October 12, 2013.
Even as the Myanmarese are busy coming to terms with democracy, the party in power is using anti-Muslim sentiments to create a vote bank
Up in flames: In March at least 40 people were killed in communal
riots in Meiktila city in central Myanmar.
“Myanmar is a Buddhist country. The Buddhists come first and both the Christians and Muslims in our country must get used to this.” This statement from a Burmese businessman-cum-civil rights activist took me by surprise. From the picturesque view of downtown Yangon provided by the rooftop restaurant we sat in, I found myself mentally transported two weeks back in time and into a traffic jam. “Aung San Suu Kyi is wrong. She is obsessed with human rights, but some people don’t deserve human rights. Muslims are behind terrorist attacks around the world. They come into our country, marry our women and convert them, but we are not allowed to marry their girls. Why do they never convert to Buddhism?” asked a taxi driver, who was trying to explain to me the “logic” behind his anti-Muslim stance.Read the rest here.
Both men — educated, extensively travelled (the taxi driver was also in the merchant navy) and representing two different strata of Burmese society — told me with equal passion that Muslims do not have a place in the new Myanmar. Their words reveal a Buddhist nationalist mindset that has manifested itself in violence against Rohingya Muslims. This mindset has led to brutality of the kind witnessed on 1 October when Buddhist mobs killed a 94-year-old Muslim woman and torched more than 70 homes in Rakhine state.
In the Arakan state in west Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh, thousands have been displaced and hundreds killed in waves of violence against the Rohingya Muslims. International NGO Human Rights Watch has called it “ethnic cleansing”, with the administration often turning a blind eye to the violence. The impact has also been felt in India, with a spate of Rohingya refugees reaching the country from Arakan. (Also, last year, images of violence against Rohingyas in Myanmar were misused to depict violence against Muslims in Assam, leading to an exodus of people from Northeast India living in Bengaluru, fearing a backlash.)
Buddhists comprise 80 percent of Myanmar’s population, while the Muslims make up 4 percent (2.4 million). There has always been a latent resentment among the Buddhists against the Muslims, and this has also influenced the legal edifice of the Burmese state. Rohingya Muslims have been excluded from the 1982 Citizenship Law, which defines the criteria for being a Burmese citizen and lists the ethnic groups that are eligible for citizenship.
Speaking to a group of Burmese civil society activists, I learnt that several laws have been enacted over the years to ensure that the Muslims remain on the back foot. For example, limitations were imposed on the observance of Islamic religious festivals like Eid. Muslims had to seek permission from the local authority and pay a hefty tax before doing any animal sacrifice. There was also a cap on the number of marriages permitted within the Muslim community in a given period of time, forcing many to go to Bangladesh to get married. On returning, they would find that they had lost their household registration and would need to re-establish themselves. Another law banned the Muslims from having more than two children. I was told that these restrictions were initially meant only for the Rohingyas, but were gradually extended to all Muslims in Arakan state.
Moreover, to change the demography of Muslim-majority areas, the government tried to bring in Buddhists from other parts of the country, and also from Bangladesh, to settle there.
*****Comment: And still not a peep from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Should anyone even care anymore about what she may think?
Her complicit silence speaks volumes anyway.