Irony of Myanmar’s ‘Iron lady’: Peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi indifferent to Rohingya Muslims’ plight in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi was a world hero but does she command the same respect? This is now a question being asked repeatedly due to her apathy towards the plight of Rohingya minority and her controversial statements about their citizenship status.

The world had stood by Suu Kyi and openly supported the pro-democracy woman who had been under house arrest by the military government in Myanmar but after her release and victory, her stand on the Rohingya issue has been shocking to say the least.

Worse, Rohingyas were getting killed in the rioting when she was on a tour to Europe. She didn’t speak about the violence back home, issued no direct appeal to her people to stop violence and while newspapers said she was treated like ‘Rockstar’ and awarded doctorate, Suu Kyi made THE controversial statement.

The ‘iron’ woman, who was supposed to have spoken for the rights of the community, has gone to the extent of questioning that if the minority indeed belongs to Burma. What can be the biggest irony? She was a hero for everyone but no more for me and perhaps many others.

The Rohingyas, a stateless people, have been living in Myanmar for centuries until the military government in 1982 [through a citizenship law] decided to strip the off their nationality. The community that is termed by Amnesty and other agencies as one of the most persecuted in the world, is now termed ‘outsider’.

Rohingyas population estimates range from 8,00,000 to 1 million though it is suspected that the government figures are markedly less than the actual population. The community has faced hostility, prejudices and massacres for the last 60 years.

World Wakes up to the plight of Rohingyas

But the woman who suffered most at the hands of the military, seems to be in sync with the junta’s [army] views about the Rohingyas who have been discriminated, oppressed and systematically forced out of Burma for decades.

Now pandering to popular sentiments, Suu Kyi has refrained from making any statement. No wonder, the Rohingyas are dejected and have lost hope from the woman they had supported and even vote for in election, aiming for change. Does she feel the Bamars would get upset if she speaks for Rohingyas!

That’t what politicians do. But this is not expected from a leader of her stature. The ethnic riots between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left nearly 90 dead while 90,000 were displaced. But she ket mum. Bangladesh didn’t let fleeing Rohingyas, who wanted an asylum, and forced them to go back to their country.

It was in this scenario that reporters during her tour to England, France, Ireland and other countries, asked her repeatedly on this humanitarian crisis. She kept mum and avoided a comment on this issue, even as the extent of violence had shaken her country.

Rohingya woman cries after her husband got killed

When she was not left with any alternative, she shrewdly said, “The rule of the law is needed”.

Is this you expect from a statesman, a Nobel prize winner or a world leader or a fighter?

Newspapers were finally getting critical about the fact that her tour appeared more a celebration and PR exercise.

She seemed to echo the hardline sentiment that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants [refugees] in Myanmar.

She finally said that Myanmar must clarify citizenship rules and that she was unsure whether Rohingyas could be regarded as Maynamar nationals. WHAT A SHAME!

The world is changing Ma’am. The fascist rule had somewhat managed to keep the country insulated but news about the clashes and genocides can’t be suppressed any more.

That day I saw the group on Facebook group ‘I have no respect left for you Aung San Suu Kyi…’.A leading newspaper questions, ‘Has Suu Kyi lost that moral voice?’

It is no bravery to get aligned to right-wing forces for minor gains. Nationalism becomes Jingoism easily. It takes a GANDHI to counter populist mood and use the leader’s moral authority to say things that may not appear nice [and to go against the tide].

So those who compared you to the great Nelson Mandela, may have to do a rethink now. As an activist you struggled, spent a lifetime fighting oppressive forces. People put faith in you but you let us down.

Your tour is over and soon you will be back to Yangon [formerly Rangoon]. If you don’t speak for the victims, just because they look like Bengalis, you will be considered an accomplice in letting this persecution go on.

We urge you to make amends and take steps for reconciliation between Rohingya and the rest. Isn’t it time for you to live up to your own reputation and redeem yourself?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Story of Indore: City of Cricketers, Dreamers & Dons, Mafia and Mavericks, the Rags to Riches tales


Lata, MF Husain, Mushtaq Ali & Johnny Walker

It was in the streets of Indore watching the ‘horse’ during Muharram processions that a boy got inspiration for art and whom the world got to know as MF Husain and here was born the swashbuckling batsman–Captain Mushtaq Ali, who holds the record of scoring the first century* in test cricket for India abroad, in England.

The City where Lata Mangeshkar was born and also where born was India’s original comedian–Badruddin Qazi alias Johnny Walker, another dreamy-eyed youngster who like the illustrious painter, had left for Mumbai and became a legendary Bollywood actor, but could never forget his humble roots.

Indore has innumerable such rags to riches stories about people who turned national heroes. This is the City where Salim Khan [of scriptwriters Salim-Javed], the father of Salman Khan, belongs. Indore, which was termed mini-Bombay, was always home to vibrant culture.

The Holkar‘s cricket team for which Denis Compton also played, had brought Indore to the international cricketing map. After all, which cricket enthusiast can forget the team’s record score of 912-8 in the Ranji match against Mysore. The great Colonel CK Nayudu also played for Holkar and lived here.

In the past, Indore was always known for its communal amity and Hindu-Muslim culture. Owing to strong Muslim presence in Malwa region, in Western MP, and the towns around, Indore had a distinct place in Muslim culture of North India.

CK Nayudu, Salim Khan, Shah Bano & Rahat Indori

One of the first Muslim leaders of Jana Sangh, Arif Beg, who famously addressed election rallies with the slogan after emergency, ‘Mere Mulk ke Maalikon‘, which was loved by the common man and had made him a national figure, was born here. He rode to electoral success during the ‘Janata Lahar’ and won from Bhopal.

How the Shah Bano case changed Indian politics, gave BJP the word ‘appeasement’

It is a place to which belonged a woman who shook the Indian politics. Shah Bano, a resident of Indore, was given divorce by her lawyer husband, in her old age, and her case went up to Supreme Court. Despite opposition by Arif Mohammad Khan, Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to the conservatives’ demand.

The demand for maintenance allowance by Shah Bano turned the very face of Indian politics. It gave the word ‘appeasement’ to right-wing’s dictionary. Even though on the advise of Arun Nehru [and possibly Arun Singh], Rajiv Gandhi government got the locks of Ram temple opened at Ayodhya.

This was done as a balancing act and for the appeasement of Hindus. However, the sequence of events  affected national politics and communal amity was disturbed. LK Advani took out a ‘rath yatra’, and it ultimately led to rise of BJP and the destruction of Babri Masjid.

The right-wing had got a fresh lease of life in India due to the Shah Bano episode. For them it was was a godsend. They successfully managed to give a message to Hindus that the government went out of the way to please Muslims.

Of Mills and Marxism

Old-timers still recall with nostalgia that once Indore had a strong communist presence. The widely respected Parsi leader Homi Daji was elected from here as MLA twice and even got elected to the Parliament. He had become an MP in 1962, winning as an independent candidate, defeating the Congress and Jan Sangh.

Homi Daji

Once a city of workers, the closure of mills [you might have heard of the Jain trader-textile king Sir Seth Hukum Chand] led to unemployment in the 80s. As in Mumbai, Kanpur and Ahmedabad, the labour movements’ end led to crime and communal divide.

Naturally, underworld developed and self-styled dons appeared in these places. The sacked workers’s sons had no jobs. It was this crop of disgruntled youth who were easy prey for criminals. The situation did change in later years but even today Indore has one of the highest crime rates in the country.

Underworld: Mafia in Malwa

Indore also had a strong underworld. It supplied shooters to Mumbai gangsters till Azamgarh emerged in the 90s. Bala Baig’s empire in Indore was destroyed in the early 90s when Sunderlal Patwa became the Chief Minister.

For mafia it was a favourite region. The opium [poppy] cultivation in Mandsaur [and Ratlam] brought the area on the international drug-trafficking map. Narcotic smuggling and illegal drug trade brought money and muscle to the underworld.

The crackdown in ‘Bombay Bazaar’ in Indore, had however dealt a severe blow to Mafia here. Some localities in Indore were notorious for communal riots and there was a period when the city had riots several times a year [2005 onwards], now the city has been free from communal trouble for the last few years.

Communalism and Fanaticism

Indore has a dark underbelly. Unfortunately, it became a centre for both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists in the 90s. It was here that the leader of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) Safdar Nagori, who hails from nearby Ujjain, was arrested. SIMI was quite strong here and so was Abhinav Bharat.

The most wanted right-wing Hindu extremists, Ramji Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, apart from many other fanatics whose role is suspected in bomb blasts and terror strikes at Samjhauta Express, Hyderabad, Malegaon and Ajmer Dargah, hailed from here.

Arif Beg

Quite like Mumbai, a throbbing city with a dark underbelly. In the last few years, economy is once again back on track here and the city seems moving ahead, shedding its communal baggage and the legacy of underworld.

Today Indore is a bustling commercial centre and most populated city of Madhya Pradesh. For a poetry aficionado like me, it is also a city where Urdu poet Rahat Indori lives. Locals take pride in the fact that Rahul Dravid was also born here though he later settled in Bangalore.

Another important factor that should be mentioned is that Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of Indian constitution was born in MHOW (Military Headquarters of War, now Mhow), the twin town of Indore, located just 20-odd kms from here.

The City is also famous for the Indore gharana. Like every other big city town it has its past–good and bad phases, dark and bright areas. But what is unique about the city is the amazing personalities who were born here and who managed to achieve their dreams. Read the first part on Indore Travelogue:

1. Rajwada, the symbol of Indore’s cultural heritage
2. Investigation and Media’s role in Investigation: Indore, Hindutva’s haven!

[*The first century on foreign soil was hit by Mushtaq when he opened with Vijay Merchant, who had also hit a century in the same innings. The runs were scored so fast that India reached 390 in a day, and the overall score by both teams was 588 in a day’s play, a world record till today. Syed Mushtaq Ali remained a darling of crowds through out his cricketing career. Narendra Hirwani, who took 16 wickets in a test and the women cricketer Sandhya Agarwal who made world record with highest score in international cricket also hail from here.]




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