THE ART OF DEHUMANIZING PEOPLE
It may have caught the attention of world governments, the Church, the UN agencies on Refugees and Human Rights, and even the ordinary people reading the news about the sad and unconscionable plight of the Rohingya people.
The Rohingyas are allegedly Stateless and unwanted and one of the world’s forgotten people. A number of them, a few months back, were found in abject state on board a motorless vessel drifting in international waters, in the middle of nowhere, left to the elements of nature and the mercy of the shark-infested sea.
History has it that the origin of the Rohingya is the subject of much dispute. Many Rohingya claim that they are the true natives of Arakan, having converted to Islam centuties ago. The word Rohingya comes from the word ‘Rohang,’ which was the original and ancient name of Arakan.
The Rohingya are mostly a Muslim ethnic group of the Northern Rakhine State (formerly known as Arakan) of Western Burma.
Arakan was said to be visited by Arab traders since ancient times, and cultural traits tend to support the Rohingyas being part of the native population of the region. The Arakan State of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh, is mostly inhabited by two ethnic communities – the Rakhine Buddhist and the Rohingya Muslims. The Rakhine Buddhists are close to the Burmese in religion and language. The Rohingya Muslims are ethnically and religiously related to the people from the region of Chittagong in south-eastern Bangladesh.
Rohingya activists claim that the Burmese government’s objective is to turn Muslim Arakan into a Burmanised region by reducing the Muslims to an insignificant or manageable minority, and that as a result, more than a quarter of the total area of arable land has gone back to jungle. The government has started a massive colonization project to settle Buddhists from both inside and outside of Arakan on lands confiscated from the Rohingya.
Now with the military-run government in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) the Rohingyas, more than ever, are said to be victimized because of their religion and ethnicity and they face widespread religious persecution and discrimination at all levels, such as education, health and other basic needs, including the denial of their right to citizenship. History also cites major incidents of repression on the Rohingya community occurring in 1962, 1978, and 1991. They are not allowed to marry, cannot travel without permission and do not have rights to land or property. They are also used as slave labour, beaten in the streets and even jailed for little or no reason.
It is because of these harsh realities that, in desperation, waves after waves of Rohingyas take to the sea fleeing the adverse conditions of the continuing persecution and marginalization of their land by the military government.
The dream for a better life by this courageous boat people almost always ends up in misery. Such was their fate when a number of them were found starving and dehydrated when rescued while drifting in the ocean.
In another incident, a survivor’s tale told of a harrowing experience when they allegedly were denied safe haven in Thailand where they drifted first and then forcibly put out to sea again by Thai soldiers with barely food to eat and water to drink. With the intention of letting the boat people die, the soldiers allegedly even destroyed the boat’s engine after towing them to sea and cutting them adrift.
Miraculously, the boat people were still able to survive and make landfall on one of India’s Andaman Isles and were rescued, fed and given medical attention.
The question now is where does the Catholic Church stand on this issue when there is no more value tagged on life of this people and the right to life is blatantly violated? Why, all of a sudden even our group of activist bishops in this country can’t find their voices in protest over this atrocious disregard for life?
Where are the human rights activists who normally make a barrage of noise when one person is killed in this country but keeps mum at the ghastly crime committed on the Rohingyas?
Where are our Muslim elders to denounce to high heavens and ask for international condemnation the act of violence perpetrated by ruthless and unchristian people on brothers of their own Islam faith?
How come we don’t hear much from ASEAN head of States, to include the Philippines, strongly censuring this barbaric act?
Are we all losing respect for human dignity and getting calloused and numb to human tragedies?
Are the greatest advocates for freedom, democracy, justice and human rights just going to act like the proverbial monkey that don’t see, hear and say anything?
What say you, U.S. President Barack Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon?