The Rohingya is a predominantly Muslim ethnic group of disputed origin who live in Arakan State, western Burma. The Rohingya population is mostly concentrated to the cities of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Akyab, Rathedaung and Kyauktaw.
The origin of the term “Rohingya” is disputed. Some Rohingya historians like Khalilur Rahman contended that the term Rohingya is derived from Arabic word ‘Raham’ meaning sympathy. They trace the term back to the ship wreck in 8th century AD. According to them, after the Arab ship wrecked near Ramree Island, Arab traders were ordered to be executed by Arakanese king. Then, they shouted in their language, ‘Raham’. Hence, these people were called ‘Raham’. Gradually it changed from Raham to Rhohang and finally to Rohingyas. However, the claim was refuted by Jahiruddin Ahmed and Nazir Ahmed, former president and Secretary of Arakan Muslim Conference respectively. They argued that ship wrecked Muslims are currently called ‘Thambu Kya’ Muslims and currently residing along the Arakan sea shore. Should the term Rohingya derive from these Muslims, “Thambu Kyas” would have been the first group to be known as Ruhaingyas. According to them, Rohingyas were descendants of inhabitants of Ruha in Afganistan. Another historian, MA Chowdhury argued that among the Muslim populations, the term ‘Mrohaung’ (Old Arakanese Kingdom) is corrupted to Rohang. And thus inhabitants of the region are called Rohingya. These claims are categorically rejected by Burmese historians.
Burmese historians like Khin Maung Saw asserted that the term Rohingya has never appeared in history before 1950s. According to another historian, Dr. Maung Maung, there is no such word as Rohingya in 1824 census survey conducted by the British. Historian Aye Chan from Kanda University of International Studies noted that the term Rohingya was created by descendants of Bengalis in 1950s who migrated into Arakan during colonial area. He further argued that the term cannot be found in any historical source in any language
before 1950s. However, he stated that it does not mean Muslim communities have not existed in Arakan before 1824.
The Rohingya language is the modern written language of the Rohingya people of Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar). It is linguistically similar to the Chittagonian language spoken in the southernmost part of Bangladesh bordering Burma. Rohingya scholars have successfully written the Rohingya language in different scripts such as Arabic, Hanafi, Urdu, Roman and Burmese, where Hanifi is a newly developed alphabet derived from Arabic with the addition of four characters from Latin and Burmese.
More recently, a Roman script orthography has been developed, using all 26 English letters A to Z and two additional Latin letters Ç (for retroflex R) and Ñ (for nasal sound). To accurately represent Rohingya phonology, it also uses five accented vowels (áéíóú). It has been recognized by ISO with ISO 639-3 “rhg” code.
World War 2 Japanese Occupation
On 28 March 1942, some thousands of Muslims (not more than 5,000) in Min Pya and Myoe Haung Townships were killed by Rakhine nationalists and Kareni. On the other side, the Muslims from Northern Rakhine state killed few thousands of Rakhine. British and Japanese forces never tortured the Muslims in Rakhine state. In fact, British and Japanese did not kill the Muslims.
During World War II, Japanese forces invaded Burma, then under British colonial rule. The British forces retreated and in the power vacuum left behind, considerable violence erupted. This included communal violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya villagers. The period also witnessed violence between groups loyal to the British and Burmese nationalists. The Rohingya supported the Allies during the war and oppose the Japanese forces, assisting the Allies in reconnaissance.
The Japanese committed atrocities toward thousands of Rohingya, the Japanese engaged in an orgy of rape, murder and torture. In this period, some 22,000 Rohingya are believed to have crossed the border into Bengal, then part of British India, to escape the violence.
40,000 Rohingya eventually fled to Chittagong after repeated massacres by the Burmese and Japanese forces.
The current Junta ruling Burma relies heavily on Burmese nationalism and Theravada Buddhism to bolster its rule, it heavily discriminates against minorities like the Rohingya, Chinese people like the Kokang people, and Panthay (Chinese Muslims).
Successive Burmese governments have provoked riots against ethnic minorities like the Rohingya and Chinese. The Burmese state and Burmese Buddhist monks reportedly encouraged violence against the Rohingya.
Religion is particularly important to the Rohingya people, who are predominantly Muslims. Mosques and religious schools occupy most villages. Traditionally, men pray in congregation and women pray at home.
Human rights violations & refugees
According to Amnesty International, the Muslim Rohingya people have continued to suffer from human rights violations under the Burmese junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighboring Bangladesh as a result:.
As of 2005, the UNHCR had been assisting with the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps have threatened this effort.
Despite earlier efforts by the UN, the vast majority of Rohingya refugees have remained in Bangladesh, unable to return because of the negative attitude of the ruling regime in Myanmar. Now they are facing problems in Bangladesh as well where they do not receive support from the government any longer. In February 2009, many Rohingya refugees were rescued by Acehnese sailors in the Strait of Malacca, after 21 days at sea.
Over the years thousands of Rohingya also have fled to Thailand. There are roughly 111,000 refugees housed in 9 camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. There have been charges that groups of them have been shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand, and left there. In February 2009 there was evidence of the Thai army towing a boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea. A group of refugees rescued by Indonesian authorities also in February 2009 told harrowing stories of being captured and beaten by the Thai military, and then abandoned at open sea. By the end of February there were reports that of a group of 5 boats were towed out to open sea, of which 4 boats sank in a storm, and 1 boat washed up on the shore. February 12, 2009 Thailand’s prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said there were “some instances” in which Rohingya people were pushed out to sea.
“There are attempts, I think, to let these people drift to other shores. […] when these practices do occur, it is done on the understanding that there is enough food and water supplied. […] It’s not clear whose work it is […] but if I have the evidence who exactly did this I will bring them to account.”
The prime minister said he regretted “any losses”, and was working on rectifying the problem.
Bangladesh has since announced it will repatriate around 9,000 Rohingya living in refugee camps in the country back to Burma, after a meeting with Burmese diplomats. Steps to repatriate Rohingya began in 2005.
In October 16, 2011, the new government of Burma agreed to take back registered Rohingya refugees.