identity cards to Rohingyas living in India.

Since the first wave of violence against Rohingyas by Buddhist majority run Myanmar’s government, around one million Rohingyas have fled the country. There are 350,000 Rohingyas living in Pakistan, and 200,000 in Saudi Arabia.

By equating Kashmiris with Rohingyas, whom Aung San Suu Kyi’s government considers landless, BJP government is questioning the very existence of Kashmiris, something which will no go unnoticed.  Interestingly, the “statesmanship” is witnessed in a situation when Kashmir is already restive over the legal battle on Article 35A of the Constittion of India that right-wingers wish to do away with. This article protects state’s demographic composition.

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