Burma is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue where ethnic groups have long believed that the Government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes.
In Burma, officially approved as ‘indigenous’ by the government, people who had already lived in Burma prior to 1823, which was the year before the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) started, are seen to be ‘indigenous’, and those who settled in Burma after 1924 are treated as ‘non-indigenous’.
Burmese ethnic minorities make up an estimated 25 – 35% of the population, and ethnic states occupy some 57% of the total land area along most of the country’s international borders.
The recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights has been a long-contested process and remains so in several parts of the world, though with significant political movement in favour of recognising a distinct set of human rights in the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
The racial riots to the Rohingya by predominantly Rakhine Buddhists in Arakan (Rakhine) province of Burma have attracted international concerns. There are more than 2 million Rohingya residing in Burma, mostly in the province of Arakan. Rohingya is one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in the world by United Nations reports. The dictator military Junta striped Rohingya off all the rights of a citizen through a law called Citizenship Law in 1982, therefore Rohingya become the stateless minority in the world.
The Rohingya community in Burma goes back to 8th century C.E. as they are original settlers of Rakhine (Arakan) province the country while tracing their ancestry to Arab traders. Rohingya practice Sunni Islam. The British census of 1891 reported 58,255 Rohingya in Arakan. The
Rohingya Muslim population had increased to 178,647 in 1911.The Japanese troops intruded into Burma accompanied with BIA forces through Mawlamyine, Pago and Rangoon during World War II in 1941. The Japanese Air Force heavily bombarded Rangoon and surroundings areas. The residents of Rangoon were fleeing to other localities for safety of life and shelters. The controllability of administration had been got loosening everywhere. Indian residents in upper and lower parts of Burma were fleeing to British Empire. Many Indian labors, outdoors workers especially people of Orissa and Madras were fleeing to west Bengal of British colony passed through Arakan Yoma. The whole Arakan (Rakhine) state except northern Maungdaw was broken out of laws. In the meantime, Hindu attacked Muslims in India. That information spread out to the Arakan with different propagandas. Karen rebel forces of British Army were getting back to their homeland and they sold their weapons and arms to Rakhine Buddhists.
In British colonial time, the government gave preferred to Rohingya for having morality than Rakhine . Rohingya and Hindu got more privilege than Rakhine. Most of the land properties and business were in the hand of Rohingya and Hindu. The British divided and rule made Rakhine intolerance and impatient. They want to drive out native Rohingya from their motherland and want to fight for their separate independence. They believe that Rohingya Community would be one of the their impediments on their way to freedom of state.
This is not the first time that Rohingya were killed by Rakhine Buddhists in Burma. In their history, such mass killings and exodus have happened several times. The annexation of the independent province of Rakhine in 1784 by the Burmese government came up with discriminatory policies and persecution to Rohingya. They were marginalized and the Burmese government put several restrictions on their freedom of movement, education and employment, arbitrary confiscation of property, forced labor, marriage and drove them to annihilation. It is said as many as 35,000 Rohingya people fled to the neighboring Chittagong region of British Bengal in 1799 to avoid Burmese persecution and seek protection from British India. The Burmese rulers executed thousands of Arakanese men and deported a considerable portion of the Rohingya population to central Burma, leaving Arakan as a scarcely populated area by the time the British occupied it.
Rohingya cannot benefit from the social services provided by the state, including health services, adding that Rohingya do not have the right to work in government offices. Rohingya can be forced to work for Buddhists or the government without any payment.
The complete situation in Burma was anarchy around 1940. Burmese independence movement was in its momentum. The struggling of Thakin party and patriotic youth movement was hammering on the door of independence. The movement of different colors and feelings were to and fro. Mainly, the Arakan province had no any governing body. Some of Rakhine extremists established regional autonomic power and ruled the region on their impressive power upon their desires. By that way, Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Pauktaw Townships were ruled by U Gandama, U Thein Kyaw Aung, U Shwe Ya, U Pan Aung and U Tun Hla Aung respectively.
During World War II, Japanese forces invaded Burma, then under British colonial rule. The British forces retreated and in the power vacuum left behind, considerable violence erupted. This included communal violence between Buddhist Rakhine and local Rohingya. The period also witnessed violence between groups loyal to the British and Burmese nationalists. The Rohingya supported the Allies during the war and opposed the Japanese forces. The Japanese committed atrocities toward thousands of Rohingya, including rape, torture, and murder. In this period, some 22,000 Rohingya are believed to have crossed the border into Bengal, then part of British India, to escape the violence. Some 40,000 Rohingya eventually fled to Chittagong of Bangladesh after repeated massacres by the Burmese and Japanese forces.
The Rohingya and Rakhine communal conflict was broken out from Raik Chaung, Pan Kha of Mraybon and Pan Mruangyi of Minbya Township in 1940 . It was speedily spread to everywhere in Arakan. Some of the Rohingya and Rakhine leaders, namely; Sayagyi Saw Kyar Aung, U Pinya Thiha, U Yasin and others tried to subdue the riot but they were not success. About 70,000 Rohingya lost their lives. It made more than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Barisal and some other areas of Bangladesh. Some Rakhine Buddhists also fled to Dinosaur Refugee Camp in India. All the moved Rakhine returned to Arakan after the Independence of Burma whereas Rohingya were not allowed to get in Arakan back. The Burmese Government provided all the required Humanitarian aids to the Rakhine people but Rohingya got nothing except fear and threatens.
The prominent one was ” King Dragon Operation” which took place in 1978; as a result, many Rohingya in the region fled to neighboring country Bangladesh as refugees. Over 200,000 Rohingya are said to have fled to Bangladesh following the ‘King Dragon’ operation of the Burmese army. Some articles wrote against Rohingya describing that ‘Kalar’ ( Abuse and hateful word to Rohingya used by Rakhine) entered illegally to Burma without any impediments. Moreover, one Rakhine member of parliament from Rathedaung township reported to Government as many Kalar came to Rathedaung to Bangladesh and also stated that it would create hazard situation in Arakan state. Therefore, the Burmese government launched ‘King Dragon Opetation’ against native of Rohingya people.
Officially this campaign aimed at “scrutinizing each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” This military campaign, in effect, directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution.
During 1991-92 a new wave of atrocities forced over a quarter of a million Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labor, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. They said they were forced to work without any payment by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labor of Rohingya civilians by the security forces.
A group of Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) entered to Minlwat in Southern Maungdaw for their insurgency in 4th May 1994. RSO was disbanded for years by Bangladesh Government. Rohingya have no any rebel arm group but Rakhine have a strong well-trained militia, namely Arakan Army (AA) lead by jointly Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) of Rakhine. The Rakhine armed forces reside in Arakan and some are in Kachin State. Sometimes they attack and kidnap Burmese military with the collaboration of Rakhine who are inside Burmese Army.
The Border Security Force called Na-Sa-Ka and army made hard-line for the Rohingya. They killed more than 400 Rohingya specially with fabricated allegation as they had connection with RSO. Hundreds of Rohingya youths fled to abroad to escape from the torture and arbitrary killing by Na-Sa-Ka. The Border Immigration Headquarter (BIHQ) of Na-Sa-Ka was based at Maungdaw in 1990.They have 10 sectors under the control of BIHQ where Rohingya live as inhabitants for centuries. Their main purpose is to tighten Rohingya with fear and harassments 24 hours in a day. BIHQ imposed restrictions of marriage and movement, two child policy and take family photograph of each and every family and record all the possessions including domestic animals like goats, cows and buffaloes. If a person born or die, Rohingya have to pay money.
Rohingya are not allowed to renovate their mosques or religious schools, adding that anyone caught renovating these buildings would be sent to jail. A new mosque or religious school has not been built in over a couple decade of years. (M. F.)