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Dhaka Tribune

The land between

What is the point of economic progress if you can’t help the Rohingya?

Update : 19 Jul 2018, 06:07 PM

Almost a million people fled their homeland, from death and destruction, over the past year.  

The only place these people could call home was the same place whose defenders have looted, raped, killed, and burned down every little and big thing that could have mattered to them.

And yet -- as if to tell the world that life is worth living -- these 700,000-something people, old and young, sick and strong, have all crossed the border, trampling through storms within and without and entered into this small mass of land that I call home.

Next month is going to mark one year since the Myanmar military, along with local Buddhist extremists (supposed oxymoron), launched a systematic persecution of the Rohingya, who have been systemically oppressed for decades. 

When a people has been beaten down and stripped of whatever basic right they are to have, perhaps some justification can be conjured up of the backlash from ARSA that took place on that fateful night in August. 

By no means am I condoning violent measures that were taken up by the insurgent group. But the reprisal that the Myanmar government and military doled out stretches far beyond what ARSA had done, and even farther beyond human decency. It’s genocide. It’s ethnic cleansing. 

The reality within

When the Rohingya were made to flee their burned down villages and the dead and dying kin, some made it -- and some did not -- across the River Naf and into Bangladesh. 

This tiny country-- the size of the state of New York -- nestled not-so-comfortably within the borders of its larger neighbour, had already been housing 163 million (compared to the 20 million in NY).

Granted, there was a lack of certainty at the time as to whether the Rohingya would be allowed to enter or not, and decisions made by politicians are normally political moves, but the borders were opened up and space was provided for those seeking shelter. The Bangladesh government had done what no other country in this world was doing: Provide refuge to the most persecuted minority of our time.

And in that light, the neighbour who is positioned at our every nook and cranny, the one who has shown the utmost commitment in strengthening their ties with us on the world stage and yet has tip-toed around the issues that matter most to us -- that of life, of water -- took a backseat when it came to assisting us in caring for those who were in need, not unlike the rest of the international community.

Many have pointed out of the limitations that the Bangladesh government has imposed in treating this massive human rights issue, and while some may stand as genuine arguments as to why the services provided could be better, one must recall that the majority of the country faces the same problems when acquiring services. 

The ground reality is that Bangladesh has too high a population, is too poor of a country, with space too limited. Even on paper where the per capita income seems to reflect nothing but economic prosperity, with over a thousand people per square kilometre, we are already spreading ourselves thin to survive. 

Murderers come with smiles

With the emblem of progress standing tall in front of the vehicle that is our economy well on its way to success in the world arena, all of it has been on the backs of the downtrodden. Just as so, for we are a nation twice-colonized, battling desperately to recover from the marginalization that has been so deeply entrenched into the very psyche of our people.

A losing battle, but one that neoliberal ideology has made us into believing that we’re the victors of.

While the ideology promotes freedom of the market, allowing for competition to be the driving force of all trade, at its heart, it replicates the structures of power that perpetuates inequality. It is, after all, the ideology endorsed by those who came out winning from the struggles of the oppressed.

That structure says very little of how social and economic inequalities play out as a consequence of such competition (read: exploitation), and while on the surface, there’s progress, delving deeper will reveal how, to the world, Bangladesh is an excellent source of low-priced labour ready to be utilized, and scrapped just as easily should there be a modicum of deviation when it comes to “international standards.”

The concept of neo-liberalism is central to the project of modern development -- its goal isn’t to eradicate poverty and the misery of the poor but to manage it.

And who more miserable and poor than the stateless Rohingya, stranded on the soils of the small delta that is Bangladesh?

The economic and social state of Bangladesh can be traced through historical connotations of injustices carried out during the colonial period, during Partition, during the Pakistan era, during the Liberation War, and the list goes on. If the world’s policemen of reason and justice cannot help the Rohingya, then what is there left for the Bangladesh authority to do for them? What more? 

Luba Khalili is Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.

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