With its unprecedented campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the minority Rohingya community, Myanmar seems to defy everything that represents civilization.
The signs that Myanmar would turn into hell for a section its population were there long before the ongoing radical Buddhist groups led a drive of mass killings, rapes, arson, looting and every sort of crime in Rakhine state, formerly known as Arakan. We were fooled by the media and the West's human rights industry that embraced Aung San Suu Kyi as an icon of democracy after the Burmese military annulled the 1990 elections won by her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). The West even honored this fake icon with its political honor known as the Nobel Peace Prize.While the world was painting a romantic picture of Suu Kyi's political struggles, Myanmar's military rulers had decided to execute their ugly, racist and criminal schemes in Rakhine.Mohammed Haroon, who fled the post-1990 persecution, remembers the horror well even after almost three decades.
He is now 45 years old and lives in a squalid shelter run by a charity organization in India's capital of New Delhi.
Haroon and his family are among 230 Rohingya, including about 75 children, who live in Delhi's Madanpur Khadar area. Their camp, built on an area of 1,100 square meters, houses 47 families. Living in such a cramped and filthy place is a daily indignity that he and his fellow Rohingya Muslims must endure.
As if their appalling situation was not punishment in itself, the refugees are seen as a threat to national security by radical Hindu groups in India. The Indian government wants to expel them because it says they are in the country illegally."Is this life? Is this how human beings live?" Haroon asked, pointing toward the decrepit shacks where smiling little children played, unconcerned about the dangers they would be exposed to if they were sent back to Myanmar. "We do not want to live here. But where else can we go?" Haroon asked helplessly, aware that the Indian government wants to deport them. "How are we a threat to India? We left our homeland to save our lives. We will go back when it is safe for us. We do not want to live here permanently," he said.His village is in Rakhine's Buthidaung area, where widespread atrocities have taken place in the current wave of atrocities. The Rohingya suffering is a long story and one of the gravest injustices in history. Haroon's family and the Rohingya community had hoped the elections in 1990 would bring new hope and Myanmar would see an era of peace after decades of military dictatorship.
They had supported Suu Kyi's party in the election. Today, however, she is seen as one of the key villains in the genocide carried out by the military and Buddhist mobs.
"We voted for her. My father Jafar Ahmed was an activist for the NLD and close to Suu Kyi. He was sure to get a political post if the military had not cancelled the vote," Haroon recalled.
His father was important enough for the military to go after his family when the junta started the crackdown.
Having been tipped off by someone about the impending military action, Haroon's family fled their home. So when the Buddhist soldiers arrived, they went instead to his uncle's house.
"My uncle's home was raided. They raped my cousin. They beat up my uncle so badly that he later died. The military occupied our family land and looted our home," Haroon said.Forced labor and hunger were used as weapons in the ethnic cleansing. "People were made to work against their will. We were given no compensation for the work we did, but we still had to arrange our own food. How much cruelty and exploitation could we suffer?" Haroon said.
This was the template the Myanmar regime used in the latest campaign to uproot an ethnic and religious minority from its historical homeland. Extremist Buddhist mobs and monks have provided a cover of anarchy in a state-orchestrated campaign.
No Rohingya refugee wants to go back unless the situation changes totally. This can change if the Rohingya are empowered to live like equals, without having to fear either mobs or the rogue regime that uses the façade of democracy to conduct massacres. "We have no hope in Myanmar. We left because Myanmar became a place where there was no dignity, even in death. They took away all of our rights. Today the situation is much worse," said Mohammed Salimullah, 35, who went to a school in Rakhine and would resume his life in his homeland if his security was guaranteed.
Such guarantees can be provided by an international settlement for the problem. Those guilty of crimes against Rohingya Muslims must be punished severely as a deterrent to other to-be savages both in Myanmar and other parts of the world.
Across the border, Bangladesh has received more than 600,000 refugees in less than five months and is under strain to take care of them with its scarce resources. Other countries should show generosity to help the refugees so that the Bangladeshi government is not under pressure to cut a quick deal for their return to Myanmar.
Myanmar believes it has the backing of some future super powers in its anti-Rohingya campaign. Suu Kyi must not be allowed to use her eloquence in defending the regime's atrocities against a defenseless population. She is no icon of democracy or human rights. She is no longer trustworthy.In 2010, she said in an interview: "Let me be clear that I would like to be seen as a politician, not some human rights icon."In seven years, particularly after the 2015 general elections, her lust for power has only grown. Today she is not ashamed to be the face of an apartheid regime. The unchecked rise of radical Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar will create a threat to peace and order in Asia.
* India-based journalist, @Husain_Shakir