My Udhayam TV Interview on Rohingya Crisis

bngla rohingMaybe there is a solution out there – and if not a solution, at least some hope for the Rohingya.

We all know what is happening in Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims are being brutalised, murdered, burnt alive and driven out of their homeland in lakhs. A lot has been written and said on the atrocities against these wretched of the earth, but recently I came across a piece that was so good I thought parts of it must be reproduced here. Maybe there is a solution out there – and if not a solution, at least some hope for the Rohingya.

The italicised parts are from the original piece and the ‘regular’ font, mine.

There was the house which was my world, there was the world of others who also were not free but who were together in prison as a community, and there was the world of the free; each was a different planet pursuing its own separate course in an indifferent universe. Wow, the author has so beautifully narrated the plight of a Rohingya. The other world is so truly different. Imagine the bamboo shanty in the swamps of Rakhine State, the home of the Rohingya child, her world with her rag dolls, before she is thrown out into an indifferent universe.

The Burmese concept of peace can be explained as the happiness arising from the cessation of factors that militate against the harmonious and the wholesome. The word nyein-chan translates literally as the beneficial coolness that comes when a fire is extinguished. Another gorgeous concept, the coolness that follows when a fire is extinguished. Seeing the gruesome pictures of burnt bodies of the Rohingya, I couldn’t imagine that a word like nyein-chan would even exist in mranmabhasa. The word is refreshing indeed, and more so when explained along with the Burmese concept of peace.

Reports of hunger, disease, displacement, joblessness, poverty, injustice, discrimination, prejudice, bigotry; these are our daily fare. Everywhere there are negative forces eating away at the foundations of peace. Here the author brings up the basic canons of this problem: poverty, bigotry and prejudice. How courageous to have said what most of us avoid saying.

War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages. There is such a poignant, ethical reference to the process of conflict in these lines. How insightful to state that peace can be reduced to shards in many ways, most importantly by ignoring the suffering of others. The author is so aware of the consequences of the “ignorance of suffering” (of the Rohingya), it almost makes you feel small for being so fortunate.

I am fortunate to be living in an age when the fate of prisoners of conscience anywhere has become the concern of peoples everywhere, an age when democracy and human rights are widely, even if not universally, accepted as the birthright of all. Again, an enormous statement vis-à-vis the Rohingya. Yes, democracy and human rights are their birthright, and we should endeavour to bring these to their modest doorsteps.

Without faith in the future, without the conviction that democratic values and fundamental human rights are not only necessary but possible for our society, our movement could not have been sustained throughout the destroying years. Some of our warriors fell at their post, some deserted us, but a dedicated core remained strong and committed. My salutations to these lines. Converting the concept of human rights into a possibility for the marginalised is such a noble thought, and that too when it comes for one of the most ignored people in history. The ‘destroying years’ continue to annihilate the Rohingya community with such indomitable might that for me, this statement is a statement of hope.

The peace of our world is indivisible. As long as negative forces are getting the better of positive forces anywhere, we are all at risk. It may be questioned whether all negative forces could ever be removed. The simple answer is: “No!” It is in human nature to contain both the positive and the negative. What more is there to day? Peace, like the sky and the moon, is indivisible indeed. There’s also a mention of the tug-of-war between negative and positive forces, which is so important to understand the crisis of the Rohingya.

There are refugees in all parts of the world. When I was at the Maela refugee camp in Thailand recently, I met dedicated people who were striving daily to make the lives of the inmates as free from hardship as possible. They spoke of their concern over ‘donor fatigue,’ which could also translate as ‘compassion fatigue.’ ‘Donor fatigue’ expresses itself precisely in the reduction of funding. ‘Compassion fatigue’ expresses itself less obviously in the reduction of concern. One is the consequence of the other. Can we afford to indulge in compassion fatigue? Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering? I appeal to donors the world over to fulfill the needs of these people who are in search, often it must seem to them a vain search, of refuge.

This long statement from the piece is its soul. The concepts of donor fatigue and compassion fatigue are so precise – and then the mention of the ‘vain search of the refugee’ is so true. And especially true when it comes to the status of the refugees, who no one in the world wants to take in. The world has shown such compassion fatigue towards the Rohingya of Myanmar that any appeal of compassion sounds like the voice of god.

I’m sorry – in all my excitement to quote the piece, I forgot to mention the author and its source.

These excerpts are from Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel speech, delivered in Oslo on June 16, 2012.

Strange world, isn’t it? Very strange indeed.

Shah Alam Khan is a professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at AIIMS, New Delhi. Views are personal.