“At the end of the day, the goals are simple : safety and security.” —Jodi Rell
Do you think one should jeopardise the security of one’s nation ? Do you think allowing someone to enter illegally into one’s own country in the name of human rights, is a justice to others already dwelling in over there ? Do you think the national security of a country should be left in the lap of peril, just because of the pressure of other nations ?
If the answer to any of the above questions is in affirmative, then one ought to sit calmly and think about the blackhole into which the national security of country is being pushed.
Arakans or Rohingyas as they are popularly termed are very well heard of. They are the stateless, Indo-Aryan speaking people from Rakhine state, Myanmar. An estimated 603 thousand Rohingyas fled their native land into the neighbouring countries of India and Bangladesh in August, 2017. They are designated as the most persecuted minorities in the world. Rohingyas are also denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar Nationality Law. Simply stated, Myanmar does not considers Rohingyas as one of them. What triggered the worst ethnic cleansing of a minority community— as it is tagged by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres—was an attack by the rebels of Arakanese community on the security forces of Myanmar resulting in the death of 12 security personnel. After that, fleeing persecution by the guards in their own country, the community members started illegally entering into the Indian mainland. It is claimed by other nations that India should allow thousands of Rohingyas to enter but according to me, the case must be entirely opposite.
India shares her border with Bangladesh and Myanmar on the eastern side. As a matter of fact, Indian border forces can’t keep a check on every other person entering through that side as the borderline is quite vulnerable. The Rohingyas entering unstoppably from our Eastern borders is a huge crisis. The point here is not that each and every Rohingya is a terrorist or a rebel, but the point here is that one will never come to know if a Rohingya is incendiary or not; since checking the background, recent activities, family and other credentials is not at all an easy task, yet, a mammoth one. This very situation and fact poses a great threat to our national security on the other hand, India is also a land of limited resources and huge population. Out of those limited resources, it is entirely impossible to feed another million people, whom we don’t even know and recognise one of us. Our resources are so scarce, that the Indian population itself depends upon imports for survival. Though, there has been a considerable effort to become self-sustained, yet there’s a long way to go. Some politicians have been justifying the entry of Rohingyas into the country, and their basic stand is that human rights must be protected.
The great honchos of our country, instead of giving even greater harangues must keep in mind that letting someone enter illegally into the country is jeopardizing the larger interests of the nation builders and the citizens.
George Bush once quipped that India lived and lives in a very dangerous neighbourhood. He failed to add that moral ambiguity was consequently built into its foreign policy. The Rohingya refugee crisis, in its true sense is only the latest example of the inescapable reality. India is undoubtedly a very soft target in the south Asian region. There are no qualms about our constitution granting everybody equal status in the eyes of law under Article 14. Under Article 21, it provides right to life and liberty to each and every person. Another, Article 51(c) of the Directive Principles of state Policy makes it mandatory to respect International Law and deportation in this case, of the Rohingyas—is against that. These three articles combined enable any and every foreigner to obtain basic shelter in India. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs responded to the said security challenge on August 8, 2017. It empowered the states and UTs to identify and deport illegal aliens. Another thing which favours central government’s decision is that India is not a signatory to any international convention and so it should first think of its own nationals. Images of starving refugee toddlers, their bellies distended, flies buzzing around their noses are difficult scenarios to forget. But what about the same fate shared by millions of our own Indians ? Are they less humans than the refugees ? Who would any national Indian like to help first ? Our country should put the money where the mouth is. The people who so much want to help the refugees and not their own, must give a sprawling bedroom of their magnificient houses and help the ailing refugees. And if they can’t, they shouldn’t throw the mud of human rights on the centre’s face. Till that day comes, we should feel contented and happy at hearts as ever because, we all know we must but, even you know, we can’t !
It is an irony of history that Bangladesh, whose population had to take refugee in India during the 1971 Liberation war, is in a situation to provide shelter to people as desperate as once they were 46 years ago. They walk for days, cross mountainous terrain, travel in inkety boats across Naf rivers to escape; to reach Cox Bazar along the banks of the Naf river on the Bangladesh—Myanmar border. They brave the dangerous sea through the Bay of Bengal to reach Bangladesh shores. Myanmar authorities have accepted that 176 of 471 ethnic Rohingya villages are now ‘completely empty’ and that atleast 34 villages are ‘partially abandoned’.
Under pressure from the international community, the Myanmar government had constituted the Rakkine Advisory Commission, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to identify the central issues of “citizenship verification, documentation, rights and equality before law.” No state would tolerate attacks on its security personnel, but to punish an enire community is never an acceptable response to aggression by a few” is what Major General (retd.) Abdur Rashid, a Bangladeshi security analyst has to say. Bangladesh has repeatedly condemned attacks on Myanmarese military ports by insurgents and also proposed joint inspection along the border to flush them out. It has also called for creating a ‘safe zone’ inside Myanmar under UN supervision to protect the innocent, and full implementation of the Annan Commission’s recommendations.
The Rohingyas have been fighting for recognition as a distinct ethnic group since World War II. They were not included in the citizenship law in 1982, and thus became stateless and are persecuted. Violence has visited on the Rohingya in phases, most notably beginning in 2012. In 2014, they were refused enumeration during the Myanmar census, the government identifying them as Bengalis which they refused. The Myanmar army has allegedly planted landmines along the border with Bangladesh. Use of inherently indiscriminate and deadly weapons at highly trafficked paths around the border is putting ordinary people at enormous risk. Myanmar is among the first countries to have accorded recognition to independent Bangladesh. The two have bilateral trade and are involved in infrastructure projects. But the Rohingy exodus is casting a long shadow on friendly ties.
India, throughout its history, has been generously accommodative towards refugees in the neighbourhood fleeing persecution, which includes Parsis, Tibetans, Afghans, Sri Lankan Tamils and Bangladeshis during the war of liberation in 1971. Bangladesh, itself one of the world’s most densely populated nations, has hosted more than 6,00,000 Rohingyas compared to 40,000 by India. India’s move to dissociate itself from the Bali Declaration adopted at the World Parliamentary Forum on Sustainable Development in Indonesia, which called on all member countries to respect human rights of all people in Rakhine state regardless of their faith and ethnicity, puts into question its respect for human rights. Interestingly, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka joined the Declaration. Since 2009, Bangladesh has emerged as one of India’s most trusted neighbours. India-Bangladesh border today is one of the safest for India, enabling massive redeployment of its vital border resources for other purposes. Despite this, Bangladesh has neither received water from the Teesta or support in times of humanitarian crisis form its biggest neighbour. It appears that an aspirational India does not need a defeated people like the Rohingya. India can no longer criticise the west for being hostile to Syrian and Sudanese refugees. The Nehruvian state and even the regime of Indira Gandhi upheld the principle of hospitality. Jawaharlal Nehru was open to Tibet and courageously invited the Dalai Lama to make a home here and Indira Gandhi played host to refugees from the then East Pakistan.
The military junta of Myanmar cracked down on Rohingyas in 1982, stating that they were late comers and hence not part of the original ancestors of Burmese society. They were denied not only access to health, education but also any claim to the idea of citizenship.
On September 11, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi admonished a students convention for forgetting the significance of 1893. This was the year Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous speech to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. As the Prime Minister put it, that date was the original 9/11. “Had we not forgotten the significance of our own 9/11, there would have been no 9/11 in 2001”. While it is true that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army has connections with Hafiz Saeed and Al-Qaeda, it would be grossly unjust to view all Rohingya as potential terrorists. The Inspector-General of Police in Jammu, where the largest Rohingya concentration is located, has told NDTV that there are only a few cases of petty crime against them, the sort that poor refugees are often accused of, and they are not a threat to national security. If the Rohingya had the money for hawala transactions, they would surely spend it on improving their miserable existence. By that line of thought, Hindu refugees fleeing Pakistan and Bangladesh could be a threat to Indian Muslims. India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or its 1967 protocol, but we are still bound by the many conventions on human rights we have signed. The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 applies to all people in India, irrespective of citizenship. In Bhagvad Gita, Arjuna asked Krishna what could justify taking a human life. He dismissed every answer Krishna gave and entered battle reluctantly, against his own dharma. Mahatma Gandhi qualified Arjuna’s words, saying we could take up arms if our own lives or if the lives of others, were under attack. Guru Gobind Singh said it was our duty to come to the defence of all those who were threatened through no fault of their own. Surprisingly, today our own government is in the Supreme Court defending its decision to deport Rohingya refugees.
That India is not a signatory to the UNHCR convention is a matter of shame, not a just defence. The people of Tripura opened their homes for refugees from East Pakistan in 1971, as did the people of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lankan refugees.
Any deportation would violate the fundamental rights to equality and to life, under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, of the Rohingyas. The principle of non-refoulement is articulated in Article 33 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of Refugees. It mandates that no state shall expel or return a refugee to the frontiers of territories where his life or freeedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. The principle is so well enshrined that it constitutes a peremptory norm from which no derogation whatsover is permitted. So long as the presence of a refugee is not prejudicial to the law and order and security of India, he should be allowed to seek shelter here.
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