Before Monir Ahammed was allowed enrol in a school, he had to use the name “Maung Maung Ni” and conceal the fact he was a member of the Rohingya ethnic minority.
“There was no other way,” he told the Dhaka Tribune at Jamtoli refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar. “We had to change our names if we wanted to study.”
Monir, from Maungdaw’s Kyein Chaung village, said the situation had been like this since the passage of the 1982 citizenship law under which the Rohingya were effectively denied citizenship. He passed his grade 10 exam from Kyein Chaung’s Basic Education High School in 2001.
“Before 2012, we were not allowed to enrol in schools with Muslim names. So, we had to change our names into Burmese ones,” he said. “Our certificates were also issued against our Burmese names. This trend started in the 1980s.”
The situation worsened after the deadly 2012 riot. “Since then, the Rohingya children only got the chance to study at schools in some Rohingya-majority villages in Rakhine state. Although they could use their Muslim names, they were not allowed to continue their studies after Class X,” he added.
Often described as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Rohingya are not officially recognized by Myanmar. State-sponsored discrimination against the community and imposition of apartheid-like conditions stretch back decades. They are deprived of basic rights and many are forced to live in squalid camps.
Monir’s friend Mohammad Hussain of Maungdaw’s Hatipara area, now residing at Kutupalong camp’s D4 area, said the Rohingya students were subjected to racist treatment at schools.
“Our teachers were biased even though many of us were more talented than the Moghs. The Mogh students did not share class notes with us,” said Hussain, who was forced to use the Burmese name Moung Win Naing at school.
Two other Rohingya refugees, Ibrahim aka Moung Moung Sing and Arfas alias Maung Hla Maung, said they too had to take Burmese names. There are numerous Rohingya people with similar experiences, they said.
“A small number of Rohingya children from well-off families in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships managed to continue their studies until Class X by bribing the authorities but hardly anyone was given the chance to study at universities,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya leader of Maungdaw, who graduated from Yangon University in the 1970s.
Korban Ali, currently staying at Balukhali-2/1 camp, had passed his 10th grade exam. “There have been no Rohingya students at the graduate level in Myanmar after 2012,” he said. “We had to face severe discrimination during our educational life.”
A very small number of Rohingya children had gotten the chance to get admitted to schools with their real names after 2012. But after August 25, 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a brutal offensive, reports emerged that the Rohingya children were racially segregated in some schools.
Parents of some of the students informed their relatives in Bangladeshi camps over the mobile phone about the development. Such incidents were also reported on social media.
The exams for Classes IV and VIII started nationwide from February 19. Rohingya students at Buthidaung schools were seated in rooms marked with the Burmese letter “Ba” (referring to “Bengali”). “Ta” (referring to “Taiyinthar” or natives) was written in rooms where students of Rakhine, Dainet, Khami, Mro, and Bama sat.
“This is the first time I have heard exams are held in segregated halls on the basis of one’s race and religion. And I also believe this blatant discrimination in the education sector is taking place in Myanmar for the first time,” the father of a fourth-grader said.
He said he suspected that Rakhine State Education Department chief Aung Kyaw Tun was behind the incident. “He is a notorious extremist who was transferred to other places because of his radical views at the early stages of his career,” the man said. “This is unacceptable and it must be stopped.”
Only 200 Rohingya students have reportedly been allowed to take the Class X exam this year. The number was usually 1,000 in previous years.
Rohingya rights activist Nay San Lwin criticized the development, dubbing it “a new dimension of persecution.”
Rohingya villages have dual names
The Rohingya villages also have two names each – one Burmese and the other in Rohingya language, the Dhaka Tribune found after speaking with the refugees at the camps.
Myanmar authorities use the Burmese names and the residents use the Rohingya names.
Mohammad Halad, from the Kutupalong camp, said his Burmese name was Nay San Aung. According to him, in Maungdaw, the village of Boli Bazar’s Burmese name is Kyein Chaung, Hazi Bill is called Sa Bai Kone, Balukhali is known as Thea Chaung, Shilkhali as Kyauk Chaung, Nasha Puru as Ngar Sar Kyu, and Zebong Khali as Zee Pin Chaung.
Similarly, the several hundred villages of Maungdaw Buthiadaung and Rathedaung townships also have dual names.
‘As if in a cage’
The Rohingya people have been stripped of the right to movement by Myanmar.
“We are not given enough medical facilities. We are not allowed to travel to Sittwe or Naypyidaw, and other parts of the country,” Jafor Alam, a Rohingya man, said.
Khalilullah, an educated Rohingya, said they have not been allowed to join professional institutions or obtain government jobs since 1995.
“As a result, we are always being persecuted,” he said. “The government forces took our valuables from our houses and markets as bribe assuring us that they would not harm us.”
Mohammad Amin, an old Rohingya man, said: “No development work was carried out in the Rohingya-dominated areas of the three townships but Mogh-dominated areas have been developed on a regular basis. We also do not get a good price for our products in the town areas.
“Besides, state-sponsored torture has also increased. We started marrying off our girls at an early age to save them from being victims of the ferocious attackers (Myanmar Army and Moghs).”
Rohingya youth Nurul Hakim summed up what life is like for their community in the Rakhine state: “They (Myanmar forces) scold us calling us ‘Bangali’. The government declared that we are not Myanmar citizens.
“Now we have been driven out of the land in which we have been living for generations. I don’t know if anyone else is subjected to such discrimination anywhere in the world. It is as if we live in a cage.”