The Hindu – India extends support to Bangladesh for resolving Rohingya crisis

Dhaka – Bangladesh, 09 April 2018. India on Monday extended full support to Bangladesh’s efforts for resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis, including early repatriation of the displaced people to Myanmar.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said this following a meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart M. Shahidul Haque on the second day of his three-day Dhaka tour. “India has been fully supportive of the efforts being made to resolve the crisis, including early repatriation of the displaced people,” Mr. Gokhale said in a statement.

He said India has sent relief materials for 300,000 Rohingyas in September last year under ‘Operation Insaniyat’ to support Bangladesh in its humanitarian efforts while he announced New Delhi’s plans for the second phase of such assistance.

“On the Myanmar side, we are providing socio-economic support under our Rakhine State Development Programme including construction of pre-fabricated housing in order to meet the needs of the returning people,” he added.

Mr. Haque said Bangladesh was “very happy the way our friend from India is looking at this [Rohingya] issue, looking to peacefully resolve the issue.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had recently asked India to put pressure on Myanmar for repatriation of over a million of Rohingyas, fearing their prolonged stay in Bangladesh could create militancy related security risks.

Some 700,000 members of the Muslim minority have fled Myanmar since August to escape a bloody military crackdown.

The army in the mainly Buddhist nation denies the allegations and says its campaign as a legitimate response to Rohingya militant attacks on August 25 that killed about a dozen border guard police.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal in November.

The only real solution of the Rohingya crisis would be their recognition as citizens of Myanmar.
Man in Blue

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-extends-support-to-bangladesh-for-resolving-rohingya-crisis/article23484259.ece

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BBC News – The Rohingya children trafficked for sex

Girls in their early teens are being trafficked into prostitution in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, a BBC News investigation has found. Foreigners seeking sex can easily gain access to children who have fled conflict in Myanmar and now face a new threat.

Anwara is 14. Fleeing Myanmar after her family were killed she searched for help on the road to Bangladesh.

“Women came with a van. They asked me, if I’d go with them.”

After accepting their help, she was bundled into a car, with the promise of safe passage to a new life. Instead she was taken to the nearest city, Cox’s Bazar.

“Not long after that they brought two boys to me. They showed me a knife and punched me in my tummy and beat me because I wasn’t co-operating. Then the boys raped me. I wasn’t willing to have sex but they kept going.”

Tales of trafficking in the nearby refugee camps are rife. Women and children are the main victims, lured out of the camps and into labour and sex work.

A BBC team alongside the Foundation Sentinel, a non-profit group established to train and assist law enforcement agencies combating child exploitation, headed to Bangladesh to investigate the networks behind the trade we had heard so much about.

Children and parents told us they were offered jobs abroad and in the capital Dhaka as maids, as hotel staff and kitchen workers.

The chaos of the camps offers big opportunities to bring children into the sex industry. Offering a chance of a better life to desperate families is a cruel tactic deployed by traffickers.

Masuda, 14, who is now being helped by a local charity, described how she was trafficked.

“I knew what was going to happen to me. The woman who offered me a job, everyone knows she makes people have sex. She is a Rohingya here for a long time, we know her. But I didn’t have a choice. There is nothing for me here.

“My family have disappeared. I have no money. I was raped in Myanmar. I used to play in the forest with my brother and sister. Now I don’t remember how to play.”

Some parents wept for fear of never hearing from their children again. Others smiled at the prospect of a life bettered, despite not having heard from their loved ones.

As one mother said, “anywhere is better” than a life outside the camps.

But where are these children being taken to, and by whom?

Undercover, posing as foreigners recently arrived in Bangladesh looking for sex, the BBC investigation team set out to see if we could get access to children.

Only 48 hours in, after asking small hotel and beach cottage owners, places notorious for offering rooms for sex, we found the telephone numbers of local pimps.

With the knowledge of police, we asked the pimps if they had younger girls available for a foreigner, specifically Rohingya girls.

“We have young girls, many, but why do you want Rohingya? They are the dirtiest,” one man said.

This was a recurring theme throughout our investigation. In the hierarchy of prostitution in Cox’s Bazar, Rohingya girls were considered the least desirable and the cheapest available.

We were offered girls by a variety of different pimps operating as part of a network. During the negotiations we stressed that we wanted to spend the night with the girls immediately, as we did not want to create a demand.

Pictures of different girls began to come in and we were told they were between 13 and 17. The number of girls available and the scale of the network was striking. If we did not like any of the girls in the photos, there were plenty more.

Many of the girls live with the pimps’ families. When they are not with a client, they are often cooking or cleaning.

“We don’t keep the girls for long. Mostly Bangladeshi men come for them. They get bored after a while. Younger girls cause more of a fuss, so we get rid of them,” we were told.

With the recording and surveillance done, we presented the evidence to the local police. A small team were assigned to set up a sting operation.

The pimp was immediately identified by the police. “I know him. We know him very well,” said one of the police officers. Perhaps an informant, or a known criminal, it was not clear exactly what he meant.

In preparation of the sting, we called the pimp, and asked for two of the girls we had seen in the photograph to be delivered to a prominent hotel in Cox’s Bazar at 20:00 local time.

The undercover foreigner posing as the client, a member of the Foundation Sentinel, waited outside the hotel with a translator. In the car park undercover police officers waited for the trafficker to arrive.

As 20:00 drew closer, frantic phone calls were made between the pimp and our undercover client. The pimp wanted the client to come away from the hotel, we refused. Instead, the pimp sent a driver to deliver two of the girls from the photograph we had seen.

After the money was exchanged, our undercover client asked: “If tonight is good, can we get more?” The driver nodded in agreement.

After collecting the cash, the police moved in. The driver was arrested, and childcare professionals and trafficking experts helped to arrange care for the girls.

One of the girls refused to go to a shelter, while the other, who said she was 15, went into social care.

The girls appeared torn between poverty and prostitution – they said that without the sex work they would not be able to provide for themselves or their families.

Moving women and children both domestically and internationally takes a degree of organisation. The internet provides the tools to both communicate between different members of organised crime groups and sell sex.

We found examples of Rohingya children taken to Chittagong and Dhaka in Bangladesh, Kathmandu in Nepal and Kolkata in India.

In Kolkata’s booming sex industry, they are given Indian identity cards and absorbed into the system, their identities lost.

At the Cyber Crime Unit in Dhaka, police explained how traffickers trade girls for sex over the internet. Open and closed Facebook groups offer a gateway to a child sex industry out of sight.

Amid a labyrinth of encrypted websites, we were shown a platform used by paedophiles to share information on the dark web. The goal is to share experiences of how to have sex with children around the world.

One prolific user offered a step-by-step guide on how to take advantage of children, specifically Rohingya, in a refugee crisis. He goes on to talk about the best ways to avoid detection, the lowdown on local law enforcement and the best areas to prey upon children.

Another user replies: “As this is happening now, and I feel like a vacation, any thoughts/local knowledge would be appreciated.”

The thread has since been taken down by the authorities but it offered a chilling insight into how refugee crises provide opportunities for paedophiles and traffickers to prey on people at their most vulnerable.

Both online and offline in Bangladesh a network of traffickers, pimps, brokers and transporters continue to supply women and children for sex.

The Rohingya crisis did not create a sex industry in Bangladesh, but it has increased the supply of women and children, forcing the price of prostitution down and keeping demand as strong as ever.

Names in this article have been changed to protect identities

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43469043

The Hindu – Myanmar President Htin Kyaw resigns

A statement from President’s office said that a new leader would be selected “within seven working days”

Yangon – Yangon Region – Myanmar, 21 March 2018. Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw resigned suddenly on Wednesday leaving the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi without a close confidant and political ally as she faces rising international opprobrium over the Rakhine crisis.

The president is an old school friend of Ms Suu Kyi, serving as her proxy in an office she was barred from occupying according to Myanmar’s military-drafted constitution.

His role was largely ceremonial given Ms Suu Kyi had awarded herself the title State Counsellor and called the shots within her civilian administration.

But he was nonetheless the country’s head of state and a key domestic ally for Ms Suu Kyi within her party.

Speculation had swirled for months about the health of Mr Htin Kyaw, 72, who had recently lost weight and has had heart problems in the past.

“Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw resigned on March 21, 2018,” a statement on the president’s official Facebook page said.

His office did not give many details for why he resigned Wednesday, only saying that “he wanted to take a rest from his current duty”.

It added that a new leader will be selected in “within seven working days”.

There were no immediate candidates put forward as long term successors, but several senior party names were floated when Suu Kyi took power.

Myanmar’s Vice President Myint Swe, a former general, will move into the role until a new president is in place, according to the constitution.

Loyal school friend

Mr Htin Kyaw, the country’s first civilian president since 1962, was widely respected and seen as completely loyal to Suu Kyi’s who said she would rule “above” him after he was elected in 2016.

He has stood firmly by her side even as as her reputation lies shattered internationally for not speaking up on behalf of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim community.

A violent military crackdown has forced some 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border into squalid camps in Bangladesh, in what the UN has branded as “ethnic cleansing” with possible “hallmarks of genocide”.

The military justifies its campaign as a legitimate response to Rohingya militant attacks against police posts in August.

The civilian government is in a transitional power-sharing arrangement with the army which still retains huge political and economic power.

The army controls three key ministries, home affairs, borders and defence, effectively giving the army a carte blanche to conduct any security operations it chooses.

It also has a quarter of legislative seats reserved for officers, giving the military a de facto veto over any constitutional change.

Defenders of Suu Kyi say her government’s hands are tied by the military but critics maintain it could and should have done more to speak up against alleged army atrocities, particularly in Rakhine State.

Mr Htin Kyaw is the son of a revered poet and helped run Suu Kyi’s charitable foundation before taking over the presidency.

According to an official biography, Mr Htin Kyaw studied at the University of London’s Institute of Computer Science from 1971 to 1972.

In a varied career he worked as a university teacher and also held positions in the finance and national planning and foreign affairs ministries in the late 1970s and 80s before retiring from government service as the military tightened its grip.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/myanmar-president-htin-kyaw-resigns/article23309010.ece

BBC News – Myanmar ‘militarising’ Rohingya villages in Rakhine, says Amnesty

Myanmar – Rakhine State, 12 March 2018. Myanmar is conducting a “military land grab” on land in Rakhine state where Rohingya once lived, a new report from Amnesty International alleges.

Citing satellite images and witnesses, the rights group says villages have been bulldozed to make way for new infrastructure since January.

An Amnesty spokesperson said this “alarming” militarisation was removing evidence of crimes against Rohingya.

The government of Myanmar has yet to respond to the report.

It has previously asked for “clear evidence” to support allegations from the UN that it may have carried out “acts of genocide” against the Rohingya.

Amnesty says that while the picture its new report presents “is only partial, the situation raises urgent concerns about its implications for the future of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya… as well as the tens of thousands who continue to live in the region”.

In August, the Myanmar military launched a military operation in Rakhine state after deadly attacks on police stations.

It said it was a crackdown on insurgents, but reports have emerged of widespread human rights violations, killings, and the burning of villages.

“New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director.

“This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect.”

The group says new facilities for security forces and roads have been built around places where Rohingya villages once stood, suggesting the area could be used to accommodate more security forces.

By bulldozing entire villages the authorities are also “erasing evidence of crimes against humanity, making any future attempts to hold those responsible to account extremely difficult”, said Ms Hassan.

She said development was “sorely needed” in Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest states, but that it “must benefit everyone in the state regardless of their ethnicity, not entrench the existing system of apartheid against Rohingya people”.

Rakhine has been largely sealed off from UN investigators, rights groups and media organisations, making it impossible to independently verify such reports.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship and equal opportunities by the Myanmar government, which says they are illegal immigrants, and they are largely despised by the majority-Buddhist population.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43367720

The Statesman – Ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims continue: UN

Nay Pyi Taw

New York – United Nations, 06 March 2018. The ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar is continuing in Rakhine state, from where at least 700,000 people have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017, the UN said Tuesday.

The UN and human rights organisations have repeatedly criticised the atrocities allegedly committed by the Myanmar military in a campaign against the Rohingya that began in northern Rakhine following a coordinated assault by the Rohingya insurgent movement on August 25, 2017, reports Efe news.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said that while the level of violence had been reduced, murder, rape, torture, abductions as well as forced starvation continued.

“It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists,” Gilmour said in a statement issued after his visit to refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied blood-letting and mass rape of last year to a lower intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh,” he added.

The UN expert also questioned how the Myanmar government could say that it was ready for the return of the Rohingya refugees while atrocities committed against them continued, and argued that “safe, dignified and sustainable returns are of course impossible under current conditions”.

Gilmour also praised the humanitarian response of Bangladesh and other international organizations to the Rohingya refugee crisis, but warned that the rainy season could leave “a devastating effect” on the refugee camps.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement to start repatriating the Rohingya refugees at the end of January but the deal was suspended at the last minute by the Dhaka government.

The Myanmar military has denied claims of abuses, but in January recognised the extrajudicial killings of Rohingya in September 2017.

Myanmar does not recognize Rohingya as its citizens, arguing they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, which has led to continued discrimination against the Rohingya community as well as restrictions on their freedom of movement.

https://www.thestatesman.com/india/ethnic-cleansing-rohingya-muslims-continue-un-1502596206.html

BBC News – Rohingya crisis: Bangladesh and Myanmar agree time-frame for repatriation

London-UK, 16 January 2018. Bangladesh says it has agreed a timeframe with Myanmar for repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled an army crackdown last year.

Myanmar has agreed to accept 1,500 Rohingya every week, Bangladesh says, adding that it aims to return all of them to Myanmar within two years.

Over 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since violence erupted in Rakhine state in August.

Aid agencies have raised concerns about forcibly repatriating them.

A spokesperson from the UN High Commission for Refugees said Myanmar also needed to address the underlying causes of the crisis and that refugees should only return when they feel it is safe for them to back.

According to Reuters, the agreement did not specify when the process would begin but said Myanmar would provide temporary shelter to those returning and later build houses for them.

The two sides agreed on a repatriation deal last November and have now met in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw to finalise the details.

Bangladeshi foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque told BBC Bangla that the government had wanted Myanmar to accept 15,000 Rohingya each week – however, they eventually settled on 300 a day – 1,500 per week.

Both sides would review the agreement in three months, he added.

Under the current agreement, about 156,000 Rohingya would be repatriated in two years, far short of the 650,000 who have taken recently taken refuge in Bangladesh.

‘Mistrust and fear’

Jonathan Head, BBC Southeast Asia correspondent

Both countries have agreed the repatriation will be voluntary. And most refugees say they will only return if their safety can be assured, their homes rebuilt, and if they are no longer subjected to official discrimination. None of these conditions is in place.

Myanmar has started rebuilding, but mostly for non-Muslims. It is preparing two transit camps, the first able to accommodate 30,000 people. Beyond that not much has changed.

More than 350 villages, nearly all of them Rohingya, have been burned down, some recently. The military, which is accused of terrible human rights abuses, still runs northern Rakhine State. It has denied the abuses, denied access to independent investigators, and strictly limits access for aid agencies.

There is talk of closing the camps in which 130,000 Rohingyas are still confined, but not yet of ending restrictions on Rohingya movements. And nothing is yet happening to reduce the mistrust and fear of Rohingyas felt by the non-Muslim population, some of whom have vowed to fight against any large-scale refugee return.

When the initial deal was signed, Amnesty International said it doubted there could be safe or dignified returns “while a system of apartheid remains” and added that it “hoped those who do not want to go home are not forced to do so”.

The Rohingya are a stateless minority in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Huge numbers have fled to Bangladesh after deadly attacks by a Rohingya group on police posts prompted a military crackdown in Rakhine state in late August.

The crisis has been described as ethnic cleansing by the UN and the US.

Despite widespread accusations of human rights violations, Myanmar has consistently denied persecuting its Rohingya minority.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42699602

BBC News – Could Aung San Suu Kyi face Rohingya genocide charges?

Justin Rowlatt, South Asia correspondent

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is determined that the perpetrators of the horrors committed against the Rohingya face justice.

He’s the head of the UN’s watchdog for human rights across the world, so his opinions carry weight.

It could go right to the top, he doesn’t rule out the possibility that civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces General Aung Min Hlaing, could find themselves in the dock on genocide charges some time in the future.

Earlier this month, Mr Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council that the widespread and systematic nature of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar (also called Burma) meant that genocide could not be ruled out.

“Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level,” said the high commissioner, when we met at the UN headquarters in Geneva for BBC Panorama.

That said, genocide is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot. It sounds terrible, the so-called “crime of crimes”. Very few people have ever been convicted of it.

The crime was defined after the Holocaust. Member countries of the newly founded United Nations signed a convention, defining genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy a particular group.

It is not Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s job to prove acts of genocide have been committed, only a court can do that. But he has called for an international criminal investigation into the perpetrators of what he has called the “shockingly brutal attacks” against the Muslim ethnic group who are mainly from northern Rakhine in Myanmar.

But the high commissioner recognised it would be a tough case to make: “For obvious reasons, if you’re planning to commit genocide you don’t commit it to paper and you don’t provide instructions.”

“The thresholds for proof are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.”

By the beginning of December, nearly 650,000 Rohingya, around two thirds of the entire population, had fled Myanmar after a wave of attacks led by the army that began in late August.

Hundreds of villages were burned and thousands are reported to have been killed.

There is evidence of terrible atrocities being committed: massacres, murders and mass rapes, as I heard myself when I was in the refugee camps as this crisis began.

What clearly rankles the UN human rights chief is that he had urged Ms Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to take action to protect the Rohingya six months before the explosion of violence in August.

He said he spoke to her on the telephone when his office published a report in February documenting appalling atrocities committed during an episode of violence that began in October 2016.

“I appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end,” he told me. “I appealed to her emotional standing… to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen.”

Ms Suu Kyi’s power over the army is limited, but Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein believes she should have done more to try and stop the military campaign.

He criticised her for failing to use the term “Rohingya”. “To strip their name from them is dehumanising to the point where you begin to believe that anything is possible,” he said, powerful language for a top UN official.

He thought Myanmar’s military was emboldened when the international community took no action against them after the violence in 2016. “I suppose that they then drew a conclusion that they could continue without fear,” he said.

“What we began to sense was that this was really well thought out and planned,” he told me.

The Myanmar government has said the military action was a response to terrorist attacks in August which killed 12 members of the security forces.

But BBC Panorama has gathered evidence that shows that preparations for the continued assault on the Rohingya began well before that.

We show that Myanmar had been training and arming local Buddhists. Within weeks of last year’s violence the government made an offer: “Every Rakhine national wishing to protect their state will have the chance to become part of the local armed police.”

“This was a decision made to effectively perpetrate atrocity crimes against the civilian population,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive of the human rights organisation Fortify Rights which has been investigating the build-up to this year’s violence.

That view is borne out by refugees in the vast camps in Myanmar who saw these volunteers in action, attacking their Rohingya neighbours and burning down their homes.

“They were just like the army, they had the same kind of weapons”, said Mohammed Rafique, who ran a successful business in Myanmar. “They were local boys, we knew them. When the army was burning our houses, torturing us, they were there.”

Meanwhile the Rohingya were getting more vulnerable in other ways.

By the summer food shortages were widespread in north Rakhine, and the government tightened the screws. The programme has learnt that from mid-August the authorities had cut off virtually all food and other aid to north Rakhine.

And the army brought in reinforcements. On 10 August, two weeks before the militant attacks, it was reported that a battalion had been flown in.

The UN human rights representative for Myanmar was so concerned she issued a public warning, urging restraint from the Myanmar authorities.

But when Rohingya militants launched attacks on 30 police posts and an army base, the military response was huge, systematic and devastating.

The BBC asked Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the Myanmar armed forces for a response. But neither of them has replied.

Almost four months on from those attacks and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is concerned the repercussions of the violence are not yet over. He fears this “could just be the opening phases of something much worse”.

He worries jihadi groups could form in the huge refugee camps in Bangladesh and launch attacks in Myanmar, perhaps even targeting Buddhist temples. The result could be what he called a “confessional confrontation”, between Buddhists and Muslims.

It is a frightening thought, as the high commissioner acknowledged, but one he believes Myanmar isn’t taking seriously enough.

“I mean the stakes are so enormous,” he said. “This sort of flippant manner by which they respond to the serious concerns of the international community is really alarming.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42335018

The Telegraph – Sikh volunteers give aid to Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma

Mark Molloy

16 November 2017

A team of Sikh volunteers are providing aid to some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence in Burma (Myanmar).

Khalsa Aid, a UK-based international humanitarian relief organisation, have been helping refugees as they cross into neighbouring Bangladesh, where thousands are already living in overcrowded camps.

They were one of the first international organisations to reach the Bangladesh / Myanmar border in September, where refugees from the stateless minority have been waiting in lines stretching for kilometres across muddy rice fields.

The volunteers are returning next week to progress the project and focus on providing food and sanitation.

Volunteer Jeevanjot Singh, from the Indian branch of the organisation, was pictured sharing his last bottle of water with Rohingya refugees, who are described as the “world’s most persecuted minority”.

“We had come prepared for providing relief to some 50,000 people, but there are more than three lakh (300,000) here,” Amarpreet Singh, director of Khalsa Aid India, previously told The Indian Express.

“They are living without water, food, clothes and shelter. They are sitting wherever they can find a corner.

“It is raining, but people do not have anywhere to go. It is miserable to say the least. We will be providing them langar food (community kitchen) and shelter.

“We are arranging tarpaulins, but since the number of refugees have overwhelmingly exceeded our preparations, it [could take] some time to make arrangements.”

He also spoke of the overcrowded refugee camps, designed to accommodate 50,000 people, which are housing more than double that number.

“The priority is to not let anyone sleep without food,” he said. “Children are roaming without clothes and begging for food. Those who do not get space in camps are sitting along roads in hope of getting food from someone.”

The United Nations has described the treatment of Rohingya Muslims as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, with Human Rights Watch accusing the Myanmar military of widespread rape of women and girls.

Rohingya Muslims are seen as illegal immigrants from the Indian subcontinent in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where the government refuses to grant them citizenship status, effectively making them stateless.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/16/sikh-volunteers-give-aid-rohingya-muslims-fleeing-persecution/

BBC News – Remembering the last Mughal emperor

Anbarasan Ethirajan

Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma), 8 November 2017. For more than a century the last Mughal emperor was almost forgotten, but a chance finding of his grave helped resurrect the legacy of a man revered as a Sufi saint and one of the finest poets in the Urdu language.

Only a handful of relatives were present when Bahadur Shah Zafar II breathed his last in a shabby wooden house in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1862.

That very day, his British captors buried him in an unmarked grave in a compound near the famous Shwedagon Pagoda.

Defeated, demoralised and humiliated, it was an inglorious end for a man whose Mughal ancestors had for 300 years ruled a vast territory including modern-day India, Pakistan, large parts of Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Though his rule could not compare with that of illustrious ancestors like Akbar or Aurangzeb, he became the rallying point for the failed “Indian uprising” of 1857, when soldiers from undivided India rose against the British East India Company.

After they lost, the emperor was tried for treason, imprisoned and exiled to other territory under British control, in what is now Myanmar (Burma).

He died in custody on 7 November aged 87 – but his poetry lived on. The pen name he used, Zafar, means victory.

The great Mughal empire had lost much of its influence and territory by the end of the 1700s. When Zafar came to the throne in 1837, his rule extended only to Delhi and its surroundings. But for his subjects, he always remained Badshah, the King.

Like other Mughal emperors he’s said to be a direct descendent of Mongol rulers such as Genghis Khan and Timur. With his death, one of the world’s greatest dynasties came to an end.

The British buried him in an unmarked grave to keep his followers away. News of his death took a fortnight to reach India and almost went unnoticed.

Then, for more than 100 years, Zafar faded from memory. But in recent decades interest in his legacy has been revived.

A 1980s Indian TV serial rekindled memories, and roads bear his name in Delhi and Karachi. Dhaka renamed a park after him.

“Zafar was a remarkable man,” historian William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal, told the BBC.

“A calligrapher, notable poet, Sufi pir [spiritual guide], and a man who valued the importance of Hindu-Muslim unity.”

“While Zafar was never cut out to be a heroic or revolutionary leader, he remains, like his ancestor the Emperor Akbar, an attractive symbol of Islamic civilisation at its most tolerant and pluralistic,” writes Mr Dalrymple in his book.

Zafar’s religious tolerance, some suggest, also reflects his mixed parentage. His father, Akbar Shah II, was Muslim while his mother, Lal Bhai, was a Hindu Rajput princess.

Zafar’s unassuming tomb in a quiet avenue in Yangon is a poignant and silent reminder of one of the most tumultuous periods of Indian history.

Though local people knew Zafar was buried somewhere inside the compound of the local cantonment, where he and his family members were confined, they didn’t find it until 1991.

Workers digging for a drain came across a brick structure which turned out to be the former king’s grave. It was later renovated with the help of public donations.

Compared with his ancestors’ grand mausoleums in India, Zafar’s tomb is modest. An arched iron-grill bears his name and title. The ground floor houses the graves of one of his wives, Zinat Mahal, and his grand-daughter, Raunaq Zamani.

In a crypt beneath, Zafar’s grave is strewn with rose petals and other flowers.

A long chandelier hangs above, while paintings of him hang on the walls. There is a mosque next door.

The dargah or shrine has become a pilgrimage site for Yangon’s Muslim population.

“People from all walks of life come to the dargah because he’s considered a Sufi saint,” says Al-Haj U Aye Lwin, treasurer of the management board of the Bahadur Shah Zafar Mausoleum.

“They come to meditate and pray near his grave. When people’s wishes are fulfilled they donate money and other things.”

Zafar is particularly remembered for his mystical work in Urdu. His ghazals about life and love are famous and often sung or read out in Yangon’s mushairas, gatherings at which Urdu poetry is recited.

Banned from using pen or paper, he is said to have written in charcoal on the walls that confined him. A few of the poems attributed to him have been reproduced in the mausoleum.

As an emperor, Zafar did not command an army but he became the symbolic head of a revolt which united both Muslims and Hindus. Historians point out that thousands of soldiers from both religions came together to rebel against their British officers in support of restoring Mughal rule.

This year, 2017, is the 160th anniversary of the uprising but it is barely being marked, whether in India or elsewhere.

At a time when nationalism and fundamentalism are on the rise, historians say Zafar’s religious tolerance remains relevant to this day.

He may have lost his title and dynasty. But he succeeded in conquering hearts and lives on as a Sufi saint and mystical poet.

To read the full article and to see the interesting pictures :

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41884390