Saturday, April 25, 2015

Partnership with Myanmar – reality or fantasy?

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened a meeting in the UN headquarters on Myanmar on Friday, April 24, 2015. In his speech to the participants of the Partnership Group for Peace, Development and Democracy in Myanmar, Mr. Ban warned Myanmar that stability in its most sensitive region can’t be achieved unless it addresses the issue of citizenship for minority Rohingya Muslims. He told a Myanmar delegation that the U.N. has seen “already troubling signs of ethnic and religious differences being exploited” as elections approach later this year.
Speaking at the meeting, India’s permanent representative to the UN, Asoke Kumar Mukerji noted that in Rakhine State, the Myanmar Government "has taken steps towards restoration of law and order and has expressed readiness to cooperate with UN and other humanitarian agencies regarding rehabilitation of those affected by violence." "We urged member states to agree to the discontinuation of annual resolutions on the human rights situation in Myanmar," Mukerji said. "In our view, this would convey the world community's strong support and encouragement for the reform measures that are already underway in Myanmar."

While disappointed to hear the statement from the Indian rep, I am not too surprised. After all, India has her own ‘Rohingya problem’ in Jammu & Kashmir, where people have been denied their basic human rights. The Government of India has not allowed a UN sponsored plebiscite - long demanded not only by its own people but also the world community as reflected in UN Resolutions dating back to 1948.

Much like the Burmese leaders of our time, the Indian leaders have repeatedly told the world community that the Kashmir problem is an internal affair which India will solve internally without outside interference. India has not done anything in the last 68 years since her independence in 1947 from Britain to solving the problem. It was a hypocritical gesture to derailing the world opinion and ignoring human rights of the affected Kashmiris. Since 1989 when serious insurgency began, at least 80,000 Kashmiris (mostly civilians) have been killed by the Indian forces. The Indian Occupied Kashmir remains a police state with one soldier for every 10 Kashmiris living in the valley. These Indian troops are not only responsible for the massive destruction there but also committing heinous crimes, like rape as a weapon of war, while ensuring the Indian control of the disputed territory by hook or crook.

Lest we forget, on November 2, 1947 India’s first prime minister Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru, standing beside Kashmiri leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, addressed thousands at Lal Chowk of Srinagar and said “The fate of Kashmir will ultimately be decided by the people. We have given that pledge and Maharaja (Hari Singh) had supported it. It is not only a pledge to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not, and cannot back out of it.” Much in contrast to that and other similar promises of holding a referendum made to the Kashmiri people the Indian government paid little attention to the political views of the Kashmiri people. The government would often dissolve assemblies, arrest elected politicians and impose president's rule. The government also rigged elections in 1987.  The Indian record when it comes to honoring the pledges she has made to the Kashmiri people and her treatment of the non-Brahmins inside India, esp. those living in the north-eastern corner of India, sandwiched between Bangladesh, Myanmar and China is simply shameful. 

So, it is not difficult to understand Indian rep Mukerji’s deplorable position vis-à-vis Myanmar. Just as India has been able to bury the UN resolutions on Kashmir all these decades, Mukerji wants to sell the absurd idea that the discontinuation of annual resolutions on the human rights situation would encourage reform inside Myanmar.  

What reform is Mukerji talking about when some 650,000 people are homeless and forced to live as IDPs inside Myanmar? What reform when one after another xenophobic, racist and bigotry-ridden bills and laws are passed in Thein Sein's parliament? What reform when the Rohingyas are targeted for genocide and elimination? What reform when they are put behind the bars with long prison term sentences or are sentenced to death when they are the ones who have been victimized while their tormentors get away scot-free in Myanmar's legal system? What reform when rape is used as a weapon of war against targeted minorities in the Rakhine, Chin, Kachin and Shan states? What reform when racism and bigotry are promoted by the very government agencies that is supposed to curb its deadly effect? What reform when the eliminationist policy against the minority Rohingya and other Muslims has become a national project with deep support enjoyed from President Thein Sein at the top to NLD leader Suu Kyi and RNDP leader Aye Maung in the middle to NaSaKa to local government agents and thugs at the bottom? What reform when the fascist groups like 969, led by the Buddhist terrorist monk Wirathu, dictate the future of Myanmar?

No one is fooled by such a statement from the Indian rep Mukerji. His condescending remarks say that his government is okay with everything that is going wrong inside Myanmar and the death and carnage of the victims are all 'collateral damages' in 'reformed' Myanmar. India is committed to investing billions of dollars inside Myanmar. That explains why Mukerji is urging member states to hide Myanmar's crimes under the rug, much like what India has been doing with the Kashmir crisis. As I have noted before, human rights have long ceased to be a guiding principle lived by and/or promoted by the government of India, and surely not under BJP’s rule. With Modi’s ascension to power, it is all too natural that we see tying knots with a murderous regime that promotes the Buddhist version of his Hindutvadi fascism!

2015 is the year that ASEAN aims to become one community of Member States that share a vision and goal to become a zone of peace and stability.
If ASEAN is genuinely serious about its declared objective, it must make it crystal clear that Myanmar’s so-called reforms are not working and need an overhaul of intent and purpose. It must insist that the race, family and religious bills recently passed inside the parliament as well as the absence of swift action to regularize the status of White Card holders (most of whom are Rohingya people) will be seen as institutionalized discrimination.  It must school Myanmar government that the long-term stability in the Rakhine state will remain unattainable without comprehensively addressing the issue of status and citizenship of the Muslim populations -- particularly the plight of those who self-identify and are recognized by the world community as “Rohingyas” but whom the government calls “Bengalis”; without these steps, the Myanmar Government will find itself continually exposed to international criticism. It must insist that the 1982 Citizenship Law violates several international laws and must be repealed. It must insist that the Rohingya and other stateless minorities (previously holding the White Cards) who were born there are given full citizenship rights immediately to live at par with other dominant ethnic groups and be allowed to vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum, paving the way for participation in a general election later this year.
ASEAN must warn the Myanmar government that its insistence to depicting the Rohingyas as ‘Bengalis’, which they are not, is tantamount to denying a group’s self-identification, and thus, qualifies as an international crime of highest proportion.
ASEAN must inform the Myanmar leaders that ethnicity is a colonial era invention which has no place in our time, and that it is divisive, and thus, suicidal or a sure recipe for disintegration in a multi-racial, -religious and –ethnic state like Myanmar. If Myanmar were to survive, it must embrace a federal character with regional autonomy, much in common with original Panglong Agreement signed between Aung Saan and leaders of other ethnic minorities.
ASEAN must insist that Myanmar’s top leaders – civilian and military - send a unified message against incitement of hatred and create and promote an environment of harmony and social cohesion in this fractured country of many races and religions. It must insist that the Myanmar regime punish terrorist Buddhist monks like Wirathu who have been behind most of the genocidal activities directed against Muslim and other religious minorities. It must insist that Myanmar’s Buddhist political and religious leaders promote understanding and mutual respect with others. 
ASEAN must insist that Myanmar allows for unimpeded access by humanitarian agencies to the vulnerable populations especially in the IDP camps to provide much needed aid in a timely fashion. 
ASEAN must insist that Myanmar adopts a strategy to address her myriad of challenges failing which the stability and security of the entire region, as already seen through human trafficking and slave labor camps in places like Thailand and elsewhere, will be threatened. Such forced or voluntary exodus from Myanmar is destabilizing to the entire region and must be stopped through tangible measures which address the root causes of the problem, and not the symptoms.
Without such changes taking root inside Myanmar, delivering tangible results, ASEAN’s shared vision and goal to become a zone of peace and stability will only remain an illusion, and nothing else. The desired changes won’t happen with either flattering speeches or looking the other way.



Friday, April 24, 2015

Documentary about the plight of the Rohingyas of Myanmar

 
 
While the majority of Rohingyas of Myanmar today are Muslims, there are Hindu Rohingyas, too. Mahi Ramakrishnan, whose gradma was a Rohingya has made a documentary that tells the tale of the Rohingyas, starting with their escape from ethnic cleansing in their country to the false refuge they found in countries such as Malaysia. Rohingyas of Myanmar  mostly live the western state of Arakan (Rakhine) bordering Bangladesh.

 
 
You can read about her project by clicking here or read below. Here is another news report made in 2013 about the reasons that Rohingya refugees were forced to flee to Malaysia.
 
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KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 ― Mahi Ramakrishnan’s connection to the Rohingyas was not just of documentary maker and subject, but one of blood: her grandmother is also a Rohingya.
A journey that was started to discover her grandmother’s roots eventually blossomed into a curiosity to learn about the oppressed Muslim minority in Myanmar (previously Burma).
“It is a love story. My grandmother was a Rohingya. My grandfather was with the British Indian army and met her in Burma, fell in love and eloped with her to Malaysia. My mother was born in Malaysia, a first-generation.
“The thing is, my mother does not know where her mother comes from, which village she was from, except for few photos. It is like the Rohingya community in Malaysia, who were raped, killed and murdered; anyone of them could be my relative,” Mahi said.
This same curiosity led to a nine-year effort to help the refugees from the Muslim minority community here, which then evolved into “Seeds of hatred”, a 30-minute documentary about their plight.
The documentary, which took almost two years to finish, tells the tale of the Rohingyas, starting with their escape from ethnic cleansing in their country to the false refuge they found in countries such as Malaysia.
It also recounts the 2012 Rakhine riots ... that forced a new wave of the Muslim community to flee to neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.
The Buddhist-Muslim enmity is also believed to have been brought over to Malaysia, with dozens of murders involving Myanmars here prompting concern that the violence may spread locally.
Malaysia is home to a reported 40,000 Rohingyas, many of whom are barred from seeking employment due to their status as asylum seekers and refugees. This, in turn, makes them vulnerable to exploitation both by the authorities and those willing to employ them illegally.
 
Although making the documentary was another step in raising awareness on these issues, Mahi said she also wanted it to show other Myanmars the plight of their country’s minority.
“Initially, I only wanted to make a film on Rohingya. But after my trip on 2013 (for research), I was shocked at how divided they are and how a group of marginalised people could not sympathise or empathise with another group of marginalised people,” she said.
As for those seeking asylum in Malaysia, she said she hoped that the government would take faster initiatives to help the Rohingya refugees.
She said one of the few steps was for the government to ratify the United Nations’ (UN) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR), which would help define who qualifies as a refugee as well as the rights and protections they would be accorded.
Mahi acknowledged it would take some time for the government to do that but “that does not mean we should not start working towards it”.
“At least the government should take the steps to register the refugees which they promised three years ago, and this would allow them to find work and feed their children,” she said.
In the meantime, she can only hold on to hope that things will get better for the community both in their home country and Malaysia, as she would like the Rohingya to be able to go home with “pride and dignity”.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Burma's Rohingya driven into the sea to end up in slave camps

Human trafficking is a serious problem in our time when criminals are taking advantage of people who are trying to get out of a country that had seemingly failed them. Many are persecuted people who have been pushed out of their homes. They fancy that they will find a better place than the living hell that they had been living.  In our time, no people is worse suffering than the Rohingyas of Myanmar. They are victims of genocidal campaign by Myanmar's Buddhists, esp. those from the Rakhine state, who see their eviction as a way to claim their land and properties. Many Rohingyas are now becoming victims of criminal human traffickers who have no compassion. 
The State-Sponsored Violence Compels Thousands of Rohingyas to Leave their Homeland and Take Dangerous Sea Journey


 
Here below is a story of their plight as they are pushed to the see by the racist Buddhists of Myanmar.

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THE US State Department should assign Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia, and Bangladesh a tier-three ranking in its forthcoming Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report in order to encourage more robust and effective action to combat human trafficking, Fortify Rights said today.
 
In 2014, these countries failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking as set forth in the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Fortify Rights' executive director Matthew Smith said today at a hearing before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations.

A 15-page written testimony, submitted to the subcommittee and published by Fortify Rights today, is based on hundreds of interviews conducted by Fortify Rights with witnesses and survivors of abuse and more than a dozen human traffickers.

It focuses on abuses against Rohingya Muslims, who are fleeing state-sponsored violence in Myanmar, and ethnic Kachin and Shan individuals who have been displaced by ongoing armed conflict along the Myanmar-China border.

Fortify Rights said that more than 650,000 Rohingya are displaced in Myanmar and Bangladesh and are at particular risk of being trafficked.

''Myanmar is responsible for setting this regional crisis in motion through its ongoing campaign of persecution against the Rohingya,'' said Matthew Smith.

''Rohingya are being driven into the hands of human traffickers.''

Many Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape violence, ongoing deprivations in aid, and policies of discrimination in Myanmar.

However, the government of Bangladesh has deliberately denied Rohingya protection and aid, leading tens of thousands to take dangerous and risky boat journeys to Thailand or Malaysia, Fortify Rights said.

Trafficking brokers in Myanmar and Bangladesh often deceive Rohingya into believing that they will be transported to Malaysia, a major destination country for Rohingya.

Instead, they are ferried to international waters and crammed into modern-day slave ships bound for Thailand.

Fortify Rights has documented killings, rape, torture, and deprivations of food and water during the journey at sea.

Once in Thai territory, ''passengers'' are transported to trafficking camps located in remote jungles and on islands where they face torture and other abuses until they can buy their freedom or are sold to the highest bidder.

Rohingya women and girls have been sold into forced marriages and a potential lifetime of sexual and domestic servitude. Men have been sold to fishing boat captains as slave labor.

Although Thailand's unelected military leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha acknowledged that Thai government officials are involved in trafficking, Thailand prosecuted fewer human traffickers in 2014 than it did in 2013.

Moreover, Thai authorities reported a mere five cases of human trafficking involving Rohingya in 2014.

Fortify Rights says government officials in Myanmar and Thailand have been complicit in a deadly trade in Rohingya asylum seekers that has generated up to $250 million dollars for transnational criminal syndicates since 2012.

''Human trafficking is big business. Traffickers are getting rich while asylum seekers pay with their lives,'' Matthew Smith said.

''If the US government wants to see an end to this slave trade, it should hold these countries accountable to the established standards.''

In Malaysia, Rohingya have been held in ''hostage houses'' - private residences where people are detained by human traffickers and their intermediaries.

Rohingya, who avoid or escape hostage houses, lack adequate protections in Malaysia. Malaysian police routinely extort money from refugees and asylum seekers, including survivors of trafficking.

Authorities throughout Southeast Asia treat Rohingya asylum seekers as ''illegal migrants'' and subject them to arrest, detention, and informal deportation, putting them at further risk of trafficking.

Fortify Rights' testimony also focused on forced labor and other forms of trafficking of Kachin and Shan civilians displaced along the Myanmar-China border.

More than 170,000 civilians have been displaced by war between the Myanmar Army and various ethnic armies in northern Myanmar since June 2011.

Young women and girls displaced by the war and with few livelihood opportunities are at risk of being abducted or deceived into migrating to China, said Fortify Rights. In China, they have been forced into marriages.

The Myanmar Army has also used forced labor and human shields on the frontlines of the war in Kachin and Shan states - a form of abuse that constitutes human trafficking.

The annual TIP Report is a diplomatic tool of the US government to hold foreign governments accountable for their record on human trafficking.

Countries are ranked on a three-tier system based on the extent to which they meet minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.

Tier-three countries are subject to sanctions at the discretion of the President of the United States. This year's report is due to be released in June.

Thailand and Malaysia currently hold a tier-three TIP report ranking. Bangladesh is tier-two, and Myanmar is tier-two ''watch list.''

''We've seen how TIP rankings get the attention of senior officials and can lead to positive changes in policies and practices,'' Matthew Smith said.

''These patterns of trafficking have gone on for years. Halting them will require significant resources and vigilant, sustained action to ensure justice and protection for survivors.''

Life inside an IDP camp in Myanmar

How is the life inside IDP (internally displaced person) camps in Akyab (now called Sittwe), the capital city of Arakan (Rakhine) state of Myanmar? Some 140,000 Rohingya now live in segregated camps, which have rightly been described as concentration camp like. Most Rohingya IDPs of Myanmar lost everything that they possessed - homes, business centers, shops, mosques and schools, which were burned down or destroyed in a series of genocidal campaigns by the Rakhine Buddhists plus government security forces, aided by local and central government politicians. The racist Rakhines don't want them to live inside Myanmar, let alone living side by side. 

Here is a video that shows life inside such an IDP camp.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Britain's highest court hears its 'Mai Lai case' - massacring of workers inside Malaysia

The news below is from the Sun Daily.
LONDON: Relatives of 24 rubber-plantation workers killed in Malaysia in 1948 by British troops pressed their decades-old demand for a public inquiry in Britain's highest court on Wednesday.
The Dec 12, 1948 incident, dubbed the "Batang Kali massacre", occurred during the so-called Malayan Emergency, when Commonwealth forces fought a communist-inspired revolt in the British colony.
The case has potential ramifications for Britain's duty to investigate historical cases involving its troops, including during the Northern Irish conflict known as The Troubles.
The Supreme Court case had its opening sitting on Wednesday and is being heard by five judges. It is being brought by four appellants against Britain's foreign and defence ministries.
Lawyers for the families argue that Britain has a responsibility to commission an independent inquiry under the European Convention on Human Rights, even though the convention was signed after the incident took place.
The case is also examining whether Britain had any legal responsibility for the soldiers' actions, and if so whether that ceased upon Malaysian independence in 1957.
"I have travelled here to stand before the most senior judges in (the) UK," said 78-year-old Lim Ah Yin, who was 11 years old at the time.
"I want to let them know the struggle and hardship that my beloved mother suffered after the death of my Dad during the massacre."
The ethnic Chinese labourers were killed after British soldiers entered the Batang Kali rubber plantation about 30km north of Kuala Lumpur, rounding up and interrogating villagers.
The communist rebels in what was then called Malaya were predominantly ethnic Chinese.
Chinese had begun arriving in Malaya in the early 20th century to work as labourers.
The British government at the time said that the villagers were suspected insurgents and were shot when they tried to escape, but lawyers for the families argue the men may have been deliberately executed.
Tham Yong, a Batang Kali resident who died in 2010 at the age of 78, previously told AFP she saw at least one of the victims shot in cold blood and that troops pressured another to flee before shooting him in the back.
She denied that the villagers were communists or were aiding the insurgents in any way.
The killings have been referred to as "Britain's My Lai" after the infamous Vietnam War massacre by US troops.
Relatives have fought for years for a public inquiry but have been denied by British courts.
Britain's Ministry of Defence has called the killings a "deeply regrettable incident", but critics have argued against applying European human rights law to military operations.
Uproar
In a letter to London-based newspaper The Times this month, seven former chiefs of defence staff criticised "the creeping legal expansion on to the battlefield", arguing that "war demands different norms and laws than the rest of human activity".
Nevertheless, a lawyer for the families said it was not too late for the law to "demand answers from the state".
"Those killed were British subjects living in a British protected state. They, and their families, have a right to meaningful British justice," lawyer John Halford said.
Brushed aside by Malayan authorities in 1948, the massacre was largely forgotten until 1970 when a British newspaper ran an explosive account of the killings, publishing sworn affidavits by soldiers admitting they had killed in cold blood.
The revelations triggered an uproar in Britain but investigations were never pursued.
The guerrilla war left thousands dead and only formally ended with the signing of a 1989 peace treaty with the Malayan Communist Party. – AFP

The Oslo Conference to End Myanmar’s Persecution of the Rohingyas - Public Announcement

PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT
The Oslo Conference to End Myanmar’s Persecution of the Rohingyas
Venues:  The Nobel Institute and Voksenaasen
Oslo, Norway
26-28 May 2015
Refugees International (RI), Justice for All (USA), the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), Harvard Global Equality Initiative (HGEI), and International State Crime Initiative Queen Mary University of London (ISCI) and Den norske Burmakomité will be holding a 3-day international conference to discuss the plight of over 1-million Rohingyas of Myanmar (Burma) and explore concrete ways to end their decades-long persecution.
George Soros who escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary sees a parallel between his experience of life under the Nazis in 1944 and the human conditions for the Rohingyas in Western Myanmar, which he witnessed first-hand during a recent visit to the country.
At the conference, iconic leaders from diverse backgrounds including Soros, Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire, Desmond Tutu, and Jose Rose-Horta, and the former prime ministers of Malaysia and Norway - namely Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad and Kjell Magne Bondevik - will join hands with the representatives of the two generations of Rohingya refugees and activists as well as international human rights researchers and scholars of genocides and mass atrocities. They will push for the end to Myanmar’s policies of discrimination, persecution and oppression. 
Tomas Ojea Quinta and Yanghee Lee, former and present UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar respectively, will also share their expertise with the audiences and other participants. 
The first day of the Oslo Conference is open to the public and will be webcast LIVE. 
To register, please RSVP by sending an email to OsloConference@yahoo.com .  Be sure to include your full name, organizational affiliation (if any), and country of residence.
For further information including the program (draft) visit the conference’s Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/OsloConferenceOnRohingyas/posts/959355314097439?__mref=message_bubble
A 3-day Conference
26 May 2015: The first day of the conference – open to the public - will be held at the Nobel Institute and Voksenaasen conference center on 26 May 2015.   
27 May 2015: The second day of the conference – by invitation-only – will be devoted to exploring concrete ideas and proposals to help push for the restoration of basic human rights, nationality,  and citizenship to the Rohingyas.
28 May 2015: On the third and final day, the conference will host a Burma Forum in central Oslo, a public roundtable with select group of Rohingya leaders, other religious leaders and human rights experts to discuss Myanmar’s rising anti-Muslim hate campaign as well as other contemporary issues of relevance.  For more information about the Burma Forum email Norwegian Burma Committee at info@burma.no .


Backgrounder to the Oslo Conference
Rakhine Action Plan
In July 2014, Myanmar government floated a comprehensive plan, known as the “Rakhine Action Plan”, to erase both Rohingya identity and the group’s legal residency in their own ancestral land and sent a 3-member advocacy team – made up of President’s adviser and former academic Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing, Immigration Minister and ex-Brigadier Khin Yi, and Rakhine Chief Minister and ex-Major General Maung Maung Ohn - to lobby western governments and relevant international organizations  to accept Myanmar’s official plan to solve “the Rohingya problem”. 
Thein Sein’s government in Myanmar is currently implementing the Rakhine Action Plan.  This is evidenced from the further illegalization and disenfranchisement of the vast majority of ethnic Rohingya since March this year, by forcibly confiscating their White Cards, the only documentation that Rohingyas had of their legal, permanent residency. Meanwhile, the international community’s attention is diverted to the fighting along the country’s Sino-Burmese borders between Myanmar army and Kokant Chinese armed resistance organization and its allies, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi’s attempts to push for changes in the military’s 2008 Constitution in time for this year’s planned elections
Myanmar’s Policy of Official Denial and Persecution of the Rohingyas
Following the large scale violence against the Rohingyas in June 2012, Myanmar’s “reformist” government officially proposed two solutions to the Rohingya issue to the visiting head of the United Nations Refugee Agency or UNHCR António Guterres - either the “resettlement” of the Rohingyas to third countries, or placing Rohingya in UN-financed camps on their own ancestral soil in Western Myanmar.   In his widely reported address to the Royal Institute of International Affairs (or Chatham House), in London, UK on 17 July 2013, Myanmar President Thein Sein officially denied the existence of Rohingyas as either legal residents or an ethnic group while his government has made consistent attempts to pressure INGOs, foreign missions and the United Nations agencies and officials – including the UN Special Rapporteurs on the human rights situation in Myanmar -  to stop recognizing the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group of Myanmar. 
Such statements and policies have been met with stiff opposition from the international community, including the highest level of leaderships such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and US President Barack Obama. In sharp contrast to the international recognition of the Rohingya as an ethnic group, deserving non-discrimination, equal rights, dignity, and the same basic respect as any other indigenous peoples of Myanmar, the country’s Bama or Myanmar Buddhist majority and Rakhine nationalists  label the Rohingyas as “illegal Muslim migrants” from the impoverished Bangladesh.  As such, Rohingya have popularly been dehumanized and referred to by terms such as “viruses”, “leeches”, (ugly) “ogres”, “dogs” etc.  
Sadly, Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition leaders and human rights organizations including Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy and other iconic human rights the leaders of the 88 Generation Group also share this anti-Rohingya sentiment.  The Myanmar government has, misleadingly, portrayed the plight of Rohingyas as the result of a communal conflict between the predominantly Buddhist Rakhine and the Muslim Rohingya and a supposedly inevitable consequence of the “transition” from dictatorship.  Periodically, unsubstantiated claims are made by Myanmar President’s Office attempting to link the Rohingya community to global “Islamic fundamentalism”, and worse still, “terrorism”. 
The Worsening Plight of the Rohingyas
The plight of the Rohingyas in Myanmar has worsened since the two bouts of organized attacks on the Rohingya in June and October 2012.  In her 9-March-2015 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Professor Yanghee Lee stated that Rohingya refugees inside Internally Displaced Persons (or IDP) camps feel they have two (equally risky) options:  “to stay and die (in Myanmar) or leave by boat”.   According to the UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 53,000 Rohingyas, including women and children, left Myanmar (and Bangladesh) by boats bound for Thailand and Malaysia in the 11-month period between January and November 2014.   International visitors to Rakhine state have described the human conditions for the Rohingyas, both inside and outside IDP camps, as “deplorable”.  Even by Myanmar’s official report of Myanmar President’s Rakhine Inquiry Commission, doctor-patient ratios among the Rohingyas in the two majority Rohingya towns in Western Myanmar are 1: 76,000 and 1:83,000 (vis-à-vis 1: 1,000 for the national average).  Some local Rakhine groups routinely threaten international humanitarian organizations and attempt to disrupt and stop the delivery of basic humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas. 
International Responses
Human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch have assessed Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingyas as ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’.  UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar including Tomas Quintana Ojea and Yanghee Lee have highlighted the official nature of discrimination and persecution of the Rohingyas that a condones popular racism and violence against Myanmar’s Muslims.   The Pacific Rim Law and Policy Association has published a 3-year academic study entitled “The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya” in its peer-reviewed journal “Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal” (Spring, 2014).   Currently, two independent teams of researchers from the International State Crime Research Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, UK and Yale University Human Rights Law Clinic and Fortify Rights are investigating the Rohingya situation using the genocide framework. 
Renowned academics, for instance, Harvard’s Amartya Sen have characterized Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingyas as a “slow genocide”.  Likewise, at the conference on the Rohingyas at the London School of Economics held in April 2014 the then outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomas Oeja Quintana observed reportedly “genocidal acts” in the case of Rohingyas.  
At this Oslo Conference, global leaders including George Soros and Desmond Tutu will call on the international community, both international investors, European Union and governments with close ties to Myanmar, to help end Myanmar’s Rohingya persecution.  They will also call for the restoration of basic human rights, nationality and citizenship to one of the world’s most vulnerable and oppressed peoples who, as a group, do have the fundamental right to self-identity under international human rights law. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Notes on the Great Famine and Decline of Muslin Industry in Bengal under English Rule

Before the Battle of Plassey, Bengal (today’s Bangladesh, and the states of West Bengal, Bihar, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Odisha states of India) was a very rich, prosperous province with enough for everyone to live a very decent life. As a matter of fact, the inhabitants of Bengal had a much better standard of living compared to most Europeans living at the time.

But under the British rule, the tax burden became simply unbearable rising fivefold (from 10% in the Nawabi period to 50% of the value of the agricultural product) within a very short period of time.

The agriculture sector was ruined by a faulty system, which encouraged cotton, opium poppy and indigo production over rice cultivation. Moreover, the East India Company (EIC) cared only about tax/revenue collection and nothing else. They did not do anything to improve the irrigation system.

To make things worse, the EIC practiced an unfair trade practice by imposing a disproportionately heavy duty on goods imported from India and Bengal to England.  Many of its imported products enjoyed duty-free entry into the local market while the reverse was not true for local made products, e.g., muslin, into the European market. Indian/Bengali cotton goods, imported into England, paid a duty of 10 per cent; silk goods a duty of 20 per cent; Indian woolen goods, a duty of 30 per cent. Whereas, British cotton and silk goods, conveyed in British ships to India/Bengal, paid a duty of 3.5 per cent; and British woolen goods a duty of 2 per cent only.

It is not difficult to see the impact of such unfair trade practices. In 1815 the cotton goods exported from India were of the value of £1.3 million. In 1832 they were less than £100,000. In 1815 the cotton goods imported into India from England were of the value of £26,300. In 1832 they were upwards of £400,000. Montgomery Martin, who had edited the voluminous and valuable statistical account of Eastern India left by Dr. Francis Buchanan said to a question and answer session in the British parliament, “We have during the period of a quarter of a century compelled the Indian territories to receive our manufactures; our woolens, duty free, our cottons at 24 per cent, and other articles in proportion; while we have continued during that period to levy almost prohibitory duties, or duties varying from 10 to 20, 30, 50, 100, 500, and 1000 per cent upon articles, the produce from our territories. Therefore, the cry that has taken place for free trade with India, has been a free trade from this country, not a free trade between India and this country. . . . The decay and destruction of Surat, of Dacca, of Murshedabad, and other places where native manufactures have been carried on, is too painful a fact to dwell upon. I do not consider that it has been in the fair course of trade; I think it has been the power of the stronger exercised over the weaker." (Romesh Dutt, The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age, 3rd ed., London (1906), vol. 2, p. 112)

To another set of questions on the subject, Mr. Martin said, “I speak not now of her Dacca muslins and her Cashmere shawls, but of various articles which she has manufactured in a manner superior to any part of the world. To reduce her now to an agricultural country would be an injustice to 1ndia.” (Romesh Dutt, The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age, 3rd ed., London (1906), vol. 2, p. 114)

The entire internal and external trade was monopolized by the EIC. The weavers were forced to weave cotton yarns beyond their capacity. Even under such savage, brutal, inhuman and ruthless work environment and tiring and back-breaking workdays, they would be paid so little that they could ill-afford having a full meal at the end of the day. Hunger and starvation was their lot. Many cut their own thumbs to avoid being put to this kind of forced labor, others sold everything including even their children to escape being punished by the revenue collectors, and many fled the country. (Romesh Dutt, The Economic History of India under early British Rule, 3rd ed., London (1908), pp. 23-27)[1]

In 1769 the EIC directors issued the new directives stipulating that the peasants should be forced to produce raw material and not finished cotton or silk (resham in Bangla) products, and that such activities could only be done in company owned properties (and not at farmer’s cottage). (Ibid., p. 45) Due to unfair trade practices, soon the entire cotton, muslin and silk industry got ruined. With one-way of flow of money out to the Great Britain, while nothing spent for the good of the farmers and the local people, it was only a question of time when a great famine would ravage the country. That ominous event came in 1770 when a third of the population, nearly ten million people, starved to death what has been called the Great Famine of Bengal even though that year the EIC had the highest collection of revenue ever from the land. (ibid., pp. 52-53)

In the words of historian Romesh Chunder Dutt, “Early in 1769 high prices gave an indication of an approaching famine, but the land-tax was more rigorously collected than ever… It was officially estimated by the members of the Council, after they had made a circuit through the country to ascertain the effects of the famine, that about one-third of the population of Bengal, or about ten millions of people, had died of this famine. And while no systematic measures were undertaken for the relief of the sufferers perishing in every village, roadside, and bazaar, the mortality was heightened by the action of the Company's servants. Their Gomashtas not only monopolised the grain in order to make high profits from the distress of the people, but they compelled the cultivators to sell even the seed requisite for the next harvest… Warren Hastings wrote thus to the court of Directors on the 3rd November 177 2 : " Notwithstanding the loss of at least one-third of the inhabitants of the province, and the consequent decrease of the cultivation, the nett collections of the year 1771 exceeded even those of  1768. . . . It was naturally to be expected that the diminution of the revenue should have kept an equal pace with the other consequences of so great a calamity. That it did not was owing to its being violently kept up to its former standard." In the language of modern Indian administration this violently keeping up the land revenue would be described as the Recuperative Power of India!” (ibid.)

The EIC also came up with a new system for revenue collection. It is called the Sunset Law in which if either a revenue collector (i.e., zamindar) or a rayat (land holder) had failed to pay the previously decreed revenue by a certain sunset time, his territory would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. [Bidders at the auction had been led by the eagerness of competition to make high offers.] Almost all of these bidders were Hindu administrative officials, previously employed by Muslim zamindars. Many of them deliberately faulted upon payment on behalf of the Muslim zamindars so that later they could bid for the same territory using zamindars’ money. Many of the new zamindars were Hindu officials employed within the EIC’s government. These bureaucrats were ideally placed to bid for lands that they knew to be under-assessed and thereby profitable. In addition, their position allowed them to quickly acquire wealth through corruption and bribery. They could also manipulate the system to possess the land that they targeted.

So by 1790 all on a sudden most of the zamindars or revenue collectors happen to come from the Hindu community who were mostly absentee landlords that managed their newly acquired zamindary through local managers. Those new zamindars virtually became the oppressive hands of the EIC imposing heavy taxes on the peasants. The situation of Muslims simply worsened after the Permanent Settlement Act, concluded by Lord Cornwallis in 1793, was enacted. Not only did the Muslim nobility, including the zamindars lost their properties, even the well-off farmers started losing their farmland as a result of company policy of high taxes, high usury rates charged by Hindu mahajons (moneylenders) and oppression of the new Hindu zamindars. Descendants of old houses found their estates pass into the hands of money-lenders and speculators from Calcutta; widows and minor proprietors saw their peaceful subjects oppressed by rapacious agents appointed from Calcutta.

The EIC’s policy virtually ruined not only the agricultural sector in Bengal but destroyed its rural cottage industry. Consider, e.g., the case of Muslin – the finest fabric ever woven in the world, which weighed less than 10 grams per square yard. Till 1813, Dhaka muslin continued to sell in London with 75 per cent profit and was cheaper than the local British make fabrics. Alarmed at this competition, the British imposed 80 per cent duty on the imported Bengali product. But more than the duty, the EIC was bent on ruining the muslin trade by introducing machine-made yarn, which was introduced in Dhaka by 1817 at one-fourth the price of the Dhaka yarn. The Muslin weavers were also paid so little that their families remained hungry. Another unsavory fact associated with the destruction of this Dhaka Muslin industry was that the thumbs and index fingers of many yarn makers were chopped off by the British in order to prevent them from twisting the finer yarns required for the muslins, which would reduce the competitive edge that Muslin had enjoyed thus far over its counterpart fabrics made in Europe. While the machine generated British yarn was uniform in quality, something which could no longer be maintained by skilled weavers under inhuman company policy and practices, in 1840, Dr Taylor, a British textile expert, admitted: "Even in the present day, notwithstanding the great perfection which the mills have attained, the Dhaka fabrics are unrivalled in transparency, beauty and delicacy of texture." [In K.R.N. Swamy's work (2002: Chadrigarh Tribune), it  is said that the count for the best variety of Dhaka muslin was 1800 threads per inch, while the lesser varieties had about 1400 threads per inch. It is possible that it should read 1800 filaments per inch and not threads per inch.]

With the destruction of the Muslin industry, in Dhaka (formerly spelled as Dacca) alone, the population reduced from 150,000 to nearly 30,000. In this regard it is worth mentioning the published report to a question and answer session in the British parliament (1824). Mr. Trevelyan said, “Indian cotton manufactures had been to a great extent displaced by English manufactures. The peculiar kind of silky cotton formerly grown in Bengal, from which the fine Dacca muslins used to be made, is hardly ever seen; the population of the town of Dacca has fallen from I 50,000 to 30,000 or 40,000, and the jungle and malaria are fast encroaching upon the town. The only cotton manufactures which stand their pound in India are of the very coarse kinds, and the English cotton manufactures are generally consumed by all above the very poorest throughout India. . . . Dacca, which was the Manchester of India, has fallen off from very flourishing town to a very poor and small one; the distress there has heen very great indeed." (Romesh Dutt, The Economic History of India in the Victorian Age, 3rd ed., London (1906), vol. 2, p. 105)[2]

The evils of an oppressive and ever-changing system of land administration were aggravated by the fact that virtually the whole of the revenues of the province were drained out of the country, and did not return in any shape to the people, to fructify their trades, industries, and agriculture.

The extension of British power and influence did not improve the economic condition of the people, but left behind a dark trail of misery, insurrections, and famines, in Bengal, Benares, and Oudh. Bengal and later other parts of India were a great estate for the profit of the East India Company and its servants, and they applied the whole forces to make India pay. The good of the people was made subservient to this primary object of the Company's administration; the rights of princes and people, of Zemindars and Ryots, were sacrificed to this dominant idea of the commercial rulers of India. Land revenue was increased even after the famine of 1770 had swept away one-third of the population of Bengal. The cultivators flying from their homes and villages or rising in insurrection were driven back by soldiers to their homes with cruel severity; and a great portion of the money so raised was annually sent in the shape of Investments to the gratified shareholders in England.

In the words of Romesh Dutt, “No administrator however gifted, and no administration however perfect, could prevent national poverty and famines when the whole of their fiscal policy was to drain the resources of one country for the traders of another.” (Romesh Dutt, The Economic History of India under early British Rule, 3rd ed., London (1908), pp. 79-80)

“So great an Economic Drain out of the resources of a land would impoverish the most prosperous countries on earth; it has reduced India to a land of famines more frequent, more widespread, and more fatal, than any known before in the history of India, or of the world.” (ibid. p. 420)

Post note on Muslin Thread Count: soon after publication of my article on the controversy surrounding Turkish-Armenian casualty during World War 1, an inquirer inquired about the Dhakai Muslin thread count.   I remember in an earlier article on "Bengal under English Rule", I mentioned about Dhakai muslin count to be 1800 per inch. 

World Clothing and Fashion: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence  By Mary Ellen Snodgrass (2014)also cites the same number. It says: "From the fourth century B.C.E. Bengali women wove wispy muslins as tightly as 1,800 threads per inch. The Greeks preferred fine muslin from Bengal for sheer clothing worn in hot climates, particularly the colonies of Sicily." (p. 1670


K.R.N. Swamy's work (2002: Chadrigarh Tribune) also cited the muslin thread count to be 1800 per inch. 


In the last few hours, I made some inquiries of my own to verify the authenticity of the thread count. I came across a reliable info from the book "Modern World System and Indian Proto-industrialization: Bengal ..., Volume 1 by Abhay Kumar Singh in which the writer, in page 60 shares the following info on  Dhakai muslin for 2 varieties (from the 19th century). The mean filament diameter is mentioned as 0.00066 and 0.00068 inch which gives an estimate of 1471 to 1515 filament counts per inch. The minimum dimensions respectively, are 0.0003 and 0.00038, which give 3333 and 2632 filament counts per inch. I am told that it takes several filaments to make a thread, and as such, the thread counts in these two samples were surely lower than 1800 per inch. It is possible that these Muslin samples cited in Singh's work were not representative of the finest quality of Muslin that KRN Swamy's information was based upon or that of the above cited encyclopedia. Anyway, I shall be glad to be contacted if anyone has such info referring to 1800 thread counts/inch of old Dhakai Muslin.


As to the impact of the decline of muslin industry because of the colonial English policy,

historian William Digby estimated that the population of Dhaka dropped from 200,000 to 79,000 between 1787 and 1817; the export of Dacca muslin to England amounted to 8,000,000 rupees in 1787; in 1817, nil. The fine textile industry, the livelihoods of thousands, and the self-sufficient village economy (cottage industry) were systematically destroyed.

 

Further info on Dhakai muslin can be found in the links below:
http://textilelab.blogspot.com/2012/11/muslin.html