Updated: December 15, 2019 2:54:41 pm
Even as the nation is gripped with fear of an impending National Register for Citizens (NRC), in Hyderabad lives a community which neither claims to be citizens of the country nor wants to stay back in India forever, but still is gripped by a constant fear of deportation.
Floating bodies and burning villages flash before their eyes every time someone talks about returning to their homeland. Facing religious persecution in Myanmar, lakhs of Rohingya Muslims had fled the country. Hyderabad in Telangana is at present home to about 6,000 of them.
Eking a living out of doing odd jobs, these United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-card holders live in unhygienic settlements, mostly in Balapur on the city’s outskirts. There are similar smaller camps nearby, in Barkas, Salala, and Chandrayangutta etc.
Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement during the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill debate recently in Lok Sabha, that Rohingyas will not be granted citizenship in the country, has not come as a surprise to them.
In fact, it was Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s defence of her country’s military, against allegations of genocide, at the International Court of Justice, on Wednesday, that has left them baffled. “We are, however, dealing with an internal armed conflict, triggered by coordinated and comprehensive attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, to which Myanmar’s Defence Services responded. Tragically, this armed conflict led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims from the three northernmost townships of Rakhine into Bangladesh,” she had said in her speech, without mentioning religious persecution of Rohingya minorities.
A mother to two, Aisha Kara Begum, who lives with her husband in one of the camps in Balapur, says eight years have not helped them heal the wounds of religious persecution.
As the nightmarish turn of events from 2012 play repeatedly before her eyes — burning villages, moving cautiously through treacherous forests for days without food, holding on to their lives, and smuggling oneself out of the country on boats transporting grocery and vegetables to Bangladesh— she certainly knows what awaits her back in her homeland.
“We will be killed if we go back. Instead of sending us back, why don’t you take us to an open ground and shoot us all down?” she rued.
Her 27-year-old cousin Md Murshib Alam, however, has pinned his hopes on the “Modi sarkar”. “Our fight has always been for nationality. We are guests in India and we are very thankful to the government. Prime Minister Modi is very powerful and so I request him to talk with the Burmese government and bring us justice,” said Alam, according to whom, it would not take a month for all the refugees to head back to Myanmar if their freedom and rights are guaranteed back home.
Alam had fled Fakirabazaar of Maungdaw township in Rakhine state, along with his mother, younger brother and older sister in 2012. Now he is also father to a 18-month old. “We would be detained by the Burmese police if found moving around after dusk, tied down and beaten till a huge sum is paid for the release. Money equivalent to Rs 3-5 lakh in rupees is to be paid to police if one wanted to get married. If someone had a baby born, large sums had to be paid to police, and similarly, if someone died, again large sums had to be paid to the police to remove his name from the register. We had to inform to Burmese police even if our cow gave birth to a calf,” he remembers.
Alam says even owning a basic mobile phone was a problem. “A jail term of three years and three lakh fine is the punishment for owning a phone,” recalled Alam, adding that seven years of a peaceful life as a refugee in Hyderabad has been great compared to a lifetime in Burma. “We get to eat roti-sabzi twice a day. We are paid for the odd jobs we do. People here do not hate us, refugees. We live so that we can go back with dignity,” he adds.
His younger brother, Tauhid-ul-Kareem, wants the International Court of Justice to decide on their plight. “I still believe there exists humanity in this world.”
In the nearby Royal Colony, the refugees have a small Rohingya market with grocery shops, vegetable shops, a Xerox shop, salon, and small eating joints. Men gather here after day’s work and talk about situation back home, whereas women find it comfortable to converse in their mother tongue and make their household purchases.
Seated at one of the eating joints, 32-year-old Kafiyatullah, who fled Buthidaung in the year 2012, says the Indian government should hold talks with the UNHCR. A BSc Physics graduate, Kafiyatullah is one of the educated youngsters here. He teaches English, Rohingya, and Burmese languages to around 70 refugee children in the neighborhood madrassa.
“For 70 years we have faced discrimination in our homeland. We request the Indian government and the UNHCR to have talks and maybe, send us to countries where refugees are welcome. But do not send us back to Burma,” he stated.
Aung San Suu Kyi had stated that “Rakhine today suffers an internal armed conflict between the Buddhist Arakan Army and Myanmar’s Defence Services. Muslims are not a party to this conflict, but may, like other civilians in the conflict area, be affected by security measures that are in place”. Noor Bashar (35), who fled Minbya township in April 2013, has only one counter: “Let international media be allowed to do an independent fact-finding. Let them be allowed inside Arakan. All truth will come out.”
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