People shout slogans as they are stopped by police during a protest rally in Kolkata on September 11, 2017, against the killing of Rohingya in Myanmar. Photo: Reuters / Rupak De Chowdhuri
People shout slogans as they are stopped by police during a protest rally in Kolkata on September 11, 2017, against the killing of Rohingya in Myanmar. Photo: Reuters / Rupak De Chowdhuri

On September 11, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein issued a scathing statement criticizing Myanmar for its systemic persecution of the Muslim ethnic Rohingya.

The statement confirms our worst fears that women and children are being massacred, and the young and elderly men are being systematically targeted with barbarity. At this critical juncture, the Indian government’s decision to deport Rohingya refugees is being questioned by Indian Muslim leaders and intellectuals, who believe that this goes against India’s Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (‘the world is one family’) tradition.

The Founder-President of the All-India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichhauchwi has demanded that the Government of India should shelter the refugees. Syed Salman Chishti, a noted Sufi activist, Dargah Ajmer Sharif says: “Atithi devo bhava (‘the guest is equivalent to God’) is not only a promo for the tourism department [but also] a well-established and deep-rooted culture of India”.

But a key question usually overlooked is the silence over Muslim countries not stepping up to absorb the distressed Rohingya? According to a 2014 Amnesty International report Left Out In The Cold, the Gulf Cooperation Council—which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE—has failed to absorb a single Syrian refugee since the crisis began in 2011.

These Muslim countries, which are among the wealthiest nations, do extend financial aid and large donations to the Muslim immigrants and refugees. But they have stopped well short of absorbing them as citizens or even refugees.This also raises another question: why do Indian Muslim leaders remain silent spectators when human rights of religious minorities are violated in predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other parts of the Islamic world?

Indian Muslim outfits like the AIUMB, Jamiat ul-Ulama-e Hind (JUH) and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) have rightly urged the Indian government, United Nations and international human rights organizations to help the Rohingya, who in some estimations are facing genocide at the hands of the Myanmar authorities in the Rakhine region.

While expressing concern over killings of Rohingyas, Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, president of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind demanded that the United Nations, the OIC and various human rights organizations “pressurize the [Myanmar] government to stop killing their own countrymen, restore their citizenship, remove all restrictions on their travel and focus on their social and economic upliftment”, as reported by the Jamaat’s mouthpiece India Tomorrow.

Similarly, the Jamiat ul-Ulama-e Hind (JUH) has urged the United Nations to convene a Security Council meeting to set a deadline for Myanmar to change its attitude towards the Rohingya Muslims. JUH has also urged the Indian government to grant refuge to Rohingyas seeking asylum in India. “In this regard, India should follow the developed nations, including the European Union,” the JUH said, as  reported in The Times of India.

But these Islamic organizations in India barely voice their opinion when grievous human rights violations occur in predominantly Muslim countries at the behest of their regimes or Islamist terror outfits. So, the question arises: are human rights to be accorded only to Muslim minorities living in the non-Islamic countries? Does the ulema and Islamic leaders ever condemn it when thousands of Muslim girls are kidnapped and indoctrinated into the idea of the ‘Islamic State’ and then exploited and maimed in the name of Nikah al-Jihad?

The Rohingya crisis is essentially a human rights issue. Of course, the Indian government’s plan to deport some 40,000 Rohingya will not go down well with the country’s centuries-old pluralistic ethos. India has a long record of helping vulnerable populations fleeing from neighboring countries, including Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Tibet. Most importantly, the Rohingya refugees should be helped on humanitarian grounds, and not on the basis of religion. Those trying to determine the refugees’ lot on the basis of religion rather than humanity have ulterior motives.

It is also imperative that the Indian government drops the existing religious criteria in its refugee law. The Government of India has proposed the amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make the naturalization process easier. But regrettably, the new bill only benefits people belonging to Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Sikhism, which are considered minority religions in their countries of origin. The exclusion of displaced Muslims is a stark omission.

Though India is not a signatory to any international treaties  obligating it to offer refuge, it has always sheltered refugees fleeing conflict and disaster, be they be Syrian Christians, the Malabar Jews, or the Parsis of Iran who fled persecution. Therefore, the deportation of the Rohingyas will be a significant departure from this humane tradition that has shaped India’s foreign policy as well as its position in the global order.

Remarkably, the Supreme Court of India has sought to know the government’s stand on a plea challenging its plan to deport Rohingya refugees. Also, it is gratifying to note that the Indian government has assured that it is “not going to shoot them or throw them into the ocean”.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of classical Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in media and communication studies.

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