No Image Available

The Rohingyas: A Short Account of Their History and Culture

 Category: Culture, History  Publisher: Dr. Abdul Karim  Published: 1 June 2000  Tags: RohingyaRohingya CultureRohingya Language |  Download


The Rohingya problem has of late become a matter of great concern to the government and the people of Bangladesh. Several Lakh of uprooted Rohingyas, men, women and children, came out of their homeland Arakan and took shelter in Bangladesh. This happened not once but twice, in 1978-79 and 1991-92; the problem is not yet over; the reverse movement, i.e. the repatriation of the Rohingyas had started already, but is not yet complete. Such a big number of refugees have given rise to many problems in Bangladesh-problem of food, shelter, sanitation and law and order. This is a man-made problem, created by the government of Burma (now called Myanmar); their deliberate policy to denationalise the Rohingyas and their oppression over and suppression of the Rohingyas, compelled the latter to leave the country and take shelter across the river Naf in Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh are not in a position to bear this great responsibility of given food and shelter to such a big number of refugees. The international community, the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR) have come to the aid of the refugees and Bangladesh government and to force the government of Myanmar to take back their people.

Who are the Rohingyas and why is this problem? There are about 18 lakh Rohingya Muslims in Arakan, a little less than half of the total population. By the new Citizenship Act of the ruling military junta in Myanmar, the Rohingya Muslims are denied of their rights, right to own property, and right of franchise. Even their basic human rights, i.e. right to live with dignity and honour has been taken away. The Rohingyas have been facing inhuman torture, in so much as they had to leave their hearth and home leaving all their properties. But how could such a huge number of people suddenly enter into Arakan, so that the government of Burma (Myanmar) could claim that they are not nationals of Burma? In the following pages we have sought to examine these and such other questions, in our study, we have found that the Rohingyas have got a history, they are descendants of those who have been settling there in Arakan from a thousand years before. The Rohingyas have got a language, a culture and a heritage, and above all the 18 lakh Rohingyas from a homogeneous group. This is eyesore to the ruling junta of Myanmar and this is the reason why they have been trying to expel the Rohingyas, men, women and children. Ours is just a preliminary study; it is felt that more intensive investigations have to be undertaken to get a total picture of the whole issue.

The first Muslim settlers in Arakan were the Arabs; they were the shipwrecked people coming to the east for purpose of trade. So after the introductory chapter, we have discussed the different phases of the entry of the Muslims into Arakan. In our study we have seen that initially the Muslims did not enter into Arakan in their own interest, rather they were invited by the rulers of Arakan. In fact one of the outset king of Arakan Naramikhla (Min Sawmun) was restored to his throne by the Muslim arms of Bengal. He and his successors invited the Muslims to exploit their economic resources because their own people could not do it or did not know to do it. The economic development of Arakan and also of Myanmar has come to its present position due to the toil and labour of the foreigners, Kala as the call them. The key to development of Arakan is due to the Rohingyas, who are known being expelled by the Myanmar ruling junta. Even when Arakan was occupied by the king Bodawpaya of Burma, one third of the total population of Arakan were Muslims.

If I have been able to explain the Rohingya problem in its true perspective, and if the readers get a correct picture, I shall feel myself amply rewarded. While discussing the Rohingya culture and about Muslim ministers and Muslim poets flourishing in Arakan, I have quoted Medieval Bengali poems profusely. It may be mentioned that rendering the Bengali poems into English is quite a tough job, particularly translating the medieval Bengali poem. So at places I have made a free translation. But I hope, the real purport of the poets have not been distorted. Mr. Shamim Zubair, Professor of Islamic History and Culture, Ranguniya Degree College, and Mr. Ashraf Alam, former General Secretary, Arakan Historical Society, Chittagong encouraged me to write this essay. I am grateful to them.

Abdul Karim