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

CAG’s audit report creates a case for dismantling of UIDAI, scrapping Aadhaar

By Gopal Krishna  The total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project and its cost: benefit analysis has not been disclosed till date. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed? Can limited audit of continuing expenditure of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an instrumentality of Union of India be deemed a substitute for total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project of UIDAI? It has been admitted by CAG that the audit of functioning of the UIDAI is partial because of non-transparency. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India arising from performance audit of functioning of the UIDAI for the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 is incomplete because it is based on statistical information “to the extent as furnished by UIDAI” upto March 2021. There is also a need to compa

Women for Water: WICCI resource council for empowering women entrepreneurs, leaders

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The Water Resources Council of the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry is formed for 2022-24. A National Business Chamber for Women, the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry ( WICCI ) is a premier association empowering women entrepreneurs and leaders in all walks of life through advocacy, pro-active representations to government, implementing projects for women via funds allocated by various government agencies and corporates, plus bringing awareness on all issues that concern women. WICCI boosts and builds women’s entrepreneurship and businesses through greater engagement with government, institutions, global trade and networks. WICCI enables fundamental changes in governmental policies, laws, incentives and sanctions through proper channel, with a view to robustly encourage and empower women in business, industry and commerce across all sectors. WICCI is supported by the massive global networks of ALL Ladies League (ALL), Women Eco

75 yrs of water in India: whither decentralised governance to sustain the precious resource?

By Shubhangi Rai, Megha Gupta, Fawzia Tarannum, Mansee Bal Bhargava Looking into the last century, water resources management have come a long way from the living with water in the villages to the nimbyism and capitalism in the cities to coming full cycle with room for water in the villages. With the climate change induced water crisis, the focus on conservation and management of water resources if furthered in both national and local agenda. The Water management 2021 report by NITI Aayog acknowledges that water and sustainability are of immense importance for the sustenance of life on earth. Water is intricately linked to the health, food security and livelihood. With business as usual, India’s water availability will only be enough to meet 50% of its total demand and 40% of the population in India will have no access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 . Its Composite Water Management Index 2021 states that ‘India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and mil

Grassroot innovations in water management: Policy challenges amidst climate change

By Shubhangi Rai[1], Megha Gupta[2], Mansee Bal Bhargava[3] India despite of having a vast traditional water management history continue to struggle with water crisis from disasters like floods and droughts but more with social distress leading to asymmetric access to water goods and services. The rising water crisis in a country that is abundant in water resources and wisdom is worth questioning and resolving. The knowledge that was passed on by our ancestors who used a diverse range of structures that helped harvest rainwater locally besides replenish and recharge the groundwater along the way. Formal and informal rules were locally crafted by the community on who to use the water, how much to use, when to use, how to penalise for misuse, how to resolve conflicts and many more. As a nation, we need to revive our dying wisdom of the traditional water management systems and as water commons, enable the governing mechanisms towards sustainability. In the session on ‘ Grassroot Innovatio

Need to destroy dowry, annihilate greed and toxic patriarchy in India

By IMPRI Team Talking about an evil ever-persistent in our society and highlighting the presence of toxic patriarchy, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Destroy Dowry: Annihilation of Greed and Toxic Patriarchy in India under the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on May 4, 2022. The chair for the event was Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and a Visiting Professor, IMPRI. The distinguished panel included – Asha Kulkarni, General Secretary at Anti Dowry Movement, Mumbai ; Kamal Thakar, Sahiyar Stree Sangathan ; Adv Celin Thomas, Advocate at Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru; Shalini Mathur, Honorary Secretary, Suraksha Dahej Maang Virodhi Sanstha Tatha Parivar Paraamarsh Kendra, Lucknow and Secretary, Nav Kalyani Foundation, Gender Resource and Training Centre; and Dr Bharti Sharma, Honorary Secretary, Shakti Shalini

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and emerging geopolitics

By IMPRI Team In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and Emerging Geopolitics. The event was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd.), Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India, Moscow. The panelists of the event were Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, New York University; H.E. Freddy Svane, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, New Delhi; Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty, Strategic Thinker on Security Issues; and T. K. Arun, Senior Journalist, and Columnist. Ambassador Anil Trigunayat commenced the discussion by stating the fact that wars are evil. He opines that no war has ever brought peace and prosperity to any country and

Making Indian cities disaster, climate resilient: Towards actionable urban planning

By IMPRI Team  Three-Day Online Certificate Training Programme on “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”: Day 1 A three day Online Certificate Training Programme on the theme “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”, a joint initiative of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) , Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, was held at the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. Inaugurating the session Ms. Karnika Arun, Researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. Day 1 of the program included Prof Anil K Gupta, Head ECDRM, NIDM, New Delhi and Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI as conveners, an

Gender gap: Women face disproportionate barriers in accessing finance

By IMPRI Team Women worldwide disproportionately face barriers to financial access that prevents them from participating in the economy and improving their lives. Providing access to finance for women is crucial for financial inclusion and, consequently, inclusive growth. To deliberate and encourage dialogue and discussion for growth, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) of IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a web policy talk by Mr S. S. Bhat, Chief Executive Officer Friends of Women’s World Banking India, Ahmedabad on ‘Access to Finance for Women’ as a part of its series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. The session was started by the moderator, Chavi Jain, by introducing the speaker and the discussants and inviting Prof. Vibhuti Patel to start the deliberation. Importance of access to finance for women Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, began by expre

Hindutva patriotism: State-sponsored effort to construct religion-based national identity

By Harasankar Adhikari Rabindranath Tagore (1908) said, "Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. "I will not buy glass for a diamond, and I will never let patriotism triumph over humanity as long as I live." Tagore’s view stands in sharp contrast to what we are witnessing today, when patriotism means religious differences between the majority (Hindu) and minority (Muslim). Our secular nation is gradually disobeying its secular nature and it is being patronised by political leaders and their narrow politics. India’s unique character of ‘unity in diversity’ is trying to be saffronised. Hindu extremism (Hindutvavadis) generates a culture of religious intolerance. Democratic India is based upon the ideology of equality of all. This nation is based upon different foundations than most of those which went before it. Its legitimacy lies in its being able to satisfy its various component communities that their interests will be safeguarded by the Indian state