Bengalization of Ethnic Rohingya Muslims
by Ahmed Hasan
Myanmar’s authoritative illegality continues in ‘legal procedures’ surpassing all UN standards regarding citizens’ rights. United Nations said all Burmese should be allowed an option to self-identify their ethnicity. But most recently, the country declares it won’t count Rohingya as Muslims rather as Bengalis to be registered first ever in the President’s Census since 1983. Burmese Border Forces (NaSaKa) and soldiers (Lone Htain), immigration officials and Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) perform as main actors for controversial registration process, checking personal details from house-to-house. NaSaKa for several years is trying to begalizing its repressed citizens, Rohingyas. A four-page survey form-the first page mentions name details, age, village, occupation, education, marital status, race and possessed documents in the first page, the second page constitutes ancestral details, grandparents, and immigration information and then, criminal convictions or proceedings. The final page holds just signature and fingerprint.
1982 citizenship law, enacted by former dictator Gen Ne Win included 135 official ethnic groups excluding the Rohingya. The law imposes upon restrictions on travel, marriage, reproduction as well.
Dictatorial and semi-military authority wearing so-called democratic uniform alleges its citizens, ethnic Rohingya Muslims as illegal immigrants intruding from neighboring Bangladesh. Primarily Myanmar pursues two calculated goals. Firstly Bengalizing this ethnic entity, the country would certainly gain more upper handing stands to push back Rohingyas to Bangladesh, may be several steps and years later. On the other hand, the country may pursue to appease growing Buddhists fundamentalism in Rakhaine state in a sense that Myanmar has been able to segregate them identifying as ‘Bangladeshi immigrants’ banishing their Rohingya status.
But the sequel of current affairs stages different way. Rakhine state’s Buddhist organizations boycotted the census suspecting in the ground that the recognition can possibly persuades Rohingyas for legal movements to establish their citizens’ rights. Seemingly, possible Rohingya movement can’t be able to grow now in the authoritarian state which pursue inactiveness in some cases in ethno-riots and violence in other cases against Rohingya minorities. Even ethnic Rohingyas also refused the census in a fear that their Bengali identity may deport them to the Bengali lived Bangladesh abolishing their Rohingya identity. Another reason, they haven’t any option rather to practice Bengali language because their long-practiced-Rohingylish language does not exist anymore at the time when they register in the census. By this process process, the ethnicity will certainly lose control over its culture and identity.
United Nations (UN) views Rohingya, nearly 60 million (about 5% of the country), as the world most persecuted minorities in Myanmar, a country of half-century of military rule having self-imposed isolation. It is continuously experiencing torture, negligence, and repression since the country’s independence in 1948. The country blatantly fails to promote its security mechanism towards Human Rights Workers. At present, they started escaping working offices as Buddhists mob attacks escalated in Rakhine region. Rohingyas pass their horrible days in apartheid-like condition in crowded camps with no access to jobs, education or medical care. In May, 2013 a brutal riot erupted scoring hundreds of deaths and countless casualties while the country was celebrating transitions to democracy. About 73, 000 Rohingya has now decreased in 5,000 people confining into camps escorted by the forces. The UN estimates approximately 140,000 Rohingya displaced at the aftermath of 2013’s riot outbreaks. Majority of Rohingya people for generations, are denied citizenship under 1982 law attributing them stateless. UNHCR counts more than 25,000 Rohingyas live in two official camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.
From linguistic perspective, ethnic Rohingya is completely a distinct identity. They neither Bangladeshis (Bengalis) nor any of Indian nations or tribes settled in the state. For example, Rohingya write their Rohingyalish scripts and speak distinct accents and phonology, never ever, even tiny-closed to any of Bengali or Bangladeshi dialects. If agreeing for the debate only, the Rohingyalish is little closer to the Chittagonian Language which is NOT a Bengali Dialect. Because Chittagonian Language is a member of the Bengali-Assamease sub-branch of the Eastern group of Indo-Aryan Language, a branch of Indo-European language family, spoken in the original inhabitants of the Rakhine state of Myanmar.
Originating from the Indo-Aryan sub-branch of the greater Indo-European language family, Rohingyalish assumes as the modern written language of the ethnicity. Rohingya linguistic specialists have successfully selected various scripts including Arabic, Hanifi, Urdu, Roman, and Burmese. Hanifi is newly developed alphabets derived from Arabic and two characteristics from Latin and Burmese. Latin letters Ç (for retroflex R) and Ñ (for nasal sound) are widely used to properly represent Rohingya phonology. It represents five accented vowels (áéíóú). Significantly this distinct language has been acknowledged by ISO with ISO 639-3 “rhg” code.
In 1650, Shah Alwal, the great poet of then Arakan Kingdom wrote Rohingya Language for the first time ever in Arabic script. Later in 1973, Master Sultan revived increasing its acceptability where Rohingya scholars appreciated him to a great extent. The most exclusive linguistic change happened in 2000 when Eng. Mohammed Siddique Basu brainstormed and applied an intuitive idea to write Rohingya language in 28 Latin letters only creating a new system called Rohingyalish, recognized by ISO. A certain number of Rohingyas, being illegally intruded into Bangladesh from Myanmar are constantly crossing into West Bengal, Indian Bengali speaking state. But, this illegal migrants neither speak nor understand Hindi, Bengali or English. On the other hand, Rohingyas also can’t speak Urdu or any other Indian Languages. Myanmar authority classified as ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh and Bangladesh identifies them as undocumented foreigners.
The history shows that the direct descendants of Arab settlers started residing over (Arakan) Rakhine state during 8th century. After 24 years of exile in Bengal, King Narameikhla (1430–1434) of the Kingdom of Mrauk U regained his lost throne in 1430 where Sultanate of Bengal collaborated him providing military assistance. Then, a little number of Bengali settlers under his endorsement started settling there. Even after acquiring independence, the Arakanese Buddhist kings continued Sultanate title. The kings employed Muslims descendants in prestigious position.
From religious perspective, ethnic Rohingya practice Sunni Islam combined with Sufi ideology. Majority of elderly Rohingyas have beards while women wear Hijab. Basically Madrasahs, religious school are appeared in almost every village in Rohingya areas.
It can be boomerang for the Myanmar while abolishing an ethnicity. Because history proves no nation and identity can be abolished like Hutu-Tutsi, Palestinians-Israelis or Bengalis-Pakistanis. Growing complex situation regarding Rohingyas will welcome different outsider actors to intervene in the region. Moreover, the deprived Rohingyas can choose the way of terrorism and separatism if the persecution continues. The modern world has to hear unfortunately the scream of the repressed Rohingyas, pushed at the edge of persecution! n