A strong word of mouth is: representatives of Rohingya Muslims are making rounds in Kashmir. The timing of their visit has set off speculations, making certain quarters to believe: the persecuted community might be seeking asylum in Kashmir. If that happens, it means, valley will eventually become the refuge centre of another group of refugees. But the problem is: refugees are linked with controversy in Kashmir.
What further sets the rumour mills on fire is India’s stand on Rohingya Muslims. In 2013, when several thousand Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar to save themselves from Buddhist persecution, they took shelter in India. Delhi’s sympathy for Rohingya Muslims has already paved way to around 25,000 of them in refugee camps across parts of India.
In state’s winter capital (Jammu), hundreds of Rohingya families are already living in temporary homes made up of branches, shrubs and covered with plastic sheets. But the community described as “world’s least wanted” and “most persecuted minorities” by rights body, Amnesty International, has triggered demographic change concerns in the state. Though the case is humanitarian, but the refugee politics has fanned out fears.
Already the state is yet to come out of Pak refugees’ controversy. On face of such staring reality, taking a call on humanitarian grounds must be taken cautiously as it might lead to crisis in the highly politicised state. The point of concern is: some landowners from Jammu have already started milking distressed cows by charging Rohingyas anything between Rs 600 and Rs 1000 a month for erecting huts on their land.
For living, many Rohingyas have become scrap dealers. Children support their families by collecting and selling recyclable material, and some women work in walnut factories up to 12 hours a day, cracking shells and removing nuts. The lurking fears remain: in the long run, these Rohingyas might end up living in ghettos. In that case, they might also possibly end up availing state subject certificates akin to some Pak refugees.
In the middle of such seething crisis, Delhi says: as long as the Rohingyas obtain a valid visa and a refugee card, there is no major problem. And with a dedicated refugee camp (like one in J&K), there is concern that not all camps dwelled by Rohingyas are certified. And, many are living illegally without a valid visa or refugee card. If the influx continues to remain unchecked, then there is every chance of them turning out to be like the Bangladeshi refugees who were roped into the world of crime.
But on the face of butchering they face in Burma at the hands of Buddhists, the armed groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Al-Qaeda have raised the issue sending panic signals in India.
Another concern in making is: if Rohingya youth happen to pick arms and return to Myanmar to wage a war, then it would repeat the Burdwan module, which was preparing to stage attacks in Bangladesh from Indian soil. But the race being pushed on brink of extinction has maintained their calm without actually mustering courage to go home for the fear of getting killed.
Rohingya are Indo-Aryan peoples from the Rakhine State (Burma) speaking Rohingya language. They are indigenous to Rakhine State. Muslims have settled in Rakhine State (also known as Arakan) since 16th century.
In 1982, General Ne Win’s government enacted the Burmese nationality law, which denied Rohingyas citizenship. In 2009, a senior Burmese envoy to Hong Kong branded the Rohingyas “ugly as ogres” and “alien” to Burma. In 2012 riots, Rohingya Muslims faced persecution forcing 735,000 Rohingyas living in Burma to live in ghettos and refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Rohingyas practising Sunni Islam are welcome in J&K at the moment. But if their persecution continues in Burma, then the camps sheltering them might become source of resentment. By the way, not all of them are certified!
(The author is pursuing Peace and Conflict Studies.)