Friday, July 12, 2013

Bamiyan-Burma-Bodhgaya-Bombay



In the post titled {From Assam to Azad Maidan}, I had discussed the reasons behind the massive protests in Mumbai against alleged atrocities on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. I had shared in the above mentioned post how many doctored images were shared online to inflame passions and rouse Muslims to come out on the streets and most of the trouble makers were believed to be illegal Bangladeshis. 




In this post, we shall look at another angle of this problem of illegal immigrants in our neighboring country which is posing security problems for us as well. With the opening of media in Myanmar and removal of Army from the streets, more religious factions have started to exert their opinion. Whether they are instigated by some political faction or not remains to be seen but what is increasingly evident is the growing intolerance for Muslim minorities amongst certain Buddhists. I have visited the country many time but never seen aggression in the Buddhists so this comes as a surprise to me as well.

Me in Myanmar



It appears that small provocations and arguments have developed into full scale acts of arson and butchery with a devastating effect on the Human rights conditions. Perhaps the biggest incident that sparked the debate was in March 2013, when a Buddhist monk was attacked in the town of Meiktila, and later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. 

What followed was a brutal hacking of 20 boys just outside the town center. This is not an isolated incident; there have been reports of mass killings and burnings of the minority population combined with a growing xenophobia amongst the Buddhist majority targeted against the Muslim community. But what has triggered this sudden persecution?




The same illegal immigrants that cross over to Indian territory of Assam are involved in the Myanmar scenario as well. The Rohingyas are referred to as ‘Bengals’ by the Burmese which clearly refers to their land of origin. Burmese have never really acknowledged these migrants as their own despite them being in the country since colonial times. The divide is not just ethnic but also political as the two communities supported different colonial powers at the time of the World War.

At the helm of the anti-Rohingya affairs is a seemingly calm 45 year old monk, Ashin Wirathu, who is based in a monastery at Mandalay. He is extremely vocal of his hatred for the community and accuses Muslim men of enticing Buddhist women into marriages and then imprisoning and turning them into sex slaves. Sounds eerily similar to what happens regularly to the minorities in Pakistan and even the 'Love-jihad' cases in India.


Ashin Wirathu - Two faces of the same coin


The reason for this sentiment perhaps is the history of Islam and its spread throughout the Asian continent. While Muslim preachers repeatedly stress that Islam is NOT the religion of force, the long history of brutal subjugation of the natives in India begs to differ. Medieval chronicles are full of accounts of persecution of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs by invading foreigners who, irrespective of their nationalities, rode high on their own interpretation of what Islamic Jihad meant. 

Right from Mahmud Ghazni who attacked India multiple times to Nadir Shah who in his maiden attack massacred 10,000 Delhi residents, to the Mughals like Jahangir and Aurangzeb, intolerance and butchery have been hallmarks of the spread of Islam in the sub-continent.




It can be argued that any invading army would have done the same to its conquered territories; but what can not be easily justified is the zeal to wipe out the culture and traditions of the lands that were attacked. The breaking of temples and construction of mosques on their foundation has been well documented throughout the sub-continentaghay Barlas, known in the West as Tamerlane or "Timur the lame" himself recorded the invasions in his memoirs, collectively known as Tuzk-i-Timuri. It gives details of how villages, towns and entire cities were rid of their Hindu male population through systematic mass slaughters and genocide and their women and children forcefully converted en masse to Islam from Hinduism. In his own words, "Excepting the quarter of the saiyids, the 'ulama and the other Musalmans [sic], the whole city was sacked".

In recent times too, we have seen fanatics in the form of Taliban who did not hesitate to destroy their world famous National treasure of Bamiyan Buddhas in the name of destroying idolatory. The image that comes across to a non-Muslim is that of an insensitive, intolerant religion spread by the sword that wipes out the history and culture of any nation that it spreads to.


Bamiyan Buddha before destruction
 Bamiyan Buddhas today..


With this background, let us see the situation that is developing in Myanmar. Ashin Wirathu urges Buddhists all over the country to boycott Muslim businesses and gives an allegory to explain his concern – ‘When you let a seed grow in a pagoda, it seems so small at first. But you know you must cut it before it grows and turns into a tree and destroys the building.... You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog!’

But the question is who decides the definition of insanity?? The studied silence of Aung San Suu Kyi regarding these killings is also being questioned by some.





While the history of the spread of Islam is littered with bloodshed and subjugation, is it correct for us to become the perpetrators of these same crimes for revenge? This  is the question we all need to ask ourselves today. Should we behave the same way that our ancestors' subjugators did or can we find a better way to deal with the situation. 

Whatever the provocation, we know from India's own experiences that an issue this complicated can never be resolved through mindless violence and diplomatic negotiations are any day more productive than the use of force. Physical violence would only serve to give a justified reason for the growth of terrorism in coming generations, which is something no one wants.

Also, it may give rise to a backlash against Buddhists in other parts of the world, especially India and the 2013 attack on the Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya, Bihar could be a case in point! The Rohingya refugees coming to India can also become a huge demographic problem in the future.


The Indian Mujahidin Twitter Account that was suspended


We hope the emerging democracy of Myanmar does not run into the brick wall of intolerance like Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have to rise above the follies of the past generations in order to have a better tomorrow for the generations ahead.

As Mahatma Gandhi had once famously observed – An eye for an eye, only makes the world blind.

Jai Hind!