Rohingya Issue : History | 786 movement and way forward

Historical Background

Since the nineteenth century, people from various parts of India migrated to Myanmar. Over a period of time, they became prosperous and asserted their economic strength in the society. The local people of Myanmar were not happy and felt insecure. From 1920s to 1940s, there were violent revolts. During Ne Win's time, the non-Buddhist people were also targeted. Many of them left Myanmar during Ne Win's time.

British Angle

From Bengal, a lot of Muslims were taken by the Britishers to Burma from 1823 onwards when the British occupied the Rakhine State of Myanmar. After the independence of Burma in 1948, these Muslims stayed back in Burma. Many of them are settled in southwest Burma, which is known as the Rakhine area.

Rakhine, Arakan and the Rohingya

The Rakhine area is in Arakan Yoma Mountains or Arakan. From 'Rakhine' a word has originate these Muslims in Myanmar's language and the word is Rohangs. These Muslims are therefore caor Rohingyas (the people of Rakhine). According to the 1982 Citizenship Law (a constitutional order Myanmar, the Rohingyas were not recognised as an official ethnic group and since then have beco stateless in Myanmar.

The 786 and 969 Movement

In the 1990s, a movement in Myanmar began, which came to be known as the 969 Movement movement was a brainchild of Kyaw Lwin. Under the 969 Movement, the government used Lwin ideas win over people by preaching the good practices of Buddhism. In the 2000s, another movement called 786 Movement began. The origin of the 786 concept is in Arabic Abjad numerical system and is inspired from the opening passage of Quran. In Myanmar, 786 usually demarcates an area as belonging to Muslim Normally, Muslims write 786 outside their homes, shops and other things. 

The Arabic meaning of 786 Bismillah Al-Rehman Al-Rahim (In the name of god, most gracious and most merciful). The Buddhist began to misinterpret the 786 Movement and they began to think that this means that the 786 Movement aimed to dominate twenty-first century (7 + 8 + 6 = 21) as the Islamic century. The 9/11 attack in 2001 cemented this fear among the Buddhists that Islam is going to dominate the twenty-first century. The insecurity of the Buddhists began to grow. The Buddhist insecurity manifested in riots in 2011 in the Sittwe-Rakhine region and the brain behind this ethnic violence was Ashin Wirathu. A widespread belief is the fact that Muslims want to dominate Myanmar spread like wildfire. The rise of the radical and rightist Ashin Wirathu has brought out the face of radical Buddhism. This has led to the mass exodus of Rohingya to Indonesia and Thailand in 2015. Those who remain are ritually ghettoised and persecuted. India is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and thus is not mandated to accept refugees. But, on humanitarian grounds, India has accepted a few Rohingyas, India needs to develop an imaginative diplomacy for the Rohingyas. India needs to ask Myanmar to rehabilitate the Rohingyas as not rehabilitating them is detrimental to Indian security interests. If the Rohingyas get radicalised, they could pose a serious security threat for India: India is contemplating appointment of a special envoy to discuss the Rohingya problem with Myanmar

The Basis of Rohingya issue

The Rohingya problem, described by the UN, is a classical textbook case of ethnic cleansing. For India, due to infiltration of Islamic extremism angle, the crisis has acquired a security dimension as well. The Rohingya crisis is a symptom of modern-day Myanmar where at heart of the crisis is the inability of the majority Buddhist states to accept a multireligious society. 

The Rohingya Muslims also end up at a disadvantage because of deep conflict in Myanmar with respect to the civil-military divide and military positioning itself as the protector of the nation. The problem gets compounded because the Rohingya Muslims are treated as 'illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Secondly, because of them being Muscas, the majority Bamar Buddhist community refuses to accept the Rohingya primacy in the Rakhine arpa Thirdly, the ultra-nationalists Buddhists have resorted to fuel Islamophobia against the Rohingya Muslims, which has caused their further alienation in the society.

Rohingya Issue : History | 786 movement and way forward

Initial response of India

India's response to the rohingya crisis has evolve over three testing phase. In first phase of India's policy, in 2012, when violent conflict begin in the area between Buddhist and rohingya Muslims, India asserted that it is an 'internal' problem of Myanmar. India adopted a two-point policy. First, it provided a 1 million USD package to assist in development and rehabilitation of the Rohingya Muslim. Secondly, India, as part of its age-old tradition of tolerance in welcoming refugees allowed the Rohingya refugees to settle in India (based on the principle of non-refoulement and voluntary repatriation).

Evolution of the First Phase

In 2015, the Rohingya crisis assumed a regional dimension for the first time. In 2015, the Rohingya refugees tried to enter into Malaysia and Thailand. They tried to reach these areas via the sea when their boats were turned around. At that time there were calls made to India to recue the people in the boats. India did not respond to any such requests. There were various factors that went into this shift in Indian perception of the Rohingya Muslims. Firstly, India was not interested in upsetting Myanmar by taking Pshe Rohingya Muslims issue at a time when Myanmar was trying to make a shift towards democracy. UP ia rightly believed that if Myanmar is pushed too much on the Rohingya Muslims issue, it might be compelled to go close to China, which India could not afford strategically. Secondly, India has been deeply alved in Shwe gas field, Kaladan project and Sittwe port development and did not want to upset Myanmar at a time when it was involved with Myanmar at this developmental and strategic level. India followed a careful balance between geopolitics, geostrategic and geoeconomic concerns in the first phase.

The Ideation of 'Displaced Persons' and "Illegal Immigrants' and the Second Phase

The origin of the second phase of India's Rohingya Muslims policy can be traced to 2017. On 9 August 2017, in a response to a Parliamentary question, Indian Home Minister asserted that the government is planning to deport the Rohingya Muslims who are settled in different parts of the country, as they are illegal immigrants'. Even though the minister did clarify that the plan to deport the Rohingya Muslims is still being planned. In September 2017, there was a huge inflow of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh This heightened Indian concerns of the possibility of the outflow of the Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh to India. India immediately responded by launching Operation Insaniyat. Under this operation, the government provided economic assistance to Bangladesh to provide relief to the Rohingya Muslims in the refugee camps in Myanmar. This is an important element of the Indian strategy in the second phase. The core logic is to de-incentivise the refugees to enter into India by incentivising Bangladesh. Thus, as we infer, that in the second phase, apart from geopolitical constraints, India adopted a policy with a mixture of humanitarian elements and non-interference in the internal affairs with adequate diplomatic capital invested in balancing Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Three Steps of China and India's Constructive Engagement

By the end of the second phase, India was able to achieve clarity regarding how to eventually approach the Rohingya Muslims problem and this led to the rise of the third phase. India developed clarits over three things. Firstly, India stated that the situation could be normalised only when the displaced persons de returned to the Rakhine state. This policy stance meant that the Rohingya Muslims need to turn D Myanmar not only from Bangladesh but also from India. This is where the catch lies. India is the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as 'displaced persons' but calls the Rohingya Muslims in India as exel immigrants'. Secondly, India believes rightly that the only long-term solution to the problem the Rohingya Muslims is the development of the Rakhine state for which India needs to use its own resources

Initial Response of India

India's response to the Rohingya crisis has evolved over three distinct phases. In the first phase of India's policy, in 2012, when violent conflicts began in the Rakhine area between the Buddhists and Rohingya and also mobilise the resources from the international community. Thirdly, India has asserted that i will maintain a healthy and a constructive engagement with both Myanmar and Bangladesh while at the same time will convince the international community to handle the situation of Rohingya Muslims with restraint, owing to the welfare of the Rohingya Muslims.

The analysis of third phase proves that India's approach to the Rohingya Muslims problem was driven by an urge to find a resolution to the Rohingya Muslims crisis. This is a perfect case of quiet Indian diplomacy at work. The ulterior reason for India to resort to the third phase was to counter the proactive and assertive role that China began to play in the resolution of Rohingya Muslims crisis. China had announced a three-step strategy to solve the Rohingya Muslims crisis. China asserted that, firstly, their needs to be a ceasefire to ensure people do not run around and live in peace. Secondly, China asserted that there needs to be intense consultations on the basis of equality.

Thirdly, China asserted the need for the international community to develop the Rakhine state. Indian perception was that if it does not step in into the issue of Rohingya Muslims immediately, then it would end up in providing strategic space to China to decide on issues in the Indian neighbourhood. This would enable China to take geopolitical gains in India's own backyard. This is the reason why India decided to step up its developmental engagement with the government of Myanmar and ended up in concluding agreements to undertake housing development, medicine support etc. for the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine area. As the countries in the West are busy in mitigating their own challenges, India has taken the Western vacuum to place itself in a comfortable position in developing its own strategy for the problem of Rohingya Muslims.

Explaining India's Approach

There are two schools of thought that help us to analyse the conceptual prism of India's Rohingya policy According to the first school, India has hesitation in designating an asylum seekers as refugees. Due to this thought in the strategic community of India, India creates disincentives for asylum seekers to stay permanently in India. According to the first school, the reason why India does not favour permanent settlement of refugees in India is because of an absence of a national policy for refugees

The second school of thought tries to explain the Indian approach to the Rohingya Muslims by looking at the concept of implications. This school tries to explain the Rohingya Muslims problem through the implications Rohingya Muslims will have on India. As per this school the government's approach of the Rohingya Muslims problem is explained through a security lens. This school asserts that the government in India is looking at the Rohingya Muslims problem as problem of radicalisation, which can lead to a spill over on the Muslim population of India. As per the second school, this policy of the government is a short-sighted policy because it puts thousands of members of Indian diaspora in Myanmar under a serious risk while allowing other states to take lead in proposing solutions to the Rohingya Muslims problem (Chinese three-step solution). The second school assets that the Indian government's policy Rohingya Muslims negates India's own past of being a democratic society with an open door for refuge

The Way Forward

Three issues emerge in conclusion. First, the way the government has handled the Rohingya Muslims problem has certainly raised questions on the democratic credentials in India. Secondly, India's initial reluctance to take a lead initially and reacting only after India saw the Chinese enter has raised questions on India's regional leadership question. Thirdly, the concentration of desperate people in Bangladesh and Myanmar only provide a fertile ground for breeding forms of radicalisation.
One thing is clear. Instead of resorting to megaphone diplomacy to solve the Rohingya Muslims problem, India has preferred quiet diplomacy. 

As a future strategy, India should ensure that the Rohingya Muslims are not deported back to Myanmar until it is safe for the Rohingya Muslims to reside in Myanmar. India can always prioritise national security, but such prioritisation should not be imprudent and self-defeating. India should strive to establish cooperative agreements with Myanmar and Bangladesh to facilitate intelligence sharing that can prevent the rise of radicalisation. A long-term strategy India should adopt is to try making the Rohingya Muslims problem a core diplomatic agenda at various regional forums like the BIMSTEC and ASEAN. A 'regional diplomatic approach' can be a fruitful strategy in the long run. At the global level, India can play a role in convincing the West that sanctions on Myanmar will not work and eventually push Myanmar closer to China. Thus, the international community should constructively engage with Myanmar and help carve a developmental discourse. Such a strategy can help sharpen India's global credentials and help position India as a state with diplomatic capital for crisis management. As a rising power which possesses global aspirations coupled with a tradition-based history on dealing with refugees, India is duty-bound to shape a narrative on the Rohingya Muslims problem.

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