Skip to main content

Rohingiya refugees: Whither India's sacred tenet Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam?


By Cedric Prakash sj*
‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ meaning ‘the whole world is one family’, is an ancient Sanskrit phrase found in the Maha Upanishad, one of the Sacred Texts of Hinduism. This important phrase underlines a basic tenet of Hindu philosophy, which includes welcoming, hospitality, tolerance, harmony, unity and adaptability. For several centuries, India as a country and a large percentage of Indians have been doing their best to live up to this ideal. India has been home to races, nationalities, tribes, religions and cultures from across the world.
India has always been a welcoming home to refugees .During the bloody and painful days of partition, there was a steady influx of refugees into India. Thanks to the statesmanship of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, several hundreds of thousands of Tibetan refugees (including the Dalai Lama) have made India their home for more than fifty years now. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 saw another major influx into the country; it was estimated that more than ten million East Bengali refugees entered India to escape mass killings and the brutality of that war. Though most returned to Bangladesh after independence, an estimated 1.5 million have continued to stay on in India. The Soviet-Afghan war of 1979, the more than twenty-five years of civil war in Sri Lanka since 1983, the atrocities on minorities in Myanmar, have in their wake brought in huge numbers of Afghanis, Sri Lankan Tamils, Chins and Rohingyas into India.
The persecuted Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar today and inhuman stand of the current Indian Government is very much in the news today. The Rohingyas (1.2 million approx.)are an ethnic minority group, mainly Muslim, who are concentrated in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Despite having roots and living in the Buddhist- majority country for centuries, the Rohingyas since 1982 are denied citizenship, disenfranchised, regarded as illegal immigrants and rendered stateless. Since the late 1970’s, many of them have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly Bangladesh.
In February 2017, a United Nations report had documented numerous instances of gang rape and killings, including of babies and young children, by Myanmar’s security forces. In the past month, because of some insurgency on the part of a small group of Rohingyas, the army’s viciousness, already very ghastly, has escalated even further. The military action triggered Asia’s biggest humanitarian crisis since Cambodia’s Pol Pot. Recently, the United Nations’ top human rights official called Myanmar’s ongoing military campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in that country’s Rakhine state “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
In just a little over a month since August 25th, more than 480, 000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh. Many were killed by the Myanmar military and other marauding mobs. Those who have survived the onslaught in Myanmar face land mines planted along the border presumably aimed at killing escapees. Others make the treacherous crossing, through inclement weather (torrential rains and floods) of the wide estuary of the Naf River, which separates Myanmar from Bangladesh. It is estimated that several hundreds have died in capsized boats, and boatmen have been charging exploitative rates for a ride that usually costs a pittance.
Victim survivors have been sharing horror stories of what they have been going through. The Rohingyas are referred to, as the minority, which is the most persecuted in the world today. The unbelievable and inhuman suffering, which they are being subjected to, has captured the attention: the anguish and anger of a sizeable section of the world community.
The Bangladesh Government, the UN and some local and International NGOs are doing their best; but the conditions are dire, food and drinking water is scarce. The UN Refugee Agency in a communique states, “there is also an increased risk of communicable diseases, infection, cholera and respiratory infections. It is incredibly difficult to keep warm and dry under these conditions and already weak and exhausted; many refugees will struggle to stay healthy.”
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visited the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh recently. On September 27th, on his return to Geneva he said, “They had to flee very sudden and cruel violence, and they have fled with nothing. Their needs are enormous – food, health, shelter. They have absolutely nothing. I have hardly seen in my career people that have come with so little. They need everything.” He added, “I have spoken to several women who have been raped, or have been wounded because of their resistance to rape. I spoke to many children, shockingly absent of emotion, because they were so traumatized. They told me how they had seen their parents or relatives or friends killed in front of their eyes.”
Despite the suffering of the Rohingyas ,the Government of India is doing all they can to deport about 40,000 Rohingyas who are currently living in India and to prevent other Rohingyas from entering the country. This is a very sad commentary on the moral fibre of the current ruling dispensation, besides the actions by India against the refugees would clearly go against the country’s obligations under international and domestic law. The case of the rights of the Rohigya refugees is currently in the Supreme Court of India and the next hearing is scheduled for October 3rd .
Some of the country’s best-known legal luminaries are defending the Rohingya petitioners and others against the Government of India. Their petition rests on two basic premises, that any deportation would violate their fundamental rights to equality and to life, under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, and, secondly that any action by India in returning them to Myanmar would infringe international law, particularly the principle of non-refoulement (Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention).
The Government’s key arguments are that terrorists ‘might’ have infiltrated the Rohingyas, therefore the security of the country is at stake; and that the country is not bound to follow the principle of non-refoulement, since it is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. No one with a bit of common sense and compassion will buy these arguments.
On September 11th in his Opening Statement to the 36th Session of the Human Rights Council Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “I deplore current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country. Some 40,000 Rohingyas have settled in India, and 16,000 of them have received refugee documentation. The Minister of State for Home Affairs has reportedly said that because India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention the country can dispense with international law on the matter, together with basic human compassion. However, by virtue of customary law, its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the obligations of due process and the universal principle of non-refoulement, India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations”.
Strong words indeed but the plain truth. Several other prominent human rights organizations have criticized India’s stand.
There has been global condemnation of the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and of the complicit silence by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who is the State Counsellor of Myanmar – but also rather powerless. On the other hand, Myanmar has the support of some nations like China and very unfortunately, India too!
In two months from now, Pope Francis will be visiting Myanmar (Nov.27th-30th) and Bangladesh (Nov.30th to Dec 2nd). His visit will certainly focus global attention on the plight of the Rohingyas. Pope Francis has consistently taken a stand for all refugees and displaced persons and he has been vocal in his defense of the Rohingyas. On August 27th, just a couple of days after this current onslaught he said, “Sad news has reached us of the persecution of our Rohingya brothers and sisters, a religious minority. I would like to express my full closeness to them – and let all of us ask the Lord to save them, and to raise up men and women of good will to help them, who shall give them their full rights. Let us pray for our Rohingya brethren.”
The Government and people of Myanmar, the Government of India, and the global community must pay heed to the fact that, “the whole world is one family”; that every citizen in a civilized world is endowed with rights; that even refugees have to be treated with compassion, care and the dignity they deserve. Above all, we have to realise that like the rest of us, the Rohingyas are human too!

*Indian human rights activist

Comments

TRENDING

Sorry state of Indian academics: why was I thrown out of Delhi varsity interview room?

By Dr. Abhay Kumar*  The interview for the post of political science (Guest) was scheduled on Saturday afternoon, September 10, 2022. Given my previous experience, I was not willing to appear for it. But friends persuaded me to go and fight for our rights. I reached the college well before the time. When my turn came and I entered the room. The first question was asked about my experience. I said that I had taught for four semesters at NCWEB. I mentioned that I had taught ”Comparative politics”, “International Relations”, “Comparative Political Thoughts” and “Indian Government and Politics”. I said that as a teacher I had taught all the articles listed in the syllabus of the same Delhi University and the expert could ask anything about any reading or ideas. Friends, the first question asked by a female member, perhaps she is the principal of the college if I am not wrong, to give the full form of NCWEB! The second question asked by a male expert, perhaps he is the political science dep

Musician and follower of Dr Ambedkar? A top voilinist has this rare combination!

Some time back, a human rights defender, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, who frequently writes for Counterview, forwarded to me a video interview with Guru Prabhakar Dhakade, calling him one of India's well known violinists.  Dhakade is based in Nagpur and has devoted his life for the Hindustani classical music. A number of his disciples have now been part of Hindi cinema world in Mumbai, says Rawat. He has performed live in various parts of the country as well as abroad. What however attracted me was Dhakade's assertions in video about Dr BR Ambedkar, India's undisputed Dalit icon. Recorded several years back at his residence and music school in Nagpur, Dhakade not only speaks candidly about issues he faced, but that he is a believer in Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. It is in this context that Dhakade narrates his problems, even as stating that he is determined to achieve his goal. A violinist and a follower of Ambedkar? This was new to me. Rarely do musicians are found to take a

Tokens, symbols or incipient feminists? : First generation women sociologists in India

By IMPRI Team  The online event on the theme ‘Tokens, Symbols or Incipient Feminists? : The first Generation of Women Sociologists in India’ was held as an initiative of Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi under the #WebPolicyTalk series of The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. Inaugurating the session, Zubiya Moin welcomed the speaker and participants to the program, followed by an introduction to the eminent panelists. Commencing the program, Prof Vibhuti Patel made her opening remarks welcoming Prof Kamla Ganesh, Feminist Sociologists and then greeted Prof Ratna Naidu and the editors of book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’, Dr Gita Chadha and Dr. Joseph M.T. along with Prof Arvinder Ansari and also welcomed all participants. She set up the stage by making us familiar with women sociologists and their works. Dr Gita Chadha, Editor of the book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’ After th

Omission of duty by BSF and police: Hindu forcefully kidnapped, taken to Bangladesh

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), & National Convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** I am writing this to focus on the life and situation of the poor and marginalized villagers living alongside the Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal. Through the several complaints we made throughout the years to your good office, it is now evident that the people of this border are living in an acute crisis, not only from a financial perspective but also in terrible distress. The people of the border are devoid of their basic rights and are subjected to immense torture, harassment and restrictions mostly enacted by the Border Security Force personnel, who are supposed to be posted at the international borders with intentions to protect the Indian citizenry. However, on the contrary, incidents of victimizing Indian citizens are being witnessed at large by the BSF. 130 Bhot

Tamil Nadu govt claiming to reform Hindu religion, temples. People deserve better

By NS Venkataraman  For the last several decades, there have been hate campaign against Hinduism in Tamil Nadu in a subtle or not so subtle manner. Initially, it was a hate campaign against brahmins and the brahmins were abused, insulted and physically attacked. Fearing such conditions, many brahmin families left Tamil Nadu to settle down in other states in India or have gone abroad. Now, the brahmin population in Tamil Nadu is at microscopic level, for which these hate campaigners against brahmins were responsible. Later on, emboldened by the scenario of scared brahmin families not resisting and running away, the hate campaigners started focusing on Hindus. For some years, when M.G.Ramachandran and Jayalalitha were the chief ministers of the state, the hate Hindu campaigners were not much heard, as both these chief ministers were staunch believers in Hindu philosophy and have been offering prayers in temples in full public view. However, in the last eighteen months in

Emerging dimensions of India’s foreign policy in the context of global politics

By IMPRI Team  The three-day course took place recently, providing participants with an understanding of the development of Indian foreign policy, the complexity of geopolitics, and its flexibility to adjust to and even shape global outcomes. Many distinguished academics, senior scholars, former Indian diplomats, and journalists who are skilled observers and commentators of India’s foreign policy will serve as instructors for this course. Day 1 The three-day immersive online certificate training on “Emerging Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy and Global Politics”, an initiative by the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), began on July 14th, 2022 at 5:00 PM (IST) on Zoom platform. Dr Souravie Ghimiray served as the emcee throughout the 3 days of the event and welcomed the distinguished speakers of Day 1. The esteemed panel on Day 1 consisted of, Dr Soumita Basu, Associate Professor, Department of Intern

Demographic parameters of India@75: resource allocation, political representation

By IMPRI Team  As per UN Population Prospects 2022, India is going to be the most populous country in the world. In this regard, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi with #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , organized a panel discussion, #WebPolicyTalk, as part of the series The State of Population Development- #PopulationAnd Development on India@75: Most Populous Country? The moderator of the event was Mr Devender Singh, Global Studies Programme, University of Freiburg and a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. The panellists for the event were Prof P.M Kulkarni, Demographer, Retired Professor of Population Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU) , New Delhi; Dr U.V Somayajulu, Co-Founder, CEO and Executive Director, Sigma Research and Consulting ; Dr Sonia George, General Secretary, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Kerala; Prof K.S James, Director and Senior Professor, International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai. Th

Bhagawat Gita shows the way for the attitude to life and desirable goal of life

By NS Venkataraman*  When a mother delivers a human body, this body has no identity. Then, parents, relatives, friends consult each other and discuss the alternate appropriate names and arrive at a suitable name for this human body and this body is known and identified by this name. This human body, which steadily grow just like animals, plants and others and after experiencing the pleasures and pains of worldly life alternately for several years, perish one day, for the body to be burnt or buried. This body, bearing a name as it’s identity, comes in to the world and goes away from the world and the name that is the identity for the body also goes away along with the body. This is the scenario for several thousands of years that have gone by. The question: One question that does not seem to be still “convincingly explained” in a way that will appeal to the brain in the human body, is as to whether this human body only consists of flesh, bone and blood with well

Implementing misleading govt order to pollute Hyderabad's 100 year old reservoirs

Senior activists* represent to the Telangana Governor on GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Government of Telangana: ‘...restrictions imposed under para 3 of said GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996 are removed...’: *** Ref: GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996: ‘To prohibit polluting industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of the lakes upto 10kms from full tank level as per list in Annexure-I...’ We come to your office with grievance that GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by Government of Telangana not only contains false information issued ‘By Order and in the name of the Governor of Telangana’ , without any scientific or expert reports, but also that implementation of the said GO is detrimental and can be catastrophic to the Hyderabad city as two 100 year old reservoirs Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar were constructed as dams on river Moosa and river Esa, with the first and

Tattoos and intimidating gestures can't always win cricket matches for India

By Sudhansu R Das  Team India waited with baited breath for the outcome of the Pakistan vs Afghanistan match. Speculation was on about India’s return to the game if Pakistan loses to Afghanistan until Pakistan’s tailender, Naseem hit two massive sixes to win the match for Pakistan. Unfortunately, Afghanistan lost the match after being in a strong position till the last over of the game; two full touch balls in the final over turned the match into Pakistan side. The Afghanistan team would never forget this blunder and shock for a long time. India’s team management should introspect and take tough decision keeping in view of the tough match situation in the world cup matches. India lost two crucial matches in the Asia Cup. It could not defend a big total of 176 against Pakistan due to mediocre bowling attack, sloppy fielding and unimaginative captainship. It failed against Sri Lanka in similar fashion; it could not defend another respectable T 20 total of 171 runs. It was a pat