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On 24th March, 2024, the whole Rohingya community was shocked to suddenly see that Bengali were used to refer to Rohingya in a statement released by ULA / AA ( United League of Arakan/ Arakan Army). To confirm the AA’s stance, Twan Mrat Naing, the commander in chief of the AA,  wrote on X ( formerly Twitter), “ Nothing is wrong with calling Bengalis ‘Bengalis’. They have been our neighbors, our friends and fellow citizens for centuries. Let’s be honest and embrace this reality to build a better future. ”

In another post, he stated, “ As immediate neighbors, it is a fact that the Arakanese (Rakhine) ppl reside in Bangladesh as Bangladeshi citizens and there are ethnic Bengali citizens in Myanmar vice versa. However, some irrational individuals refuse to acknowledge the presence of Bengali ppl living in Arakan. ”

By these remarks, he de-legitimizes the existence and history of Rohingya. It is quite remorseful that, despite a modern civilised leader, he fails to be free from internalised oppression; while he fights against the fascist Millitary junta, he has adopted its wicked mindset. Nevertheless, the ULA/AA has been calling Rohingya or Muslim from Rakhine to denote Rohingya for years; as it controls more territory, it has swiftly unmasked its real face by denying the self-determination of the Rohingya and their inherent rights – the double standards which the Rohingya never expect from the ULA/ AA.

Being a Rohingya born in Arakan, my life is  ending up as a victim in the cycle of political deception and turmoil. I am considered as “ human fleas ”. I’m treated as less than a subhuman. I have no rights, even to name my name. My name is always decided by other. In my country, Myanmar, I’m called Bengali, and in Bangladesh, I’m called Burmese national. The problem is not with me. It is within the two countries, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The two countries should quickly decide who I am. I can not spend more years in displacement.

However, Rohingya have been living in Arakan long before the Arakanese kingdom was conquered by Burmese Konbaung dynasty , let alone the muslim settlement in the Arakan region in 7th century. The book, Asiatic Researches,  volume the fifth, authored by FRANCIS BUCHANAN, M.D in 1799, just before the British colonial rule in Burma, clearly stated the existence of Rohingya in the page number 237 that “ The Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan. ” Moreover, even the word Arakan derived from Rukun, a word meaning pillar in Persian language, a language used in the court of Arakan, whose words are widely used in Rohingya Language till today. As a result, denying Rohingya is like denying the existence of Arakan.

After the independence of Burma, like other ethnic groups: Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Shan and Rakhine,  U Nu’s government accepted that Rohingya is the nationality of Myanmar, so did Burma’s first president, Sao Shwe Thaike and independent Burma’s second prime minister, U Ba Swe.

But after the coup d’état in 1962, things had changed completely. Rohingya started to be denied citizenship. The Millitary rejected the official document of Rohingya or confisticated their documents. To completely convert the Rohingya into illegal immigrants, it enacted 1982 citizenship law. Since then, Rohingya has been branded as Bengali.

After the Millitary coup in 2021, people become aware of the Millitary’s hypocrisy  and begin to understand basic human rights and acknowledge the Rohingya’s plight imposed by SAC. Therefore, many individuals and organisations apologised to the Rohingya community for their guilt of calling Bengali, whereas the Millitary kept calling Bengali to Rohingya.

The Rohingya have long been subjected as Bengali by Myanmar Millitary, and their identity is crucial to their persecution and displacement across the globe. While the Rohingya are being called Bengali, meaning people from Bangladesh, what has Bangladesh done in response so far?

We Rohingya are, of course, forever grateful to Bangladesh for sharing its land and hosting over one million Rohingya. We have witnessed how generous the Bengali people are when our land had been made a living hell by Myanmar Millitary regime. In fact, Bangladesh played a pivotal role in saving thousands of Rohingya’s lives.

Nonetheless, when it comes to the identity of Rohingya, Dhaka has been quite neutral or even taken side with Myanmar Millitary. In 2017 when about a million Rohingya fled Myanmar to avoid genocide, Rohingya were first registered as Rohingya in their ethnicity, but shortly after the agreement of MOU ( Memorandum of Understanding) with Myanmar, Bangladeshi authority issued documents for the Rohingya as FDMN (forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals), not mentioning the term Rohingya in any official document – another identity erasure in the land of humanity.

The term FDMN focuses on the displacement aspect without acknowledging the reasons behind it. It does not capture the systemic discrimination and targeted violence that the Rohingya community faces. This can have implications for international legal and human rights frameworks aimed at addressing the issue.

Besides, the specific plight of the Rohingya might be diluted in the broader category of “displaced persons,” potentially reducing visibility and support for their unique situation while the global community’s awareness and advocacy efforts are paramount for pressuring Myanmar junta towards a resolution and a future federal power in Arakan.

Even though many Rohingya refugees showed their disappointment over discarding Rohingya from the documents, the Bangladesh government stood firm toward moral bankruptcy of denying one’s identity. The Rohingya were wondering what the loss of Bangladesh was on keeping Rohingya in their official papers. Like the Millitary regime, the Bangladesh government should not reject the use of Rohingya.

Even though Rohingya is one of the indigenous ethnic group of Myanmar, the Myanmar Millitary and the AA, which has now controlled over half of the Arakan, are calling Bengali. Dhaka should no longer be neutral to Rohingya’s identity. It should understand that the Rohingya crisis is an identity crisis. While Myanmar junta and the AA are calling Bengali to Rohingya, Bangladesh should raise questions and take strong action against the Millitary regime and the AA; otherwise, Rohingya would ask for citizenship rights from Bangladesh government.

Author Bio :

Shaker Arakani is a pseudonym for a Rohingya based in Cox’s Bazaar Refugee camp of Bangladesh.

Reference links :

https://theworld.org/stories/2016-11-30/myanmar-state-media-alludes-rohingya-muslims-human-fleas

Francis Buchanan, 1799. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.195565/page/n262/mode/1up

https://www.thedailystar.net/law-our-rights/news/citizenship-the-rohingya-myanmar-historical-account-2159176

* This represents the writer’s own opinion only it doesn’t necessarily reflect organizational stance.*