The loser in the national census
By U Kyaw Min
April 10, 2014
Myanmar is on the process of taking a nationwide census from 30th March to 10th April 2014. Myanmar census law of 2013 says every community has the right to self identify their ethnicity. UNFPA in its press release on April 1, 2014 showed deep concern about Myanmar government’s decision not to allow census respondents who wish to self-identify as Rohingya. It further says, in its agreement with UN on the 2014 census, the government made a commitment to conduct the exercise in accordance with international census standard and human rights principles. It (Myanmar) explicitly agreed with the condition that each person would be able to declare what ethnicity he or she belongs to, including those who are not in the officially listed categories.
But now Myanmar immigration senior officials announced that people who wish to define their ethnicity as Rohingya will not be able to do so. Thus there is no census counting of 1 million plus Rohingya in Rakhine state because they insisted on to be counted as Rohingya. In the grass-roots there are intimidation and threat for further violence. Trouble makers have, as usual, full freedom to do what they want. Thus Rohingya feel insecure and terrorized. Officials say to avoid violence Rohingya should discard their ethnic identity. That saying itself seems to be an encouragement to the Rakhine trouble makers.
There are interviews of politicians and state leaders describing Rohingya as virus and danger to the national security. The recognition of Rohingya as an indigenous people of Myanmar during post independence period is said to be a mistake done by then prime minister U Nu. U Nu is gone. We cannot abide by his decision. In fact, without the cabinet decision, no prime minister alone has the power to designate a people as indigenous of the country.
In history Rohingyas have never been a threat to state security. All major minorities except Rohingya have armed insurgent groups now. Why this exaggeration for Rohingya? It is just because of the rights of freedom of opinion. Census process is not going according to census law and Myanmar commitment to UN. Things are being handled according to the whim of a section of the people in Rakhine state. Irony of Rohingya’s fate is that opposition NLD secretary general U Nyan Win joined hands with the government to deny Rohingya their ethnicity. Here it indicates Myanmar democracy means dictatorship of majority. Government with the collaboration of opposition has freedom to exterminate a vulnerable minority.
Formerly the term Rohingya is said to be baseless and non-historic. Now when volumes of historic evidences are brought forth, their tune changed dramatically. They try to say the term Rohingya is Bengali usage for Rakhine. Historical researches say Rakhine language is different from Rohingya. Some senior immigration officials say why not Rohingya has a original country like Indians, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Chinese? They must know that Rohingya’s origin is Arakan alias Rohang. From Rohang they are Rohingya.
Nowadays there are further suppressive laws and rules under procession. Rohingya are targeted to disenfranchise in the coming 2015 election. Articles carrying false imageries defaming Rohingya and faulty facts to distort Rohingyas’ nationality are very common nowadays. Articles and interviews of Rakhine politicians are intimidating and threatening. Rohingya is portrayed as a danger to Myanmar nationalism. We know, true nationalism is the one which give full protection to all its citizens. There arise the questions, what kind of nationalism Myanmar’s is? Is it American like or Hitler like? Denying rights to others who are not from our own is Hitler like nationalism.
Rohingyas are now highly marginalized and afraid of fascist like nationalism. They feel insecure in Rakhine state. The security of their food, property, mind and life is on stake. They just can hope heaven will rescue them form the coming peril.
U Kyaw Min is chairman of Democracy and Human Rights Party based in Yangon, Myanmar.