Indian PM Narendra Modi is on a visit to Myanmar right after attending BRICS Summit at China and will meet Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and discussion about burning topic of Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
One of India’s very immediate neighbour and Buddhist majority country – Myanmar is facing one of the biggest humanitarian crisis. Situations have gone worse after about 1,23,000 Rohingyas fled from the country in past week to escape the violence from the Burmese army in Rakhine state. Amidst all this, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on visit to Myanmar – the most important question, which might remain unasked is that will India take in the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and allow them to harbour in the country, until things cool off in their homelands and they can return back?
India, since over 70 years of independence and even during Mughal rule, has always opened up its doors for refugees of every religion, every country. Buddhists of Tibet, Muslims of Afghanistan, Christians of Sri Lanka and tens of millions of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and other tribes of East Pakistan in 1971. Back in Mughal era, the Muslim sultans allowed Zoroastrians refuge from persecution by Islamists in Persia. The wide open and humane history of India would certainly be a choice of refuge for the people of Rohingya community who are under terrible sufferings and are recognised as one of the most persecuted communities in entire world. But will the Indian regime embrace the stateless, helpless Rohingya in the country? The Central government seems to be mum about it.
Kiren Rijiju – one of Modi’s ministers said, “As far as we are concerned, they (Rohingya Muslims) are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is (an) illegal immigrant will be deported.”. Deported where? Back to Myanmar? Well, that would be infringement of Indian Constitution – Article 21 which says that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty’ – no person means any human, Indian citizen or not. Also what about the principle of “non-refoulement”, that is, the principle in customary international law that no refugees may be pushed back to their place of origin if there is any apprehension that such persons will be subjected to the very suffering from which they fled. India has formally accepted these laws as well as many others like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, inter alia to the elimination of racial discrimination, the protection of civil and political rights, and against torture and enforced disappearances. What about all these laws? Before ‘deporting’ back any refugee, the Constitutional provisions must be carefully looked into and interpreted correctly.
As a ‘responsible’ member of international community, Indian apex court must respect international laws and commitments made earlier and the country must respect international comity which includes good treatment of refugees. Because vague denial of refugees is denial of life-worth protection of one million human lives, who have been denied their citizenship from their own homelands – rendering them stateless. Incidents of cruelty, violence and uncountable deaths over past few years have forced the devastated minority community to flee from their homes for life.
Thousands of Rohingyas took in their families into boats in the treacherous waters of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to escape violence, hundreds of them drowned and the lucky ones landed on shores of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Over 400,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh since 2012 , of which 120,000 have been herded into 70 internment camps where life is worse than hell – around 80,000 children are facing acute malnutrition. Where as India just took in 40,000 Rohingyas, just a fraction. Now in 2017, the very prosperous Republic claims to have ‘insufficient’ infrastructure and resources to take in the refugees.
The Home Ministry may bumph about limited sources, but India can easily accommodate few thousands of Rohingya refugees and let them stay for limited time until it gets safe for them to return. The wisely defined Indian Constitution has provisions for refugees, and even if it didn’t – we are a group of humans after all, let’s put ourselves in their shoes for a moment and think. Still, taking them in seems unlikely to happen, but then if we can take in uncounted generations of Tibetans, unnumbered Afghans and hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils refugees for indefinite time in past years, why can’t we take in just a few thousands of dreaded and absolutely helpless Rohingyas now? Is it our ‘resources’ or is it our governance regime that is stopping us from acting humanly? Is the great secular Republic of India becoming such a communal machine that we forget our duties as human beings? We need to wake up from slumber.