Thursday, June 14, 2012

Who Are They?They Are Not Myanmar.

On international medias, news about riots in Arakan State have been described as sectarian conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims. In fact, it is not as simple as those reporters described. Nor just racial conflict as well.
So, in order to trace the culprit behind these riots, we need to know relevant historical background for certain reference.

Today, what we called Rohingyas are originally Chittagonian Benglis who are decedents of Bengalis from Chittagong in Bangladesh. After British occupation in Burma, they migrated to Arakan state in Burma to be employed on farms. After every season, they usually go back to their home. During second world war, following Japanese Invasion into Burma, British troops armed Bengali to support them in case of resisting aggressive Japanese troops. After that, such armed forces were like death penalty for local landlords, Arakanese. Bengali forces brutalized and massacred over 2000 of Arakanese and nearly 300 of villages were completely burned down. British military officers tried to settle down every situation. This was the first riot between Arakanese and Bengali, which left massive casualties on Arakanese side.Such conflicts have grown as a result of 1839 land law which allowed thousands of Indian decedent immigrants to stream into Burma, some of them to Rangoon and some through Burma-India (now Bangladesh) border.

From that moment, civil clash started to occur and is still unlikely to end peacefully. After independence from Britain, central control of Burmese Government was challenged by ethnic rebellions who also gave way for armed Bengali troops named as Mujaheeden rebellions to claim Maung Daw and Bu Theedaung districts in Arakan state as their own Islamic state. In 1978 Burmese military cracked down Mujahedeen rebellions making them flee towards Bangladesh. During SPDC period, at least three times of systematic crack down were accomplished  by Burmese military junta which had created serious condemnation from UN and other Islamic countries. In 1992, probably due to pressures from Islamic countries of ASEAN, Burma has accepted 230000 of rohingyas in Arakan state.

Bengali Muslims have very different social,cultural and religious believes compared to local Arakanese. They are Muslims and such religious difference may have raised pre-existing tensions amongst local ethnic groups. Traditionally, Arakan state have Muslim ethnic so called Kamans whom have been acknowledged by Burmese government although they are comparatively a minority group. Interestingly, such Muslim Kamans and Arakanese did not have big racial or religious conflicts. Similarly, there are also some Muslims living in Arakan state and they don't seem to have problems with original residents.

After 1942 massacre of Arakanese, tensions have raised uncontrollably and intention to claim the own state has created strong suspects on Rohingyas. Neither of any ethnic group in Burma shows willingness to accept rohingyas because ethnic law prescribed in 1947 constitution of Burma has clearly stated that ethnic tribes living in Burma before A.D 1823 can only be listed as ethnic tribes of Burma. This law has been agreed by all ethnic leaders in Burma and was not denied by even Muslim leaders like U Razak and U Pe Tin.

Such suspects and long term social conflicts of very different social and cultural norms have already led to a nearly erupted problem. Arakanese may view Rohingyas as invaders who are destroying their tradition and religion because in every riots religious places are always targeted and destroyed. And even though there are other bordering areas in Burma with countries like China and Thailand, such conflict can be seen but only in Western Burma where Rohingyas are residing. So this unhealed social wound has spread among local communities for decades.

Meanwhile, UNHCR and international NGOs recognize rohingyas as refugees and they provide food,medicine and shelter for rohingyas. And such organizations pressure on Burmese government to accept them as an ethnic minority. But Burmese government has denied both proposals because they are not historically an ethnic group of Burma and can create a number of conflicts in politically unstable Burma. In such situations, neglected people are the true owners of this land, Arakanese. They are not fully protected by Burmese military junta as they showed strong patriotism on their ethnicity and a rebellion armed force was formed in post independence period. UNHCR and other iNGOs are only for rohingyas which is why the gap between the lack of Burmese government care and NGOs have made Arakanese more vulnerable to every social problems.

Border Security Forces of Burma are highly notorious for corruption which make way for rich Bengali to enter central Burma and in turn those Bengali can pave another routes with their money. Here is the dilemma. How can refugees be such rich? Some local resources reported that those aids are provided by international Islamic organizations to promote Islam in Burma. Bribery and corruption of security forces and immigration staff make geographically sensitive area Maung Daw to be dominated by Rohingya Bengalis.

The sense of land loss, ignorance by government, poverty, loss of traditional pride and massacre in history have created socially negative views in Arakanese mind on Bengali people. Fear from extinction of Arakanese has intensify their family sense. Desire to sacrifice for tradition and religion seem to boost their motivation to defend their communities from aggressive rohingyas. Although some may claim that Rohingyas are minorities, they are now majorities in Arakan state and all Arakanese are at risk of being bullied in many ways.

These social factors have been largely ignored by Burmese Junta and other Burmese politicians due to unstable local politics. Once erupted, we can see as riots which are now being described as sectarian conflicts. In fact, it is not completely true. This is a long lasting civil conflict rooted from difference in social, cultural and religious believes. Arakanese people have honorable long history of their monarchy and kingdom two thousand years ago. They truly believe that they are belonged to this land. Bengalis are just immigrants with aggressive behaviors.

Such social conflicts must be viewed closely. Otherwise, giving too much superficial comments will make situation worse.

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