India's policy towards Rohingya refugees is disappointing and unbecoming of a great democracy

You can travel as an Indian tourist across all of Italy — Rome, Venice, Milan, Bologna — knowing to speak only little bit of one language. I am not referring to Italian, but Bengali. The country is full of Bangladeshi immigrants, all of whom are of a particular type. They are male. They are young (from their mid-20s to their early-30s). They usually have similar physical features. They are small, thin and dark.


One other thing they have in common is that they are all very hardworking. The ones who have come recently have no capital to do anything and sell things on the street. To tourists, they sell selfie-sticks, little plastic helicopter-like toys, cold water, temporary raincoats and things like that. Others, who have been there longer and have some paperwork, are waiters and chefs, while some manage the stalls selling food and other items that are owned by Italians.

I usually speak to them in broken Bengali to ask them about their lives, and I do not need to tell the reader that their life is hard. I have great respect for their courage and determination, but I also have sympathy for their plight. To be away from your home and from your networks is not easy for any of us.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

I come from a community of Gujaratis, who have historically not been very educated, but are enterprising and not afraid to undertake hard work. This is why the world knows of the phrase "Patel Motel". But most will not know that the majority of Patidars come to the United States without capital. They come from towns and villages where there is a lack of local opportunity, and have to do physical work in the US. My own parents and sister worked in motels that they did not own. This meant cleaning rooms and doing the sort of work that middle class Indians would never do. Ownership of places is something that only few Patidars in the US enjoy.

This is usually the case with most immigrants. These days India and the rest of the world is dealing with another kind of immigrant: the refugee. Whether the Syrian or the Rohingya, this individual is fleeing violence of the most extreme sort. The war in West Asia was begun by the United States and Britain and then joined in by other European nations like France. However, they have almost washed their hands of the consequences of their actions.

The United States, which has always seen itself as a distant place protected on both sides by vast oceans, does not have to live with the consequences of its actions. It can wage wars in Korea and Vietnam without having to bring these wars back home.

I often see the global photo feed of news services to see what is happening around the world. It will shock most readers to see visuals of the extreme violence that is forcing Syrians to flee. Why do we have such little sympathy for such people? Is it because we view their religion in a particular light?


The coldness with which the Indian government has responded to the brutality against the Rohingya is disappointing. Do we disbelieve the reports of the crimes against them by the Myanmar government? Do we believe that they are all leaving fleeing to India because they enjoy living in refugee camps? We must be quite delusional to assume that.

Do we think, as our government seems to think, that these people are a terror threat only because they are Muslims? It is remarkable that we should have such a crude outlook towards the world and other human beings. This government has already made a serious mistake because it does not properly think about such things. It announced a policy that it would only accept refugees from the minority communities from Pakistan and Bangladesh. In doing so, it announced more or less that India would only welcome non-Muslims. Myanmar is a Buddhist nation that is oppressing its Muslim minority. What happens to our policy now?

As a great democracy, we must be responsible and uphold the rights of those who come to us seeking shelter. Everything in the Hindu faith tells us that this is obligatory upon us. We will be total hypocrites if we take pride in the immigrant Indian communities (many of whose individuals are illegal immigrants) but look at immigrants from other nations as terrorists and "aliens".


Published Date: Sep 17, 2017 09:23 am | Updated Date: Sep 17, 2017 09:56 pm



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