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India, Myanmar, and the convenient discovery of Hindu mass graves

A Hindu family stays in a shelter near Maungdaw, in the north of Rakhine state, Myanmar, September 12, 2017

By Fazlur Rahman Raju
October 1, 2017

'Thousands have been killed, where are their bodies, their mass graves?'

Security experts and human rights activists believe Myanmar is carrying out a media campaign to blame Rohingya insurgents for the killing of Hindus in Myanmar in a bid to take attention away from the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Myanmar army in the Rakhine state, and also to influence public opinion in India.

“Myanmar is trying to get support from India by trying to establish that the ARSA is involved the anti-Hindu activities,” said veteran journalist and political commentator Afsan Chowdhury.

Myanmar, said security analyst Major General Md Abdur Rashid (retd), is trying to prove that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had killed the Hindus to convince the outside world that the army clampdown was a timely and a right one.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on a two-day state visit to Myanmar around two weeks after the country’s army started a crackdown on the Rohingya, on September 7, where he refrained from criticising the government for the atrocities being carried out on the Rohingyas.

On September 27, Myanmar claimed to have discovered mass graves containing bodies of 45 Hindu Rohingyas, including 28 bodies in one place, and blamed Rohingya insurgents for it. Most international publications and news agencies promptly ran the story, including all major Indian outlets. India Today and Daily Mail took it a step further and ran stories on the “forced conversion” of Hindus in the Bangladeshi refugee camps.

India on Friday asked Myanmar to bring the people linked to the Hindu carnage to justice.

Maung Zarni, a Burmese academic exiled in the UK, on Tuesday told The Citizen that this development came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s endorsement of Suu Kyi, adding, “I do not believe it at all, not at all.”

“Thousands have been killed, where are their bodies, their mass graves?” he asked.

“The information [about the corpses] has come from the Burmese military and government and not an independent source. If this is so then let the government bring in the United Nations to investigate these mass graves and determine whether indeed this crime has taken place at all,” he said.

Abdur Rashid said: “Myanmar initially tried to defend the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in the name of fighting terrorism, which the rest of the world did not believe.”

“When Myanmar realised that its counter-terrorism theory was failing, it tried to label Rohingya people as Bengali terrorists, but in vain, as Bangladesh protested the issue vigorously,” he said.

Shahab Enam Khan, associate professor of International Relations Department at Jahangirnagar University, said: “The first question is whether the ARSA really is capable of killing a huge number of Hindus in Myanmar? Until now, it is just a tiny outfit which was suddenly made out to be a huge force by the Burmese Junta.”

“…Myanmar’s claim of Hindus being killed is an effort to dress it in the garb of Islamic terrorism and a ridiculous attempt to divert the world’s attention from the Rohingya genocide,” he said.

Myanmar government’s Information Committee on September 25, quoting an unnamed person, said 300 ARSA militants had detained some 100 people from Yebawkya village, killing most of them the same day.

Reuters, on Wednesday, while reporting that Myanmar authorities displayed the bodies of Hindu villagers they say were killed by Muslim insurgents, described them as ‘victims of a surge of violence in someone else’s fight, now playing their part in a propaganda war.’

On the same day, Human Rights Watch also published a statement critical of the discovery of Hindu bodies.

“While Burmese authorities have put on a stage-managed tour to the Hindu village in question, as well as Rohingya villages unaffected by the recent violence, they have denied access to independent monitors to the mass graves and the rest of northern Rakhine State…,” it said in the statement.

The government’s quick conclusion on ARSA’s guilt contrasts sharply with its own unwillingness to credibly investigate countless alleged crimes committed by its own forces against Rohingya Muslims, it said.

“Burma’s government should stop playing politics with the dead. Beyond stopping military atrocities, it should allow the United Nations fact-finding mission into the country to investigate all crimes,” the rights body further said.

Maung Zarni said many powerful western countries have completely rejected Myanmar’s claim over the mass grave, however South Asia has bit into the narrative being put out by Myanmar, as was visible when Modi went and stood by SuuKyi despite strong world criticism.

“What is really scary is the Burmese military’s attempt to expand the circle of enemies against the Rohingya,” Zarni said.

Meanwhile, the editor and executive director of Myanmar Times, the oldest privately owned and operated English-language newspaper in Myanmar, Kavi Chongkittavorn, made some revealing statements about Myanmar’s position vis-à-vis the Rohingya.

“What is the role of media under the current government?” Chongkittavorn posed the question to himself during a panel discussion that ran from August 11 to 13. His answer: “The most important [role] is constructing the Myanmar narrative.”

“You read Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments, you read New Light of Myanmar, and you read everything that comes from the government. The government wants to construct the Myanmar narrative, which is still absent,” Chongkittavorn said.

“You need a massive [number of] people to believe the same thing.”

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