The truth behind the northern Rakhine issue

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  • Khin Maung Myint
  • The following is the truest and most comprehensive account of the presence the self-identified race in northern-Rakhine in Myanmar. I claimed thus, because it was written without any prejudice or bias toward any race or religion. Also, it was written based on the personal experiences of a person, who had an in depth knowledge of the history of the emergence of the self-identified term and not from hearsays from either sides of the conflicts or from the lobbyists, NGOs and various envoys, rapporteurs, who are mostly biased. That person is me.
    In the international media, both in the print and on the broadcast media, and also on the Internet social media, I had come across a lot of untrue stories. Most of them recognized the illegal Bengalis as belonging to the self-indentified who are being persecuted and denied citizenship by a country, in which they are one of the ethnic races. Those are absolute absurdities, falsely fabricated and misrepresented, with bad intentions and lack of journalistic ethics on the part of the international media. As for the social media, I have nothing to say as it is a place for everyone to voice their opinions freely and frankly and have heated debates, but lacked authenticity and reliability. Those with little or no knowledge of a particular issue or topic should not join the debates on the social media to discuss sensitive matters such as this issue.
    Most of those who advocate for the so-called self-identified race claim that those people had been on our soil for many centuries, some even claiming that they had settled in the Rakhine areas of Myanmar since the eighth century. That claim needs clarification, though the date is not a big issue, what is important is whether the people who migrated to those area in those days were really the people who mainly involved in the current northern Rakhine issue. To my knowledge, and I am quite confident that I am correct, they were people from the East Bengal State of India, which evolved into the present day Bangladesh. So, naturally they were Bengalis and being Bengalis, they could be Hindus and Buddhists only, as these were the domestic religions of those eras, years before the spread of Islam to those areas.
    Another point to take into consideration is the fact that in the olden days there were no mutually accepted, well defined boundaries between the countries in our region like elsewhere in the world. The boundaries were only arbitrary, depending on which country was superior in military power at that time. Thus it can be assumed that the borders were always shifting from time to time. Besides, the borders may not be properly demarcated and people of different races and religions could freely roam from place to place, in search of greener pastures and suitable dwelling places to settle. This assumption is proved by the fact that there are many Rakhine and even some Bamar descendants living today in Bangladesh as citizens of that country. Likewise there are many Bengalis living in Myanmar as Myanmar citizens. Those who had been to the Maungdaw, Buthitaung and Rathetaung areas will know that more than ninety percents of the population are Bengalis some of who hold Myanmar citizen identifications. Also other parts of the Rakhine State have many Bengalis residing there officially as Myanmar citizens. Even many other parts of the country have their share of Bengalis today. In Yangon, their community have increased noticeable and most of them are well established in various businesses. Many of them are more prosperous than the other average Myanmar citizens of Indian origins. So, where are their claims of persecutions? They are enjoying the full rights of the citizenship and in some cases they may be even getting more privileges than other national races as they are receiving aids from foreign Muslim countries.
    Here, I would like to differentiate between our citizens of Bengali origin and the illegal Bengalis who are claiming to be a race of Myanmar, a non-existent race throughout our history. If you will go back in time for about two centuries, you will find yourself back in 1824, when the British annexed Arakan (now Rakhine). Even then, there must be quite a large population of Bengalis who were from the India proper, already in Arakan area, as Rakhine of today was used to be called. The British passed a statute, which recognized the Bengalis who were already there at the time of their annexation, as citizens of Burma ( Myanmar) and those who came later as foreigners. Those people were mostly from Chittagong area, thus they were known in the old days as Chittagonians, which in Myanmar language they became “Khawtaws”. Most of them were laborers or “collies”, in the Indian jargon. As most of the regions in their homeland were always inundated the whole year round, even today, they came to Rakhine to work as farm hands during the paddy cultivation seasons and returned to their native places after the harvests. The Arakan or Rakhine area was known to them as “Rohin”, and those returning from “Rohin” were called “Rohingya”, meaning “returnee from Arakan”, by the people back in their native land. Thus it’s quite evident, the self-identified term does not represent a race but just a description to identify them. Those returnees from Arakan were nomadic peoples, without any permanent settlement. This statement can be clarified if you will care to go to Chittagong and make some inquiries. Some old timers there, who are not biased will tell you that my statement is true. They are scorned by many local people there.
    My experience with them was nearly four and a half decades ago, while I was posted in Akyab ( Sittway ). In 1969, a campaign to screen and sort out the illegal immigrants and expel them by the route they entered into our country, was launched. The nature of my posting at that time put me in a position to take charge of that campaign, that was code named “ Kyeegunn Sitsinyae” in Myanmar, which can be translated as “The Operation Crow”. Over two hundred immigration officers, drawn from all over the country were placed at my disposal. The campaign was conducted in three townships, namely: Mrauk Oo, Pauktaw and Minpya in the Sittway District.
    Our columns entered the villages during the nights, assisted by local policemen for security, as those areas were still not safe due to insurgency. They looked for suspicious Bengalis and asked for their National Registration Cards (NRC).

Those who could not produce any identifications to prove their citizenships were rounded up, which numbered over two thousand. Those persons were thoroughly interrogated to identify their nationalities and almost all of them said they were Bengalis and admitted to be from the neighboring country. Some try to bluff in the beginning, but on further investigations they too were found to be illegal immigrants.
They were transported, to the Taungpro, close to the border with the other country. There they were individually asked again, from which country they were from and all answered they were from East Pakistan, as Bangladesh was known in those days and pointed their fingers towards that direction. After confirming thus, they were allowed to return to their native country and they crossed the shallow river dividing the two countries to return to where they came from without any protest.
That confirmed they were illegal immigrants. There was no outcry, whatsoever, from their community or the international communities, objecting their expulsion. Destitute people from the cyclone frequented and flood prone areas of the neighboring country entered our country to work as farm hands or coolies during the paddy growing seasons.
Most usually returned to their homeland after the harvests. Later many people did not return at all. They mingle with the local Bengalis, who were naturalized citizens and some even managed to get NRC cards through illegal means. Over the years, since the British times, these people had been coming and going between the two countries at will. It was understandable, while under the British, as our country and theirs’ were ruled as one—the British India. Thus it can be assumed that there were not much restrictions at the border crossings. However, after our Independence the incumbent government, irresponsibly recognized some later day illegal immigrants as citizens to gain the majority seats in the parliament. That was a grave mistake. The root cause of the recent communal conflicts was the influx of these aliens, which, in my opinion was left unchecked for nearly four decades since we were forced to accept the expellee, back in the mid nineteen seventies. My understanding was, more than double the amount of those actually expelled had to be taken back. That was a blow below the belt or in other words, our sovereignty had been undermined by the international communities who lobbied the United Nations General Assembly to pass the unfair resolution to receive the expellee back. It was not only their fault, but also our authorities, especially those who carried out the expulsions at that time were also to be blamed. Because, as I had stated somewhere in this article, when we expelled the aliens, there was no outcry or problem whatsoever, at home or abroad.
Here, I think I should make some clarifications as to who those so-called self-identified race is. I had already mentioned above that there was never an ethnic race in Myanmar known as the self-identified term. They were in fact Bengali or Chittagonian collies who migrated to the Rakhine during paddy cultivating seasons and returned to their place of origin after the harvests since the olden days. Then how come, today, they are claiming to be one of the Myanmar national races, who are being denied citizenship and are being persecuted? Their design is quite clear. They are using that false claim as a ploy to get recognized as the citizens of Myanmar, legitimizing their stays, even if it is only temporary, before they can proceed to another country and claim refugee status and to eventually get settled in a third country. My analysis and deduction is: it is just a ploy or a ruse to pave their way for their exodus to more prosperous places. Most of the boat people found in the region, claiming to be from Myanmar are in fact from the neighboring country and most had never ever set foot on our soil. To further make my point more strong I will mention one incident, which I think, not many people knew about it. In 1969/70, an ungrounded movement organization was uncovered in Sittway and its leader and members apprehended. The documents confiscated from them revealed they were members of the Rohingya Muslim Independence Revolutionary Front (RMIRF). I do not think it would be necessary to point out what sort of an organization that was, judging from the usage of the words Independence, Revolutionary and Front. At the time they were exposed, we deduced that it was the reemergence of the Mujahideen Rebellion of the nineteen fifties that had been wiped out a long time ago. Their objectives were to continue the lost cause of that rebellion: to liberate the Northern Rakhine to establish a Muslim enclave. Their actions undermine the sovereignty of our country. However, after they failed to achieve that goal, they must have changed their strategy. Instead of taking up arms and fighting for Independence as they first set out to do, they are trying to swallow our ethnic races by the influx of illegal immigrants getting recognized as belonging to a national race or acquire citizenship statuses and eventually flush out the local Rakhines altogether. The world media, the international communities and even the UN fell for their deceit and are sympathetic to them.
If one should surf the website # Rohingya on the Internet, one would find that not only just a few persons from within our country, but many others from abroad, are carrying out propagandas extensively. I doubt those people really know where the Rakhine State is, though they are loudly denouncing the persecutions of the non-existent race. Surprisingly there is one person, with high credentials from an American university, who claims he is a Bamar, Buddhist and is the most active advocate for the so-called term. There is no reason for him to claim thus to speak up for the non-existent race, as this is not an issue of race or religion, but the problem of desperate and destitute peoples in search of greener pastures, using the excuse of being persecuted in Myanmar to make their migration to third countries easier. I am surprised to learn that they are gaining much attentions and sympathies worldwide. I cannot imagine the gullibility of those who believed them.
Before concluding, I would like to make my stand concerning the northern Rakhine issue clear. I am neither anti Muslim nor anti Bengali. I am not against the real descendants of the naturalized citizens of Bengali origins, getting recognized as citizens. This is their birth rights if they are born and bred in Myanmar, of parents both of whom are naturalized citizens. However, I am of the opinion that the later day illegal immigrants are entirely untitled to be granted the citizenship.
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