Posted in Current affairs, india

Kayaking for a cause – Chaliyar River Challenge

Source: Kayaking for a cause – Chaliyar River Challenge

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Posted in Current affairs, Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims

The Case of The Rohingya Muslims

Just a few months ago, the image of a 16 month old boy lying dead face down in the mud flashed across the front page of the newspapers. The boy drowned while crossing the Naf river, trying to escape to Bangladesh. The boy’s name was Mohammed Shohayet, and he was a Rohingya Muslim.

The Rohingyas are basically Indo-Aryan Muslims from Rakhine state in Myanmar. While the Rohingyas maintain that they belong to the region, the Burmese government maintains that they are illegal immigrants (terming them “Bangladeshis”), who came into the country after Burmese independence in 1948 and after the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The Burmese government has denied citizenship to any Rohingya muslim who cannot prove their ancestry before the British occupation (1823). They are believed to have started settling in the Rakhine area from 15th century. When the British took control of the area in the 19th century, Rohingya muslims started migrating from nearby Bengal (the modern-day Bangladesh) to work in the plantations. Ethnic confrontations between the native Buddhists and the Rohingyas was encouraged by the British during WW2 and after independence, separatist movements took over which further deepened the divide. In the present day, Rohingya muslims are considered as “illegal immigrants” and not mentioned in the census. Such is the loathing for them that one senior Burmese envoy called them “ugly as ogres.”

Rohingyas have been described by the United Nations as one of the “most persecuted minorities in the world”, terming the atrocities against them as “crimes against humanity”, an allegation which the Burmese government vehemently denies.

The Rohingyas have lost a lot of their land, are routinely discriminated against, and forced to do menial jobs. They have been robbed of their right to free travel and reports have emerged that they are not allowed to have more than two children. There are reports that they have been regularly denied access to healthcare, medicines etc in the region that they live in. Around 40% of the children suffer from diarrhoea and other water related ailments.  Rohingyas have a child mortality ratio which is four times the national average.

In 2012, several Buddhist monks were attacked and killed in the region. As a retaliation, many villages were burnt down and crimes committed against women. Apart from being confined to internally displaced people (IDP) camps, they are being subjected to brutal beatings with the result that many are dying. Some of them have also tried fleeing to nearby countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Indonesia, with the Thai and Indonesian military regularly finding Rohingya muslims trying to seek entry into the country to escape persecution in their native land. Since the 2016s, after an attack by armed insurgents on police posts, the Burmese security forces began a crackdown on the local population. Those who escaped tell tales of genocide, mass rapes and burning down of entire villages. Media and other journalists have not been allowed to enter the region, with many experts terming the area as an “information black hole.” There have also been reports of aerial firepower being used on the citizens. Why does one need aerial firepower on innocent citizens other than to exterminate them completely is beyond my reasoning.

The future looks bleak for the Rohingyas. Denied citizenship and proper rights in Myanmar and with the incumbent government not recognising them as one of their own, they are faced with no alternative but to flee from the country (they cannot even call Myanmar as “their”) and seek refuge in nearby places. But how much will countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and India be willing to accept them when they have trouble feeding their own populations remains to be seen.

“Human Rights UpFront” is an action plan created by Ban Ki-Moon in response to the atrocities committed towards the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War. A confidential report produced by the Office for the High Commission for Human Rights detailed in November 2014 that serious human rights violations were taking place against the Rohingyas and the establishment of a human rights watchdog in the area was an urgent need. However, no action seems to have been taken in this regard since the two years that the report was written.

Aung Suu Kyi, the State Councillor of Myanmar, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is facing increasing criticism from the world media and leaders, who have been calling on her to help end the atrocities against the muslims in the north-western state. But she has remained mum so far. There was even an online petition on change.org to the Nobel committee to strip her of her prize, which was denied. Desmond Tutu has also called upon Suu Kyi to help solve the problem of the Rohingyas. But so far she has not relented.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand—all ASEAN members—have not yet ratified the UN Refugee convention. While Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are all taking in the refugees, there are doing so in the express hope that these can be fed through international assistance and all the refugees can be resettled within an area, albeit beyond their borders.  International media has been placing their hopes on a political consensus between the ASEAN countries so that this crisis can be managed within the particular region and not allowed to escalate. Bangladesh already faces a huge influx of refugees, with most of them being housed in the refugee colony at Cox’s Bazaar. India, which has upwards of 5000 Rohingya refugees is looking to deport them citing non-ratification of the UN treaty. While the UN is pressurizing India not to do so, India will not agree to them according to the current estimates.

The major problem I believe with the United Nations is that it aims to solve the problems of the developing world while the decision makers sit comfortably in their offices in the developed world, away from all the conflict. As Muhammad Yunus mentions in his book “Banker to the Poor”, the first step that needs to be taken is to shift the offices of the United Nations to developing countries so that policy and decision makers experience the problems and sufferings of people first hand.

While it is clear that Bangladesh and ASEAN countries do not want anything to do with the refugee crisis unless given the means, it becomes imperative to provide them with the necessary financial means to support the muslims. Parallel to that, Myanmar government must be forced (with the help of sanctions) to stop mistreating Rohingyas; otherwise this could very well turn out to be a repeat case of what happened in Rwanda.

There was international outcry when Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy, washed up on the shore. However, even then the world turned a blind eye towards Syria. Let’s hope that the death of Mohammed Shohayet does not go in vain, and the world intervenes before it is too late.

Posted in Current affairs, Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims

The Case of The Rohingya Muslims

Just a few days ago, the image of a 16 month old boy lying dead face down in the mud flashed across the front page of the newspapers. The boy drowned while crossing the Naf river, trying to escape to Bangladesh. The boy’s name was Mohammed Shohayet, and he was a Rohingya Muslim.

The Rohingyas are basically Indo-Aryan Muslims from Rakhine state in Myanmar. While the Rohingyas maintain that they belong to the region, the Burmese government maintains that they are illegal immigrants (terming them “Bangladeshis”), who came into the country after Burmese independence in 1948 and after the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The Burmese government has denied citizenship to any Rohingya muslim who cannot prove their ancestry before the British occupation (1823).

Rohingyas have been described by the United Nations as one of the “most persecuted minorities in the world”, terming the atrocities against them as “crimes against humanity”, an allegation which the Burmese government vehemently denies.

The Rohingyas are believed to have started settling in the Rakhine area from 15th century. When the British took control of the area in the 19th century, Rohingya muslims started migrating from nearby Bengal (the modern-day Bangladesh) to work in the plantations. Ethnic confrontations between the native Buddhists and the Rohingyas was encouraged by the British during WW2 and after independence, separatist movements took over which further deepened the divide. In the present day, Rohingya muslims are considered as “illegal immigrants” and not mentioned in the census. Such is the loathing for them that one senior Burmese envoy called them “ugly as ogres.”

The Rohingyas have lost a lot of their land, are routinely discriminated against, and forced to do menial jobs. They have been robbed of their right to free travel and reports have emerged that they are not allowed to have more than two children. There are reports that they have been regularly denied access to healthcare, medicines etc in the region that they live in. Around 40% of the children suffer from diarrhoea and other water related ailments.  Rohingyas have a child mortality ratio which is four times the national average.

In 2012, several Buddhist monks were attacked and killed in the region. As a retaliation, many villages were burnt down and crimes committed against women. Apart from being confined to internally displaced people (IDP) camps, they are being subjected to brutal beatings with the result that many are dying. Some of them have also tried fleeing to nearby countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Indonesia, with the Thai and Indonesian military regularly finding Rohingya muslims trying to seek entry into the country to escape persecution in their native land. Since the 2016s, after an attack by armed insurgents on police posts, the Burmese security forces began a crackdown on the local population. Those who escaped tell tales of genocide, mass rapes and burning down of entire villages. Media and other journalists have not been allowed to enter the region, with many experts terming the area as an “information black hole.” There have also been reports of aerial firepower being used on the citizens. Why does one need aerial firepower on innocent citizens other than to exterminate them completely is beyond my reasoning.

The future looks bleak for the Rohingyas. Denied citizenship and proper rights in Myanmar and with the incumbent government not recognising them as one of their own, they are faced with no alternative but to flee from the country (they cannot even call Myanmar as “their”) and seek refuge in nearby places. But how much will countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and India be willing to accept them when they have trouble feeding their own populations remains to be seen.

“Human Rights UpFront” is an action plan created by Ban Ki-Moon in response to the atrocities committed towards the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War. A confidential report produced by the Office for the High Commission for Human Rights detailed in November 2014 that serious human rights violations were taking place against the Rohingyas and the establishment of a human rights watchdog in the area was an urgent need. However, no action seems to have been taken in this regard since the two years that the report was written.

Aung Suu Kyi, the State Councillor of Myanmar, and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is facing increasing criticism from the world media and leaders, who have been calling on her to help end the atrocities against the muslims in the north-western state. But she has remained mum so far.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand—all ASEAN members—have not yet ratified the UN Refugee convention. While Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are all taking in the refugees, there are doing so in the express hope that these can be fed through international assistance and all the refugees can be resettled within an area, albeit beyond their borders.  International media has been placing their hopes on a political consensus between the ASEAN countries so that this crisis can be managed within the particular region and not allowed to escalate.

The major problem I believe with the United Nations is that it aims to solve the problems of the developing world while the decision makers sit comfortably in their offices in the developed world, away from all the conflict. As Muhammad Yunus mentions in his book “Banker to the Poor”, the first step that needs to be taken is to shift the offices of the United Nations to developing countries so that policy and decision makers experience the problems and sufferings of people first hand.

While it is clear that Bangladesh and ASEAN countries do not want anything to do with the refugee crisis unless given the means, it becomes imperative to provide them with the necessary financial means to support the muslims. Parallel to that, Myanmar government must be forced (with the help of sanctions) to stop mistreating Rohingyas; otherwise this could very well turn out to be a repeat case of what happened in Rwanda.

There was international outcry when Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy, washed up on the shore. However, even then the world turned a blind eye towards Syria. Let’s hope that the death of Mohammed Shohayet does not go in vain, and the world intervenes before it is too late.

Posted in Aleppo, Current affairs, Syria

The Syrian Story

“Planes are more than birds, and bombs are more than rains.”

Ahmed is a 23 year old Law student, studying in one of the premier institutes of his country, in a city which is one of the oldest in the world. The institute that I am referring to is in Aleppo, Syria and Ahmed is now a refugee in the Netherlands. So how come a student came to be living the life of a refugee? This was precisely what he elaborated on when he came to the Delft University of Technology to talk about the situation in Syria and his escape from the besieged country.

Ahmed began talking of the developments taking place starting with the Arab Spring, first in Tunisia, and later their spread to Egypt and finally Syria. In order to help us understand the ground situation better, Ahmed gave us a brief crash course on Syrian history.

The Assad family took control of Syria through a coup in 1971 and began ruling it with an iron hand. Protests were banned, and anyone speaking ill of the government was taken into custody without question. Over 40 years into the regime, people were so used to being oppressed, that no one dared to question to regime, let alone raise their voice against it.

This was the mentality of the people when the Arab Spring started. Initially a bit hesitant, the people began to be influenced by the initial successes of the movement elsewhere, and began peaceful marches on the streets. Despite opposition to protest from the elders, Ahmed and his fellow students in the university realised that this was an opportunity they all were waiting for to dispose off the Assad government for good. And so the protests started. Never used to being targeted, Assad started getting a bit paranoid and brought his army in to crush the protests. This marked the turning point in the war. Enraged by the violence, many soldiers of the Syrian Army joined the protestors and the agitation soon took a violent turn.

And the matter was not as simple as that. Kurds, a major ethnic minority group in Syria, joined the war (with independence from Syria as their main aim) after their leader was assassinated by a group of Assad loyalists. Also ISIS, having first come to the forefront in Syria in early 2014, caught the attention of the world with its control of Mosul in Iraq and finally its entry into Syria.  ISIS wanted to control the whole area and impose their own version of Islam on the population.

So why is Syria of such interest to the Western powers? Located at the junction of Europe and Asia, Syria provides a conduit to those seeking a gateway to the Asian markets. Traditional powers have long had bases in Syria to keep the powers of Iran and Iraq in check. As soon as the matters started worsening, major powers intervened to protect their interests. USA, Saudi Arabia and France took the side of the opposition forces while Russia entered on the side of the Assad government. What happened next is known to all. USA and Russia are struggling to find a common solution to the conflict and fail to enter into a comprehensive ceasefire agreement. USA believes that the only way to bring peace to the region is by removing Assad, while Russia wants no solution until Assad is a part of it as well. Meanwhile, ISIS has started a war against everyone and Kurds are fighting for independence. In the midst of all this chaos, Syrians continue to die. Ahmed told the crowd that on an average, a total of 200 bombs are dropped on the city of Aleppo alone. Aleppo has since been divided into two halves. Food and aid is hard to get by. Almost all the hospitals have been bombed in Aleppo. Civilians do not have access to basic healthcare. There are only two choices left to them: to flee to other countries, or stay and die.

Thus began the mass migration of people through Turkey and through the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Ahmed in his talk particularly chastised the European powers for neglecting the situation in Syria and urged them to play a larger role in defeating Assad and taking in more Syrian refugees. He was angry about the deal brokered between Turkey and the EU which allowed Turkey to seal its borders completely with Syria. Talking about his first hand experience with the conflict,  Ahmed told the audience that he was one of the few educated people in his area in Aleppo. After the bombing started, he was elected by the people to take care of their basic necessities. One day in office, a bomb struck the building he was in, resulting in him getting shrapnel injuries while around 50 people around him died. After recovery, he started taking active part in protests, got arrested and was included in Assad’s black list. Fate played a part when he received a scholarship from a US institute to visit them for a few months and study law. Returning from the US and during transit at the Amsterdam airport, he requested asylum which was granted. He now lives in a refugee camp in the Netherlands and travels the country giving talks on Syria and the conflict.

As I heard his story, I was quite moved. While many of us know about the Syrian situation, few of us really stop and think about it twice. Imagine sitting down for dinner with your family, and eating to your heart’s content with your loved ones. Next imagine the same situation in Syria: people do not know when and if their next meal will come. Many have not seen their family members for days. As a fellow human, I urge all the powers involved to stop this meaningless war and bring it to an end quickly.

The last words of Ahmed as he concluded the talk still ring in my ears: “ The Syrians now have only one choice: to die.”

Posted in book review, Current affairs

My take: No Good Men Among the Living

Everyone knew some things about the war in Afghanistan and its impact on the world politics in general. This was in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the policies and practices of the then Bush administration towards Afghanistan left a lasting impression on the world.  While stories of the trials and tribulations and heroism of the American military are there for the world to see, the impact of the war on the lives of normal Afghan people and also the Taliban factions opposing the American rule has not been chronicled so far.

Anand Gopal in his book ‘No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes’ brings about a whole new dimension to this war by telling the stories of three people caught in the conflict: a civilian woman, a Taliban fighter and a US commander. Public opinions regarding the war and its outcomes have been divided. While it is true that the general administration under US rule in Afghanistan improved, and schools and roads were built, the manner in which these changes were brought about actually did more bad than good for the Afghans.

The author tells us how the Taliban was ousted from the entire country (except for a few pockets) by using the famous American dictum of ‘either you were with us or against us.’ The American forces had two things which the Taliban did not have: money and modern weaponry, and it was actually the first which hurt the Taliban more. Almost immediately, the top faction of the Taliban either turned up as informers for the Americans in return for amnesty and huge sums of money. The Taliban commander interviewed by the author recalls seeing for the first time the amount of firepower the Americans carried and what it did to the morals of his group. Neither did it help that most of the Taliban top brass were simple village preachers with no knowledge of advanced weapons.

The civilian population was not saved either. The author documents how innocent farmers would be picked up for questioning and then shipped to Guantanamo on some trumped up charges and then released a few months later for lack of evidence only to be arrested again and subjected to the same treatment. The author devotes a significant amount of space and time in his book to talk about the contractors or local warlords who made millions when US government subcontracted work to them which included supplying fuel for their vehicles and turning informers.

But probably the highlight of this book is the story of a civilian woman who rose through the confines of the traditional Afghan system after her husband was murdered and went on to become a senator for her province in the Afghan assembly. The story of Heena is really  worth feeling proud of.

While the author started with the old Afghan proverb, I would like to end with it: ‘There are no good men among the living, and no bad ones among the dead.’ This is the book that one must read to have a comprehensive understanding of the affair from the point of view of those who ‘lost’ in the war (I quote lost in inverted commas as in a war, ultimately everyone loses).