BBC News – Rohingya return to Myanmar: Confusion and fear in refugee camps

Cox’s Bazar – Chittagong Division – Bangladesh, 15 November 2018. No Rohingya refugees voluntarily chose to return to Myanmar from camps in Bangladesh on the first day of a planned repatriation programme.

Under a joint deal between the two countries, authorities had wanted to move some 2,000 Rohingya on Thursday.

But the UN and rights groups say no-one should be forced to return, as the situation in Myanmar is not safe.

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims and others have fled to Bangladesh over the past year.

They were escaping violence and a military operation in western Rakhine state.

The UN has said senior Myanmar officials should be investigated and tried for genocide over the operation, which the army says was targeting militants.

After the planned repatriations were halted on Thursday, amid protests in the camps, senior Myanmar officials said they had been ready to process returnees and blamed the Bangladeshi side.

‘They’re sending us to die’

The refugees are mostly living in basic conditions in sprawling camps near the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed they should gradually be returned to Myanmar and thousands of people have been approved for return by Myanmar.

This has led to panic among the refugees, many of whom experienced violence in Myanmar, or had family members killed and their homes burned.

The first group of refugees due to leave on Thursday had been told buses had been organised, a transit camp set up and there were stocks of rations for three days, the BBC’s Yogita Limaye reported from one of the camps.

But hearing the announcement people erupted in protest, shouting “we don’t want to go back”, and holding up placards listing the things they wanted before they would agree to return. Some even broke down in tears, our correspondent reports.

“None feels safe to go back now. We cannot force them to go back against their will,” Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s repatriation commissioner, told AFP news agency.

Amid the heightened anxiety, there is an increased security presence in the camps.

“I’m scared about the repatriation,” one 40-year-old man on the list to be sent back told the BBC. “Though they are trying to reassure us, I’m not convinced. I think they might kill us if we go there.”

Like many others he has sent his family into hiding in the camps. He said the only condition under which they were prepared to return to Myanmar was if they were given citizenship.

“If we have to go back, that is our fate. But I feel they will be sending us there to die.”

Another refugee told the BBC he fled with his wife and sons but that many relatives had been killed.

“They brutally tortured us,” he said, breaking down in tears. “The military came to us, they killed our people, threw kids in the fire and also set fire to houses.

“I am very disturbed by this talk of going back. How can we go there?”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-46217505

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The Hindu – India welcomes starting of Rohingya repatriation process

Kallol Bhattacherjee

New Delhi – India, 01 November 2018. India on Wednesday welcomed the decision of Bangladesh to begin the process of repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. The response from an official source came hours after Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to send 2,300 Rohingya back to Rakhine province.

“If they have agreed to take 2,300 Rohingya refugees then we will consider this as a good beginning. We have been saying that the Rohingya crisis can be solved with the repatriation of the community to the land of their origin in Rakhine province of Myanmar,” said an official source welcoming the step.

Teams of diplomats from Bangladesh and Myanmar met on Tuesday and agreed on this plan during a high level Joint Working Group meeting held in Dhaka. The meeting was attended by Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and his Myanmar counterpart Myint Thu.

On Wednesday, both officials visited the Rohingya camps near Cox’s Bazaar to talk to the 2,300 Rohingya citizens of Myanmar who are among more than one million Rohingya refugees who have taken refuge in Bangladesh during 2017-18.

The agreement was preceded by a warning from a top UN diplomat who pointed out that Myanmar had not stopped human rights violation of the Rohingya community inside its territory.

India has been suggesting repatriation of the Rohingya refugees and has also contributed to creating housing settlements for the people who choose to return to Rakhine province.

“We believe repatriation will have to be coupled with socio-economic measures to ensure continued welfare of the Rohingya community on their land,” said the source.

Myanmar and Bangladesh had concluded an agreement last year to start return of the community who fled after the Myanmar military conducted a security campaign in the region. Repatriation of the community was to begin in January this year but it has been delayed so far.

Activists have expressed concern on the latest announcement saying that the return of the Rohingya refugees should be preceded by security guarantee from Myanmar.

Relief organisation Oxfam in a statement said, “The international community needs to step up diplomatic pressure on Myanmar to grant equal rights to the Rohingya, while continuing to support Bangladesh to assist all those in need.” Myanmar has said that it is trying to sensitise its military about ensuring safety of the community.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-welcomes-starting-of-rohingya-repatriation-process/article25384602.ece

The Hindu – Deportation fears rise at Rohingya camp in Delhi

Rohingya refugees say they will not go back till the Indian government assures their rights, safety.

Saurabh Trivedi

New Delhi – India, 06 October 2018. The 235 Rohingya refugees staying at the Kalindi Kunj camp are worried about their future after the government deported seven of them on Friday. Most of refugees in the camp earn a living as daily-wage labourers and e-rickshaw or autorickshaw drivers.

They alleged that the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) had refused to extend their visas, which expired in 2017.

Abdullah,who stays at the camp, said, “We are already suffering. By deporting us, they [the Indian government] are pushing us to certain death. Why are we treated as refugees and not human beings?

We do not know what freedom means. We are happy in India and get what we never got in Myanmar. We want to live here like any other Indian citizen.”

The refugees said a police team had visited the camp on Monday and distributed a six-page nationality verification form titled ‘Personal Data Form’. The police asked each of them to fill the form, complete with a photograph, by Thursday.

“A policeman came to collect the forms [on Thursday] but most of us refused to fill them. We do not want to go back till the Indian government assures our rights and safety in Myanmar.

The Indian government will send these forms to Myanmar, where the authorities will forge details and use them as needed,” said Mohammad Shakir, who stays at the camp with his family.

Sanjida Begum, who lives here with her 17-year-old son, said she will only go back to Myanmar once the situation is back to normal.

“My house in Myanmar was set afire and my husband remains untraceable. My son is too young to get a job, and my community does not allow me work. NGOs and the government have been taking care of us,” she said.

A major fire broke out in the camp on April 16. The residents were rehabilitated on an adjacent piece of land, with the government providing all basic necessities.

“We lost everything, including our United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] cards. However, they were reissued within two days. We were provided with all facilities, including electricity and ration.

Our visa, which were issued in 2014, expired in 2017 but the FRRO refused to extend [them] citing procedural delay,” said Samil Mullah, a refugee who runs a grocery shop in the camp.

The refugees said they will be killed in Myanmar if get deported.

“We want the Government of India to assure our freedom in Myanmar. If it cannot do this, let us stay here peacefully. We will never demand anything,” said Faiyaz Ahmed.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/by-deporting-us-they-are-pushing-us-to-certain-death-rohingya-refugees/article25137455.ece

BBC News – India under fire as it deports Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

India has deported seven Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, despite last-minute appeals that doing so put them at risk.

New Delhi – India, 04 October 2018. The men had been detained since 2012 for immigration violations. Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court refused to step in to stop their deportation.

At least 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar in the past year.

UN officials have accused Myanmar’s military of ethnic cleansing. The army says it has been tackling insurgents.

The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities in Myanmar, where the government sees them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.

The seven men deported on Thursday had been interred in a detention centre in India’s Assam state. They were handed over at the Moreh border crossing in neighbouring Manipur state.

“These are Myanmarese nationals whose identities have been confirmed by their government. The government given them travel permits,” L S Changsan, a senior Assam official, told the BBC’s Vineet Khare.

The UN special rapporteur on racism, Tendayi Achiume, said India risked breaching its international legal obligations by returning the men to possible harm.

“Given the ethnic identity of the men, this is a flagrant denial of their right to protection,” she told AFP news agency.

These are among the first deportations of Rohingyas from India since deadly attacks on police in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 sparked a military offensive.

Officials in India say two Rohingya men were sent back in August – but this has not been confirmed by Myanmar.

Last year India announced it would deport its entire Rohingya population, thought to number about 40,000. This number includes some 18,000 Rohingya registered as refugees by the UN.

Despite the international pressure on Myanmar, India is actively pursuing a good relationship with the country’s army officials.

Correspondents say India hopes to enlist their help in acting against militants in India’s north-east, many of whom are based in Myanmar’s jungles.

India’s government also aims to grow its influence in Southeast Asia to counter China’s increasing presence in the region.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-45743951

The Hindu – Canada strips Aung San Suu Kyi of honorary citizenship

Ottawa had given the long-detained democracy advocate and Nobel laureate the rare honour in 2007.

Ottawa – Ontario – Canada, 28 September 2018. Canada’s parliament has voted unanimously to effectively strip Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship over the Rohingya crisis.

Ottawa had given the long-detained democracy advocate and Nobel laureate the rare honour in 2007.

But her international reputation has become tarnished by her refusal to call out the atrocities by her nation’s military against the Rohingya Muslims minority, which Ottawa last week declared a genocide.

“In 2007, the House of Commons granted Aung San Suu Kyi the status of honorary Canadian citizen. Today, the House unanimously passed a motion to remove this status,” said Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, on Thursday.

A brutal military campaign that started last year drove more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh, where they now live in cramped refugee camps, fearful of returning to mainly Buddhist Myanmar despite a repatriation deal.

Many have given accounts of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and arson.

The military has denied nearly all wrongdoing, justifying its crackdown as a legitimate means of rooting out Rohingya militants.

But after a fact-finding mission, the United Nations on Thursday set up a panel to prepare indictments against Myanmar’s army chief and five other top military commanders for crimes against humanity.

Ms Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government remains in a delicate power balance with the generals, whose presence in parliament gives them an effective veto on constitutional changes.

Mr Austen cited Ms Suu Kyi’s “persistent refusal to denounce the Rohingya genocide” for the withdrawal of the Canadian honour, which is symbolic and comes with no special privileges.

“We will continue to support the Rohingyas by providing humanitarian assistance, imposing sanctions against Myanmar’s generals and demanding that those responsible be held accountable before a competent international body,” he added.

Honorary Canadian citizenship has only been granted to five others including the Dalai Lama, girls education advocate Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/canada-strips-aung-san-suu-kyi-of-honorary-citizenship/article25067947.ece?homepage=true

BBC News – Myanmar Rohingya: UN says military leaders must face genocide charges

A UN report has said top military figures in Myanmar must be investigated for genocide in Rakhine state and crimes against humanity in other areas.

27 March 2018. The report, based on hundreds of interviews, is the strongest condemnation from the UN so far of violence against Rohingya Muslims.

It says the army’s tactics are “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”. Myanmar rejected the report.

At least 700,000 Rohingya fled violence in the country in the past 12 months.

The report names six senior military figures it believes should go on trial and sharply criticises Myanmar’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to intervene to stop attacks.

It calls for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The government has consistently said its operations targeted militant or insurgent threats but the report says the crimes documented are “shocking for the level of denial, normalcy and impunity that is attached to them”.

“Military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages,” the report says.

The UN mission did not have access to Myanmar for its report but says it relied on such sources as eyewitness interviews, satellite imagery, photographs and videos.

To read the full BBC report :

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45318982

Frontier Myanmar – Meet the Sikhs of Myitkyina

The Kachin State capital is home to a small and vibrant Sikh community that has long made an important contribution to business in the city

Emily Fishbein

Myitkyina – Kachin State – Myanmar, 28 July 2018, Sunday mornings are church time for many residents of Myitkyina. Yet, walking north along the Ayeyarwady River from the main market, it is not church hymns that passers-by can hear, but chanting, drumming and the distinctive sound of a harmonium.

Emanating from the windows of a temple’s golden-domed towers, the musical prayer forms part of the weekly gathering of the Kachin State capital’s small but vibrant Sikh community.

Comprising 43 families, 280 people all told, the Sikh community has lived in Myitkyina since it became the commercial and administrative capital of Kachin, and is actively involved in the local economy.

Daw Bhagwant Kaur believes she is 92 years old, making her the oldest Sikh in Myitkyina. She was born in Waingmaw, on the other side of the Ayeyarwady, and traces her ancestry to a soldier who served with the British army in colonial Burma before World War II.

He was posted to a town near Sadung on the border with China where he served for about 10 years before settling in Waingmaw, the region’s then capital, where he was joined by five siblings and established a business trading salt, fruit and other goods.

Many Sikhs in Myitkyina have similar stories about the arrival of their ancestors in Kachin. Hand-written records in the gurdwara show that the first Sikhs arrived in Kachin in about 1898 with the British military, after which some settled down and went into business.

The small Sikh community shared with others the hardship of World War II, including occupation by the Japanese. Baghwant Kaur said that during those six difficult years she and her family often fled to the jungle to escape the threat of violence.

Soon after World War II ended, Baghwant Kaur travelled to British India to visit relatives in the western province of Rawalpindi, which had a large Sikh population. Then came the upheaval and religious bloodshed that followed the partition of British India into the separate nations of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The Sikh population in Rawalpindi and elsewhere in Pakistan faced persecution and violence, and hundreds of thousands fled to India. Bhagwant Kaur returned to Kachin State, where she married and had six children. Many other members of the Sikh community in Myitkyina have parents or relatives who arrived from Rawalpindi in the aftermath of partition.

When Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, the Kachin capital was shifted from Waingmaw to Myitkyina. The Sikh community was among those who moved and re-established their businesses and social roots in the new location.

After General Ne Win seized power in 1962, life became harder for members of non-indigenous communities like the Sikhs. Those of Indian descent were barred from higher education and faced other forms of discrimination as they came under pressure to emigrate.

At its peak, the Sikh community in Burma is believed to have numbered about 10,000, but has dwindled to between 2,000 and 3,000. Myitkyina has the biggest community outside Yangon and Mandalay, but there are also sizeable numbers of Sikhs in Lashio, Taunggyi, Mogok and Pyawbwe.

There are about 50 gurdwaras in Myanmar and the community adheres to the same beliefs and traditions as Sikhs everywhere. Sikhs follow the spiritual teachings of 10 consecutive gurus, or teachers, who lived from 1469 to 1708, and they consider their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, as the final and eternal guru.

Sikhism centres on belief in one creator and the unity and equality of all humankind. Sikhs practise their faith through meditation and prayer, engaging in community service, striving for social justice, and practising honest conduct and livelihood.

According to custom, they do not cut their hair, in appreciation of the perfection of God’s creation; men are recognisable by full beards and the turban they wear to cover their hair.

The Sikh community in Myitkyina remains active and close-knit. Although many older Sikhs attend prayer services every morning and evening, the Sunday morning services throng with youth and families.

Sikhs do not have clergy and community members take turns leading the service, including singing, playing instruments, giving sermons and reading from the Guru Granth Sahib.

Among them is Ko Harmed Singh, 22, who has been interested from a young age in the baja, or harmonium, a keyboard with a hand-operated pump that is a core element of Sikh music.

Beginning in the Eighth Standard, when he was about 14, he began visiting the gurdwara each evening to take lessons from the granthi, a religious scholar who lives at the gurdwara and provides teaching and guidance to anyone who wishes to learn.

Harmed Singh, who claims to know more than 1,000 melodies by heart, is known by Sikhs throughout Myanmar for his musical talent.

After services, men and women of all generations often gather for cooking, socialising, and feasting on fragrant Indian poori, curries, sweets and hot milk tea.

These langar, or communal meals, form a central element of Sikh tradition. Gurdwaras are open to all faiths and it is not uncommon for Sikhs to invite non-Sikh friends to attend a service or join a langar.

To ensure that traditions are maintained through generations, classes are held at the gurdwara during summer holidays and many parents also teach their children at home.

However, proficiency in Punjabi, the native language of Sikhs and the language used for prayer, is in decline as each generation becomes more socially integrated and Burmese becomes the language of preference at home.

Throughout the generations, Sikhs have maintained positive business and social relations with the diverse ethnic and religious groups of Myitkyina.

Sikhs and non-Sikhs regularly get together for a meal or tea, or at tennis or football matches. Many electronics, auto-parts and indoor market shops are run by Sikhs, and their employees and customers are drawn from all communities.

The Sikhs in Myitkyina have maintained their cultural identity as a group while adapting, adjusting and, at times, assimilating with the wider community and by so doing, enriching the fabric of Kachin society.

https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/meet-the-sikhs-of-myitkyina

The Statesman – India fears mass influx as monsoon threatens Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camp

Bangladesh is looking at options like repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar or their transfer to a safer location. It is also looking at safeguarding the existing shacks of the refugees and steps to prevent an epidemic when the rains hit.

Dhaka – Bangladesh, 25 April 2018. With only two months to go for the monsoon rains to arrive, relocating Rohingya refugees to a safe place has emerged as a serious concern for the Bangladesh government.

It has also created a sense or worry for India’s Border Security Force (BSF) as intelligence inputs hint at mass influx when floods overwhelm the grounds where they are housed in refugee camps.

Over 1.15 million registered Rohingyas have been residing in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh, known as the Cox’s Bazar region, after they fled Myanmar to escape a military crackdown on their villages in Rakhine State on the night of August 24-25, last year.

Bangladesh is looking at options like repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar or their transfer to a safer location. It is also looking at safeguarding the existing shacks of the refugees and steps to prevent an epidemic when the rains hit.

The BSF, on its part, has put its troops along the 4,096 km India-Bangladesh border on alert to intercept any infiltration by the Rohingya refugees into India.

The Indian government has taken the position that they will not allow mass influx of illegal migrants as some Rohingyas had been found to have links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence for delivering fake Indian currency into the country. They were also said to be trying to illegally obtain Indian identification.

The BSF says it will have to follow the government’s order to the tee. “We have intelligence inputs that Rohingyas would try to enter India when the rains come and we are putting in place plans to stop them,” a BSF official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

“All the Integrated Check Post commanders along the border have been instructed to be vigilant and stop any illegal entry,” he said. Although the nearest Indian border is about 100 km away, the ability of refugess to face hardships and traverse long distances in search of a safe haven is known.

Most of refugees live in flimsy, bamboo-and-plastic structures perched on what were once forested hills, as a visit by a group of 15 Indian and Bangladeshi journalists to Cox’s Bazar camp showed.

It would lead to a disaster if they remain in the area when Bangladesh gets lashed by cyclones, at the peak of rainy season in July. The visit of journalists was facilitated by the BSF and hosted by Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB).

According to Bangladesh’s meteorological department, the highest incidence of rainfall is recorded in the south-eastern part of the country where the biggest makeshift camps of Rohingyas’ are located, in Kutupalong and Balukhali, an area of around 144 square kilometres.

Computer modelling by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugess (UNHCR) shows that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees would be threatened by floods and landslides during the monsoon.

“Up to a third of the land could be flooded, leaving lakhs of refugees living in the plains homeless… Refugee population living on slopes will also be at risk of landslide,” said an UNHCR report.

To cope with the situation the government is seeking relocation of the refugees back to their homeland. “The Bangladesh government is in a hurry to repatriate the refugees as per an agreement signed between it and the Myanmar government in November last year,” Brigadier General S.M. Rakibullah of BGB told IANS.

“We recently sent a list of around 100,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar for their identification and repatriation, but only a few of them were considered as nationals by their government,” said Rakibullah, Additional Director General and Regional Commander of Adhoc Region Headquarters in Cox’s Bazar, adding that “the repatriation of refugees is considerably delayed”.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also expressed concern for the Rohingyas in view of the coming monsoons and has ordered new homes to be built for them on a nearby island called Bhasan Char, according to an official in Bangladesh’s Ministry of Information.

But it would be impossible to do that for all the 1.15 million refugees. Cox’s Bazar Assistant Director Rubel told IANS: “As water swallows the whole area south of Naff river during the monsoon season, evacuation of Rohingyas would become very difficult then”.

However, relocation to another area may not be easy as most of the places are populated by local Bangladeshis who are unlikely to take the presence of hundreds of thousands of refugees very kindly.

Officials point out that as it may not be possible to relocate a large number of refugees before monsoons, interim measures need to be taken.

And they are doing that. These include using bulldozers to improve roads, stabilise the slopes and level the land in the Kutupalong-Balukhali camp. The bamboo shacks on the hills are being strengthened by sandbags, but officials point out that when rains become extremely heavy, this measure may not help much.

Also, emergency medical centres to tackle cholera or mosquito-borne disease are being set up, and so are search and rescue and first aid teams, according to an official. Several international agencies, including UNHCR, are working alongside Bangladesh personnel to prepare for the coming rains.

But Nur Hussain, 40, whose brother was killed in the military crackdown in Myanmar, is not convinced. “My mud house and other makeshift shacks are not built to withstand storms, heavy rains or floods,” he said, looking at the skies with foreboding eyes.

My excuses, I lost the link to the newspaper article and even google cannot find it back

The Hindustan Times – Sushma calls on Myanmar President, Rohingya refugee crisis on the plate

An estimated 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State since August last year after large-scale violence following a military crackdown.

Nay Pyi Taw – Naypyidaw Union Territory – Myanmar, 10 May 2018. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday called on Myanmar President U Win Myint soon after she arrived in Nay Pyi Taw for talks with the country’s top leadership on key bilateral and regional issues, including the Rohingya refugee crisis.

An estimated 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State since August last year after large-scale violence following a military crackdown. The exodus of refugees in large numbers has resulted in a major crisis in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Swaraj is in Myanmar on a two-day visit for discussions on a number of bilateral and regional issues, including the situation in the Rakhine State from where lakhs of Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh.

Myanmar is one of India’s strategic neighbours and it shares a 1,640 km border with a number of northeastern states, including militancy-hit Nagaland and Manipur.

On her arrival in Nay Pyi Taw, Swaraj was warmly received by India’s ambassador Vikram Misri and permanent secretary of ministry of foreign affairs of Myanmar U Myint Thu.

In December, India had announced a development assistance of $25 million for Rakhine State.

India on Wednesday sent to Bangladesh its second relief consignment to help tens of thousands of displaced following a military crackdown.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/sushma-calls-on-myanmar-president-rohingya-refugee-crisis-on-the-plate/story-EthQ0bord0s4b3f2HX8AmL.html

Dawn – I was invited to talk on Partition. I was then told to talk on Independence as Partition ‘never happened’

Anam Zakaria

Op/Ed, 07 May 2018. The word ‘taqseem’ is commonly used by Partition survivors to refer to the events of 1947. A division, a split, a rupture that gave birth to Pakistan.

In English, the word ‘Partition’ is part of the established vocabulary that gives voice to one of the most significant events in recent history.

As an oral historian and researcher, I have interviewed hundreds of Partition survivors over the past several years. These words are uttered often in interviews, allowing people to share their memories, to in some way express what they had endured during the cataclysmic division.

And just as these words are present in all the interviews I have conducted, so too are the horror stories of Partition. Bodies chopped up, breasts cut, throats sliced, figures mutilated.

Regardless of the volume of work conducted on Partition, on both sides of the border, perhaps not even a fraction of the bloodshed and violence endured by Partition survivors has been captured in its essence.

Many of these survivors continue to live in the trauma of Partition, its journey ongoing, interjecting their dreams, their thoughts and their everyday lived experiences.

Yet 70 years after Partition, the Pakistani state has devised its unique way of referring to 1947; these official versions have their own ontology, removed from the context of the survivors.

The politics of recognition of certain events, or certain version of events, and the politics of denial of other episodes is at the heart of these policies.

I was recently invited to speak about Partition at a literary event. The students who were putting together the event had wanted me to share the Partition narratives I had collected, particularly focusing on the violence that the survivors had experienced.

I wasn’t surprised for it is often assumed that the only experiences of 1947 are the violent ones. It serves to justify separation, the creation of Pakistan that ‘liberated’ Muslims from the ferocious ‘infidel’ perpetrators they had left behind on the other side.

Narratives of inter-communal harmony, of nostalgia and longing of the pre-Partition past are seldom explored in the mainstream discourse.

However, days before I was scheduled to speak, there was a subtle change. I was no longer meant to talk about Partition; rather, I was supposed to limit myself to talk about ‘Independence’.

While 1947 indeed marks both Partition and Independence, one cannot talk about Independence without addressing Partition.

However, the organisers, I was told, believed that there was no Partition but only Independence that had taken place.

Moreover, they rejected the idea of discussing the bloodshed of 1947. Instead, they claimed there were no horrors. 1947 was Pakistan’s triumph, its victory. After all, if there was no Partition, how could there by any bloodshed?

Today, Partition has metamorphosed into Independence. And it is not Independence from the British but rather from ‘Hindu’ India.

The colonial past receives little attention in Pakistani textbooks and the Divide and Rule Policy is often sidelined. Using the Two Nation Theory to inculcate the idea that Hindus and Muslims were always separate nations, the two communities are shown as divisive throughout history.

A common phrase found in textbooks is, “Hindus can never be the true friends of Muslims.” 14th August then is a cause for celebration because it gave Pakistan independence from India.

In the collective memory of the nation, independence from the British holds little significance.

What the actual survivors feel, those who had fought tooth and nail to create Pakistan, those who had suffered the loss of family members and friends, of childhood, properties and their homeland, does not matter.

No taqseem, no Partition, no horrors took place. By depriving them of the language to express these sentiments, the state can erase any memories of longing, of remorse, of nostalgia. It can impose the official understandings of a tumultuous ‘victory’.

The use of selective language, of particular words and symbols, is a powerful way to mold memories and understandings. By imposing or depriving citizens of specific words, of the tool of language, states are able to construct identities, meanings and experiences that fit national projects.

Interestingly, while Pakistan insists on referring to the events of 1947 as Independence, when it comes to the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh, terms such as ‘The Fall of Dhaka’ or ‘Dismemberment’ are openly used.

This is in stark contrast to the use of the word ‘Liberation’ by the Bangladesh government. To call it anything else in Bangladesh can invite charges of anti-state behaviour, just as calling it Liberation or Independence in Pakistan would.

In India, it is unacceptable to refer to the part of Kashmir under India’s control as anything but Jammu and Kashmir. Titles like ‘Indian-administered Kashmir’ are deemed objectionable on the pretext that they challenge the notion that J&K is an integral part of the country, that they challenge India’s sovereignty over the territory.

The open and ongoing resistance against the Indian state by Kashmiris who indeed do challenge Indian rule and view India as an occupying force are dismissed.

By insisting that the territory is referred to as Jammu and Kashmir, the apparatus to express that occupation is snatched away.

Publishing houses and media outlets too are expected to abide by these ‘guidelines’ laid down by the state, undermining freedom of speech and denying Kashmiris freedom of expression.

In Myanmar too, there has been an active effort by the state to deprive the Rohingya community of their ethnic identity and their claim to the land by insisting that the Rohingya people should not be referred to by that name.

In 2016, it was reported that Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, had advised that the term not be used. Foreign Ministry official, Kyaw Zay Ya, further reasoned that, “We won’t use the term Rohingya because Rohingya are not recognised as among the 135 official ethnic groups” in Myanmar.

By making the community nameless, the state can deny them the right to the land, the language to express their grievances, and the world recognition as a persecuted community, facing genocide.

The forced use of particular terms or the silencing of certain other terms like Partition, taqseem, Rohingya, Indian-administered or Occupied Kashmir successfully suppress indigenous voices, sentiments and aspirations.

States are able to rein in elements that may question state policies, histories and ongoing violence perpetuated in the name of security.

Through this politicisation of language, attempts are made to try to reconstruct national identities, sidelining the very citizens that often helped create and sustain these nation-states.

Did you, or anyone in your family, have to leave home due to Partition? Share your story with us at blog@dawn.com

Anam Zakaria is the author of Footprints of Partition: Narratives of Four Generations of Pakistanis and Indians and an upcoming book on Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1406178/i-was-invited-to-talk-on-partition-i-was-then-told-to-talk-on-independence-as-partition-never-happened