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A 48-year-old man called out to his 18-year-old daughter and asked, "Do you know about the Rohingyas?" and the daughter, in typical young adult fashion, rolled her eyes and said, "Of course." Before she had the chance to elaborate on the information she possessed, the father started spewing curses against the Rohingyas and magnanimously (read: erroneously) informed her about how Rohingyas had raped the Buddhist women and the forgiving and extremely non-violent lot had endured it for as long as they could. But this Muslim minority, he continued, quite obviously didn't back down. And so, the peaceable Buddhists had to finally take charge of driving the Rohingyas out of the state of Rakhine. 


The circulation of information is wildly different across 2 generations. While most of generation X seems to prefer the part of the news that propagates islamophobia, the millennials prefer glossing over the details that don't suit their liberal agenda. The nominal nature of non-partisanship within the media is not helping either.


Before we talk about the crisis and how it affects us or what has been said about it, it’s imperative to know what exactly went down with the “most persecuted minority in the world”. Just like every other incidence of ethnic cleansing in history, the massacre of Rohingyas also began with the treatment of one community as an outcast, a group that doesn’t belong. Now, this has been especially surprising because Myanmar is known to be a very diverse nation with multiple ethnic groups coexisting quite harmoniously. Albeit Buddhism is the dominant religious group, all types of communities have found a space for themselves within the territory of Myanmar.


The contemptuous treatment of this Muslim minority group can be understood in terms of their complicated ancestral history in the country. It was in 1824 with the rise of colonialism that the Rohingyas were brought to the state by the British government in large numbers. Their influx in thousands made the “natives” feel mighty insecure in their country. The Rohingyas originally belonged to Chittagong and were uprooted from their own homeland and then forced to live in a foreign country where they were resented and despised. The local population developed a strong sense of patriotism against these “outsiders” who were believed to be driven by a “separatist agenda”. There have been 2 key high points in this crisis-one which stripped the Rohingyas of their citizenship and the other which culminated into their genocide. 


The first one took place in 1982 when the government passed a law granting 135 ethnicities identified by them the right to citizenship excluding the Rohingyas. Overnight they became stateless entities. By not recognizing them as belonging to the nation, the government sanctioned their dehumanization by stripping them of their legal and political rights and entitlements. This pushed the minority group to the periphery of the nation. 


Over the years the Rohingyas continued to face this institutionalized form of discrimination. They were at the receiving end of baseless persecution and negative differential treatment just by the virtue of belonging to a minority religious group who had no "real claim" in the history of the nation. What should've created an international stir was passed off as another third world nation acting out their propensity of undemocratic governance. 


But then came 2012. The news of 2 Rohingya-Muslim men raping a Buddhist woman gave a cause to the government for rallying for the extermination of the Rohingya community. They appealed to the general public in the name of protecting their women. This instigation led to 140,000 Muslims being slaughtered like cattle. 


Blaming the entire group for the deed of an individual is not an unfamiliar story, especially when it has the bait of stirring communalism. Most of these stories hide the ulterior motives of the government. For the Burmese administration, the motive was the fear of the Rohingyas forming an autonomous state on the Bangladeshi border inclusive of the state of Rakhine. 


With the international community acting as the pressure group, the Rohingyas were granted citizenship but only if they registered themselves as Bengali. But by the time they received this conditional citizenship, the Rohingyas had had enough and they refused to accept being robbed of their religious identity. 


Thus, the crisis continues.


A lot has been said about the response of the leading political figures to this crisis (none of which has been worthwhile). What hasn't been talked about adequately is the response of the general public towards this humanitarian loss. Everyone was instantaneous when it came down to condemning the Western nations for refusing to let the Syrian refugees in. Yet somehow not only did all of us in South East Asia turn a blind eye towards the Burmese genocide of the Rohingyas for years together, we've now started scavenging for reasons to justify it just because we don't want to house the Rohingya refugees. It's not just hypocritical, it's deplorable. On top of this vermin-like treatment, there are talks of deporting the 40,000 Rohingya refugees settled within the Indian territory back to Myanmar on the grounds of "security concerns".


Instead of being wary of this move, most Indians are lauding it. However, this is not just an Indian problem; the xenophobia is a larger global problem. You can write at length about how problematic Trump is, the truth will still remain that the conservatives in our nations are far worse. Extermination of religious communities is not a yesteryear phenomenon. It's still being carried out; it's just not condemned anymore.


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Written By Damini Yadav

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