Myanmar: human rights under the junta?

The picture that accompanies this article has become iconic — iconic for all the wrong reasons of course, a symbol of an unhinged, dismal world where the mother with a dead baby in her arms must hold herself up in all her vulnerabilities to convince the world of the seriousness of the issue she represents. The issue here is the displacement and persecution of a desperately poor ethnic minority — the Rohingya from the Rakhine State in western Myanmar. It is also an issue that seems to have the uncertain prestige of unifying the world —from U.S. President Donald Trump to her Oxford college, all are willing to shake their head and say with a self-righteous sigh, Aung San Suu Kyi should be shorn of all honours.

The background

Unlike the earliest Muslim migrants to Burma who came from Persia, Arabia or India as traders, the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine were never really well-assimilated in Burmese life. The community grew mainly through immigration and exogamy, because of the proximity of Muslim Bengal. This gave the community an inherent fragility which perhaps made them repeatedly reach out for external assistance, thus deepening the communal divide. But the fact that they were never well-assimilated and at a point in history dared to express solidarity with another nation, reason enough for the punishing circumstances they suffer today? Is that justification for the wretched mother’s misery who kisses the forehead of her dead child? No. News also keeps trickling in that the Rohingya might not be as vulnerable as they look. A local terrorist outfit called the ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) is said to have connections with even the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. In fact, the entire security operation by the Burmese Army this year that sparked off the mass exodus of half a million Rohingya to Bangladesh in what has been called a textbook case of ethnic cleansing was actually triggered by the ARSA simultaneously attacking 30 police outposts and one Army regiment’s headquarters in Rakhine. But are we convinced by this explanation? That this was merely an act of self-protection by the Burmese military? No. The picture of that unfortunate mother, eyes closed in resigned acceptance of her cruel destiny, lingers. And out tumbles our final question, angry because it is desperate: then what was Ms. Suu Kyi, State Counsellor since the landmark elections of 2015, doing? The winner of the Peace Prize, the upholder of human rights, the voice of conscience and hope in a world gone all wrong? And herein lies the twist to the tale. In a country where the military junta still holds unbridled power, granted to it by the Constitution of 2008, how much power does the State Counsellor really have? Did she really give the marching orders to the Army to unleash felony and violence on the community in August 2017? For let us not forget, the Burmese Army, or the Tatmadaw, still functions more or less as a parallel establishment, with unquestioned control over the departments of defence, internal affairs and border security. The 2008 Constitution guarantees it not only a guardianship role but also places it outside civilian control. No debates on defence or strategic matters are ever held in plenary sessions of the Burmese Parliament and the annual defence budget is merely a matter of parliamentary record, not scrutiny. And as we take note of these facts, let us also not forget the extraordinary timing of the first grisly rape and murder of a young Rakhine girl in the Muslim dominated township of Ramree in the Rakhine State — May 28, 2012 — just before Ms. Suu Kyi was to leave after a period of 24 years for her first high-profile foreign trip outside Myanmar. Even as she officially accepted her Nobel Peace Prize on June 16, 2012, more stories of sectarian violence against the Rohingya surfaced in the international media. Too much of a coincidence to be taken at face value? Maybe.

Look at the system

To view the Rohingya issue merely as a racial or religious one is to catch the most superficial glimpse of it. It has deep roots which go back to 1948 or even beyond, it has a geographical spread that encompasses nearly the entire world or large tracts of it, causes of conflict that are social and economic as much as they are natural or religious. It also has at its epicentre something as basic and tangible as Myanmar’s Constitution of 2008 — a document that the Tatmadaw pledges to protect with its life and the amendment of which is one of the main objectives of the Suu Kyi-led civilian government. It is only after its amendment that Myanmar can look forward to emerging as a true democracy and till that happens Ms. Suu Kyi has to continue her careful tiptoed walk with the military as well as the Buddhist ultranationalists with whom the Tatmadaw seems to be in an unholy alliance. Otherwise in jeopardy will be not only the Rohingya but also the fragile hopes of Myanmar’s 53 million people with consequent ramifications for the ASEAN region and the rest of the world. So while we mull over these facts, babes in arms die to prove to us the seriousness of the issue. It is indeed a world gone all wrong.


1) Unhinged

Meaning: Make (someone) mentally unbalanced.

Example:  The loneliness had nearly unhinged him.

Synonyms: Deranged, Unbalanced

Antonyms: Sane, Stable

2) Dismal

Meaning: Pitifully or disgracefully bad.

Example: He shuddered as he watched his team’s dismal performance.

Synonyms: Bad, Poor

Antonyms: Excellent

3) Persecution

Meaning: Hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; oppression.

Example: Her family fled religious persecution.

Synonyms: Oppression, Abuse

4) Desperately

Meaning: Used to emphasize the extreme degree of something.

Example: He desperately needed a drink.

Synonyms: Seriously, Gravely

Antonyms: Slightly

5) Ethnic

Meaning: Relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.

Example: Ethnic and cultural rights and traditions.

Synonyms: Racial, Genetic

6) Seems

Meaning: Give the impression of being something or having a particular quality.

Example: Dawn seemed annoyed.

Synonyms: Appear, Look

7) Shorn

Meaning: Break off or cause to break off, owing to a structural strain.

Example: The gear sheared and jammed in the rear wheel.

8) Assimilated

Meaning: Absorb and integrate (people, ideas, or culture) into a wider society or culture.

Example: Pop trends are assimilated into the mainstream with alarming speed.

Synonyms: Subsume, Absorb

9) Exogamy

Meaning: The fact or custom of marrying someone from outside your group.

Example: Urban life contributes directly to increased exogamy.

10) Proximity

Meaning: Nearness in space, time, or relationship.

Example: Do not operate microphones in close proximity to television sets.

Synonyms: Closeness, Nearness

11) Fragility

Meaning: The quality of being easily broken or damaged.

Example: Osteoporosis is characterized by bone fragility.

Synonyms: Frailty, Weakness

Antonyms: Robustness

12) Solidarity

Meaning: Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.

Example: Factory workers voiced solidarity with the striking students.

Synonyms: Unanimity, Accord

13) Wretched

Meaning: (Of a person) in a very unhappy or unfortunate state.

Example: I felt so wretched because I thought I might never see you again.

Synonyms: Miserable, Unhappy

Antonyms: Cheerful, Fortunate

14) Misery

Meaning: A state or feeling of great physical or mental distress or discomfort.

Example: A man who had brought her nothing but misery.

Synonyms: Unhappiness, Grief

Antonyms: Contentment, Pleasure

15) Trickling

Meaning: (Of a liquid) flow in a small stream.

Example: A solitary tear trickled down her cheek.

Synonyms: Drip, Drizzle

Antonyms: Pour, Gush

16) Sparked off

Meaning: Cause something, usually unpleasant, to happen.

Example:  The riot was SPARKED OFF by the police raid on the club.

17) Exodus

Meaning: A mass departure of people.

Example: The annual exodus of sun-seeking Canadians to Florida.

Synonyms: Exit, Evacuation

Antonyms: Arrival

18) Convinced

Meaning: Cause (someone) to believe firmly in the truth of something.

Example: Robert’s expression had obviously convinced her of his innocence.

Synonyms: Persuade, Satisfy

19) Lingers

Meaning: Stay in a place longer than necessary because of a reluctance to leave.

Example: She lingered in the yard, enjoying the warm sunshine.

Synonyms: Stay, Remain

Antonyms: Leave

20) Tumbles

Meaning: Move or rush in a headlong or uncontrolled way.

Example: Police and dogs tumbled from the vehicle.

Synonyms: Hurry, Ruffle

21) Desperate

Meaning: Feeling or showing a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.

Example: A desperate sadness enveloped Ruth.

Synonyms: Despairing, Hopeless

Antonyms: Cheerful, Composed

22) Unbridled

Meaning: Uncontrolled; Unconstrained.

Example: A moment of unbridled ambition.

Synonyms: Unrestrained, Uncontrolled

Antonyms: Restrained, Controlled

23) Unleash

Meaning: Cause (a strong or violent force) to be released or become unrestrained.

Example: The failure of the talks could unleash more fighting.

24) Felony

Meaning: (An example of) serious crime that can be punished by one or more years in prison.

Example: He was convicted of a felony.

25) Plenary

Meaning: Unqualified; absolute.

Example: Crusaders were offered a plenary indulgence by the Pope.

Synonyms: Unconditional, Unlimited

26) Scrutiny

Meaning: Critical observation or examination.

Example: Every aspect of local government was placed under scrutiny.

Synonyms: Inspection, Survey

Antonyms: Glance

27) Grisly

Meaning: Causing horror or disgust.

Example: The town was shaken by a series of grisly crimes.

Synonyms: Gruesome, Horrid

Antonyms: Pleasant, Attractive

28) Sectarian

Meaning: Rigidly following the doctrines of a sect or other group.

Example: The sectarian Bolshevism advocated by Moscow.

Synonyms: Factional, Recusant

Antonyms: Tolerant, Liberal

29) Racial

Meaning: Happening between people of different races.

Example: He had a vision of a society living in racial harmony.

30) Glimpse

Meaning: See or perceive briefly or partially.

Example: He glimpsed a figure standing in the shade.

Synonyms: Spy, Sight

31) Encompasses

Meaning: Surround and have or hold within.

Example: This area of London encompasses Piccadilly to the north and St James’s Park to the south.

Synonyms: Surround, Enclose

32) Conflict

Meaning: A serious incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests.

Example: There was a conflict between his business and domestic life.

Synonyms: Clash, Friction

Antonyms: Harmony

33) Epicentre

Meaning: The epicentre of an earthquake is the place on the Earth’s surface directly above the point where it starts, and is the place where it is felt most strongly.

Example: The earthquake had its epicentre two-hundred kilometres north-east of the capital.

34) Tangible

Meaning: Clear and definite; real.

Example: The emphasis is now on tangible results.

Synonyms: Real, Solid

Antonyms: Abstract, theoretical

35) Tiptoed

Meaning: Carefully avoid discussing or dealing with (a difficult or sensitive subject).

Example: He admits he has never been one to tiptoe around controversial issues.

36) Alliance

Meaning: A relationship based on similarity of interests, nature, or qualities.

Example: An alliance between medicine and morality.

Synonyms: Relationship, Affinity

Antonyms: Distance, Separation

37) Jeopardy

Meaning: Danger of loss, harm, or failure.

Example: The whole peace process is in jeopardy.

Synonyms: Danger, Peril

Antonyms: Safety, Security

38) Fragile

Meaning: Easily destroyed or threatened.

Example: You have a fragile grip on reality.

Synonyms: Tenuous, Flimsy

Antonyms: Robust

39) Ramifications

Meaning: A complex or unwelcome consequence of an action or event.

Example: Any change is bound to have legal ramifications.

Synonyms: Consequence, Effect

40) Mull

Meaning: Think about (something) deeply and at length.

Example: She began to mull over the various possibilities.

Synonyms: Ponder, Examine




THE HINDU EDITORIAL- 10th November 2017