Burma is a country located between South Asia and South East Asia, with an area of about 261,970 square miles and a population of nearly 56 million with a population density of 75 per square kilometer (190 /sq mi), one of the lowest in Southeast Asia.It achieved independence from Britain on January 4 of 1948 as “Union of Burma.” It is home to nearly 140 ethnic groups each with its own language, customs and beliefs (of which only 134 outside the majority Burmese are recognized by the government) who inhabit 7 states comprising roughly 60% of the total area.
Burmese history records constant struggle between competing forces starting in the 10th century with the Kings of Bagan and later at the courts of Ava and Amarapura. Some want autonomy, others just want a better deal and some find no voice at all. The new constitution recognizes the ethnic diversity of Myanmar and acknowledges the traditions and customs of indigenous people – the tricky bit is keeping everyone happy.
Muslim’s Sufferings in Burma byFateh Ullah Khan Kundi
The Muslim populations do, however, face religious persecution and it is hard, if not impossible, for non-Buddhists to join the army or get government jobs, the main route to success in the country. Such persecution and targeting of Muslims is particularly notable in Eastern Burma, where over 3000 villages have been destroyed in the past ten years.
The Burmese are the largest and most dominant ethnic group, who inhabit the remainder 7 divisions. The majority people are followers of Theraveda Buddhism.
Muslims (4% of total Burmese population) form the second largest religious community, numbering 7 to 10 million people. Almost every city or town in Burma has a Muslim community. There are also Muslim and mixed Muslim villages throughout Burma. Rakhine State (formerly known as Arakan State) in western Burma has the highest concentration of Muslim inhabitants. Muslims have lived in Burma for more than a millennium, although some have arrived only after Burma’s annexation by Great Britain in the early 19th century. Christianity and other religions are also practiced. Islam is also practiced in Burma by Burmese, Indians, ethnic Bengalis and some ethnic minorities.
The rule by the military junta of Burma is tyrannical and despotic one. There is no independent judiciary in Burma. Forced labor, human trafficking, and child labor are common. The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including allegations of systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves as porters for the military and when it comes to Muslim minority, the wilderness cross the limits.
Burma’s draconian citizenship law makes it impossible for many Muslims to become citizens and receive national identity cards. Without the identity cards, Muslims have a difficult time traveling, getting an education or finding a job. They cannot carry on social relations and conduct business. Because of racial and religious discrimination and lack of an identity card, they cannot even get a job in a private company. The lucky few who are able to get identity cards are barred from holding high office in any government job.
Religious restrictions have also been placed on Muslims. They cannot bring the Qur’an or religious books from outside nor are they allowed to print them inside. There is a prohibition on the construction of new mosques and repairs to existing ones are limited to the interiors only. Groups of more than five Muslims are prohibited from assembling in cities and towns. Permission must be sought, which is often denied, to hold religious ceremonies and celebrate social occasions. Muslim religious leaders are under constant surveillance by the SPDC. They cannot conduct religious and social services properly. All Islamic schools are now banned. Muslim Imams cannot teach Islam in any gathering, even in the privacy of their homes.
The SPDC regime exploits religion to strengthen its hold onto power. It confiscates Muslim land and properties and alters demography by implanting Buddhists from outside to settle. Muslim-owned land and homes are then delivered to these new settlers. To bolster their Buddhist image, while they demolish mosques and Islamic schools, they are engaged in massively expensive pagoda-building and Buddhist ceremonies. Many of these pagodas and monasteries are built on confiscated Muslim properties. Worse still, Muslims must pay for such construction projects, including Buddhist festivities and funeral services. Muslim cemeteries are now routinely desecrated for conducting Buddhist funeral services. Islam is treated as a “threat” involving foreigners (the “Ka La” – blacks or Indians from outside; used derogatorily).
Racial and religious tensions have run high between Muslims and Burmese since independence in 1948. Successive Burmese regimes have encouraged or instigated violence against Muslims as a way of diverting the public’s attention away from economic or political concerns. The most recent outbreak of violence against Muslims occurred in the Arakan state in February of this year. To instigate these riots, sometimes the members of the regime have been found to spread rumors and distribute booklets and leaflets enticing Buddhists to attack Muslims. As a result, many mosques, homes, shops and schools were destroyed and many Muslims were killed or injured. Many people are of the view; about 20,000 Muslims have been killed in the past few weeks.
Racist teachers (representing state-sponsored religion) have been known to teach that Muslims were brought in by the colonial regime and have only caused problem. Many are forced to convert to the religion of the majority if they want to gain access to higher education and better job. Students are expelled from the schools if they refuse to learn the religion of the majority people. Muslim elders are arrested for submitting petition requesting that Muslims students be spared from such religious classes. Building of Muslims schools is banned and Muslim religious teachers routinely face torture and execution.
Muslim villagers are ordered to worship the god of the majority people. They must also pay obeisance to (worship) monks, failing which they may face torture and death. Villagers are pressured to convert to religion of the majority. They are forced to contribute large chunks of money toward donations to monasteries for the dominant religious group. Muslim places of worship are routinely demolished to make room for altars of the dominant group. Muslim homes and shops are destroyed under all kinds of pretexts. Muslims are also ordered to erect shelf altars in their homes. They are ordered to become vegetarians and not to raise cattle. Eating meat may result in heavy fines, including torture and imprisonment.
While the situation is simply bleak for all inside Burma except a privileged class within the Burmese ethnic group professing Buddhism (who runs the SPDC – State Peace and Development Council – regime), the situation is worse for Muslims and worst yet for the Rohingya Muslims who live in the Arakan (Rakhine) state of Burma. Their suffering simply has no parallel in our time because of their Muslim identity and annulment of citizenship rights.
(To Be Concluded)