13 December 2017
KUTUPALONG – Under the shade of a tree, on an abandoned poultry farm less than a mile northwest of Kutupalong, lies Paschim Hindu Para, a Hindu Rohingya refugee camp. Mudaram Pal, 25, shows rope burn marks on in his arms. Marks he claims to have received from being tied up by members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, ARSA, a militant Muslim Rohingya group. Locally referred to by the Hindu Rohingyas as Ailikeen.
Back in his home of Chikon Chori, a Hindu village in the Maungdaw district of the Rakhine State, Pal had his own land raising livestock. He and his wife left it all behind to escape persecution. For the last three months, he has served as the camp director for the nearly 400 plus Hindu Rohingyas in Hindu Para in Bangladesh.
Violence escalated across the Rakhine State during the night of Aug. 25th, Pal said that in the distance he could hear gunshots. The next morning fifty men dressed in all black came to his village and asked him if they had heard the gunshots the night before, as to intimidate him and the other men in his village, and if so that they should hand over their mobile phones. The Hindu villagers complied, handed over their phones and then the Ailikeen imprisoned the village by surrounding the perimeter.
“The Ailikeen leader, Muhammad Hussein, was my neighbor, my close friend. We slept in the same bed and shared rice from the same plate, but when he joined the terrorist group he forgot everything,” said Pal.
Pal recalls that there were around fifty men, twelve had what he believes were AK-47s and the others were armed with knives and sticks.
Pal recounts that on Aug. 29th, eleven men from his village including him were tied up and blindfolded for 10 hours, beat and tortured. Two of the men had their throats slit right in front of him. “I thought for sure they would kill us all,” said Pal.
The following day the Ailikeen told them that they had burned two neighboring Hindu villages, Fakir Bazar and Rika Para, neighboring Pal’s back in Myanmar.
Pal said, “On Aug. 31st, the Ailikeen left to wage another attack, there was a 30 min window for us to escape. We left so quickly that we could not take anything with us, my wife and I just left.”
What is the Rohingya Crisis?
Human Rights Watch reports that Myanmar security forces have been carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Muslim Rohingyas in the Rakhine State, responding to what Myanmar claims were insurgent attacks by the militant Muslim Rohingya group, ARSA. Since the escalation of violence on Aug 25th., over half a million Rohingyas have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape killings, arson, and other mass atrocities.
But the violence against Rohingyas in the Rakhine State is not a new phenomenon. For over decades the Myanmar government has repressed and discriminated the Rohingyas in the Rakhine State, even going as far as to denying citizenship for the Rohingyas. The first major influx of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar into Bangladesh dates back to the 1990s, according to ReliefWeb.
Within the larger group of Muslim Rohingya refugees, there is a small minority group of Hindu Rohingyas that have also fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution. Like Muslim Rohingyas, they have faced repression and discrimination by the Myanmar government, but they also are caught in between the current fight of militant Muslim Rohingya group ARSA and the Myanmar military.
Military sources in Rakhine State told Reuters they estimated about 1,000 fighters waged the attacks, same as Pal recounts on Aug. 25th.
Pal said that the Myanmar military and ARSA have both approached the Hindu Rohingyas to fight, but the Hindu Rohingyas declined.
“The Myanmar military asked us many times, but we decided not to join because we are a small minority and we can easily be attacked. Before Aug. 25th the Ailikeen asked us to join them. They claimed us Hindus were not getting the opportunities they were fighting for too and that we should fight together to get citizenship, but we declined because we are minorities, we’re stuck in the middle of this issue,” said Pal.
But what made the Hindu Rohingyas feel unsafe in Kutupalong Refugee Camp?
According to Reuters (1)(2), last month mass graves were found of Hindu Rohingyas that had been killed during the start of the Aug. 25th violence in the Rakhine State, when Rohingya Muslim insurgents attacked villages and Myanmar military posts.
Residents of Fakir Bazar have described how militant men in black tortured and killed Hindu Rohingya men, women and children, and then burned down their villages, leading them to flee to Bangladesh for safety.
Shri Shapon Sharma, Union Council member in Teknaf, said he was the first official to help Hindu Rohingyas arriving in Bangladesh. He reaffirms that the Hindu Rohingya refugees were escaping the violence from the Ailikeen campaign.
“Before Aug. 25th, men wearing black masks surrounded Rika Para and Fakir Bazar, on Aug. 27th they started attacking the villages,” said Sharma.
He said, that in Fakir Bazar, there were eight women, whose husbands had been killed by the Ailikeen. They were then tortured and raped. The eight women, along with other villagers, fled into the jungle near the Muslim part of the village where they were again captured by the Ailikeen and tortured for 2 more days.
Sharma cannot say exactly why the eight women were released, but he was told that the eight women were forced to take shahadah, the Islamic declaration of faith, in order to cross into Bangladesh with the Muslim Rohingyas.
Once the eight women arrived in Bangladesh they did not feel safe.
Mohammad Karim, Assistant Secretary to the Rohingya Refugee Repatriation Commissioner’s Office (RRRC) and Camp initially helped the eight women.
“In the beginning a problem arose when the eight women came and stayed with the Muslim Rohingya families in the Kutupalong camp, because they had come to Bangladesh with the same Muslim Rohingya families, we thought they were with them, but we quickly learned that they didn’t feel safe at all,” said Karim.
One of the men housing some of the women approached Karim and said, “Sir they (the eight women) don’t want to stay with us anymore because one of them saw their attacker in the camp.”
Karim said the next day the eight women met with him and expressed their grievances in person, so he sought the help of two local Bangladeshi Hindus, Babul Sharma and Sujan Sharma, no relation, to relocate the eight women.
What is Hindu Para?
Karim first learned that Hindu Rohingyas were settling in a local poultry farm which is owned by a Bangladeshi Hindu named Sanjit Sharma. The farm was being managed by a man named Babul Sharma who approached Karim to inform him that they were allowing some Hindu Rohingyas to stay on the land. After word spread around the area about the experience of the eight women, more and more Hindu Rohingyas seeking refuge in Bangladesh started to settle at the poultry farm to avoid the Muslim Rohingyas.
Along the perimeter of Hindu Para are thick clumps of bamboo and walnut trees. The greenery hides rows of large blue tarp tents that house groups of 20 to 30 Hindu Rohingyas each.
Ratna Rudro, 30, is a Hindu Rohingya refugee who now lives here along with her mother, husband and five children in Hindu Para.
Rudro, adorning a vibrant printed soft cotton sari, looked over to her mother, Nuni Bala, 60, and said with sarcasm, “We are in a terrible situation, when we try to sleep the kids have to stay near us and they keep us up, and then when the kids sleep we have to work, no one gets to sleep, everybody’s sleeping together in a line with no privacy.” Her mother nodded in agreement.
“Right now everything feels safe because we have protection and we are all the same people.”
Rudro who was one of the Hindu Rohingyas who was able to flee with her family from Chikon Chori, remembers vividly the men in black that imprisoned them and killed the men in her village.
“I will not go to another camp because the other camp is where the people we are scared of are staying,” said Rudro.
The quality of living in the Hindu Camp might be better than facing persecution back home, but Rudro said since arriving in early September, the camp has dealt with the unbearable living conditions. Every day they battle the heat and humidity and many of the children have suffered from headaches, fevers, and diarrhea. Rudro said her biggest worries is that when the donations run out that they will not have food or enough medicine.
In the middle of tents and trees sits the only two toilets available to the 400 plus Hindu Refugees and the toilets sit right next to a single water pump. The inadequate shelter and bathrooms result in poor sanitation practices, which can lead to more problems for the large group of refugees staying in the camp.
Karim stressed that Hindu Para is an unofficial camp and has no affiliation with the RRRC. This means that Hindu Para does not receive any materials or food from the Bangladesh government as well.
Sujan Sharma, a local Bangladeshi Hindu, was originally working with United Sikhs, a UN-affiliated, international NGO that has been working with all the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar before the recent influx. They are one of the first organizations to start assisting the Hindu Rohingyas.
Sujan Sharma said with the help of Babul Sharma and Shri Sharma, they had to quickly establish a safe haven for the destitute Hindu Rohingyas and but are still facing problems.
Hindu Para is important for the Hindu Rohingyas, because over the months since Aug. 25th in Bangladesh the Muslim Rohingyas and Hindu Rohingyas have had their clashes.
Karim spoke about an incident where Hindu Rohingyas were ambushed by a group of Muslim Rohingyas leaving two dead. According to Karim, it was because of a business dispute. The injured Hindu Rohingyas were brought to him for treatment, he cites issues like these and the cultural differences between Muslim Rohingyas and Hindu Rohingyas make the separation a good decision.
Within Hindu Para, there have been internal disputes involving money and goods as well. On one of the days of reporting in the camps, there was a disagreement with some of the Hindu Rohingyas and Babul Sharma, the local police had to come and rectify the situation.
Incidences like these are why Karim is pursuing the creation of an official refugee camp for the Hindus.
Karim said, “It is very common right now in every camp, Muslim or Hindu, there is a lot of bad money deals which lead to disagreements and violence, one instance a man loaned money and charged 30 percent of the amount to be repaid in addition to the loan amount, there is a lot of loan sharking.”
Karim has expressed his frustration and said, “There is a lack of organization within all the camps because of the influx of Rohingya refugees. But the Bangladesh government is trying the best it can accommodate a large number of Rohingya refugees that are coming in daily.
According to the most recent UN Press Release, 607,000 Rohingyas have been displaced the vast majority, citing reports of systematic killing, sexual violence, and destruction of homes.
Karim said, “There is no 24 hour administration and who will be responsible for the makeshift camps? We already have an administration to oversee the officially registered camps. In my registered camps, I have a full structure. We have a police camp and a military battalion, but there are only 50 military men.”
Karim added that for makeshift camps like Hindu Para, he lends law enforcement for the safety of the inhabitants based on humanitarian grounds to keep law and order, but even then time to time there are stories of kidnapping and murder.
What will be the future of the Hindu Para?
For the eight women, Sujan Sharma said he helped organize their re-entry to Myanmar with the help Myanmar government during the recent annual Hindu festival known as Durga Puja, but since then does not know of their whereabouts.
Karim said that some of the Hindu Rohingyas have shifted back to Myanmar, but this is only a few of the families, but he does not know how or why they are going back.
For the other Hindu Rohingyas, Karim said, “We recently took a census of the camp and the number is presently 439 Hindu Rohingyas in the camp, the numbers are small enough that we can relocate them to an official camp, but we are waiting for approval by the Bangladesh government for this decision.”
The Hindu Para is actually located in one of Bangladesh’s largest Hindu communities in the largely populated nation, which makes it the safest place in Bangladesh for Hindu Rohingyas.
When asked about life in Hindu Para, Pal said life in the Hindu camps is peaceful compared to the persecution that the Hindu Rohingyas faced in Myanmar.
Even though Pal says they were attacked by the militant Muslim Rohingya group, Pal said, “We are not scared of the Muslim Rohingyas because we know they are not all part of the Ailikeen.”
With some reflection, Pal argues that the Rohingyas have been pushed into a corner. Some of the Muslim Rohingyas have turned to violence after decades of persecution to make their plight recognized by the world.
But is ARSA helping or hurting the Rohingya people?
Pal understands the frustrations of Muslim Rohingyas, but answers, “They are organizing for their rights and citizenship, but for this group (Ailikeen), all of the Rohingyas are now suffering.”
By: Adnan Khan
Facebook: Adnan Khan