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Rohingya Muslims in India – from refugees to a security threat

Rohingya Muslims portrayed as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world by many activists, have suffered a brutal fate at the hands of the Myanmar military and local Buddhist groups. India has been deeply involved when it comes to rehabilitating and sheltering the battered ethnic group. Currently there are about 36,000 Rohingyas in India out of which only 9000 are officially registered. They remain concentrated in states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi.

India’s first major taste of the Rohingya crisis came, rather absurdly, on 12th August 2012 at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. A large crowd of Muslims assembled at the venue to protest against the Assam Riots and the Rakhine Riots in Myanmar, which were a confrontation between the Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. The crowds soon turned violent which led to them vandalizing public property, molesting women cops, desecrating the Amar Jyoti Javan Memorial. The riots led to the death of two people.

Around the same time many Rohignyas had made their way, all the way from Myanmar through Bangladesh, to illegally enter India. With their conditions pitiable and them enduring the long and treacherous journey, they seemed to have found a safe haven in Hyderabad where various Islamic organisations extended their help, as social media messages had already flared up passions (leading to Azad Maidan riots).

Their status of being persecuted minorities in process of rehabilitation slowly started to change after reports started emerging in 2013 about some of the Rohingyas getting radicalized by the Lashkar-e-Toeba (LeT) to avenge the sectarian violence in Myanmar. The retribution though, for some strange reason, was also aimed at India, which ironically gave them the shelter. Perhaps presence of Buddhists in India was one of the reasons.

All this emerged after it was speculated that the Bodh Gaya Blasts on 7th July 2013 were possibly a retribution against the Buddhists for what was going on in Myanmar. This was almost confirmed after interrogations revealed that the blasts at the Buddhist shrine were aimed as a revenge for the Rohingyas.

These findings alerted security agencies and in December 2014, Rohingyas were put under surveillance by the Hyderabad police, which was a result of the arrest of Khalid Mohammed, a Rohingya Muslim from Hyderabad, by the NIA in connection with the Burdwan blast in Oct 2014.

Recently the people of Jammu have been actively protesting against the settlement of Rohingyas in the state. Reports indicate that there has been a sharp rise in the number of refugees from 5,107 in 2010 to about 13,400 in June, 2016. The security forces there too have started perceiving the Rohingyas there as a security threat after one of the two foreign militants killed in a shootout in south Kashmir turned out to be a native of Myanmar.

This has also led to feeling of anger and anguish among many Indians that while the Rohingyas were being settled in Jammu & Ladakh, efforts to rehabilitate the Kashmiri Pandits were being opposed. This has also ensured that politics has started over the issue with J&K National Panthers party putting up hoardings asking Rohingyas and Bangladeshi Muslims to leave.

This association of Rohingyas with India has evolved from being a shelter for persecuted minorities to being a genuine security threat. India’s official position over sheltering the Rohingyas has been that of a silent pragmatism so as to not irk the Myanmar leadership which already has a growing Chinese influence.

However the issue might need quick addressing as the rise in this new ethnic group, especially along India’s eastern border poses a severe security threat and challenges of illegal immigration. Having said that, the solution also isn’t as simple as rounding up and deporting all the Rohingyas, as many of whom have a legitimate refugee status or a valid visa.

Last month, India cautioned Myanmar about the long known exploitation of Rohingyas at the hands of Pakistan based terrorists. This might also prompt the Indian government too to rethink its stance of turning a blind eye to the illegal immigration, like it did for the Rohingyas chiefly in 2012 as there was domestic political pressure to allow them and international concern over human rights.

This settlement of the refugees may be the largest since India gave refuge to the Dalai Llama and 80,000 Tibetians who fled atrocities of the Chinese in 1959, however, the consequences are turning out to be very different in both the cases.

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