You Do Not Care About Rohingyas Because They Are Not Indian Citizens, Seriously Mr Goswami!
ASHOKA JAHNAVI PRASAD
NEW DELHI: The evening before I happened to watch the Republic channel at 9 p.m. The subject of the first debate was the Rohingya refugees and whether India should accept them. The debate was scheduled presumably because the Union Government has , in its deposition before the Supreme Court made is clear that they are disinclined to accept the 40,000 refugees on security grounds and indicated that they would be prepared to share the evidence they have to support this contention in a sealed envelope.
Personally I would be satisfied with this position as I do accept that the State's primary responsibility is to ensure the security of its citizens . Additionally I also concede that not all the intelligence information can be made public. The very fact that the State is prepared to share the information to the apex court in order for it to make an informed decision is ,in my view, a satisfactory proposition. That incidentally distinguishes us from a state like Pakistan which can sentence someone to death and refuse to share the grounds on basis of national security. Its is a deeply unsettling proposition that a state to have the unchallenged right to functional opacity on grounds of national security. I would happily accept the ruling by the apex court in this regard .
But what seems to be happening is quite the reverse. We have been treated to a whole lot of videos by different channels suggesting a link between the Rohingyas and the terrorist organizations. In one , the arch terrorist Hafiz Saeed is exhorting the Rohingyas to launch a jihad. The video was undoubtedly very infuriating and likely to get any Indian's hackles up- but what is does not establish is whether the Rohingyas have accepted the proposition and actually been influenced by it.
It also does not establish how many and what proportion of Rohingyas have been mesmerized by Saeed's rantings. In other words, we are being asked to take a quantum leap and accept the government's position unquestioningly.
Another plea that is being propounded is the past history of Rohingyas ; they are supposed to have acted against the Burmese independence movement during the struggles. Again I am not impressed! There are many people in India whose forbears that actively thrown in their lot with the British and they live happily as Indian citizens without being labelled as 'security threats.'
The only satisfactory resolution of this conundrum would be to wait for the Court ruling. I would be content for them to be excluded if the Court rules that the evidence of them being security threats is credible.
But instead of waiting for this to happen, we were treated to an unhealthy spectacle, very high on decibels and jingoism with a shouting match conspicuously short on logic and reasoned analysis.
I was flabbergasted to hear Arnab Goswami declare that he 'did not care one bit' what happened to the Rohingyas because they were not Indian citizens and it was not his responsibility! This incidentally is an entirely different plea from the RohIngyas being a 'security threat.' And I for one would like to believe that Arnab Goswami does not speak for India when he makes this contention!
I am just as Indian as Arnab Goswami or anyone else. I agree with him that our nationality rightfully should be on a higher pedestal than our caste. religious or regional affiliations. But where I take issues with him is when he declares that 'there is nothing that is superior to nationalism!!'
My nationalism is unshakeable. And if the Supreme Court indeed were to feel that influx of Rohingyas did pose a threat to my nation, I would not be in favour of their incorporation within the Indian Union. But if the threat did not exist , I would invariably place my humanism over my nationalism and I am unapologetic about it. After all , in this day and age , it is easy enough to change your nationality; but the humanism quotient of an individual remains with him or her ! Having lived abroad for over three decades, I can state that I always tended to gravitate towards those who displayed more humanism rather than any nationality. And that is what I expect from my fellow Indians.
I can recall 1971 when the Bangladeshi refugees had come over to India to escape genocide. I have a feeling that Mr.Goswami was probably not even born at the time but those who were old enough would recall how as a country we bent over backwards and supported the oppressed lot. We had to pay taxes on practically everything-including the postcards- to support them. There were many epidemics as a consequence of unhealthy conditions within the refugee camps. And of course there were suggestions that many of these people posed security threats. I also recall Burma at the time had refused entry to the refugees.
The situation here is not exactly analogous but it is clear that the Rohingyas are being made to feel unwelcome in their native land. The moot question we have to ponder over is if it is proven they are not security threats , should the world look the other way! In my view that would be a collossall abrogation of our international responsibilities.
Let us recall the early 1970's when Idi Amin threw out the Indian Ugandans on the flimsiest grounds. They were given only a few days to leave the country. All of them had the British citizenship but curiously that did not confer upon them the right of abode in the United Kingdom. One of my very close friend Bhupendra Patel , now a distinguished medical practitioner in the U.K. was one of the thousands of victims. I remember how outraged we felt because I suspect we felt a sense of ethnic bonding but I would like to believe that there was also an undercurrent of humanism.
Much later in 1979, the word was confronted with the crisis of the Vietnamese boat people. Thousands of Vietnamese boarded nearly empty handed on boats headed nowhere. The United Nations came into operation and they were accepted by different countries. I recall Margaret Thatcher making the same argument -that they would pose security threats. But under international pressure many countries accepted them all. Some of them have established businesses and become millionaires. Even a civil war ridden country like Zimbabwe accepted a few.The plight of the Rohingyas is eerily similar.
I also believe that the international concern over human rights is driven by expedient concerns . My extensive involvement with medical relief activities around the world have only served to strengthen this contention. How else would one explain the international apathy over the biggest human rights atrocity in the post War period viz. the forcible eviction of the entire Diego Garcian population from their island nation in 1966 to make way for a US military base!
They have been languishing in refugee camps ever since. I interacted with many of them when I worked in Seychelles and the UK and have campaigned for their rights for over 35 years. Our concern over human rights is selective as I believe the plight of Diego Garcians demans us all yet we remain silent.Closer home Arnab does have a point that Owaisi's concern for Kashmiri Pandits is conspicuously absent.
I must also declare that I had opportunities to interact with late Michael Aris , Aung San Suu Kyi's husband during my time in Oxford and I was an unabashed admirer of Daw Kyi . Some may recall I had in an article I had penned 5 years ago stated that she was perhaps as deserving of the Bharat Ratna as Mandela - maybe even more so because of her links with India. Her actions of late have mystified me but for the time being I am withholding any judgement of why whe has adopted such a stand so uncharacteristic of her.
The priority now is to make sure that if indeed the Rohingyas are not a security threat , they should be accepted by everyone who values human life and dignity.