Stateless Rohingya Muslims hope Suu Kyi can help
By Ranjana Narayan
November 15, 2015
As Myanmar celebrates the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the country’s first open democratic elections, Rohingya Muslim refugees living in Delhi are happy at her victory and hope the democracy icon will at some time consider taking back the persecuted minority community.
“We were following the Myanmar elections very closely and are very happy at her winning. All the people in Burma (Myanmar) want her to win. And maybe we might stand to benefit somewhat in the future,” Mohammed Salim, a Rohingya Muslim who lives in the Madanpur Khadar camp in south Delhi, told thestatesman.com.
“We live on hope. We are very hopeful” of democracy taking deep roots in Myanmar following the elections, Salim, a representative of the Rohingyas, in Delhi said.
“The issue is not of her supporting us Rohingyas, but people want that democracy should thrive in Myanmar, which has not been there under the military,” he added.
Suu Kyi's NLD has captured more than 85 per cent of seats in Sunday's election. The country was dominated by the military for half a century through direct junta rule and, since 2011 by a quasi-civilian government run by its allies.
“Under Suu Kyi’s father, people of all religious faiths were living as one in Myanmar. And she is his daughter, that is why we have hope she will do something for us,” Salim said.
Suu Kyi’s father Bogyoke (General) Aung San (1915 –1947) was a Myanmar revolutionary, nationalist and is considered Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar.
Although the Myanmar elections, the country’s first openly contested poll in 25 years, did not allow Rohingya Muslims to vote and the polls saw hardly any Muslim representation, Salim is hopeful for the future of his country.
Zafarullah, another Rohingya Muslim living in the capital, does not feel Suu Kyi’s victory will change the situation much in his country.
“She cannot become president, according to the constitution. For that she will have to hold talks with the military. Maybe after five years things may change, and become better,” Zafarullah, a member of the Rohingya Youth Union of India, told thestatesman.com.
He said that Suu Kyi did not acknowledge the Rohingyas as people of Myanmar during campaigning, which he added, could have been with the elections in mind.” But we have faith; maybe things will change for the better for us,” he said.
According to Salim, around 20 lakh Rohingyas live outside Myanmar and 30,000 of them live in India.
“We want to go back. We want a voter card, and want to live there like humans. We want the facilities and rights that you Indians get here as citizens in Myanmar,” Salim said.
Salim said the persecution of Rohingya Muslims has been going on for the past 50 years, but it became more virulent after the 2011 military-backed regime came to power.
“Since 2011 the situation became worse; katley aam ho gaya; earlier, it was underground. Now rape, plunder, burning of masjids has become a regular feature,” he said.
“Those who wear red robes say Rohingyas are not from Myanmar, they belong to Bangladesh and India, and send them back,” Salim said.
Red-robed Buddhist monks of the ultra-nationalist group, called Ma Ba Tha, or Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, are known for their bitter speeches attacking the Muslim Rohingyas.
Salim said he has been living in India for the last three-and-half years at Madanpur Khadar. Most of the Rohingyas in Delhi eke out a living working as labours and daily wagers.
“We feel change will come, but it will take time,” he added
Alana Golmei, coordinator of the Burma Centre Delhi, voiced sadness that the Myanmar elections had no Muslim representation.
“The Lady (as Suu Kyi is called) cannot become the president, she will probably be speaker of the lower house, that is what everybody is saying,” Alana told thestatesman.com.
She said although NLD winning 80 per cent of the votes is a great victory, but one should remember that 25 per cent of the seats are reserved for the military.
“The military will not sit quietly, and they (Suu Kyi) will have to negotiate a lot in the next few months. They will have to hold lots of negotiations and make lot of compromise,” Alana said.
Another factor to keep in mind is that Suu Kyi cannot become president.
Suu Kyi, who was held under house arrest for 15 years during military rule, is barred from becoming the country's president.
The Nobel laureate has said that if elected she would rule in a position "above the president”.
Alana wondered if Suu Kyi would change her mind on the position of Rohingyas.
“We don’t know if she will change her mind, at the moment I don’t see it happening. She is a political leader. She will have to play an important role to maintain her party. I don’t see any major benefit for the Muslim community,” Alana said.
Suu Kyi is known to have deliberately bypassed Muslim candidates for the elections, bowing to the anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping her country.
Not one of the NLD's 1,151 candidates who stood for regional and national elections was Muslim, despite the country having around five million Muslims.