20 November 2011


In recent months, series of anti-Rohingya campaigns afloat inside and outside of Burma. To the surprise of everyone, inflammatory writings are often posted on a few websites, face books and blogs that reveal deep-seated ill-will against the peace loving Rohingyas.


Propaganda against Rohingya has long been launched by the Burmese military dictatorship with some Rakhine intellectuals and politicians. Now it reached the new quasi-military government’s highest political institution, the parliament in Naypyidaw. The regime and xenophobes denied the existence of Rohingya as an ethnic group and alleged that Rohingyas are illegal Bengalis entered into Arakan from Bangladesh. This concocted propaganda was met with strong condemnation from Rohingya communities worldwide. There were global protests in front of the Burmese embassies on 15 September 2011. The protest rally held in London was joined by leaders and activists belonging to almost all Burma ethnic groups and democracy movements, some local supporters and NGOs. Speakers emphasised that the Rohingya are a part of the Burma’s society, and identified that they are worst victims of human rights violations.


Why is this anti-Rohingya propaganda?


The propaganda against Rohingya is an undemocratic campaign. The intention behind is to deny the Rohingya of their rights and freedom — their ethnic rights and citizenship rights. For the regime it is (i) to divert the minds of the Burmese people away from the current political stalemate and ongoing civil war, where chemical weapons were used against the Kachin people, causing outflows of refugees and grave humanitarian crisis; (ii) to continue dividing the two sister communities of Rohingya and Rakhine on cultural and religious lines. For the Rakhines, it is an opportunity to make a clean sweep of the Rohingyas, using the state oppressive apparatus, for their exclusive ownership of Arakan without Muslims, in line with their popular slogans. Arakan is for Rakhine; Rakhine and Buddhism are synonymous”. Few misguided people are seemed to have been allured to the anti-Rohingya trap.


Upon knowing the Thein Sein government’s hostile attitude towards Rohingyas, the Rakhines backed by the Rakhine National Democratic Party (RNDP) organized anti-Rohingya meetings in the cities of Rangoon and Akyab and some towns in Arakan preaching extreme hatred against the Rohingyas. They warned that the Rohingyas have no rights to use the words Arakan/Arakanese for them. About 16 Rakhines had, on 16 November 2011, protested in front of the BBC in London demanding apology from BBC for suitably spotting the Rohingya as an ethnic group in Arakan in a report with a map, made in October 2010, by its reporter Anna Jone. Why this protest after nearly a year of its publication! It was due to the government’s intimidating attitude and instigation of some Rakhine xenophobic academics and leaders. One wonders whether similar protests would be made against UN, USA, U.K. and E.U. for their use of the word “Rohingya” for Muslim Arakanese.  


It is almost seven decades now (from 1942) the extremist Rakhines are harping on the tune of Muslim extermination prompting state terrorism. Half of their population have either been expelled or have had to leave their homeland for their lives. Despite colossal damages in terms of human lives, properties and civilization, the Muslim Rohingya are still living site by site with their Rakhine compatriots.


Anti-Rohingya propaganda is like a boomerang


Misinformation and actions against Rohingyas recoil on the regime, particularly when it claims to have been taking measures for political and democratic reforms, although until now very little change is done. The international community will continue identifying the regime committing crimes against humanity. Similarly the extremist Rakhines will be branded as non-state actors committing international crimes. Their fanatical patriotism is a contributing factor to the growth of anarchism, violence, chaos and lawlessness in the country. It is really sham and shame to speak of democracy without practice. In a democratic society, there is no room for discrimination, exploitation, social injustice, the degrading concept of ‘prime nation’ and ‘sub-nation’, on ground of race, religion, colour, culture and political opinion.


The word ‘Rohingya’


Like former military regimes, U Thein Sein government has blacklisted the word “Rohingya” in Burma. It might want to appease Rakhines under the policy of “divide and rule”. It might also be due in part to the influence of xenophobic Rakhine politicians and academics. However, the analysts say that it is a necessary evil for the dictatorship to make the Rohingyas scapegoats. They lied that the word “Rohingya” is nonexistent, unheard and a creation of Mujahids (Muslim rebels) and/or Rohingya leaders in 1951. When the name ‘Rohingya’ is substantiated with historical evidence, the imposters, who include U Khin Maung Saw of Berlin, start arguing without shame that ‘Rohingya’ is the other name of Rakhine as it derived from ‘Rohang’, a Bengali name for Arakan.”[1] But Dr. Michael W. Charney, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, writes,


“The earliest recorded use of an ethnonym immediately recognizable as Rohingya is an observation by Francis Buchanan in 1799. As he explains, a dialect that was derived from Hindi …is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long been settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Roainga, or native of Arakan”. He further mentions, “it can be asserted, however, that one claim of the Buddhist school in Rakhaing historiography, that Rohingya was an invention of the colonial period, is contradicted by the evidence.”[2]


Thus, the word “Rohingya” was not coined but a historical name for Muslim Arakanese. There is still Muslim village in Akyab (Sittwe) city by the name of Rohingya Para.


Unknown is the word ‘Arakan’ for its people


Arakan is the name of the country, not the name of its people. Accordingly, unknown is the word Arakan for its people. But now Rakhines are calling themselves also Arakan, which is a distortion never in use before. Arakan is a place name; and it belongs to all its peoples. Its two major communities of Rohingya and Rakhine are to be called as “Rohingya Arakanese” and “Rakhine Arakanese” when attributing the name of their homeland to their respective names.


Muslim rule in Arakan


Muslims played the phenomenal role of kingmakers in Arakan. Its heyday began with the spread of Islamic civilization. “Islam spread and deeply rooted in Arakan since 8th century from where it further spread into interior Burma”.[3] In fact, “Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1531” [4] to the extent that it was turned into a sultanate. Arakan was depicted as an Islamic State in the map of The Times Complete History of the World, showing cultural division of Southeast Asia (distribution of

major religions) in 1500.(Edited by Richard Overy, eighth edition 2010, page 148.). These are enough evidences that the Muslims or Rohingyas are indigenous to Arakan.


Acceptance of Rohingya as an ethnic nationality


On the basis of the historical evidence, the Rohingya as an ethnic group was recognized by the parliamentary government that ruled Burma from independence in 1948 to 1958 and 1960 to 1962, which stated, “The Rohingya is as the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.” As such, together with other ethnic nationalities of the country, the Rohingya representatives participated as state guests in the Union Day Celebration held in Rangoon on 12 February every year.


Before the Rakhine language was put in the programme, the Rohingya language was relayed trice a week from the indigenous language programme of the official Burma Broadcasting Service, Rangoon, from 15 May 1961 to 30 October 1965 that is, nearly four years further beyond the seizure of power by Gen. Ne Win. The Rangoon University Rohingya Students Association was one of the many ethnic student associations that functioned from 1959 to 1961 under the registration numbers 113/99 December 1959 and 7/60 September 1960 respectively. In official Myanmar Encyclopaedia Vol.9, 1964, pages 89/90 the historic narration was given in detail concerning Rohingya while affirming that 75% of the population in Mayu Frontier is Rohingya. In the map of the High School Geography, published in BSPP period, giving the distribution of national races in Burma, northern Arakan is spotted as a region of Rohingya settlement. There are many other evidences. Over and above, the Special Mayu Frontier District was created for Rohingya’s development.


They are blind and deaf


The regime and xenophobic Rakhines continue to reject Rohingya simply alleging that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Some members of the democracy movement agree with the regime and critics that Rohingya do not exist, and that they are not Burmese citizens. Like the regime, they will only accept the existence of foreign Bengali Muslims in Arakan. They lack political will to accept the recognition of Rohingya by U Nu parliamentary government. Similarly they never notice what the former President of Burma, Sao Shwe Thaike, said, “Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma. If they do not belong to the indigenous races, we also cannot be taken as indigenous races.”[5]


The declaration of Rohingya as an ethnic group, along the line of other ethnic nationalities by a Prime Minister of sovereign State was essentially a matter of national importance with human rights or nationality rights concern. So far, no quarter or political parties, including leading Rakhine Ra-Ta-Nya party, had opposed it. Not this merely but also country’s leading opposition AFPFL (Stable) of U Ba Swe and U Kyaw Nyein had recognized Rohingya as an ethnic group. All these are well documented, yet the regime and vested interest groups behave like an ostrich. They are blind to see and are deaf to hear. Human rights or nationality rights of a people can be promoted and further enhanced, but in no way it can be revoked or downgraded.


Rohingya ethnic identity deserves protection


It was the democratic government which recognized Rohingya as an ethnic group. So, every responsible and credible government that comes to power has responsibility to safeguard, protect and promote Rohingya’s ethnic identity in Burma. Similarly good oppositions or political parties have moral obligation to look into it. To this concern we earnestly invite the attention of Burma’s democracy icon and the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw Suu may be aware that the Rohingya people have been supporting NLD with a high expectation on her.

Alleged terrorist links, a conspiracy against Rohingya

It is paradoxical to accuse the Rohingya organizations and freedom fighters to have link with terrorist organizations. The sources they have referred to include SLORC/SPDC; and they are highly controversial as they are largely unsubstantiated. They are simply guesswork to hoodwink the international community to serve the interests of the Burmese regime and vested interest groups.

It is important to take cognizance of the actual situation of the Rohingya people, who are victims of state terrorism. Their movement is a struggle for their survival and existence with human dignity and rights. They have time and again condemned terrorism of any forms and declared that they were (and are) not part of any other movement(s) or group(s) outside of Burma. In spite of that, for being Muslims, the regime and vested interest groups are trying to stain them to have link with terrorist groups or terrorism particularly after 11 September.

The human rights violations against the Rohingya are systematic, persistent and widespread that amount to crimes against humanity. Despite this, can anyone cite a single example that the Rohingya ever did any excess, wrong and injustice in Burma? Rohingya organizations are dead against narcotic trade and any activities causing instability in the region. But they are made scapegoats. It requires in-depth study before anyone is writing on Rohingya who are dying alive only because of their religion and ethnicity.                                           

Muslims did not claim ‘Rohingya’ before Burma independence, why?

There is an argument posed specially by some Rakhines, “why the Muslims of Arakan did not call themselves Rohingya before and during Burmese independence”. The answer is simple and pure. During independence period, the Rohingya offered an olive branch to fellow Rakhines and tried to develop an integrated political culture, based on the common national aspiration of “Arakaneseness”, through rapprochement with the spirit of “Rohingya Rakhine Bhai Bhai” or “Rohingya Rakhine Twin brothers.” But the Rakhine politicians were not receptive to the proposal. They claimed that Arakanese and Buddhism are synonymous and the Muslims or Rohingya are outsiders. By bad luck, the extremists among them preferred to serve as the instrument of Rohingya oppression. This terrible predicament, arising out of the ‘policy of exclusiveness’ of the Rakhine, called for the use of their exclusive ethnic name “Rohingya” in order to protect their legitimate rights and privileges. They cannot be blamed or deprived of their historically inherent ethnic name “Rohingya” for not claiming it at a given time in the interest of solidarity and peaceful coexistence among the peoples of Arakan.


Last Words:


The Rohingya with a long history in Arakan are an integral part of Burma’s society. They are peace-loving; yet they are not tolerated and are persecuted in Burma for their religion and ethnicity. Rohingyas are living together with their Rakhine compatriots in the same place, drinking the same water and breathing the same air. There is no reason to be antagonistic to each other; it will damage both Rohingya and Rakhine, and their children. Unless both peoples cultivate a political will to change this miserable condition, they are bound to end up with humiliation in the abyss of their history. Let us revive our traditional relationship for the future of our succeeding generations. Let us work together on democratic principles with mutual respect, love and affection. This is the only way to salvation!  

[1]“Islamization of Burma Through Chittagonian Bengalis as Rohingya Refugees”, U Khin Maung Saw.

[2] Dr. Michael W. Charney, “Buddhism in Arakan: Theory and Historiography of the Religious Basis of the Ethnonym”, Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan Workshop, 23-24 November 2005, Bangkok, P.15

In Buchanan, “A comparative Vocabulary,” p.55

[3] “Sasana Ronwas Htunzepho” a book published by SLORC in 1979.

[4] Ba Shin, “Coming of Islam to Burma 1700 AD”, A research paper presented at Azad Bhavan, New Delhi in 1961, p.4.

[5] “The Rohingyas: Bengali Muslims or Arakan Muslim”, Euro Burma Office (EBO) Briefing Paper No.2, 2009. In Dr. San Oo Aung. http://sanooaung.wordpress.com 22 January 2008.