Facts underlying the mass grave of 45 Hindus found in the township of Fakirabazar in Maungdaw in the troubled Rakhine State of Myanmar late last month, are shrouded mystery. Were the killers Rohingya Muslim militants, as alleged by the Myanmar government, or are they troops of the Myanmar army and their henchmen?
Hindu refugees who had fled to Bangladesh and are lodged in Cox’s Bazaar, are blowing hot and cold on this matter.
At first, they blamed the Myanmar army’s agents or Rakhine Buddhists or a combination of the two. Then they changed the tune the very next week or ten days after saying that Rohingya Muslims and the Islamic terrorist Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) were the hooded men in black dress who attacked and murdered Hindus in villages like Fakirabazar.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar army and the government launched a propaganda offensive portraying the dead as Hindus and placing the blame for the carnage at the door of the ARSA.
ARSA is accused of fomenting large scale violence, killing, and arson which had led to the displacement of 800,000 Rohingya Muslims and Hindus to Bangladesh in a little over a month.
The Myanmar government took a party of journalists to the mass grave, when aid workers and independent individual journalists remained barred from the troubled parts of the Rakhine State including Fakirabazar.
Rohingya refugees from the Hindu colony in Fakirabazar told newspersons at a Cox’s Bazaar refugees camp, as to how masked assailants clad in black (called the Kala Party) had shot and stabbed people and dumped their bodies in pits.
“The Myanmar military and Buddhists killed my husband for not participating in killing and ousting Rohingya Muslims,” the Dhaka daily ‘New Age’ quoted Anika Dhar, a pregnant Hindu housewife, as saying.
Dhar told Reuters Television that she had taken shelter in a Muslim village after her husband was killed and that she came to Bangladesh with the Muslims of that village.
Padma Bala, who arrived in Bangladesh on August 30, told ‘New Age’: “The Moghs (Rakhine Buddhists) were cutting us up.”
Many Rohingya Hindus said they received support from Muslim neighbours when they were escaping from the Myanmar army.
“The Kala Party with arms, bombs and lethal weapons confined us to our houses for five consecutive days. We managed to escape the confinement with a Muslim neighbour’s help,” Arimahan Rudra told Dhaka Tribune.
But ‘Dhaka Tribune’ subsequently noted that after a week or so, the statements had begun to change.
“The Hindus, put up in a separate camp in Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazaar, have started blaming militant Muslims for the attacks on them,” the paper observed.
A group of Rohingya Hindus told AFP, that they were brought forcibly to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh by a group of men and told to convert to Islam. India Today also reported women saying that Muslim militants had forced them to perform namaz and don burqas.
Reuters reported that in late August, a group of Hindu Rohingya women had told them that Rakhine Buddhists attacked them. But three of them changed their statement later to say that the attackers were Rohingya Muslims who brought them here and told them to blame the Buddhists.
Though it is not possible to come to a quick conclusion about the perpetrators of the crime, it is undeniable that there has been a Hindu-Muslim divide in Rakhine. It has been over resident rights.
According to the Hindu refugees, the Rohingya Muslims are jealous of Hindus. While the Muslims have no citizenship rights of any kind, the Hindus have at least second class citizenship in the form of a Green Card which gives them greater privileges.
“Muslim terrorists have become desperate and have started resenting the Hindus who have green cards,” Dhaka Tribune quotes Puja Malik, a young Hindu woman whose husband was killed by masked men clad in black on August 25, as saying. .
“The government is willing to give Muslims the second class green card like we have, but they do not want that. They demand first class Red Cards that the Moghs [Rakhine Buddhists] have,” Mallik said.
Hierarchy of Residency Permits
Myanmar has three tiers of residency permits. The green card is for “naturalized citizens,” ie: bona fide immigrants. Green card holders can study in universities, get jobs and medical treatment in government hospitals, travel freely and vote.
On the other hand, Rohingya Muslims are not entitled to the green card as they are allegedly “illegal immigrant Bengalis”. They only have White Cards which entitle them to nothing.
The Hindus, put up in a separate camp in Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazaar, have started blaming militant Muslims for the attacks on them
The Rohingyas demand full-fledged citizenship, being long time residents of Rakhine; acknowledged as “Rohingya” and not as “Bengali”; and the removal of multiple state-decreed restrictions on them.
While saying that Rohingyas will not be taken back unless they have proper Myamarese documents, Myanmar is now urging Hindu refugees who fled to Bangladesh to return, promising that they will be put up in Sittwe, a port town in Rakhine State.
Commenting on this Dhaka Tribune said: “Many Rohingya Muslims think this is Myanmar’s long-term plan, a classic divide and rule strategy, to create anger and hatred between the two religious groups among the Rohingyas.”
ARSA and Muslims Deny
Some Muslims deny that they have any animosity towards the Hindus while others say that a divide was not there previously, but has emerged recently.
“Hindus and Muslims have been living together for more than a hundred years in our village. The differences in our religious faiths did not create any trouble all these years,” Hashu Mia, a Muslim refugee from Fakirabazaar village told Dhaka Tribune.
However, some Rohingya Muslims say that a section of Hindus had sided with the army and Rakhine militia since the recent violence.
“The Hindus are collaborating with the army and Moghs in Muslim killings. They helped them in looting and torching Muslim houses as they know the localities well,” said Abdus Salam, another Rohingya refugee from Fakirabazaar.
“The relation between Hindus and Muslims has significantly deteriorated over a month,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Divide and Rule
The Rohingya insurgent group ARSA has strongly denounced the allegations levelled by the Myanmar Army and said in a statement published in the international media that the Myanmar government is deliberately dividing the two communities in order to rule over both.
“ARSA categorically denies that any of its member of combatants perpetrated murder, sexual violence, or forcible recruitment in the village of Fakirabazar, Riktapur and Chikonchhari in Maungdaw on or about August 25, 2017,” the statement issued last Wednesday said.
“The Army is playing a game. The Buddhists and government agents attacked the Hindu villages so that they can justify the military crackdown targeted on Muslim eradication,” Mohammad Ayes, who enrolled himself in ARSA in August, told Dhaka Tribune.
“If Hindus were really attacked by Muslims, would they not be afraid to escape with the Muslims to get shelter in Bangladesh – a Muslim country?” he asked.
However, it cannot be denied that the Hindu refugees are wanting to find refuge in Hindu-majority India, ultimately.