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The Rohingyas are not ISIS

Last updated on: October 28, 2017 12:23 IST

'If India adopts a punitive and unforgiving stance against the Rohingyas, it will be courting disgrace,' says Amulya Ganguli.

Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

IMAGE: Hamida thought she and her family would be safe if they fled the violence in Rakhine state, Myanmar.
Members of the Rohingya community, Hamida, her husband Nasir Ahmed and two young children risked it all, leaving their home behind, when they took a boat to Bangladesh.
The journey ended in tragedy when the boat capsized.
Hamida survived, but her 5-week-old infant didn't.
Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Why is there so much animus against the Rohingyas in India?

If the saffron camp is to be believed, India has rarely faced such a grave threat to its security as it does from a straggling group of refugees.

Prima facie, these forlorn people are the most unfortunate in the world.

It isn't only that their own country -- Myanmar -- does not want them as legitimate citizens, the Myanmar army has been engaged in brutal attacks on them in retaliation for the targeting of the army by the insurgents among the Rohingyas.


India is no stranger to such incidents in areas close to the India-Myanmar border where the Indian Army recently carried out a surgical strike against Naga rebels.

India has also seen restive populations elsewhere in the north-east such as in Mizoram, where the air force carried out bombing raids in the 1960s before the insurgents under Laldenga joined the mainstream.

India is in a position, therefore, to tell Myanmar how to tackle disgruntled people with dubious loyalties.

Yet, New Delhi has chosen to treat the Rohingyas on par with ISIS, seeing in the fleeing destitutes the spectre of looming terrorism.

Hence, India's threat to use pepper spray and stun grenades to push them back if they try to enter the country, and throw out those who are already here -- although Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju has been considerate to provide the assurance that the Rohingya would not be pushed into the sea or shot dead.

Given such belligerence, it is worth asking why the present government is so incensed with and fearful of the Rohingyas.

A possible reason is that the anger and alarm are an outburst of the innate dislike of Muslims not only in India, but the world over which is integral to the Hindutva worldview.

In India, the saffron brotherhood has had to keep its anti-Muslim feelings suppressed because of the prime minister's 'Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas' slogan.

True, the Hindutva brigade does occasionally break free to target suspected beef eaters and those Muslims seemingly engaged in luring Hindu girls into marriage and possible conversion.

But these endeavours to save the majority Hindus from the machinations of the minorities cannot be conducted on a sustained basis since the police sometimes see such acts as violations of the law.

At a time when the government at the Centre is not advancing fast enough towards a Hindu Rashtra despite its majority in the Lok Sabha, the influx of the Rohingyas has provided the saviours of Hindus with an excellent opportunity to unfurl their patriotic banner.

The government's lack of concern for the international repercussions of any harsh steps which it may take against the Rohingyas must be heartening for the vigilantes because, for once, they and the government are on the same page.

The saffron camp may concede that not all the Rohingyas are terrorists, particularly the women and children.

But the saffronites have long being saying that even if not all Muslims are terrorists, all the terrorists are Muslims.

This irrefutable argument (for them) is being advanced to paint all the Rohingyas with a black brush.

The case for so depicting them cannot but have strong resonance among some of the rank and file of the BJP and RSS, not to mention the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, considering that anyone who has interacted with them will be aware of their anti-Muslim mindset.

The so-called inclusiveness peddled by some BJP ministers has little meaning for them.

It will have even less meaning where the Rohingyas are concerned because they are doubly alien, being both outsiders and Muslims.

The Hindutva warriors probably also regard them as soft targets, for the Rohingyas have few supporters even in Myanmar.

The presence of the Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, as a powerful figure in the ruling establishment in Myanmar hasn't helped them.

Evidently, the suffering which she underwent during her long incarceration under the military regime for speaking up for democracy hasn't made her sensitive about the travails of others.

The Sangh Parivar will do well to remember that soft targets tend to arouse even greater sympathy in the international community than other victims of official and religious persecution.

If India adopts, therefore, a punitive and unforgiving stance against the Rohingyas, it will be courting disgrace.

As it is, the lynching of Muslims and Dalits have brought a bad name to the country. The use of pepper spray and stun grenades against the hapless Rohingyas will bring further ignominy.

All the kudos which India has earned for sheltering the Parsis from Persia in the 8th century and the Tibetans in the 20th century, apart from the Chakmas and Hajongs who fled East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the Sri Lankan Tamils during the civil war on the island, will go down the drain.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs.

Amulya Ganguli