By Jay Prabhakar
The Rohingya people are native to Myanmar. They practice Islam and, presumably for that reason, are treated as subhuman by the ultra-nationalist Buddhist junta. The government of Myanmar has been using systematic rape and other gruesome methods to torment this minority. By some measures, this is the most persecuted people in the world right now.
With dwindling options, these poor souls are running for their lives to Bangladesh, a country just as impoverished as Myanmar and one that doesn’t want them either. The local Bangladeshis are beginning to revolt against these refugees, claiming they are taking away local jobs. Sound familiar? Businesses that are developing the as-yet pristine beaches along the Bay of Bengal, want the government to get rid of these “annoyances”, so that they can get on with the business of making the beaches a global tourist destination.
Recently, a Rohingya village, in an act of desperation, mounted an attack on a police station. The government retaliated mercilessly, separating the women from the men and children and gang-raping the women for hours. When the villagers eventually fled to the Bangladesh border, they were assaulted by more troops. Women who put up any protest were brutally killed as an example to the rest, who then mutely suffered the humiliation meted out to them by the Burmese soldiers for a second time.
Balkanization is rampant around the world, fuelled by the unsustainable increase in Humankind’s population. As our numbers grow, the relative size of the economic pie shrinks. People look at anyone who are not like themselves, as threats. They see their jobs taken by these “others” and, perhaps justifiably, want them gone.
Such thinking is evident in India. Bangaloreans distrust the Biharis, who come there for construction jobs. Mumbai is for Mumbaiyyas – drive out the “Southies”. Similar sentiments flourish in the rest of the country. PM Narendra Modi’s appointment of Aditya Nath Yogi as the CM of UP is perhaps a preview of India’s formal swivel towards sectarianism, away from secularism. This despite the fact that the preamble to the Indian constitution includes the word “Secular”.
We in the US have become inured to the background “noise” of such abuses around the world. We have “crisis fatigue”, we claim. Our current president was elected on a platform of self-interest and isolationism. America First is still the slogan. America’s refusal to accept our share of the world’s unfortunate – notwithstanding the words at the base of Lady Liberty – has set a bad example for the rest of the world. Strong-men (and women) of all stripe are coming out of the woodwork, across the globe.
One of the guiding tenets of Hinduism – whose proponents staunchly proclaim that it is a Philosophy, not a Religion – is inclusivity. The adoption of Savarkar’s “Hindutva” by the BJP has made India overtly nationalistic and proud of it, comparable to the US’s recent blatant xenophobia.
India shares a substantial border with Myanmar. She aspires to be a dominant power in her neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be a shining example for all of Southeast Asia and perhaps the world, if India were to step up to the plate and address this horrendous inhumanity? Perhaps accept a few thousand of these hapless souls into our warm Hindu hearts, even though they are Muslim? Of course, they must be carefully vetted and there will be logistical issues. India has done this before, with the Tibetans. It seems imperative that India must do something for the Rohingya, if only to re-introduce the world to the meaning of compassion.
(Jay Prabhakar is a consultant in robotics and automation and is the president of Bedford Controls, Inc. He lives in New Hampshire.)