Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first state visit to Nay Pyi Taw has ben overshadowed by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. The visit, although focused on 'the emotional bond' between two nations, is clouded by genocide of Rohingya community - a community of Muslim, Myanmar claims, belongs to India.
The minority Muslim community, described by the United Nations in 2013 as one of the most persecuted communities in the world, was denied citizenship under the 1982 Burmese citizenship law, claiming that they belonged to Bengal and settled there during British rule.
The community however contests the claim, producing prove that they have been residents of Rakhine region since at least 2000 years.
According to estimates, around 87,000 Rohingya refugees have attempted to flee to Bangladesh, since violence erupted in neighbouring Myanmar on August 25. Bangladesh, already bearing the load of lakhs of refugees settled there over decades, had turned most of them back towards the line of fire.
Heart-rending visuals of atrocities and outright genocide against Rohingya community have surfaced in media, which is generally heavily censored against any reports supporting non-governmental view. But the attention failed to draw little more than international criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi.
But Indian Govt is not only yet to condemn the violence, PM Modi is even paying a state visit to the country during the genocide, which begs the question of how (or if) the prime minister will express objection to ongoing state-sponsored atrocities.
Will India help?
Even though Myanmar claims that Rohingya community belongs to India, Indian government does not even recognize the current immigrants residing in and around Delhi as official refugees.
According to Indian home ministry estimates, there are around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims living as undocumented refugees in various parts of India, of whom more than 10,000 are said to be in Jammu.
On April 3, Union home ministry officials reportedly held a meeting to discuss the Centre’s plans to identify “illegal” Rohingya settlers, for possible arrest and deportation under the Foreigners Act.
India also host a number of Rohingyas in Delhi, Hyderabad, Kashmir, West Bengal, Telegana and Northeast India.
Deportation of Rohingyas violation of International law
According to human rights body Amnesty, deportation of the community would be a blatant “violation of India’s commitments under international law” since it would amount to sending the Rohingya community back to a place where they have faced horrific abuses.
Amnesty called upon India to sign and ratify the international Refugee Convention of 1951, as well as the 1967 Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees. India is one of the few democracies that has not ratified the Refugee Convention, which governs how distressed refugees are treated in nations where they seek asylum.
Deporting Rohingyas violation of domestic govt guidelines
Home Ministry documents say that in the absence of a refugee law, India has a standard operating procedure (SOP) which allows for granting legal status to those escaping religious persecution.
According to these guidelines, "any cases which are justified on a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, sex, nationality, ethnic identity, membership of a particular social group or political opinion), can be recommended to MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) for grant of Long Term Visa within thirty days from the date of claim by the foreigner."
International bodies have clearly defined the violence against Rohingyas as religious persecution. The UN's Human Rights agency, UNHCR, it is the result of a "purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas".
"A foreigner whom Long Term Visa has been permitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, will not be considered an illegal immigrant for the purposes of Citizenship Act, 1995," the Home Ministry guidelines say.
Further, it says "No such foreign national will be deported without specific clearance from the MHA."
These guidelines although issued under the UPA government in 2011, were reaffirmed as a press note by the Modi government on August 6, 2014.
But the government curiously seems to have ignored its own guidelines.
Does India have responsibility towards Rohingyas?
Ethnically Indians or not, Rohingya community deserves protection and right to dignified life under Human Rights Charter, to which India remains signatory. Besides, internationally it is deemed incumbent upon strong economies to extend a helping hand towards those in distress and not deport them putting them in line of danger.
If India aims to increase its clout as a superpower, mere resounding GDP gorwth will not suffice. It is time that India must think beyond numbers and earn goodwill by standing up against injustic against humanity, even if it is a in a foriegn land.
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