By M.S. Anwar
As Myanmar’s government is all set to resume the census on Rohingya population tomorrow, the Rohingyas in Arakan (Rakhine) State fear that they will be forced to accept ‘Bengali,’ instead of ‘Rohingya,’ as their ethnic identity.
During the nationwide census carried out in March and April last year, the Myanmar government took extremely brutal measures against the Rohingya people. However, the people were steadfast and still resisted from being forcibly classified as Bengalis.
The so-called citizenship verification process will be conducted according to 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma which will render the Rohingyas to be without the legitimate citizenship.
The local Rohingyas in Arakan view that the attempt by the Myanmar (Burmese) government to classify them as Bengalis is being made in direct response to the Resolution by United Nations (UN) to give full citizenship to the Rohingyas. The Burmese government is notorious for ignoring the international calls to respect the human rights or rather acting contrary and continuing committing crimes against humanity.
Once Rohingyas are verified as Bengalis by force, tortures or any means, the Burmese government can ignore the UN’s call and in turn, urge the UN to use Bengalis for Rohingyas in the international field.
The attempt by the Myanmar (Burmese) government to classify them as Bengalis is being made in direct response to the Resolution by United Nations (UN) to give full citizenship to the Rohingyas.
“We urge all our people, at home and abroad, to stand united and show solidarity at this critical time. Like we did to resist the forced classification of our people as Bengalis during March-April last year! It is a litmus test for us. Once we pass this test as a people or a nation, the government will have to act according to the call by the United Nations. And we will get back our full citizenship which we lost due to 1982 Citizenship Law” said an elder Rohingya in Maungdaw.
As preliminary steps, the Burmese authority has already started posing threats to tortures, imprisonments or even death threats to the Rohingya people after linking them with the now non-existent rebel groups such as Rohingya Solidarity Organizations (*RSO). Besides, the locals see the (so-called) citizenship verification process as an ethnic cleansing act by the Burmese government.
“Many Rohingyas have National Registration Cards (NRC or in Burmese). And their NRC numbers mentioned in the family registration list or the existing census documents of the government. Therefore, the authority is said to change the current family registration list with new ones so that no NRC numbers no remain on the official documents.
At the moment, if any Rohingya is on a journey or away from home for months during census, the authority truly write that he is on a journey. But this time, he/she is absent from home at the time of the census, the authority will permanently erase his/her from the official census documents. Consequently, he/she will not be able to come back home and live there legally. Hence, it is an obvious sign of ethnic cleansing.
Besides, it is said that the authority will list down the numbers of the Muslim Religious scholars separately” said a Rohingya Activist behalf of MYARF, a group of Human Rights Activists in Maungdaw.
On the other hand, during the recent visit by the Rakhine State’s Chief Minister, Maung Maung Ohn, and other government officials to the Thakkay Pyin village also known as Sakki Fara in Sittwe (Akyab), he asked Rohingyas to participate in their (self-coined) citizenship process according to 1982 Citizenship Law. He tried to coax Rohingya people using some sugar-coated words of the significant improvement in the socioeconomic life of the people if they participate in the process.
It is extremely crucial for the Myanmar’s hybrid civilian government to have more than 1 Million votes of Rohingyas in their favor against the National League for Democracy (NLD) going to participate in the election in full-fledged form this time.
However, the Rohingyas are said to have replied to the minister saying “we have been living here since the time of immemorial. We are not illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Bangladesh has come into existence only after 1971. Our forefathers have lived here. We are living here. We have been here since before 1823.
Therefore, we are by birth citizens. We need not go through any citizenship verification. We need not apply for any citizenship newly.”
Last but not the least; Myanmar has announced that the country’s election is going to take place later this year. Therefore, it is extremely crucial for the Myanmar’s hybrid civilian government to have more than 1 Million votes of Rohingyas in their favor against the National League for Democracy (NLD) going to participate in the election in full-fledged form this time.
Since the government’s recent proposal on granting suffrage to the *white card holders met with strong objections from the oppositions, it is required for the government to issue a kind of legal document to the white-card holders for getting more votes. On the other hand, it (the legal document) should not ensure the white card holders to have the status of the full-fledged citizenship. That is where the citizenship verification process of Rohingya according to of 1982 Citizenship has come into implementation. A successful implementation of the law against the Rohingyas will lead them to lose their ethnic identity ‘Rohingya’ forever