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 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 Europe travel, Photos, travel, travel photography

Highlights from the Croatia-Slovenia trip

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” -Ibn Battuta

I came to Europe about 8 months ago for my masters at the Delft University of Technology. While studying was at the forefront of my ambitions, I also wanted to travel across Europe in my limited time as a student to try to understand first hand the beauty of this continent. In the first few months, I travelled to Belgium, Germany and saw some cities in the Netherlands. Then, after an exhausting semester of studies, I decided to visit Croatia and Slovenia via a tour organized by pm2am student trips.

The departure date was the 28th of April. Arriving at Amsterdam Sloterdijk station, I was happy to see the bus that would be taking us to the destination was already waiting at the bus stop. Loading my luggage,  I sat down for what would be a long journey to Lake Bled in Slovenia.

About 16 hours after departing from Amsterdam, we arrived in Lake Bled. Located about 55 kms from the capital city of Ljubljana, the lake is a major tourist attraction and a must visit for anyone who visits the region. A church sits on a small island in the middle of the lake and Bled Castle sits atop a hill just beside. The church features prominently in the most viewed photographs of Bled. After soaking in the view and clicking lots of pictures for the next 3 hours, we proceeded to the city of Zagreb in Croatia.


Lake Bled in Slovenia

Croatia is not a part of the Schengen agreement, so visitors (even with a EU residence permit) need to stop at the border control. Now, if you are travelling in a bus (like I did), this process can take anywhere from 1 hour to 3-4 hours depending on how many buses are before you at the checkpoint as each member’s passport and residence permit are checked and the details logged. So the best way to avoid the long lines is to reach the border early and no later than 11 am, otherwise be prepared for a long wait. After crossing the checkpoint, we reached Zagreb where we checked into the Chillout hostel  and went for a city tour with a professional tour guide.

The city of Zagreb is divided into two parts-the old and the new-by a tram line. While the old part sits atop a hill, the new lies on a plain. Compared to the new part, the old city is worth visiting. Some of the major attractions include the Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Marks Square and the Croatian Parliament. All these are very close to each other and can be visited in a short time. Also many locals dress up in different styles and this offers visitors a chance to take some pictures with them.


Locals dressed in different attires in Zagreb

After a tour of the old city, we came back to the hostels to freshen up and start the pub crawl. Zagreb is home to some of the best clubs in that part of Europe which was evident as we bar hopped from one place to the next, having tons of fun along the way.

The next morning was the highlight of our trip. We were going to visit the Plitvice Lake National Park. After a sumptuous breakfast, we began the two hour journey to the park and arrived there around noon. One note to those reading this blog and who want to visit the park is to arrive there early-preferably 9-10 to avoid the long lines and have a chance to visit most of the park. The park has different routes marked- A, B, C, K etc. with A being the shortest and K the longest. Since we had arrived a bit late, we took the B route.

You get a different feel as soon as you enter the park. One of the first sounds you hear is that of the waterfalls, and that is also the first site you see. The large waterfall is one of the highlights of this park. Another less known location is the place from which the national park can be viewed from the highest point. To get there, take the stairs upwards from the waterfall viewpoint. After a climb of about 5-10 minutes, you will see a wooden cabin. Ahead of the cabin is a road. Take the road until you see a wooden bridge. Turn right at the bridge and take the small trail on the side of the road. By now you should be hearing the unmistakable sound of waterfalls. Keep walking until you reach a stony viewpoint and then marvel at the view that you see (the view is the cover image of this blog). Visitors at the National park also have the option of hiring a tour guide and camping at the site. Also, don’t forget to take the boat ride when going from P3 to P2. I think it is better than walking the whole way around the hills.


Waterfall at the Plitvice Lake National Park

Our last stop was Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. We started a bit earlier from Zagreb to avoid the long lines at the border control and arrived at 2 pm. We then began a guided tour which took us into the heart of the city. Home to about 260,000 Slovenians, Ljubljana is not a big city and every major attraction is just a few minutes away. The Ljubljana castle overlooks the city. This is where we started. Visitors can either take the Funicular or walk the way to the castle. We took the first approach to save the time. The castle is home to a museum and offers a fine view of the city. One cannot help but stop and marvel at the city nestled between the mountains. After spending some time at the castle and visiting the detention center for the POWs of the First World War, we came down to visit the rest of the city.


One of the bridges in Ljubljana

One of the famous attractions is the Dragon Bridge as the city is often called the city of dragons. Four dragons are placed on four corners of the bridge and they are believed to act as guardians. A short distance Near the Dragon bridge is the open market where farmers come to sell their wares. A short distance from the bridge is the Butcher’s Bridge. This bridge features a glass bottom along the sides through which the strong hearted can see  the river below. Crossing the bridge one can see the St. Nicholas Church and the market where every friday there is an open kitchen selling different cuisines.

For the food and drink lovers, Ljubljana has plenty to offer-from good wine to great burgers. Don’t forget to eat the ice cream there which according to Lonely Planet is the best in the world. After spending about 9 hours in the city (which I believe are more than enough), we proceeded back to Amsterdam and after a journey of about 20 hours, I finally reached home. As I lay in bed that night, all I could think about was the lakes and the waterfalls in the Plitvice Lake National Park and the amazing time that I had in the trip.

Posted in book review

Book Review: In the Kingdom of Ice

One of the main consequences of industrialisation in the late 1800s in America was the development of new and improved shipping vessels. These vessels opened up the possibility to reach the north pole that had hitherto been just a dream. Beginning from the 1860s, many expeditions were launched in order to conquer the north and place the flag of the country upon the pole. Most of these missions were British, but the failure of each one of them led to few investors willing to invest money. Also, the advancement of American ships made the proponents of polar expeditions believe that the success of such missions could only come from across the Atlantic. In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette is about one such polar expedition undertaken by Captain George Washington de Long and 32 other seamen in 1879.

August Petermann was a German cartographer whose theory had helped spawn the race towards the pole. Although he had never been on any mission himself, he had drawn detailed maps of the north from first-hand accounts of those who had been there. He was also a proponent of the Open Polar Sea, an ice-free expanse of the ocean near the pole believed to be due to the crossing of the Gulf Stream and the Kira Suwa, two warm ocean currents which helped to melt the ice. Petermann believed that once the ice wall was crossed, there was a wide expanse of open ocean where ice-free sailing towards the pole was possible. This was the route that Captain de Long and his ship took in that fateful year of 1879. They would go via the Bering Strait to the north and not through the west coast of Greenland as had been done previously.

Hampton Sides retells a sordid tale of hope of people including de Long and the expedition financier Bennett Jr for being among the first to reach the pole; the hope of Emma-de Long’s wife-that he will return home safe and that of the countless civilians waiting with bated breath for news that one of their own had conquered one of the last remaining lands on the earth.  Indeed Sides intersperses his narrative with letters from Emma to her husband, asking him to be safe on the journey and always telling him that she and their daughter would be waiting for him when he returns.  The journey of de Long and his mates across the north and their fate forms the crux of the story.

Sides is a great author for those of you who are interested in nonfiction in general. He researches his books well and presents the story in a manner that is factual and at the same time not too boring, which I believe is a good quality to have.  

Posted in book review, india

Book Review: The Emergency-A Personal History

Emergency was undoubtedly the darkest phase of Indian democracy. What made it all the more remarkable was that there was no precedent for such a bold step before the event, nor has there been one after. The move shocked the country because of the instantaneous and harsh implementation and also as no one believed the daughter of Nehru-an upholder of democratic values-would behave like a dictator. Indeed many people have compared Indira in the emergency period to Hitler, but as the author of the book mentions, she went one step ahead of Hitler and tried to installed her son as her political heir and successor.

According to the author, there were three main events that contributed to the decision of Indira Gandhi to announce an internal emergency. Mind you, there was already a state of external emergency in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The first reason was the death of D.P.Dhar, one of Indira’s closest advisors. Then came the news that her party had lost the elections in Gujarat. To make matters worse, Indira was stripped of her membership in the Lok Sabha in response to the Election Commission finding certain irregularities in the process, chiefly the improper use of a public servant in the campaign and the use of more money than the permitted amount. These events led her to proclaim the emergency and begin one of the darkest phases in Indian democracy.

The author presents evidence to the fact that while people think the emergency decision was taken in a few days, it was infact the culmination of several events that took place since 1971. There was an increase in the power of Indira Gandhi, both within the party and outside. She began removing CMs (Chief Minister-the head of the government in a particular state) from their post unceremoniously, particularly those who were showing some hesitation in accepting and blindly following her orders. She abolished the privy purses of the princely states and thus went on the wrong side of many princely families, in particular that of Gwalior. Indeed, the Rajmata of Gwalior was one of the first high profile prisoners in the jail following the imposition of the emergency. Another event which convinced the opposition of her growing clout was the installation of a junior Supreme Court advocate as the Chief Justice, bypassing several people who were senior. People saw this as an indication that she wanted a judiciary that was subservient to the government, but her supporters maintained that she only wanted both of them to have the same ideology.

The author, being a close relative of Subramaniam Swamy-one of the firebrand politicians of this country-devotes substantial space to his work in mobilizing the opposition in the country and the support for the opposition in the USA to defeat the ruling party. The contributions of Jayaprakash Narayan and George Fernandes are also mentioned in detail. JP, a leader of the masses hailing from Bihar, was close friend of Indira’s family, with her mother and JP’s wife regularly exchanging letters. The trouble between JP and Indira started from the time of 1969 elections, with Indira feeling that JP wanted to wrest power from her hands, while he was against power in the hands of a single individual. The author mentions how JP was kept in squalid conditions in the jail, mostly in solitary confinement and was denied access to a doctor even when he complained of severe stomach pains. The festering rats, the heat, poor food quality and lack of communication with people, took its toll on the politician and he died soon after.

The story of George Fernandes is not too different. He led a revolt of the railway union and a warrant was issued for his arrest. When the police could not find him, his brother was arrested and tortured for months.

But probably the main man of the emergency was Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi. His controversial projects which included development of a small sized car for the Indian public and the mass sterilization program built resentment against the ruling party and prompted Indira Gandhi to call for elections in 1977 and lift the emergency.

Emergency was indeed a dark phase in the strong democratic traditions of Indian democracy. It exposed what corrupt politicians, hellbent on maintaining their strong hold on the government and not let the opposition win could do. Never was there a precedent for such an initiative and as a responsible citizen, I hope there never will be.

Coomi Kapoor captures the essence of the public during the emergency having lived through it and experienced it. She tells about the imprisonment of her husband, and that of her relative Subramanian Swamy. She tells about countless other people who were tortured and imprisoned in unhygienic conditions in the name of emergency. This book is a must read for all those interested in Indian politics and the emergency in general.

Posted in book review

Book Review and Synopsis: A Small Town in Germany — DayDreamer

This brilliant narrative by John le Carre features the capital of West Germany- Bonn- as the provincial small town. The plot is set in the 1970’s . Leo Harting, a low level temporary administrative officer in the British Embassy in Bonn is missing and gone with him is the Green File which contains the minutes […]

via Book Review and Synopsis: A Small Town in Germany — DayDreamer

Posted in book review

The Orwell Essays


Orwell-Essays-1Brian Sewell, who died in 2015, was primarily known as an art historian. Opinionated, snooty and disdainful of popular culture, he became something of an ironic celebrity in his later years. Between 1996 and 2003, he was a columnist for the Evening Standard with a brief to “express opinion on any serious matter that interested me”. The Orwell Essays presents a selection of these articles, on subjects as diverse as Zionism, fox hunting, pornography, bear baiting, homelessness and the Elgin Marbles.

Throughout these essays, Sewell challenges “political correctitude”. On spoken English, for example, he resents the “inverse snobbery” of the idea that “the ugly accents of Liverpool and Birmingham are better than a received pronunciation that reflects the literary form and is intelligible worldwide”. He describes the hypocrisy of “blinkered” MPs who ignore the cruelty of the poultry and livestock industries, but support a ban on hunting as a “politically…

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