Bwogger Joya Kumar attended “The Voices of the Victims: The Rohingyas and Their ‘Subhuman’ Life,” a talk by Professor Nasir Uddin about the victims of the Rohingya genocide.
On Thursday evening, in a cramped room on the 8th floor of the International Affairs building, Professor Nasir Uddin, a cultural anthropologist from the University of Chittagong, Bangladesh, gave an illuminating and deeply-moving talk about the horrendous atrocities being committed towards the Rohingyas, a ethno-linguistic and religious minority in the Arakan state of Myanmar.
Professor Uddin began by giving us an overview of the nature of his work and the origins of the Rohingya genocide. He told us that he has been dedicated to studying the Rohingyas for over two decades, collecting footage and narratives of the Rohingya people in order to gain a better understanding of their plight. He explained that Myanmar has justified their persecution of the Rohingyas by claiming that they are illegal Bengali immigrants who settled in Myanmar during its period of British colonization. However, Professor Uddin showed us official records and pictures of various student unions which prove that the Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for centuries. In fact, up until the 1990s, Rohingyas were even elected members of the Burmese parliament. Professor Uddin explained that the Rohingyas have been fleeing Myanmar in droves due to a multitude of reasons, including horrendous living conditions, forced labor, confiscation of their land and property, and military brutality. Since August of 2017, a staggering 750,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar, the majority of them seeking refuge in Bangladesh.
In the second section of this talk, Professor Uddin delved deeper into the information and accounts he has collected over the years. He presented us with some shocking statistics, including that since August of 2017, 10,000 Rohingyas have been killed, 50,000 injured, 1900 raped, and 398 villages burnt to smithereens by the state of Myanmar. He said that for the Rohingyas, “tears are a constant companion.” He then read aloud to us two of the 500 harrowing narratives he has collected from victims. The first one was an account from a 47-year-old man named Maksood. He and his family attempted to flee persecution but were captured by the Myanmar military. The military raped and killed his two daughters and while fleeing through the forest, his pregnant wife was killed by a landmine. He and his one-year-old son are the only surviving members of his family and he feels as though he is “alive without a life.” The second account Professor Uddin read aloud was that of a woman named Fatima. The military ransacked and vandalized her home, shot her husband, gang raped her in front of her children and then shot her two sons. She and her two daughters escaped to Bangladesh but she is absolutely devastated and fears for both her life and the lives of her daughters.
After presenting us with these horrific accounts and showing us equally horrific images of Rohingyas desperately fleeing their ransacked and burnt villages, Professor Uddin presented us with his own “theory” of the Rohingya situation. He described the Rohingyas as living an o-manush or “subhuman” life, where they have been “born in human society but have no space in human community” and “do not exist in the legal framework of the state.” He said that people who live in atrocious living conditions, are illegal objects in the legal framework, are homeless, are subject to being killed, raped and burnt, and are worthy of extinction, can be considered to be living a subhuman existence. With this, Professor Uddin concluded his talk and opened the floor for questions.
Among the questions asked, two of the most crucial were about the role of the international community in this crisis and why the Myanmar government began persecuting the Rohingyas in the first place. Professor Uddin was very passionate about the ineffectiveness of the international community, saying that they “live in words, not works.” He said that the main work the international community is doing is providing Rohingya camps with food; however, this will not be enough to solve an issue of this magnitude. He also said that in Bangladesh people are becoming apathetic towards the plight of the Rohingyas and that a lot of donation money is being misused. To answer the question of why the Rohingyas are being persecuted in the first place, he explained that this is because of a combination of political elitism, Buddhist fundamentalism, the influence of the military, and an intolerance to people with cultural and religious differences.
Overall, Professor Uddin’s talk provided highly-poignant and eye-opening insights into the lives and hardships of the Rohingya people. Through his first-hand accounts it became clear that the plight of the Rohingyas is in desperate need of more widespread recognition. In order to tackle this gargantuan humanitarian crisis, it is imperative that the international community take a more active role in providing aid to the Rohingyas and that more pressure is put on the Myanmar government.
Displaced Rohingyas via Wiki Commons