By Sharu Chakraborty, Freelancer
Kolkatta: The endonym of at least 3000 old or 300 million of Bengali origin comes under stern attacks recently from Myanmar, which shares the border with the largest Bengali-populated country Bangladesh.
“Bengali” represents the immense pride of 163 million and 80 million Bengalis living in both Bangladesh and West Bengal respectively. Not to mentions other over 50 million more all over the world.
“Bengali” has its significance in ethnicity, religion, culture, linguistics and geographical location. “Bengali” is a multi-religious entity and symbolizes Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity.
However, the Buddhist-majority country Myanmar which has more than 1000 miles of land border with Bangladesh and India, backs the defamation of the name officially and openly through media and state’s policies.
Myanmar has recently come out of more than 60 years of military regime, who have ruled with iron-fist and extremely discriminatory and xenophobic policies.
Rohingya Muslims who have lived at least a thousand years in Arakan – now Rakhine State of Myanmar, were once recognised as an ethnic group of Myanmar. However, they were persecuted under the military regime striping of their nationality, citizenship and forbidding to use their ethnic name “Rohingya”.
Since the military regime, Rohingya have been facing the forced-ethnic-reclassification to “Bengali” because of their skin colour, spoken language, culture and religion despite Myanmar was founded to embrace multiculturalism and respect religions.
The regime has propagated the term “Bengali” through polices and state-propaganda, referring that Rohingya have illegally migrated from Bangladesh during British colonial time and still infiltrating, when in the completely contrary, Rohingya have ever been fleeing Myanmar since campaigns to wipe them off began in early 1970s. Now more than 550,000 live as refugees in Bangladesh, approximately 40,000 in India, and nearly a million in different part of the world as stateless and refugees.
Even though now the country is transformed and ruled by Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country has seen a massive amount of forces being used against the persecuted Rohingya in military campaigns, leaving hundreds of dead which very likely amounted to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
It is fuelled by the government supports to label them as “Bengali”, that the government, the military and the public feel to remove the entire community either through mass killing and displacement, or sending to a third country.
After a handful of Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar police stations on 25 August, the government instructed media to refer Rohingya as “Bengali Terrorists”, which is a clear defamation attack towards hundreds million of Bengalis living all over the whole.
The social media in Myanmar is currently filled up of “Bengali Terrorist” or “Bengali Terrorism”, and often mentions that Bengalis are taking over the country when Bengalis have nothing to do with the matters of Rohingya.
The defamation of Bengali endonym will directly affects the reputation of Bengalis as “Bengali Terrorists” phrase or hashtag is wildly propagated on the global social media, which ultimately impacts the entire Bengali ethnicity who have always resorted in peace and famed for its unique culture and multiculturalism.
The silence of the government of Bangladesh also fuels the defamation of “Bengali”. The government’s stance towards misuse of the name is also highly disappointing and condemn-able as it shares border with Myanmar and shelter hundreds of thousands Rohingya refugees.
Bangladesh is also to be blamed in the plight of Rohingya because it remains silent when Rohingya are forced to the ethnic-classification despite not related to “Bengali” of Bengal. The silence continues to affect two ethnic groups at once – Rohingya’s ethnic genocide and Bengali’s bad image on international stage as “Bengali Terrorists”.
It is time for both the government of Bangladesh and Bengalis from West Bengal and all over the world regardless of faiths, to stand up against the abuse of our culturally and historically rich identity.
We have also responsibility to raise our voice against the persecution of another ethnic group Rohingya, who are suffering for the silence of ours.