Posted in book review

My Take: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

When Gaiman announced his new book based on the Nordic mythology, I was excited. Excited because there is probably no person better to tell tales of fantasy mixed with mythology than Gaiman. His previous works including American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane are a testament to this fact.

When the book was launched in February, I immediately picked up a copy of it. I must admit at the outset that I knew very little about Nordic mythology, and whatever I knew was from the Marvel movies of Thor and Avengers. So, I was quite excited to read how the author would go about weaving his stories which have a factual basis. But in Gaiman’s expert hands, the stories acquire a new dimension, and you get hooked to the book right from the beginning.

Gaiman starts telling his story before everything existed. He tells us how Asgard and the Gods came to be and then introduces us to the central characters of the book-Odin the All-God, Thor the Mighty and Loki the Cunning. He also tells us about the other Gods and Giants who are not well known but are central to Nordic tales like Mimir, who was Odin’s uncle. Gaiman tells us the reason behind Odin’s one eye, about why he is called the Blind God or the One-Eyed God, and that of Loki’s children. He tells us the story of Thor’s hammer and why he needs to swing it with one hand. Gaiman narrates with his characteristic wit how the Gods got their wall, and how in the process Loki was embarrassed.

However, the story that I found the most interesting was about Loki and his children, more so because of the parallels that can be drawn between it and the Harry Potter book. Loki had three children with a female giant, one of which was a wolf named Fenrir and the other was a poisonous snake. To protect themselves from the wolf, the Gods decide to chain him up. While doing this, the wolf bites down on the hand of one of the Gods and thus acquires the traits of a werewolf. This is like the ferocious werewolf in the Potter series, who was also named Fenrir.

Gaiman ends his book with Ragnarok, the foretelling of the world’s end as we know it, where Thor and Loki die, and the birth of a new world.  The book is a must read because of the simple and delightful way in which Gaiman tells us almost everything about the Nordic mythology. So, the next time we watch any Marvel movie, we have some background on the stories of the Nordic characters.

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 Christmas, New Year

Happy Holidays!!

Dear Readers,

Here’s wishing you a great Christmas weekend and a happy New Year. I hope that you all enjoy a lot with your family and friends and have a great start to 2017.

I will see you in 2017 with some exciting blog content. Till then, stay safe and be merry.