Rohingya unsummed: Dilemma for India

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Since September2017, 40,000 Rohingya refugees have been reported to be settled in India (the exact figure is unknown).

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One of the most disturbing and condemn able events in recent months, has been the ethnic cleansing of ‘stateless’ Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar government. Rohingyas, who are Muslims by religion have been fleeing from Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, since August 2017.

Myanmar government has refused to recognize them over the years and Myanmar people consider them outsiders due to drastic ethnical, linguistic, and religious differences between the two communities. The stories of Myanmar army trying different tactics (methodical rape, brutal murders and arson) to obliterate Rohingya Muslims make it to newspaper headlines everyday (though State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has denied the allegations vehemently).

Amidst all this, India comes into the picture primarily because it shares a 1,643km long border with Myanmar. This indicates that for the people living in Myanmar, India is among the countries that they can go to, as refugees. Others include Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

Secondly, India’s status as the baton carrier for refugee rights in the past (Sri Lankan Tamils, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Tibetans) makes it a safe haven for Refugees, despite India is no signatory to any refugee conventions. We are a benevolent nation. Though we do have a history of taking in refugees, does it mean that we have to continue doing so?

According to a survey conducted by Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, 31 percent of world’s poor children, belong to India. 528 million Indians are poor and this equates with all the poor people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the Global Hunger Index, India is now at 100th spot out of 119 countries. Practically, no to refugees, for the very simple reason that we cannot afford it.

 “The term ‘persons’ mentioned in the Indian Constitution is inclusive of refugees living in the country as pointed out by Supreme Court in its recent judgment on Rohingya issue”

The other difficult question is whether we can deport them. Let us look at three key factors with regard to that.

First, though India is a non-signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention (which contains the principle of non-refoulement), India’s position regarding refugees in the past, and India’s statement made at numerous international platforms over the years, convey that India has been kind to refugees and thus, if we now deport the Rohingya Muslims back to Myanmar, we will be inviting worldwide criticism, to say the least.

Second, Article 21 under the Constitution of India states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.” Now, Indian constitution clearly distinguishes between a citizen and a person since some Fundamental Rights are only available to citizens, while others to all persons in this country. So, the term ‘persons’ is inclusive of refugees living here (as Supreme Court acknowledged in its recent judgment on Rohingya issue). Thus, the state has a duty to protect these refugees.

Third, if we do not give them long term visas and treat them well, the potential threat that they can pose to India’s security can cause mass hysteria and serious damage at the very least.

It is time for India to approach this issue strategically with a foresight and cover all sides rather than just deport them back to Myanmar and invite criticism and enemies from all sides.