By Ananta Yusuf/ The Daily Star
August 29, 2014
This week the Star interviews a Rohingya refugee who shares his experience of surviving the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmarese (Burmese) junta
It was a cloudy night of September 15, 2012. Amidst an undulating sea of harvest and blades of tall grass, Alauddin Miah (pseudonym), a rich farmer, took shelter with his extended family. The thunder of clouds and the scream of the wounded, innocent people slowly faded away, but that frightening image remained with him as he says, “It was the third day, we were staying on the beel (wetland used as a paddy field). I can still hear the scream of the wounded. The nearby canal was flooded with blood and corpses.” In fear of ethnic atrocities, Udong, which is 12 km south to Mungdow town of Myanmar, was nearly abandoned. People left behind everything that they had at home in search of a safe place. Like Alauddin, many people took shelter in the wet lands of the beel, they thought it to be a safe hideout. It proved wrong later.
Alauddin, a middle aged man, wearing a Panjabi, tupi and lungi, still lives with his traumatic memory. He says that these features and his language make him more vulnerable because the dialect is quite similar to Chittagonian. And he believes that it is one of the reasons that Rohingya community was excluded from their citizenship right.
At the beginning of our conversation he seems happy. But as the conversation goes on and he recollects his chilling experience, his voice becomes louder and wet with grief.
He says that although the tension has always been there in the Rakhain State, a few years ago the situation was quite congenial for living and running business. For that reason, in 2007, he bought some land for cultivation. However, he lost most of it including cultivable lands during the last atrocities in 2012 that took many lives. He says, “My sons were also farmers, and they helped to cultivate my land which I was forced to leave behind. I have 20 kanis of farming land. I have also a garden of shupari, which is 4 kanis. Three years ago I built a three-storied building. Only my daughter-in-law and my wife decided to stay back. We tried to convince them to flee Myanmar but they didn’t come with us. The Mogs (Burmese) grabbed all our land and left us nothing to survive on.”
During last year’s ethnic cleansing, the Rohingyas of Udong stayed home during the day but after the dusk, they went to the nearby hideouts and stayed there for the whole night. He recalls, “When the sun rose, one of my sons would check to see whether it was safe to return home. The adults would stay awake the whole night. My family is quite big. So we took care of the children but it was not an easy place to survive in.”
His family consisting of 13 members would lie down on the ground because if the Mogs saw any head above the grass they would shoot at sight. Even if a mosquito bit, they could not hit it with hands, and had to bear the sting, as the resulting sounds could wreak havoc on them. A young boy, Harun, died in a similar situation. After killing him, they threw his body in the river.
He seems sad while expressing his grievances that still remain fresh in his memory, “I can still recall how two pious men of our village were killed in the village mosque. We were not permitted to visit the mosque, and if the Mogs saw anyone praying in the mosque, they would just shoot at them. A moulvi (priest) was killed while doing his ruku. I was present in the mosque when they killed those pious men, and I managed to flee from the scene. Many others were injured in the assault that day. A Mog tried to stab me with a dagger; I still carry a wound in my thigh. We were lucky to escape.”
From that day onwards, they could not return home and had starved for a week, and when the situation got a little better, they went back to collect some dry food and found that the whole village was looted by the Mogs. He says, “We found some food from our stock. We passed three months surviving on that, and shared it with our neighbours.”
After the recent ethnic violence erupted in September 2012, many Rohingyas were sent to refugee camps all around the state, with strict restrictions placed on their rights to travel, to continue higher education and even on their right to marry. So the young girls were sent to Bangladesh for marriage. In 2013, Alauddin sent his eldest son and one of his daughters to Bangladesh, “It is the only possible way to arrange marriage. They put restriction on every sphere of our lives. And for that reason we sent our girls to Bangladesh to survive.”
He says initially the Muslims tried to resist the attacks. But the Rohingya Muslim leaders warned them to remain silent because they feared that any retaliation by Muslims would lead to an even more dangerous situation. The leaders advised, “Let them do whatever they want to. Just try to be safe. Don’t try to fight back. We are not in a situation to fight the Mogs or the Burmese army.” But some of the youths didn’t pay heed to the advice, as they couldn’t tolerate the murders and the looting any longer. He explains, “But they could not fight them. Is it really possible to fight against machine guns with bamboo sticks? In all these years, I’ve learnt that there is no other option for Rohingyas but to be killed, either by Mogs or by Bengalis.”
According to Alauddin, he had no other options but to cross the border, as his family was brutally tortured and one of his younger brothers was kidnapped. He says, “If we find the assurance of our own identity in the census as a Rohingya, the return of our grabbed land, and of course security, we are more than willing to leave.” He insists that he wants to go back because, “No one wants to die in a foreign land.”