||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (February 2015)|
|1,424,000–2,000,000[not in citation given]|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Myanmar (Arakan), Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia, India|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Islam by country|
The Rohingya people[note 1] (Ruáingga /ɹuájŋɡa/, Burmese: ရိုဟင်ဂျာ rui hang gya /ɹòhɪ̀ɴɡjà/, Bengali: রোহিঙ্গা Rohingga /ɹohiŋɡa/) are Muslim people who live in northern Rakhine (Arakan) and speak the Rohingya language. According to Rohingyas and some scholars, they are indigenous to the state of Rakhine, while other historians often claim that they migrated to Burma from Bengal primarily during the period of British rule, and to a lesser extent, after the Burmese independence in 1948 and Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.
Muslims have settled in Arakan since the 15th century AD although the number of Muslim settlers before the British rule cannot be precisely estimated. After the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1826, British annexed Arakan and encouraged migrations from Bengal to work as farm laborers. Muslim population may have constituted 5% of Arakan's population by 1869, although estimates for earlier years give higher numbers. Successive British censuses of 1872 and 1911 recorded an increase in Muslim population from 58,255 to 178,647 in Akyab District. During the World War II, inter-communal violence broke out between British-armed V-Force recruits of Rohingya and ethnic Rakhines and the region became increasingly polarized. In 1982, General Ne Win's government enacted the citizenship law which denied Rohingya citizenship. Since the 1990s, the term Rohingya increaed in usage among Rohingya communities.
As of 2013, about 1.3 million Rohingyas live in Burma. They constitute 40% of total state's population and reside mainly in the northern Rakhine townships where they form 80-98% of the population. International media and human rights organizations have described Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Many Rohingyas have fled to ghettos and refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, and to areas along the Thai-Burmese border. More than 100,000 Rohingyas in Burma continue to live in camps for internally displaced persons, not allowed by authorities to leave. Rohingyas have received international attention in the wake of 2012 Rakhine State riots.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 2.1 Kingdom of Mrauk U
- 2.2 Burmese conquest
- 2.3 British colonial rule
- 2.4 World War II Japanese occupation and inter-communal violence
- 2.5 Post-war insurgency and Mayu frontier administration
- 2.6 Post-independence immigration and Bangladesh Liberation War
- 2.7 'Rohingya' movement (1990-present)
- 2.8 Burmese juntas (1990-2011)
- 2.9 2012 Rakhine State riots
- 2.10 Historical demographics
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Language
- 5 Religion
- 6 Human rights problems and refugee status
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
The term "Rohingya" comes from Rakhanga or Roshanga, the words for the state of Arakan in Bengali language. Though some Rohingya scholars have proposed various origins including the Arabic word Rahma, meaning 'mercy,' and Ruha, a geographic entity in Afghanistan, historians and linguists have rejected the claims. The term is highly controversial in Burma due to its association with indigenous status. Before the riots in 2012, most Muslims in Rakhine from the same ethno-linguistic background (now commonly refer to as Rohingya in international media) did not identify as Rohingya.[note 1]
Arakan history expert Jacques P. Leider points out that in precolonial sources, the term Rohingya, in the form of Rooinga appears only once in a text written by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton. In his 1799 article “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire,” Hamilton stated: "I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan." Leider emphasizes that Hamilton did not refer to the Muslim community as Rooinga in his later voluminous studies. He adds, "The etymology of the word does not say anything about politics. You use this term for yourself as a political label to give yourself identity in the 20th century. Now how is this term used since the 1950s? It is clear that people who use it want to give this identity to the community that live there."
Other than a variation in Hamilton's work, the term was absent in historical sources before the 1950s. Historian Aye Chan from Kanda University of International Studies states that though Mulims have lived long in Arakan, the term Rohingya was created by descendants of Bengalis in the 1950s who had migrated into Arakan during colonial times. He also says the term cannot be found in any historical source in any language before the 1950s. This view has been echoed by former British Ambassador Derek Tonkin. Tonkin writes, "In the absence of any British archival documentation over the 122 years of their stewardship of Arakan, I can only conclude that 'Rohingya' is a designation which came into existence and usage after the Second World War." He further argues that "The international campaign to support the 'Rohingyas', as many but by no means all Muslims in Rakhine State now style themselves, has been so successful that it has become confrontational and so counterproductive to any solution" and suggests an alternative to use 'Arakan Muslims' to refer to the minority. As a way to resolve the impasse, he urges ethnic Rakhine to "accept the historical reality about the continuous presence of Muslims in Arakan for a very long time" and Rohingya supporters to "acknowledge that the particular designation 'Rohingya' had no serious historical validity prior to independence in 1948."
After riots in 2012, academic authors use the term Rohingya to refer to the Muslim community in northern Rakhine without mentioning its historical context. Professor Andrew Selth of Griffith University for example, uses "Rohingya" but states "These are Bengali Muslims who live in Arakan State...most Rohingyas arrived with the British colonialists in the 19th and 20th centuries." Among the overseas Rohingya community, the term gains popularity since the 1990s though a considerable portion of Muslims in northern Rakhine are unfamiliar with the term and prefer to use alternatives.
Although Muslim settlements have long existed in Arakan, the original settlers before the British rule are generally assumed to be few. Their descendants are believed to live in central Arakan near Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships, rather than the Mayu frontier area (near Chittagong Division, Bangladesh), where the majority of Rohingya are populated.  Apart from Rohingya, there are Kamein (original settlers from Mughal Empire) and other Muslim minorities in Rakhine who are officially recognized as indigenous ethnic groups and have Burmese citizenship. After four decades of British rule in 1869, Muslim settlers reached 5% of Arakan's population. The number steadily increased until the World War II. Further waves of immigration occurred after Burmese independence in 1948 and violent separation of East Pakistan in 1971.
Kingdom of Mrauk U
Early evidence of Bengali Muslim settlements in Arakan date back to the time of King Narameikhla (1430–1434) of the Kingdom of Mrauk U. After 24 years of exile in Bengal, he regained control of the Arakanese throne in 1430 with military assistance from the Sultanate of Bengal. The Bengalis who came with him formed their own settlements in the region.
Narameikhla ceded some territory to the Sultan of Bengal and recognised his sovereignty over the areas. In recognition of his kingdom's vassal status, the kings of Arakan received Islamic titles and used the Bengali Islamic coinage within the kingdom. Narameikhla minted his own coins with Burmese characters on one side and Persian characters on the other. Arakan's vassalage to Bengal was brief. After Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah's death in 1433, Narameikhla's successors repaid Bengal by occupying Ramu in 1437 and Chittagong in 1459. Arakan would hold Chittagong until 1666.
Even after gaining independence from the Sultans of Bengal, the Arakanese kings continued the custom of maintaining Muslim titles. The Buddhist kings compared themselves to Sultans and fashioned themselves after Mughal rulers. They also continued to employ Muslims in prestigious positions within the royal administration. The Bengali Muslim population increased in the 17th century, as they were employed in a variety of workforces in Arakan. Some of them worked as Bengali, Persian and Arabic scribes in the Arakanese courts, which, despite remaining Buddhist, adopted Islamic fashions from the neighbouring Sultanate of Bengal. The Kamein, who are regarded as one of the official ethnic groups of Burma, are descended from these Muslims.
Following the Burmese conquest of Arakan in 1785, as many as 35,000 Arakanese people fled to the neighbouring Chittagong region of British Bengal in 1799 to escape Burmese persecution and to seek protection from British India. The Burmese rulers executed thousands of Arakanese men and deported a considerable portion of the Arakanese population to central Burma, leaving Arakan as a scarcely populated area by the time the British occupied it.
According to an article on the "Burma Empire" published by the British Francis Buchanan-Hamilton in 1799, "the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan," "call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan." However, according to Derek Tokin, Hamilton no longer used the term to refer to the Muslims in Arakan in his later publications. Sir Henry Yule saw many Muslims serving as eunuchs in Konbaung Dynasty Burma while on a diplomatic mission there. These Muslim eunuchs came from Arakan. Their descendants are now known as Kamein minority in Arakan.
British colonial rule
British policy encouraged Bengali inhabitants from adjacent regions to migrate into the then lightly populated and fertile valleys of Arakan as farm laborers. The East India Company extended the Bengal administration to Arakan, thus there was no international boundary between Bengal and Arakan, and no restrictions on migration between the regions. In the early 19th century, thousands of Bengalis from the Chittagong region settled in Arakan seeking work.
The British census of 1871 reported 58,255 Muslims in Akyab District. By 1911, the Muslim population had increased to 178,647. The waves of migration were primarily due to the requirement of cheap labour from British India to work in the paddy fields. Immigrants from Bengal, mainly from the Chittagong region, "moved en masse into western townships of Arakan". To be sure, Indian immigration to Burma was a nationwide phenomenon, not just restricted to Arakan.
Historian Thant Myint-U writes: "At the beginning of the 20th century, Indians were arriving in Burma at the rate of no less than a quarter million per year. The numbers rose steadily until the peak year of 1927, immigration reached 480,000 people, with Rangoon exceeding New York City as the greatest immigration port in the world. This was out of a total population of only 13 million; it was equivalent to the United Kingdom today taking 2 million people a year." By then, in most of the largest cities in Burma, Rangoon (Yangon), Akyab (Sittwe), Bassein (Pathein), Moulmein, the Indian immigrants formed a majority of the population. The Burmese under the British rule felt helpless, and reacted with a "racism that combined feelings of superiority and fear."
The impact of immigration was particularly acute in Arakan, one of less populated regions. In 1939, the British authorities, alert to the long-term animosity between the Arakanese Buddhists and the Muslim population, formed a special Investigation Commission led by James Ester and Tin Tut to study the issue of Muslim immigration into the Arakan. The commission recommended securing the border; however, with the onset of World War II, the British retreated from Arakan.
World War II Japanese occupation and inter-communal violence
During World War II, Japanese forces invaded Burma, then under British colonial rule. The British forces retreated and in the power vacuum left behind, considerable inter communal violence erupted between Arakanese and Muslim villagers. The British armed Muslims in northern Arakan in order to create a buffer zone that would protect the region from a Japanese invasion when they retreated. The period also witnessed violence between groups loyal to the British and the Burmese nationalists.
Aye Chan, a historian at the Kanda University, has written that as a consequence of acquiring arms from the British during World War II, Rohingyas[note 2] tried to destroy the Arakanese villages instead of resisting the Japanese. In March 1942, Rohingyas from northern Arakan killed around 20,000 Arakanese. In return, around 5,000 Muslims in the Minbya and Mrohaung Townships were killed by Arakanese and Karenni.
As in the rest of Burma, the Japanese committed acts of rape, murder and torture against Muslims in Arakan. During this period, some 22,000 Muslims in Arakan were believed to have crossed the border into Bengal, then part of British India, to escape the violence. To be sure, the exodus was not restricted to Muslims in Arakan. Thousands of Burmese Indians, Anglo-Burmese and British who settled during colonial period emigrated en masse to India.
To facilitate their reentry into Burma, British formed Volunteer Forces with Rohingya. Over the three years during which the Allies and Japanese fought over the Mayu peninsula, the Mussulmen or the Rohingya recruits of the V-Force, engaged in a campaign against Arakanese communities, using weapons provided by V-Force. According to the secretary of British governor, the V-Force, instead of fighting the Japanese, destroyed Buddhist monasteries, pagodas, and houses, and committed atrocities in northern Arakan.
Post-war insurgency and Mayu frontier administration
During the Pakistan Movement in the 1940s, Rohingya Muslims in western Burma organized a separatist movement to merge the region into East-Pakistan. Before the independence of Burma in January 1948, Muslim leaders from Arakan addressed themselves to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and asked his assistance in incorporating the Mayu region to Pakistan considering their religious affinity and geographical proximity with East Pakistan. Two months later, the north Arakan Muslim League was founded in Akyab (modern: Sittwe, capital of Arakan State), it, too demanding annexation to Pakistan. However, the proposal was never materialized since it was reportedly turned down by Jinnah saying that he was not in a position to interfere into Burmese matters.
After Jinnal's refusal, Rohingya elders founded the Mujahid party as a Jihad movement in northern Arakan in 1947. The aim of the Mujahid party was to create an autonomous Muslim state in Arakan. By the 1950s, they began to use the term "Rohingya" to give a distinct identity and establish indigenous claims over the region. They were much more active before the 1962 Burmese coup d'état by General Ne Win. Ne Win carried out some military operations against them over a period of two decades. The prominent one was "Operation King Dragon" which took place in 1978; as a result, many Muslims in the region fled to neighboring Bangladesh as refugees. In addition to Bangladesh, a large number of Rohingyas have also migrated to Karachi, Pakistan.
The Rohingya mujahideen are still active within the remote areas of Arakan. The associations of Rohingya mujahideen with Bangladeshi mujahideen were significant, and they have extended their networks to the international level and other countries during recent years. They collect donations, and receive religious military training in Al-Qaeda and Taliban camps in Afghanistan.
Post-independence immigration and Bangladesh Liberation War
The numbers and the extent of post-independence immigration from Bangladesh are subject to controversy and debate. In a 1955 study published by Stanford University, the authors Virginia Thompson and Richard Adloff write, "The post-war illegal immigration of Chittagonians into that area was on a vast scale, and in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung areas they replaced the Arakanese." The authors further argue that the term Rohingya, in the form of Rwangya, first appeared to distinguish settled population from newcomers: "The newcomers were called Mujahids (crusaders), in contrast to the Rwangya or settled Chittagonian population."
From 1971 to 1973, the Bangladesh Liberation War and its accompanying genocide saw an exodus of ten million Bengali Muslims to neighboring countries. A large number of refugees settled in northern Rakhine and to a smaller extent in Chin State. In 1975, Bangladesh Ambassador to Burma, Khwaja Mohammed Kaiser admitted that there were upward of 500,000 trespassers in Arakan whom Burma had some rights to eject and implored the Burmese authorities not to press the issue during political turmoils in Bangladesh. From 1971 to 1978, a number of Rakhine monks and Buddhists staged hunger strikes in Sittwe to force the government to tackle immigration issues which they believed to be causing a demographic shift in the region. Ne Win's government requested UN to repatriate the war refugees and launched military operations which drove off around 200,000 people to Bangladesh. In 1978, the Bangladesh government protested against the Burmese government concerning "the expulsion by force of thousands of Burmese Muslim citizens to Bangladesh." The Burmese government responded that those expelled were Bangladesh citizens who had resided illegally in Burma. In July 1978, after intensive negotiations mediated by UN, Ne Win's government agreed to take back 200,000 refugees who settled in Arakan. In 1982, the Bangladesh Government amended the citizenship law and declared all "Rohingyas" are non-nationals. In the same year, the Burmese government enacted the citizenship law and declared the "Bengalis" are foreigners.
There are widespread beliefs among Rakhine people that significant number of immigrants arrived even after the 1980s when the border was relatively unguarded. However, there is no documentation proof for these claims as the last census was conducted in 1983. Successive Burmese governments have fortified the border and built up border guard forces.
'Rohingya' movement (1990-present)
Since the 1990s, a new 'Rohingya' movement which is distinct from the 1950s armed rebellion has emerged. The new movement is characterized by lobbying internationally by overseas diaspora, establishing indigenous claims by Rohingya scholars, publicizing the term "Rohingya" and denying Bengali origins by Rohingya politicians. Rohingya scholars have claimed that Rakhine was previously a Muslim state for a millennium, or that Muslims were king-makers of Rakhine kings for 350 years. They often traced the origin of Rohingyas to Arab seafarers. These claims have been rejected as "newly invented myths" in academic circles. Some Rohingya politicians have labelled Burmese and international historians as "Rakhine sympathizers" for rejecting the purported historical origins. Nonetheless, the term spreads with great success after the riots in 2012.
The movement has garnered sharp criticisms from ethnic Rakhines and Kamans, the latter of whom are a recognized Muslim ethnic group in Rakhine. Kaman leaders support citizenship for Muslims in northern Rakhine but believe that the new movement is aimed at achieving a self-administered area or a separate Muslim state craved out of Rakhine and condemn the movement. Rakhines' views are more critical. Citing Bangladesh's overpopulation and density, Rakhines perceive the Rohingyas as "the vanguard of an unstoppable wave of people that will inevitably engulf Rakhine." However, for moderate Rohingyas, the aim may have been no more than to gain citizenship status. Moderate Rohingya politicians agree to compromise on the term Rohingya if citizenship is provided under an alternative identity that is neither "Bengali" nor "Rohingya". Various alternatives including "Rakhine Muslims", "Myanmar Muslisms" or simply "Myanmar" have been proposed.
Burmese juntas (1990-2011)
The military junta which ruled Burma for half a century, relied heavily on mixing Burmese nationalism and Theravada Buddhism to bolster its rule, and, in the view of US government, heavily discriminated against minorities like the Rohingyas, Chinese people like the Kokang people, and Panthay (Chinese Muslims). Some pro-democracy dissidents from Burma's ethnic Burman majority do not consider the Rohingyas compatriots.
Successive Burmese governments have been accused of provoking riots against ethnic minorities like the Rohingyas and Chinese although no evidence was produced. In 2009, a senior Burmese envoy to Hong Kong branded the Rohingyas "ugly as ogres" and a people that are alien to Burma.
2012 Rakhine State riots
The 2012 Rakhine State riots were a series of conflicts between Rohingya Muslims who are majority in the northern Rakhine and ethnic Rakhines who are majority in the south. Before the riots, there were widespread and strongly held fears circulating among Buddhist Rakhines that they would soon become a minority in their ancestral state. The riots finally came after weeks of sectarian disputes including a gang rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by Rohingyas and killing of ten Burmese Muslims by Rakhines.
From both sides, whole villages were "decimated". According to the Burmese authorities, the violence, between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and up to 140,000 people have been displaced. The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the region. On 10 June 2012, a state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing the military to participate in the administration of the region. Rohingya NGOs overseas have accused the Burmese army and police of targeting Rohingya Muslims through arrests and participating in violence. However, an in-depth research conducted by the International Crisis Group shows that both communities are grateful for the protection provided by the military. A number of monks' organisations have taken measures to boycott NGOs which they believe helped only Rohingyas in the past decades even though Rakhines are equally poor. In July 2012, the Burmese Government did not include the Rohingya minority group in the census—classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982. About 140,000 Rohingya in Burma remain confined in IDP camps.
The following table shows the statistics of Muslim population in Arakan. Note that except for 2014 census, the data is for all Muslims in Rakhine. The data for Burmese 1802 census is taken from a book by J. S. Furnivall. The British censuses classified immigrants from Chittagong as Bengalis. There were a small number of immigrants from other parts of India. The 1941 census was lost during the war. The 1983 census conducted under the Ne Win's government omitted people in volatile regions. It is unclear how many were missed. British era censuses can be found at Digital Library of India.
|Indians in Arakan
|Percentage of Muslims
|3,188,963||41% (~60% if overseas
population is included.)
Those who identify as Rohingyas typically reside in the northernmost townships of Arakan bordering Bangladesh where they form 80-98% of the population. A typical Rohingya family has four or five surviving children but the numbers up to twenty eight have been recorded in rare cases. According to David Price of Harvard University, Rohingyas have 37% more children between 0 and 9 years old than Burma's national average. As of 2014, about 1.3 million Rohingyas live in Burma and an estimated 1 million overseas. They form 41% of Rakhine State's population or 60% if overseas population is included.
The Rohingya language comes from the Indo-Aryan sub-branch of the greater Indo-European language family, and is a dialect of the Chittagonian language spoken in the southernmost part of Bangladesh bordering Burma. While both Rohingya and Chittagonian are related to Bengali, they are not mutually intelligible with the latter. Rohingyas do not speak Burmese, the lingua franca of Burma and face problems in integration. Rohingya scholars have successfully written the Rohingya language in various scripts including Arabic, Hanifi, Urdu, Roman, and Burmese, where Hanifi is a newly developed alphabet derived from Arabic with the addition of four characters from Latin and Burmese.
More recently, a Latin alphabet has been developed, using all 26 English letters A to Z and two additional Latin letters Ç (for retroflex R) and Ñ (for nasal sound). To accurately represent Rohingya phonology, it also uses five accented vowels (áéíóú). It has been recognised by ISO with ISO 639-3 "rhg" code.
The Rohingya people practice Sunni Islam with elements of Sufi worship. Because the government restricts educational opportunities for them, many pursue fundamental Islamic studies as their only educational option. Mosques and religious schools are present in most villages. Traditionally, men pray in congregations and women pray at home.
Human rights problems and refugee status
The Rohingya people have been described as “among the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” They have been denied Burmese citizenship since a 1982 citizenship law was enacted. They are not allowed to travel without official permission and were previously required to sign a commitment not to have more than two children, though the law was not strictly enforced. According to the Amnesty International, the Rohingya people have suffered from human rights violations under the Burmese junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result. In 2005, the UNHCR had assisted with the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps threatened this effort. In 2015, 140,000 Rohingyas remain in IDP camps after communal riots in 2012.
Despite earlier efforts by the UN, the vast majority of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are unable to return due to the 2012 communal violence and fear of persecution. Bangladeshi government has reduced the amount of support for Rohingyas to prevent an outflow of refugees to Bangladesh. In February 2009, many Rohingya refugees were rescued by Acehnese sailors in the Strait of Malacca, after 21 days at sea.
Over the years, thousands of Rohingyas have also fled to Thailand. There have been charges that Rohingyas were shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand. In February 2009 there was evidence of the Thai army towing a boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea. A group of refugees rescued in February 2009 by Indonesian authorities told that they were captured and beaten by the Thai military, and then abandoned at sea.
Steps to repatriate Rohingya refugees began in 2005. In 2009 the government of Bangladesh announced that it will repatriate around 9,000 Rohingyas living in refugee camps inside the country back to Burma, after a meeting with Burmese diplomats. On 16 October 2011, the new government of Burma agreed to take back registered Rohingya refugees. However, Rakhine State riots in 2012 hampered the repatriation efforts. On 29 March 2014, the Burmese government banned the word Rohingya and asked for registration of the minority as Bengalis in the country's first census in three decades. On May 7, 2014, the United States House of Representatives passed a simple resolution that called on the government of Burma to end the discrimination and persecution.
- Islam in Burma
- Human rights in Burma
- Burmese Indians
- Muslims of Manipur
- Rohingya insurgency in Western Burma
- Rakhine State massacre in 1942
- For the purpose of this article, all Muslims in northern Rakhine who are from the same ethno-linguistic background are referred to as "Rohingya" as commonly used in international media. In practice, the term is uncommon and unknown to considerable portion of the people whom it is supposed to name. It is mainly used by refugees, overseas communities and rights groups. This article also retroactively refers to the Muslim community as "Rohingya" although the term was adopted only in the 1950s and began to spread from the 1990s onward.
- The term was not used during this period.
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