Burma Times Correspondent: May 21, 2015
UNHCR organised a reconciliation meeting between Rakhine and Rohingya community leaders in Ang Dhang, Maungdaw South on Wednesday.
The meeting that started at around 10 am discussed possible ways to defuse tensions between the two communities that have been at loggerheads even before the independence of the nation. Tensions have increased in recent years resulting in violence directed against the minority Muslim community.
Rakhine community leaders speaking first said Muslims treated their women as second class citizens and did not allow them to study. They said all the housework were done by Muslim women and their husbands had scant compassion for them. This was evidence that the Muslims have failed to integrate with the civilised world.
They also said that there was no thing such as a Rohingya. Muslims in the region should identify themselves as Bengalis.
They went on to say that although the Muslims have arrived in Arakan long after them, they want to dictate the terms of the land. Instead they should recognise themselves as recent immigrants from the neighbouring country and apply for the green card in terms of the 1982 citizenship law.
In response, Rohingya Muslims said that they had full intention that their daughters should be educated and be on equal footing with men in the community. However whenever their girls have attempted to set foot outside their villages and go to school, they have been subjected to harassment. When they went for justice, the authorities took the side of the perpetuators who are Rakhine, and dismissed the allegations. Under these circumstances, Muslim women have little choice but to remain at home.
As for the term Rohingya, it is the true identity of most Muslims in Arakan. While Rohingyas have cultural and religious similarities to Bengalis, they belong to Arakan and this country, and not to Bangladesh.
Even more important than any ethnic identity is humanity. More than Rohingya or Rakhine or Bengali, it is important to remember that everyone is part of the human race, suggested one Rohingya community leader.
They also pointed out that 15 years ago, there were about 15 Rakhine households in the area, while there are more than 700 now. This is evidence that Rohingya Muslims are native of this area but there is a systematic attempt to drive them out of their homeland.
The meeting ended with an appeal by UNHCR representatives that called for the modernisation of the Muslim community and tolerance of the Rakhines.