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Rohingya refugees wait for the food to be distributed by local organisations near Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Rohingya refugees wait for the food to be distributed by local organisations near Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A couple of weeks ago I was in Dhaka, Bangladesh, it was at the time when several news agencies were reporting the Rohingya crisis unfolding in Myanmar.  There was social media frenzy around the atrocities by the Myanmar security forces and the radio silence from Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. This international uproar was a result of 100,000s of Rohingyas, some in pitiable conditions fleeing Rakhine state to find a safe place in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh, to escape the military’s violent crackdown since the 25th of August this year. This is not new for the rohingyas, considering that the military introduced a law in 1962, stripping them of their citizenship and giving them access to limited rights as well as imposing absurd inhumane restrictions on the number of children they could have and who they could marry.

The violence in August has been termed by many as ethnic cleansing which is led by the armed forces, further fueled by the extremist monks in the Buddhist nation. While the events that have unfolded since August this year have been disturbing for many reasons, one of them being,that one of the most peaceful religions in the world, Buddhism is now linked with violence. Personally I have no point to make with this, but for those, who globally associate violence with only a particular kind of religion.

While I traveled around Dhaka on a completely unrelated issue, the one thing I came back with is the empathy and concern amongst regular folks for the rohingyas and their plight. While Bangladesh readily opened its arms to refugees, the truth is that they now have over 700,000 people who need basic necessities and are probably going through different kinds of trauma, physical and mental. This is also a fact that the refugee camps are stretched for resources and food is just one of the concerns. At the same time, India’s Prime Minister visited Myanmar and made a statement to support the country in curbing terrorism, signifying acceptance to the treatment of rohingyas. I felt complete embarrassment when I met people in Dhaka who requested me to send a message to Modi not to turn his back on one of the world’s most vulnerable populations currently. Little do they know Modi rarely listens to the voices that have a different opinion to his.

Bangladeshi’s from different walks of life, felt the pain of this minority group who are now left stateless. It is not surprising that Bangladesh, is now building the world’s largest refugee camp that will be able to accommodate 800,000 rohingya Muslims. While history does tell us that the Rohingyas were from Bangladesh, they crossed over to Myanmar in the 19th century, I still respect a country’s willingness to shelter refugees, with limited resources. At the same time I am appalled at a country’s inability to accept people of a different faith and treat them as equal in this day and age.

I also happened to be in Myanmar earlier this March, I had an opportunity to travel different parts of the country and dialogue with many locals there. At the time I was aware of the issue around Rohingyas but my knowledge was limited, so I took the liberty of questioning people around me. Most people ignored my queries and the rest were quick to tell me that they didn’t belong to the nation. I really didn’t think much of it then as I was enjoying Myanmar’s untouched beauty and the people’s belief in Buddhism. I thought it refreshing to be surrounded by majority of people who believed in a better way of living rather than redundant religious traditions. And now it surprises me that a nation can bestow so much cruelty on people when karma is the core of their belief.

The persecution of the rohingyas should be a lesson for us all that violence and peacefulness are not defined by a religion but rather by action. For those supporting the Indian Government’s decision to label all rohingyas as illegal immigrants are undermining India’s history of providing a safe space to refugees and allowing our country to commit this crime against humanity.

Neha SaigalActivist & Yoga Teacher

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