We see Zuhara Bibi and her family struggling to find a place in a bus, truck and train during their long journey from Myanmar to Jammu to Delhi. There is also Tasmida recounting being discriminated against in her school in Myanmar. Shamema is disgruntled with the dirty shared toilets in the refugee settlement where she stays with her family.
These are few of the snapshots of the life of Rohingya refugees in India, written and sketched by them as part of a comic book called Rendered Stateless Not Voiceless. Put together by World Comics India, a collective that promotes comics as a communication and empowerment tool for the marginalised, the book is an outcome of a workshop conducted by the organisation with around 50-60 Rohingya refugees in Kalindi Kunj and Nuh, Mewat. “The idea of documenting their stories is to reach out to people and authorities through first-person accounts… The book will help highlight the human face behind the refugee crisis,” says Sharad Sharma, cartoonist and founder of World Comics India. Having worked with immigrants previously, he had been following the news on the Rohingya refugees after they arrived in India in large numbers in 2012, but it was only last year that he decided to document their stories through art.
“A comic book can help us reach out to those who are literate and also others who may not be able to read,” says Ali Johar, who was only 10 when he had to flee his home in Myanmar to find refuge in Bangladesh in 2005. Seven years later, his family moved to Delhi. “It has been a constant struggle,” he says. Until recently, Johar stayed with his family in a shanty in Kalindi Kunj with several other refugees who have settled there. While he has now moved to Zakir Nagar, he visits his friends often. Managing education scholarships for select students from the community, he is also here to propagate how he feels that good education perhaps is the only means for a better tomorrow. “In Myanmar, my father was a businessman with political connections, but in India, we are refugees and have no rights; we can’t buy property, get a government job. But no one can deny us education,” says Johar. The graduate in political science is promoting the same message through his comic strip, Born Ali-en.
A resident of Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj camp, Sanjida Begum, 27, agrees with Sharma that art can help them tell their stories. In her story, Hum Khud Chale Jayenge, she sketches the concerns of her community on being deported back. “We are grateful that we have been allowed to stay for this long. We do have difficulties, but Myanmar is not safe for us. When it is peaceful, we will return on our own,” says the mother of two.
Mother-daughter duo Taslima and Mizan have also shared their concerns and aspirations through the book. Taslima notes that they should only be sent home after they are guaranteed safety and assured citizenship rights that existed till 1982. Mizan, a student of class VI at Gyandeep Vidya Mandir, is grateful to the UNHRC for helping her get admission in Delhi. “Back in Myanmar, we had a nice place to stay. Here we stay in such inhospitable conditions. We don’t know when will we get our rights,” says Mizan.
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