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The Rohingyas of Arakan and their quest for justice

 Category: Culture, History  Publisher: AFK Jilani  Published: 1 December 1999  Tags: ArakanJusticeMyanmarMyanmar GenocideRohingya |  Download


It is a fact that geography plays a great part in shaping the political life of a country and moulding the socio-cultural pattern of its people. The physical features and natural peculiarities indeed reflect the life and culture of the land. Hence, it is felt absolutely necessary to describe the geography.

History is the mirror of life. It reflects human life and evaluates its works through ages. It is through this mirror that others would know and understand of nation and its people who can as well know themselves through this mirror. The past always guides the people to better future if care is taken. We the Muslims of Arakan have a more than 1300 years old history of our own.

In historical perspective Arakan is more a frontier province of Eastern India than a province of Burma. From the very early days till the arrival of the Mongolians and Tibeto-Burmans in the Tenth Century, Arakan was an Indian land with a population similar to Bengal belonging to Aryan stock. The spread of Islam in Arakan during those early times and the impact of Islamic civilisation on Arakan particularly after Bengal became Muslim in 1203 A.D is well known.

According to history, Islam reached Arakan before 788 AD and it attracted the local people to come to the fold of Islam en masse. Since then Islam played an important role towards the advancement of civilisation in Arakan. From 1430 to 1638, for more than two hundred years Arakan was ruled by the Muslims. The system of government was Muslim Sultanates as was common in those days. It was an independent Muslim kingdom in 14th and 15th centuries. According to Dr. Than Tun Professor of history, there were Rohingya kings from the majestic Mayu valley who used to visit kings of Ava, which was written in the inscription (Kyaukza) of 1442.

For almost a century from 1582 to 1666 Chittagong remained under the effective rule of Arakan. From 1665 to 1710, Muslims were Prime Ministers, War ministers, Judicial ministers, judges, generals and high-ranking army officers, and poets who were Muslims in the court of Arakan. Coins and medallions bearing “Kalima”(the profession of faith in Islam) in Persian script were in circulation. Persian was the court language of Arakan.

The Rohingya lived separately with their own territorial boundary maintaining their national identity since the early time of civilisation. History has already testified to it.

Despite systematic extermination of Rohingya population by means of genocidal actions and continuous persecution, Rohingyas still predominant in North Arakan. Moreover, other parts of Arakan were also their homeland before the pogrom of 1942.

The position of the Muslims of Arakan was glorious during the time of the Mrauk-U Empire but it slowly declines following Burmese occupation (1785-1825). During the British rule too they had been discriminated again and politically blindfolded by the British so much so that none of the Muslims could hold a high position in the administration of the government. As they were the conqueror of Muslim Mughal Empire, the British politically confined the Muslims of the sub-continent and of Arakan to illiteracy, and sub-human standard.

The exodus of Muslims from Arakan to Bengal is not new. It is indeed the legacy of history for Bengal to bear the burden of refugees from Arakan. In 1404 AC the King of Arakan, Narameikhla (1401-1434) fled to Bengal. According to Sayadaw U Nyana, the author of “Danyawadi Razawin Theit,” Narameikhla was adopted son of the Sultan of Bengal. The Sultan restored Narameikhla to the throne of Arakan in 1430, with the tittle of Sulayman Shah. There are some writers who claim that Narameikhla converted to Islam. According to the inscription of 1442, some Muslim kings of Arakan used to visit Ava. Narameikhla also visited the king of Ava.

In 1660 AC Mughal Prince Shah Shuja fled to Arakan. Shah Shuja and his followers and every one wearing Moorish beard were killed by the King of Arakan on 7th February 1661. In 1665 the Mughal Force conquered Sandwip, Chittagong and Ramu and Maghs of the area fled to Mrauk-U. Thus North Arakan became Muslim area since 1666.

In 1875 when Burmese King Bodaw made an invasion in Arakan many people left for Bengal. Following British occupation of Arakan in 1825, some of the people who earlier migrated to Bengal since 40 years ago started to return to their former home land – Arakan. Many, however, chose to remain in Chittagong District. They are today known as Rohai (Rohang).

In 1942 the Maghs launched a pogrom against the innocent, poor and unarmed Rohingyas throughout Arakan. As many as 100,000 Muslims were killed and some eighty thousand fled to Bengal. During this carnage, some 307 Rohingya villages were completely razed to the ground by the militant Rakhine Maghs.

From 1942 to 1945 the whole of North Arakan was under the administration of a “Peace Committee”, under the leaderships of Mr. Umrah Meah and Mr. Zahiruddin Ahmed. This was an important period for the Muslims of North Arakan. The children of able people were sent to Aligrah, Calcutta, Dhaka for better education. The British colonial rulers became a tittle flexible over the posting of Muslim in the government posts. As a result some Muslims were accommodated in A.T.O., T.O., S.D.O., Police Inspectors, High School and Middle School Headmasters.

Soon after the independence of Burma on 4th January 1948, the Burma Territorial Force (BTF) went on a rampage against Muslim villages. Thousands of Rohingyas were made homeless and nearly 50,000 were forced to leave and take shelter in the then East Pakistan. Rumors of the Muslims of Arakan’s border were indirectly intimidated that they would be relocated to central Burma. There were also threats from multi coloured Magh insurgent groups, especially the Magh Communist Party.

Mujahids, a group of Muslims who took up arms claimed that they had taken up arms only when all their protests and appeals had gone unheeded. They said the Rohingyas settled in Arakan since the 7th Century and yet they are branded as aliens in their own homeland. Muslims, who were appointed by the British in the administration as officers after the transfer of power from the Peace Committee under the notification No-11-OA-C/C/42, were dismissed by the Burmese government.

On 1 May 1961 the government created the Mayu Frontier administration Area covering Maungdaw, Buthidaung and the western parts of Rathidaung townships. It was the only administration, which gave due consideration to Rohingyas status during the post independent Burma. Rohingya found relief during the Frontier Administration. Many Mujahids laid down arms before the government. The Mayu Frontier administration had been in force till it was handed to the ministry of Home in February 1964.

In 1978, the Naga Min Operation was carried out by Ne Win’s BSPP government driving out 300,000 Rohingyas across the border to Bangladesh. Under an agreement without condition to restore the rights of Rohingya, the Bangladesh government repatriated some 200,000 refugees to Arakan.

According to UNHCR estimate, 40,000 died in Bangladesh camps. The rest diffused into Bangladesh society.

The SLORC, which came into power after suppressing Burma’s 1988 democratic uprising, reactivated Rohingya extermination and as a result 300,000 Rohingyas, had to flee again to Bangladesh in 1991/92. However, repatriation of these people began since 22-September 1992. Meanwhile, unabated infiltration of Rohingyas from Arakan to Bangladesh continued alongside the repatriation and pushback, making the whole syndrome looks like the burden of Sisyphus.

History repeats itself. So let us wait and see when the history of Narameikhla the King of Arakan who was restored to the throne of Arakan by the Sultan of Bengal repeats again.