We have always believed in the values of integration and unity, or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means the entire world is one family… We have always believed in uniting humanity, not breaking it.” Thus spoke Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Yet, 10 months later, the Modi government has acted entirely against the spirit of what he said to the august and affluent gathering at Switzerland. If India really does consider the entire world to be one family, it should not have deported the seven Rohingya to Myanmar. All the window dressing by the Ministry of External Affairs, that the men were “repatriated”, does not conceal the fact that Myanmar does not consider Rohingya as citizens. Indeed, only citizens can be repatriated or even deported.
The national verification card, which is what the Myanmar government is prepared to give the Rohingya — and even this is not for all Rohingya — is not a grant of citizenship. The seven men were detained immediately after being pushed back into Myanmar, and even if released, they will likely be interred in one of the several camps in which more than 1,00,000 Rohingya displaced during the 2012 violence are still being forcibly held. The seven men were arrested in Assam in July 2012, around the same time that communal violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists was rearing its head in parts of Mrauk U district to which they belong.
Their township, Kyauk Daw, was plunged into two rounds of fierce clashes in August and October. Whichever way you cut this, describing these men, who were fleeing ethnic and communal violence, as “illegal immigrants”, and pushing them back into the same unsafe cauldron, simply does not square with the family values that the prime minister likes to espouse at international gatherings.
India is not a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee convention or of its 1967 protocol, but it has reiterated that it stands by the principle of non-refoulement (not forcibly returning). There is no fine difference to be made here between these seven men and Rohingya refugees. Had Myanmar been more responsible with this 1 million strong ethnic group that considers north Rakhine its home, no Rohingya would be risking their lives crossing dangerous borders. The Modi government should do what it can to help the Rohingya. There should be no further deportations from India, the land that knows all about Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.