Policy Statement On
The Peoples Of Arakan Shows
Lack Of Foresightedness
By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
08 October, 2007
It appears that when the entire
world is crying out foul against the repressive SPDC regime and demanding
restoration of democracy, equality, liberty and human rights for all
inside Burma, many of her exiled political parties are making a mockery
of all those principles. One such entity is the Arakan National Council
(ANC) that includes exiled groups like the Arakan League for Democracy,
Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Democratic Party of Arakan, National
United Party of Arakan (NUPA), All Arakan Students Youth Congress, Arakan
Women Welfare Association, Rakhaing Women Union (RWU) and some ultra-nationalist
Rakhaing academics, advisers and intellectuals. While the ANC was established
in New Delhi, India in 2004, most of its member parties operate from
The ANC’s declared
aim is to act as a political leading body for the people of Arakan state
of Burma for self-determination, justice, peace, prosperity, equality,
integrity, tranquility and dignity in emerging its people with civilized
modernity and democracy. But it does not require too much probing to
see the ugly, harsh truth behind the façade of such high sounding
Some of the ANC member parties
are terrorist organizations (e.g., ALP) and are heavily involved in
drug trafficking. There is no Rohingya representation within the ANC.
They are simply ignored, as if they don’t exist. Not surprisingly,
the so-called Arakan State Constitution, drafted by the ANC (since 2004),
is silent about the Rohingya people. This, in spite of the fact that
Rohingyas make up almost half the population of Arakan [47%; see Dr.
Shwe Lu Maung’s The Price of Silence, DewDrop, USA (2005), p.
252, for population statistics] and had successfully contested the 1990
election, sweeping all the 4 constituencies in the Muslim majority Mayu
province by one of its parties (NDPHR), and were in a position to make
political alliance with Daw Suu Kyi’s party - the NLD –
to form a coalition government in the Arakan state if the military junta
had honored the election results. [The victory of NDPHR angered the
military regime and its ultra-nationalist supporters within the majority
Rakhaing community leading to forced expulsion of some 300,000 Rohingyas
to Bangladesh in 1991.] The reason for such a nonchalant, if not hostile,
attitude towards the Rohingya can be explained by the fact that most
of the member parties (except NUPA) within the ANC are led and advised
by anti-Rohingya Rakhaing extremists that can best be described as xenophobic,
anti-Muslim, anti-Indian, ultra-nationalist bigots. Its key advisor
is a retired academic - Dr. Aye Kyaw - who co-authored the infamous
1982 Burma Citizenship Law that is at the heart of Rohingya Diaspora,
leading to major mass exodus and ethnic cleansing in the last three
decades. More than a million Rohingyas now live as unwanted refugees
in many parts of our world.
I wanted to believe that
the ANC has been able to rise above the fray and correct its past mistakes
and untenable positions, making the entity more inclusive and plural.
But I was wrong. Last month I came across the “Policy Statement
of ANC (Arakan National Council) on the Peoples of Arakan”, dated
Sept. 7, 2007. The statement was issued from the ANC Executive Committee.
It stated in a non-flattering way that the Rohingyas are not recognized
as indigenous people of Arakan. The statement says: “ANC regards
the people who lived in Arakan before the British annexation of Burma
in 1824 as indigenous, and those who immigrated after the British occupation
of Burma as non-indigenous. … As the Bengali Muslims and Hindus
immigrated and settled in Arakan after the British occupation they are
regarded as non-indigenous. … The name (Rohingya) is used by descendants
of Bengali Muslims who settled in Arakan after the British occupation
The above policy statement
is factually wrong and shows once again that the ANC is living in its
xenophobic, racist, intolerant, feudal past. The smell of big-brotherly
chauvinism or ultra-nationalism is everywhere within the body of the
text. The statement goes on to say “It is not time to be quarrelling
and attacking each other... It is time for all people of Arakan to stand
firmly and unitedly on the principles of human rights, democracy, national
equality and peaceful coexistence.” What hypocrisy when the same
ANC twists historical facts and denies basic rights of the Rohingya
people calling them outsiders or recent settlers!
As the Tokyo Conference on
Problems of Democratic Development in Burma and the Rohingya People
has demonstrated, contrary to ANC's obnoxious and distorted claims,
the Rohingya people are, beyond any shadow of doubt, indigenous people
of Arakan. They did not settle during the British Occupation of Arakan
(post-1824). They are the descendants of the indigenous Kalar, Kala,
Kula people of Arakan (similar to darker complexioned Indian/Bengalis
found in neighboring India/Bangladesh, in much contrast to fair skinned,
Mongoloid featured - Rakhaing people that had settled from far-away
Tibet) that had intermarried with, absorbed into, and converted mostly
to the Islamic faith with Muslims that moved to the territory in various
periods of Arakan's history, predating the British Occupation period.
Like their co-religionists -- the Buddhists of Arakan -- many of these
Muslims, who identifies themselves as the Rohingyas, were forcibly evicted
and/or chose to leave Arakan during Burman king Bodawpaya’s atrocious
rule (1784-1819) and settled in and around southern Chittagong. After
the Burman regime (1784-1824) was defeated, the British Occupation force
allowed resettlement of the former exiles and their descendants back
to the territory. Any attempt to obscure and distort the exodus history
of hundreds of thousands of Arakanese, Muslims and Buddhists alike,
to the British Bengal during Bodawpaya’s rule is disingenuous
and deplorable, to say the least.
If the descendants of resettled
Rakhaings from Bangladesh during the British Occupation period (pre-1948)
could pass the Litmus test of Burmese citizenship, ANC's selective criteria
to exclude the Rohingyas demonstrate its biasness against the minority
and depict their naked double-standard. More over, they are at variance
with the statements of founding fathers of Burma (see Aung San government's
1947 Panglong statement regarding citizenship criteria), let alone being
at odds with the charters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Rohingyas are not demanding
a separate state of their own inside Burma. If, however, their legitimate
rights to citizenship and nationality are ignored and trampled upon
by the Burmese government and its backers within the ANC, comprising
the majority Rakhaing ultra-nationalists, like any human beings in our
planet, they have every right to self-determination, as has been enshrined
in the scores of International laws.
Regrettably, it is ANC's
ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, racism and sectarianism that are the
greatest roadblocks to a united, more inclusive, democratic Arakan and
Burma. Through its endorsement of the 1982 Citizenship Law, it is the
ANC that is dividing the Arakan into skeptical, if not hostile, camps.
Its policy plays directly into the divide-and-rule policy of the SPDC.
Obviously, the ANC has not learned to evolve into a pluralistic, democratic
organization that respects minority rights, that values their opinions,
and is mindful of their legitimate aspirations and concerns. The statement
from the group is a hypocritical attempt to distort the fundamental
issue that is at the root of dehumanization of millions of people within
If the ANC cares about democracy
and human rights in Burma, and Arakan, in particular, it must not only
reconsider its chauvinistic criteria for citizenship and nationality
that are hypocritical and discriminatory, and aimed at dispossessing
and marginalizing almost half of the people of Arakan, i.e., the Rohingyas
of Arakan state of Burma, owing to their distinct culture and religion,
it must also denounce the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. It has to come
out of the closet taking bold measures that are progressive, humane,
moral, ethical and conducive to a lasting peace in the region. It cannot
behave like Fascistic organizations, ignoring the fact that Arakan is
a multi-racial, multi-religious state where almost half the population
The ANC cannot endorse and
promote xenophobia, while it calls for equality, democracy, peaceful
coexistence and human rights. Its Policy Statement is too hypocritical
and too one-sided to garner necessary respect and trust from affected
communities. The ANC must show foresightedness by integrating minority
voices within its leadership, rank and file. Let its actions speak loud
about its seriousness to the goal of genuine integration and pluralism
rather than mere statements that are too hollow and only show the ugly,
dirty xenophobic self. It must allow Rohingya representation at equal
footing, not as a second or third-class entity, but as equals with similar
rights. It must, therefore, open the door for Rohingya representation
both within the ANC and the ENC (Ethnic Nationalities Council).
Time is running fast. There
is too much suspicion and animosity between various races and ethnicities
within Burma, including Arakan. Burma needs integration, trust-building,
equity and justice for all, and not failed assimilation attempts that
disrobe, dispossess, and dehumanize minorities at the altar of the majority.
As to Arakan, the ANC has a significant role to play in trust-building
measures. It must develop genuine leadership that is foresighted, pragmatic,
sincere and respected by all segments within the state. It can ill-afford
to be looked upon as a representation of the Buddhist Arakanese only.
It must understand the importance of initiating honest and open dialogue
to ironing out its differences and uneasiness with the Rohingya community.
That process can get a jumpstart with a sincere condemnation of the
1982 Burma Citizenship Law. Why not start this much desired reconciliation
process right now? Why try to forge unity when its very intent and sincerity
are in question?
Ignoring the root causes
of ethnic tensions and de-prioritizing vital trust-building measures
would be suicidal and stupid for the ANC.
[About the author: Dr. Siddiqui
is Director of Arakan-Burma Research Institute, USA.]
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