Government backtracked under the pressure of right-wing ultras
By Abdul Bari Masoud
August 25 marks the five years of Myanmar’s military junta brutal operations against Rohingya people and other communities in its Rakhine province that forced more than 700,000 Rohingyas flee to Bangladesh and other countries, including India. The genocidal crackdown against Rohingya people under the pretence of ‘counter-terrorism’, which started on August 25, 2017, constitutes grave crimes in the international law.
Recently, the findings of a four-year investigation into the genocidal acts committed against the Rohingya people have been made public by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability. The Commission assembled the 25,000 documents and proof that prove the military regime in Myanmar was guilty of war crimes.
Back home in India, unfortunately, this humanitarian crisis is being utilised to advance polarising politics, where as many as 15,000 Rohingyas have sought asylum. When Hardeep Singh Puri, Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, tweeted on August 17 that the Indian Government will provide housing and police protection for the Rohingya refugees in Delhi, he was immediately pounced on by not only the ruling party cohorts but also the ‘secular’ Aam Aadmi Party which rules in Delhi and Punjab.
Puri tweets as follows:
“Those who made a career out of spreading canards on India’s refugee policy deliberately linking it to #CAA will be disappointed. India respects & follows @UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed.
India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge in the country. In a landmark decision all #Rohingya #Refugees will be shifted to EWS flats in Bakkarwala area of Delhi. They will be provided basic amenities, UNHCR IDs & round-the-clock
Puri praised the government’s ‘landmark decision’ to move illegal immigrants into apartments intended for the economically weaker Sections (EWSs).
Just a few hours after Puri announced the Centre’s ‘scheme’ to resettle Rohingya refugees in Delhi, the Union Home Ministry refuted the existence of such a plan. It, however, chose to place the responsibility on the media rather than admitting that Puri was mistaken. It was unjust because news outlets including ANI, Reuters, Hindustan Times, India Today, and Business Standard had published Puri’s statement accurately.
The Home Ministry clarified that it has not issued any such directive to provide economically weaker section (EWS) flats to the “illegal foreigners”.
“With respect to news reports in certain sections of media regarding Rohingya illegal foreigners, it is clarified that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi,” the MHA said in a series of posts on Twitter.
It further said the ministry had directed the government of the national capital territory of Delhi (GNCTD) to relocate the refugees to a “detention centre” till their deportation processes are complete.
“Govt of Delhi proposed to shift the Rohingyas to a new location. MHA has directed the GNCTD to ensure that the Rohingya illegal foreigners will continue at the present location as MHA has already taken up the matter of their deportation with the concerned country through MEA. Illegal foreigners are to be kept in Detention Centre till their deportation as per law. The Government of Delhi has not declared the present location as a Detention Centre. They have been directed to do the same immediately,” the ministry said.
RESETTLEMENT DECISION TAKEN AT HIGH-LEVEL MEETING
However, ANI, which is considered the pro-government agency, was one of the first to report it, saying Rohingya refugees would be given flats – a decision taken after a “high-level meeting” in Delhi.
Furthermore, according to reports, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) was given the order to prepare its empty flats intended for the EWS in outside Delhi’s Bakkarwala village to house the refugees after the Union Government urged Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar to firm up the modalities.
Prior to the ministry’s “clarification”, NDMC officials had stated that all 1,100 Rohingyas housed in Madanpur Khadar camps will be relocated there. There are 250 flats in the village. The NDMC comes under the direct purview of the Union government.
It is now clear that the government backtracked after Puri’s statement sparked irate responses from the ruling party’s cohorts on social media.
First Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which claims to be a religious organisation, criticised the government and termed Rohingya refugees as ‘infiltrators’.
VHP president Alok Kumar said in a statement: “We are shocked to see a statement of the Union Minister for Urban Development Hardeep Puri, terming the Rohingyas as refugees and allotting to them the EWS flats in Bakkarwala, Delhi. We might remind him of the statement made by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament on 10.12.2020 declaring that Rohingyas will never be accepted in India (Rohingya ko kabhi bhi sweekar nahi kiya jaega).”
AAP’S COMMUNAL FACE
Puri’s announcement also spiralled into a political slugfest, with the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government opposing the move by saying that the people of Delhi will reject the proposal.
“A big conspiracy by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to toy with the country’s security has now been exposed. With this, the BJP has admitted their hand in settling thousands of Rohingyas in Delhi. Now they are preparing to give them pucca houses and shops. The people of Delhi will not allow this to happen at all. The BJP let the Rohingyas enter India, and now they are only helping them settle down to pat their own backs,” AAP chief spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj said.
It is to underline that the UN treaty that outlines refugee rights and states’ responsibilities to safeguard them is not signed by India.
18,000 ROHINGYA REFUGEES IN INDIA
There are more than 18,000 Rohingya refugees living in various parts of India.
Speaking with Radiance, 27 years old Rohingya rights campaigner Ali Johar said there were 17,000 Rohingya living throughout India as of early this year, with roughly 1,100 of them residing in New Delhi. Many of them were employed as manual labourers, hawkers, and rickshaw pullers.
Johar arrived in India ten years ago and now resides in rented housing in New Delhi with his family. He claimed that 2,000 people returned to Bangladesh this year out of fear that many would be deported due to ongoing persecution by right-wing Hindu organisations.
Bangladesh is providing asylum for almost a million Rohingya in the southern region of the country bordering the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The camp has been dubbed as the largest refugee camp on the planet.
ACTIVISTS SLAM GOVT. FOR BACKING OUT
Activists and rights defenders, who resisted the government attempt to deport Rohingya refugees, criticised the government’s volte face under the Hindutva radicals’ pressure.
John Dayal, writer and activist, pointed out that India has the most skewed, perhaps the most communal, policy on visas, refugees and grant of citizenship. And this has been so long years before Narendra Modi shocked the country with his new citizenship laws launched in Assam leading to nation-wide protests, police atrocities and many innocent students and youth of the Muslim community languishing in jails without trial, and without bail.
The Rohingyas, Muslim refugees from Burma now, and Christian tribes from the border with India in the north, have been the biggest and most tragic victims of this policy, he told Radiance.
The BJP and the Sangh are dead opposed to Rohingyas being kept, even in camps, in any state, much less settled, he added.
Dayal also held West and India guilty on the Rohingya issue.
“India, and even the West, can be held guilty multi-fold on the Rohingya issue. India has not protested and much less imposed sanctions on the military junta government in Myanmar as it should have. It has much diplomatic clout with that government and could have held it responsible for the many human rights violations in that country. Such a protest would have raised India’s moral status in the eyes of the people of Asia, giving depth to its current protests against Pakistan on the persecution of Hindus and Sikhs.”
Blasting the asylum policy, Dayal said India judges refugees on their religion. It refuses entry if they are Muslims and opens the border gate if they are Hindus. It is as black and white as that.
Even the Home Minister of India has used terrible words to describe Rohingyas, which do not deserve to be repeated by any decent human being. Those that have successfully entered India face the charge of being infiltrators and possible terrorists, to be hunted by the police of every state, he added.
Another activist from Hyderabad, Mazher Hussain concurred with the views of John Dayal.
Talking to Radiance, Hussain said, “Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted people in the world who are stripped of all citizenship rights by Myanmar and are designated as Stateless. Subject to sustained persecution and genocide since 1950s, most are killed and of those who survive are outside Myanmar in large numbers running into hundreds of thousands. A few thousand have also come to India with about 8000 reported to be residing in Hyderabad.”
All of us in civil society want India to have a humane refugee policy and take care of these unfortunate people without making them pawns in its terrible polarising exercise within India with an eye on the next general elections, said Hussain, Executive Director, COVA Peace Network, Hyderabad.
One must remember that they have come to India to save their lives and not for any economic motives. They engage in the lowliest works and earn a pittance. Their living conditions are extremely pathetic and deserve all sympathy and support of the host population and the government just like any other refugee, he added.
However, there is growing discrimination against them by the State and the native population that is against the age-old civilisation of India of welcoming and providing shelter with honour for all refugees.
While ANHAD’s Shabnam Hashmi described the Urban Development Minister’s tweet on Rohingya Refugees as an aberration.
It did not conform with the prevalent ideology of the present government, which has no concern for values of humanity and defied all international conventions which concern human rights, she told Radiance.
“I personally think the tweet must have been the result of some agreement under international pressure from UNHCR and the moment it was confronted by other right-wing political parties and its own cadre, the government backtracked. India, which has welcomed people from across the world for centuries, has become narrow-minded and bigoted unfortunately,” she added.