Alleged “ethnic cleansing” by the majority Buddhist community in the Rakhine state of Myanmar has forced over 11 lakh Rohingyas to take refuge in different parts of the world. Of these, about 14,000 Rohingya Muslims are in India.
It’s Eid morning. Shoria has been up for hours making the traditional Eid delicacy of vermicelli, sugar and milk, known as sevian in these parts but shai mai in her home back in Myanmar.
A few hours later, after prayers in the nearest Eidgah, her husband Sabeer and their three-year-old son Rafiul join her in their dark and dingy room, still filled with smoke from the wood stove. There are some fruits but no meat or spicy food for this family of Rohingya Muslims – out of cultural choice but also because they can’t afford it. Though Shoria tries to follow tradition, Eid in exile is just another day for this Rohingya Muslim family in south Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar locality.
Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state of Myanmar are the “most persecuted minority in the world”, according to the United Nations. Alleged “ethnic cleansing” by the majority Buddhist community in the neighbouring country has forced over 11 lakh Rohingyas to take refuge in different parts of the world. Of these, about 14,000 Rohingya Muslims are in India.
In the national capital Delhi, Sabeer is one of nearly 900 Rohingya refugees in camps in Shaheen Bagh, Madanpur Khadar, Okhla and Vikaspuri. While some work as ragpickers and sweepers, others find small time jobs in NGOs and private offices.
They fast but do not feast. “How can we celebrate Eid when our family members and relatives are living in such danger?” asks Sabeer. Sabeer fled to India in 2004 and has not been home since. He met his wife Shoria, also a Rohingya, at a refugee camp in New Delhi. Every day during the month of Ramzan and every Eid, Sabeer offers prayers at the Eidgah nearby. But there is no sumptuous meal waiting him after the stringent daylong fast.
His neighbour Jaffar, another Rohingya who escaped violent clashes in 2011 in Rakhine, is in no mood to celebrate either. But it’s not just yearning for his homeland. He is traumatised by news from home that his nephew was stabbed last week after being accused of using a mobile phone to provide information to “foreign agents”.
Living in India is safer but uncertainty looms large. They fear they can be deported anytime. “We meet and greet people. We distribute sevian to each other but at the end of the day we are refugees, and it is very disturbing,” says Jaffer.
According to Ali Johar, a member of the Rohingya community working for the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) here, the Indian government allows Rohingyas to stay in the country, avail healthcare and educational services but they need get their refugee cards renewed every year. “On humanitarian grounds, we continue to reside here but there is not enough assurance from the government,” Ali says.
While Jaffar, Sabeer and others remember their homeland with a certain sense of hopelessness, their children keep the excitement alive, punctuating the gloom with their laughter. Wearing new clothes and getting Eidi, the gift given by elders, is enough to make them happy. “Only our kids are happy because they don’t know about the situation in Myanmar,” says Sabeer, who works for an NGO for Rs 12,000 a month.
This year, however, he found it difficult to get new clothes for his son Rafiul. “We don’t have enough money and can’t ask people for financial help here.”
It is heartbreaking for many Rohingyas to realise that their children, most of whom are born in India, will never know ‘Jago’ teams, who sing ‘wake-up’ songs asking their fellow Muslims to wake up for suhoor, the early morning meal before the day of fasting begins. “Our prayers are for returning home. We spend sleepless nights worrying about our family members. What is Eid away from home, without the presence of loved ones?” asks Shoria.