Report: Panel discussion and book release by CRG and RLS

Priya Singh and Sucharita Sengupta

Panel Discussion on Rohingya and Syrian Refugees by Calcutta Research Group, on 6 April 2017, supported by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS).

No other time was more apt perhaps than this to interrogate India’s refugee policies along with an appraisal of the contemporary global regime of care and protection for migrant communities. Civil war in Syria has been one of the worst humanitarian crises in the recent decade challenging Europe’s migration policy. Incessant deaths in the Mediterranean, in border detention camps, plight of fleeing refugees, women and trafficked victims- be it Syrians in Europe or Rohingyas in South Asia- for war, state violence, religious persecution, flood and so on, have amounted to an inordinate number of 60 million refugees worldwide. Perceptions resulting into worst manifestations of human rights violations have on the one hand drawn empathy, but on the other have unfurled xenophobia, attempting to curb migration in general. The recent policies of the U.S government concerning economic migration are indicative of this trend. India too is witnessing myriad forms of discrimination. From racial attack on Nigerian students in the capital to establishing detention centres in order to detect migrants in Assam and now identifying Rohingya refugees in Jammu in order to deport them back to Myanmar, thus evokes concerns for scholars and practitioners working on issues of human rights, gender, justice and refugees. These concerns culminated into a roundtable discussion by CRG on India’s migration policy; practice and release of the special issue of Refugee Watch Journal (A CRG Publication) on Syrian Refugees. The idea was to drive home the point that while the migration crisis in Europe has resulted into a number of regional initiatives and sensitisation of international media, the same has hardly ensued in case of the Rohingyas, world’s largest persecuted stales community in Asia. Therefore, there is a need to present the contemporary crisis of the global south as well along with the European scenario. While panelists of the round table discussion shared their experiences on the Asian scenario, the specialty of this issue of Refugee Watch is that it has articles based on extensive field research of the European scenario, especially Syrian refugees living as stateless people across the Middle East. The three panelists were Professor Ranabir Samaddar, Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, CRG; Professor Paula Banerjee, Director, CRG and Dean of Arts, Calcutta University; Professor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, Vice Chancellor, Rabindra Bharati University. The Panel discussion was chaired by Professor Samita Sen, Director, School of Women’s Studies and Dean, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies, Law and Management, Jadavpur University. Continue reading “Report: Panel discussion and book release by CRG and RLS”

“Bari Jabo Kobe?” : Plight of a homeless young Rohingya

Adrija Maitra

(Adrija is an intern at Mahanirban Calcutta research Group and can be reached at eshamaitra07@gmail.com)

“When will I go home?”* With a look of half uncertain hope and half despair, fourteen year old Safi Akhter just wanted me to answer this question. I had gone to meet her to document her personal narrative – the journey from her homeland Myanmar, where she was born, to the land where her parents currently live in, India. She has been living in India for a year now, although if given a chance, she would go home. (I interviewed her as a part of my ongoing research project on the Rohingyas, which aims to adopt a gendered lens on the Rohingya international crisis. Safi is the sole Rohingya girl in West Bengal at this moment, and thus, her narrative will add a first-hand dimension to my research undertaking.)

Safi belongs to the Rohingya community, a minority Muslim community who call the now Rakhine state of Myanmar their homeland. According to the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), “Muslim Arakanese or Rohingya are indigenous to Arakan. Having genealogical linkup with the people of Wesali or Vesali kingdom of Arakan, the Rohingya of today are a perfect example of its ancient inhabitants.” The golden age of the Muslim Arakanese culture came during the 15th century, under the Mrauk-U dynasty (1430-1784). The royal court patronized Arakanese literature, Muslim titles were adopted by the Mrauk-U kings, coins were minted in which was inscribed an Islamic declaration of faith, and also took inspiration from the dressing sense of the Persian rulers.

The Rakhines entered the Arakan kingdom around 10th century, although tensions between the Rakhines and Rohingyas emerged only after the British conquest of Arakan in 1825. Thousands of Bengalis, especially from Chittagong, migrated to Arakan to work in the British colonial plantations which boosted the imperial economy. The Rakhines bitterly resented this influx of “illegal Bengalis” taking away their jobs, and thus, in post-colonial Burma, the Rohingyas were discriminated against. Ethnically and culturally distinct than the Burmese, the latter viewed the Rohingyas as a remnant of their oppressive, exploitative, and colonial past. Therefore, the 1982 Burmese Citizenship Law recognized 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, excluding the Rohingyas, rendering them stateless. Against such a historical-cultural-political backdrop, Safi experiences reality.

Safi has grown up in a village which she calls Harifara, in Myanmar, with her maternal grandmother (nani), a maternal uncle, and his daughter Zayida. Her parents moved to India when she was 4-5 years old, and listening to her childhood experiences it seemed that she hardly has any memories with her parents. There was but one trip that she had made to India with her parents, of which she couldn’t recount any particulars. She remembers playing with Zayida in their home in Myanmar, and spoke of her cousin with a smile. “Why did you leave Myanmar?” I asked her. “Because my parents are in India.”  Her countenance, almost within a fraction of a second, became grave and thoughtful. Continue reading ““Bari Jabo Kobe?” : Plight of a homeless young Rohingya”

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