Rohingya Muslims are considered to be the world’s largest stateless ethnic group. Numbering around 1.1 million, most of them live in northern Rakhine state of Myanmar, a Buddhist majority nation. The government of Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, resulting into their virtually legalised persecution. Often described as “the most persecuted minority” of the world, Rohingya Muslims face several restrictions in Myanmar, including on their movement, access to economy, education, health and other rights.
The Rohingya trace their origin in Rakhine to the 15th century or earlier, according to The Indian Express. However, the official name for them today is “Bengali”, intended to highlight that they entered Rakhine as part of British East India Company’s expansion into Myanmar (then known as Burma) after the former defeated Burmese king in 1826. According to IE, Burman, Chinese, Malay and Thai Muslims have better relations with Myanmar than the Rohingya, who are also racially different.
Why the Rohingya have no rights in Myanmar
As per Myanmar’s citizenship law of 1982, full citizenship is granted to only those who trace their origin in the country to before 1823 or to those belonging to ethnic groups like majority Burman or Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. In 1982, the country had prepared another list of 13 ethnic groups and made it public in 1990. The list didn’t include the Rohingya.
According to IE, Rohingya activists claim there have been several references, pointing to their political acceptance as citizens, including the one by Myanmar’s first President U Nu, who reportedly said that people living in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships (both Rohingya dominated areas in Rakhine state) were Rohingya, ethnics of Burma.
From 1948 to 2010, Rohigya voted in every election in the country, after they were issued “temporary scrutiny cards”. The cards clearly mentioned they were not entitled to citizenship. In 2010 election under the then junta regime, three Rohingya MPs were sent to Parliament. They were, however, disenfranchised when first full democratic election took place in the country in 2012.
Conflict in Rakhine state
There were Rohingya-Buddhist clashes in 2012, reportedly triggered by alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist woman by two Rohingya Muslim men. Due to clashes, thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh and to the camps set up under UN supervision in Rakhine.
On October 9 last year, nine Myanmar policemen died in armed attacks on Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in Rakhine province. The attack was claimed by ARSA, then known as Harraka al Yakin/Aqa Mul Mujahideen. Eight attackers were also killed. Since last year, there have been several allegations of human rights violation by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya.
On August 25 this year, ARSA claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks on police posts and a bid to raid an army base. The response by Myanmar military has forced around 2,50,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh.
Around 40,000 Rohingya have also fled to India.