ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronEye IconIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintTitle ChevronIcon Twitter
A Rohingya woman in Maungdaw District, Arakan State, Myanmar (Photo by Carlos Sardina Galache)
Rohingya crisis

Rohingya -- Myanmar's stateless and nameless

Official policy rejects citizenship rights

SIMON ROUGHNEEN, Asia regional correspondent | Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos

YANGON -- Myanmar's minority Muslim Rohingya are holding fast to their identity in the face of official discrimination, public scorn and military action.

Excluded from Myanmar's 2014 census unless they assented to the epithet "Bengali," most of the country's roughly 1.1 million Rohingya live as virtual aliens in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. How long they have lived in Rakhine State and under what name is a highly contentious matter in Myanmar.

"The Arakanese people and the Myanmar people do not accept the term Rohingya," said Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party, the biggest party in Rakhine State.

Like the Myanmar government, Aye Maung refers to the Rohingya as "Bengali," implying that the Rohingya are foreigners.

Rohingya disagree. "Nobody can deny us to call ourselves by our name, that is our right," said Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.

A 1982 law renders Tun Khin ineligible for Myanmar citizenship, though he was born in the country and his grandfather was a parliamentary secretary during Myanmar's post-independence period of democratic rule from 1948 to 1962. The citizenship law, Tun Khin says, "is the core cause of our problem."

During the post-independence period, wrote former U.K. diplomat Derek Tonkin, the term Rohingya "was a designation which the Myanmar government itself quietly acknowledged and even on occasions used, though only infrequently, in the late 1950s and early 1960s."

"It is preposterous to say there is no such group as the Rohingya," said Matthew Walton, Senior Research Fellow in Modern Burmese Studies at the University of Oxford. "What does seem to be the case is that the consistent use of the term is largely, though not exclusively, a post-World War II phenomenon."

No Myanmar official now accepts the term, even though the long-oppressed National League for Democracy won 2015 national elections. Discussing the Myanmar army's operations near the border with Bangladesh, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said that "these people in northern Rakhine are not Burmese."

Suu Kyi asked foreign diplomats not to use term "Rohingya," but it seems that a directive asking local officials not to use the label "Bengali" has been ignored. A government investigation into violence in Rakhine State reported no evidence of persecution of the "Bengali" population there.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world
.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends January 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more