Friday, August 24, 2012

Is Yunus facing the fate of Socrates?

This piece of article is being written at a time of rising tension between Sheikh Hasina, the prime minster of Bangladesh, and Professor Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist famous for his two theories -- microcredit and social business -- as well as for his successful practical work through Grameen Bank, which has already helped millions of poor women break the cycle of poverty. The former unleashed state institutions (e.g., Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Supreme Court) to remove the latter from Grameen -- the bank he founded in 1983. On August 2, 2012, Sheikh Hasina's mission to 'destroy' Grameen took an even more drastic turn: she approved a draft of "Grameen Bank Ordinance 2012" to increase government control over the bank.

Currently, that power resides with the bank's directors -- consisting of nine poor women -- who were elected by 8.3 million Grameen borrowers. The prime minister also ordered a fresh investigation into the activities and financial transactions of Yunus in his latter years as Managing Director of Grameen, but people see the move as nothing more than an attempt to destroy his image. Why would Hasina unleash state institutions to perform a character assassination on a man whom Bill and Hillary Clinton regard as the "saviour of poor people"?

This political vendetta by Hasina against Yunus could be understood as a modern-day replay of the famous conflict between Socrates and Alcibiades. Socrates who was sent to trial on the basis of two notoriously ambiguous charges: Corrupting the youth and impiety. A majority of the 501 dikasts voted to convict him and forced him to death by drinking Hemlock. In a similar reactionary spirit, Hasina, who labeled Yunus as a "blood sucker of poor people" -- unleashed Bangladesh Bank to remove him from Grameen -- and used the Supreme Court to justify her illegal decision.

Why did Alcibiades insult the Father of Western Philosophy? Because he thought that Socrates would become his political threat. Why has Hasina insulted the Father of Microcredit? There are three reasons: Nobel Prize, Hingsa (jealous) -- and politics.

The number one offence of Yunus against Hasina was wining the Nobel Peace Prize. As a result helping millions of poor people from below, in 2006, Yunus won the ultimate honor the world bestows upon its illustrious citizens, the Nobel Prize. Hasina did not like it. In fact, she thought that the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee would give her the prize for signing a peace treaty, the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in 1997. On March 9, her attorney general revealed the attitude when he famously said, "She should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize…" He went on to challenge the wisdom of the Nobel committee for not awarding the prize to his boss, Hasina, for the CHT accord. The second reason is 'Hingsa': in addition to wining the Nobel Prize, Yunus also won a number of the world's most prestigious awards, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. At the award ceremony, President Obama said: "Professor Yunus was just trying to help a village in Bangladesh, but somehow he managed to change the world". As Yunus grew more famous, Hasina became more jealous, fearing Yunus' reputation would soar above her father, Sheikh Mujib. The Bangladeshis have a word for her emotion, 'hingsha,' meaning jealousy or hatred. The third of Yunus' offense against Hasina was trying to form a political party: in an interview with the AFP news agency in 2007, Yunus remarked that politicians in Bangladesh only work for money, saying, "There is no ideology here." On February 25, 2007, I accompanied Yunus on a tour to India, and, as a response to my question on Hasina, he said, "Neither peace nor economic development can be bought at the expense of political corruption." Later this year, Yunus decided to join in cleaning up corruption by launching a new political party, Citizen Power -- saying he had a mission to enter the political arena in his nation in the hope of changing its identity from "bottomless basket" to "rising tiger." However, Hasina not only warned Yunus to stay away from politics -- but also removed him from Grameen. Now she is trying to take the control of the bank by amending "Grameen Ordinance 1983".

However, like Socrates, Yunus did not fear his rival's power. In fact, he refused to obey this illegal order and told the bank's 8.3 million borrowers not to fear injustice when they have done nothing but stand up for their own rights. "This government decision will destroy the bank of the poor and the country's bank of pride," said Yunus, "I request the poor owners of Grameen to urge the government and their fellow countrymen so that they do not curb their rights to exercise ownership."

Yunus founded Grameen and nurtured it with his two world-acclaimed concepts: microcredit and social-business. But microcredit is not magic. In fact, microcredit is just an economic theory that does not work unless one tries hard enough and goes the extra mile with it. In this way, microcredit is no different from education; one can succeed only if one puts in the extra effort. In fact, building more schools, for example, in remote villages does not educate everyone, although it does increase the chances of that happening. By the same token, Grameen does not turn everyone into a successful person like Taslima Begum, for example; however, the microcredit loan it dispenses increases an individual's chances of rising out of poverty. For example, Taslima, who lives in Shibganj upazila, took a loan worth Tk 1,500 from the Grameen in 1991 to help her husband Abu Hanif run a mechanic's shop, and the two are now self-reliant.

Grameen considers the poor as 'bonsai' people -- they can unleash their potential if given a proper base from which to grow. Today, Grameen financially assists about 8.3 million poor, helping them unleash their potential. At the deepest level, the Grameen approach is about revealing unseen possibilities that can release the capacity within each poor person to break the cycle of poverty. All borrowers become owners of Grameen, by purchasing shares of the bank, a requirement when they register as members. In the three decades since Yunus gave his first loan to a group of Bangladeshi women, the number of Grameen borrowers has grown to over 8.3 million.

In fact, Yunus and Grameen's 8.3 million borrowers became a family. For the last three decades, they worked together, they prayed together, they struggled together, they attacked poverty together, and they even won the Nobel Prize together. When Grameen was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006, the bank randomly chose one of its typical borrowers -- Taslima Begum -- to represent it at Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo. If we multiply Taslima by 8.3 million borrowers -- we get a chance how Yunus' concepts and his Grameen Bank successfully empower women. This is why 8.3 million poor women regard Yunus as the father of Grameen. So the question is obvious: how can one remove a child from his father? However, Hasina removed Yunus from Grameen anyway. Now she is even trying to destroy it. This is why, 8.3 million poor women are very angry now.

Their anger may not see public expression in front of the prime minister's office, or at the Bangladesh Bank or the Supreme Court. However, it does find voice around the premises of Grameen Bank. It does find voice around the respective homes of these 8.3 women. In fact, a similar anger rages within 22,000 Grameen employees. However, they will not hold their anger in the closet forever. The anger is real; it is powerful. Hasina should not undermine the power of 8.3 million poor women, who are supported by all poor people of the world. She will make a big mistake if she ignores the roots of their anger: 8.3 million poor women do not want to see their Nobel Laureate humiliated by Hasina. Unless the Bangladesh government recognizes the right of 8.3 million poor women, its future is doomed.

I choose to support Yunus rather than Hasina's powerful regime because I believe abrupt and forced removal of Yunus from Grameen could damage confidence in the bank, which has 8.4 million mostly women borrowers and holds $1.5 billion in villagers' savings. One does not have to be Einstein to understand that the work of great people, including Socrates, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, is tied to trials and tribulation. Every idea, every invention, every theory, every concept (e.g., microcredit or social business) has its own humiliating shortcomings. Yes, we can argue that Yunus, you should have known better. You should have done more for poor people of Bangladesh. You should have published more books. Instead, our government turns on him and says, "Yunus, you are a blood-sucker."

While the whole world -- including Bill and Hillary Clinton -- considers Yunus as saviour of the poor people, why would the prime-minster of his own country removed him from Grameen? While the whole world considers Yunus as innocent as Socrates, why would Hasina consider him as evil as "Blood-sucker"? Let's hope she won't force him to drink the Hemlock for "sucking the blood of poor people".

Rashidul Bari, a biographer of Muhammad Yunus, most recently authored the Grameen Social Business Model: A Manifesto for Proletariat Revolution. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What They Said: Spreading Fear Across India

Beginning in late July, riots broke out in the northeastern state of Assam between Bodo tribals and Muslims, described in news reports as long-settled immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Political analysts haven’t yet been able to explain what sparked these particular clashes, which continue sporadically, but say tensions have long simmered between these groups over land and resources.

The death count from those clashes has now reached 78, an aide to Assam’s chief minister told India Real Time on Friday.

Since the riots, attacks on people mistaken for being ethnic Assamese have taken place in Pune. Police say those attacks were instigated by a doctored video purportedly showing Muslims being assaulted in Assam. In Bangalore, thousands of migrants from India’s seven northeastern states scrambled to catch trains back home, after a mysterious text message warning of imminent attacks on northeasterners went viral this week.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said his government will work to ensure that Indians from the northeast – often mistaken by people in other parts of India as from being from China or Southeast Asia because of their looks – feel secure living and working in any part of the country.

Here is a round-up of what Indian newspaper editorials and opinion pieces had to say about these developments.

“The real reasons behind the riots are not known yet — and may never be known,” said Seema Chishti, writing in the Indian Express on Friday.

After all, a 28-year-old report examining why a brutal massacre took place in Assam in 1983 has never been made public, she noted.

What is clear, she said, is that the clashes with Muslims in Assam have “proved extremely useful” for some Hindu nationalist parties, who in the past have done little to suppress such incidents and instead have used them as an electoral tool to capture votes.

She said the clashes were being portrayed as taking place between “local” Assamese and “outsider” Muslims even though Muslims have had a long history in the state.

“What is conveniently forgotten in the heat of the moment are crucial historical aspects,” she wrote. “Over a century ago, during British rule, Bengalis, including Muslims, settled down in Assam.”

A editorial in the Deccan Chronicle on Friday slammed the country’s administration for its inability to resolve the violence in Assam, or for that matter, to even arrive at an understanding of what’s happening.

“One side alleges that Bangladeshi immigrants, who are Muslims, taking over Bodo lands is the root cause. The other side claims that the people are Bengali Muslims from India,” said the piece.

It continued, “As  a country we ought to be able to tell with some certainty whether those people are our citizens or not. If they are our citizens, they deserve the state’s protection. If they are illegal migrants they should be deported. Unfortunately, we are unable to answer the question convincingly.”

In a Hindustan Times column on Thursday, Varghese K. George noted that strengthening security forces along the India-Bangladesh border would do little to resolve ongoing illegal immigration, which some analysts say is one of the triggers for the violence in Assam.

“The issue of unauthorized movement of people from Bangladesh to India must be addressed from a broader development perspective for lasting solutions,” he said. “Otherwise the debate on it will degenerate into xenophobic rhetoric.”

One long-term solution could be for Indian authorities to shift focus from “ruthless management” of the border to aiding Bangladesh in its development, he said, arguing that acute poverty and lawlessness is what compels Bangladeshi citizens to flee from their native land.

An editorial entitled “Act Now” in the Deccan Herald on Thursday said rumors of impending attacks on northeasterners in Bangalore were so successful in getting many of them to rush home because of the “long-standing discrimination” northeastern Indians face when they leave their own states.

“In Bangalore, the rumors were allegedly spread through SMSes and social network Web sites like Facebook and Twitter,” said the piece. “Considering that there was no immediate provocation or any known incident to trigger such a mass exodus, it can only be the result of a deep-seated fear psychosis that has not been properly addressed.”

The editorial continued, “While the country basked in celebrations of the 66th Independence Day, here was a danger signal, however minute, that we have all taken the slogans of ‘unity and integrity’ and ‘unity in diversity’ completely for granted.”

In a piece in the Hindustan Times on Saturday, NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, editor of its English-language news operations, also expressed worry about the country’s frayed social fabric.

“A decline in riots does not necessarily correspond with a decline in prejudice,” wrote Ms. Dutt. “Add to that the divisions drawn by and ideological polarization in our political discourse – and we find ourselves living with a perennial fire-warning against inflammable outbursts of hate campaigns.”

“There is no doubt that there are primarily two things that make the Indian state distinctive – our democracy and diversity,” she said. “The fact that rumors, threats, falsified images on Facebook and Twitter, and in some cases attacks, were able to rupture the sense of social order has to make one wonder how deep the fault-lines were to begin with.”

And in the Indian Express on Saturday, the paper’s editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta said it was a shame that so many Indians continue to be both ignorant and condescending about the northeast. It’s a part of India where there’s an egalitarianism and respect for labor that’s missing in many parts of Indian – and that should be emulated, he said.

He described being in the northeastern state of Manipur, where the now-beloved Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom is from,  and watching ministers sit down with drivers and clerks to eat – something unthinkable in Delhi, for example. He also saw a driver thrash the minister he worked for at table-tennis while taunting him for becoming slow and lazy to the enjoyment of all present.

“Show me a driver in the mainland who will thrash his minister at any game,” wrote Mr. Gupta. “Or, a minister who will take it in his stride.”

Mr. Gupta was referring to the region of India outside the northeast as “mainland,” a common usage, although the northeast is not cut off from the rest of India by a body of water.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Does Assam Unrest Mean for India?

The latest disturbances that shook entire North-East is a reminder to the power that be in the Centre and in the rest of the country. The conflict-torn Bodo territorial areas of Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Chirang etc. have sent a clear message that the hidden volcanoes in the North-East need to be defused with wisdom and courage by the Central leadership while taking the local leadership of the region in confidence. My suggestion to Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India from Guwahati last week to hold an urgent meeting of the National Integration Council to review the present situation that has erupted in Kokrajhar and areas around in active cooperation of the local political outfits as well as the civil society is essential to work out lasting solution to the situation that has remained boiling for six decades.

Within a week nearly four lacs residents in Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang turned homeless migrants. Half of them were aboriginal Bodos. 276 government schools, government buildings and public places were converted into so-called relief camps out of which half of the relief camps were filled with Bodo tribals. Each camper I visited with my team demanded security. The Bodos felt insecure in the presence of Muslim neighbourers. The same was the cry of the Muslim migrants in the Muslim relief camps. True four Bodos were brutally massacred in a village in Kokrajhar in the midnight of 19th July, 2012. Absence of the police and administration added to the insecurity and terror. The Bodo migrated asked for safety.

The rumours created panic among the Muslim inhabitants in their respective areas. The Muslims rushed for safety in Dhubri. It is important to note that neither the Bodo nor Muslim migrants carried any ill-will or hatred for other community. Each delegation we met complained that the administration did not care for their complaints and failed to provide reasonable security. No one in the camp favoured illegal migration from Bangladesh. The Bangladeshis` hard stricken with poverty and rags have been crossing over from Bangladesh via Dhubri District (Assam) in boats under the cover of dark skies of the Brahmaputra river. There could be no fencing nor a boundary wall could be erected as was assured in the Assam Accord, 1985 for the reason that Brahmaputra, perhaps, the only male river in the sub-continent, was too vast and fast for setting up any obstacle or wall to check illegal migration from Bangladesh. Kokrajhar has no land connection with Bangladesh. Migrants flood to this area from Dhubri. Kokrajhar is the only geographical surface connection of the North-East with the rest of the country.

The students of political science and the politicians, perhaps, have yet to understand that creation of Bangladesh had literally dissected entire North-East from the rest of the country. India as such has only a single surface connection with the North-East through Kokrajhar District in Assam via Cooch Bihar in West Bengal. Any mishap may damage the neck connection endanger the roads of National Integration with North-East having 4500 kms. long borders with foreign countries including Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh. This region deserves an exclusive attention of the Central government to ensure that the sensitive borders along the North-Eastern States are kept cool and friction free. India has 4097 kms. long borders with Bangladesh only. On the other hand true there is literally no physical threat to the Indian side from Bangladesh but infiltration by the illegal poverty stricken migrants to India in lacs have created an alarming situation in the border districts. Infiltration had started before the creation of Bangladesh and remained unchecked even after the signing of 1985 Assam Accord by Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi with the leaders of Assam Movement. Since the division of Assam into seven sisters` states as described by a noted journalist Jyoti Prasad Sakiya, the predominant tribals in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya have got a reasonable opportunity to share responsibility of administration in their respective states. The tribals in Assam have not been satisfied. Particularly the bigger tribes like Bodos have not got their due. Creation of Bodo Territorial Council in four districts of Assam has earned the displeasure of Muslim Minorities for several reasons. The Bodo Council has been established in the districts of Kokrajhar, Baska, Chirang and Vidulguri. This situation deserves a careful handling too.

To seek permanent resolution of the situation in Assam or for that matter in the North-East, we have to understand the genesis of the problem. The first blunder committed in dissecting entire North-East region, mostly Assam in 1947, by the acceptance of partition of Bengal. Already neglected people of the area started facing alienation rather entire population was segregated from the mainstream.  Secondly, the Central leadership failed to realize the effects of illegal migration from the areas, now designated as Bangladesh. The Central leadership, the Congress-run government in the Centre, gave laxity to the illegal migrants. The Congress leadership remained interested to raise their vote bank rather than caring for the national security. When Bangladesh attained her sovereign status in 1972, there were unaccounted number of illegal migrants who have already created space in different Districts of Assam. The Assam Accord signed on 15th August, 1985 in the presence of Shri Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, could not be implemented at all. The Central government established a Tribunal in Assam to detect the foreigners was quashed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of India on 5th December, 2006 declared the so-called Illegal Migrants Detection Tribunal (IMDT) as violative of the Constitution of India. This IMDT provided protection to illegal migrants and was not in accordance with the spirit of the Assam Accord. The Supreme Court had directed the Govt. of India to constitute adequate tribunals to detect illegal migration in accordance with the Foreigners Act, 1946.

This is unfortunate that Govt. of India failed to follow the direction of the Supreme Court. This was one of the principal reasons that the foreign agencies like ISI managed some frustrated, unemployed and educated groups of Assamese to float United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) with a manifesto to establish a sovereign state of Assam. Prominent functionaries of ULFA belong to the majority community, the Hindus. This is the outfit which have directly threatened sovereignty of India. ULFA has been financed, armed and provided all kinds of help and assistance by the ISI. The CIA has not admitted it openly sufficient but there is evidence that CIA have been providing all kinds of data to the ISI. The ULFA activists have become overactive with the ensuing unrest in Kokrajhar, Chirang and other sensitive bordering Districts of Assam. Had the governments at Centre and the State been sincere to implement the Assam Accord situation would have been different. This was the strong note which my team was served by the Bodoland Lok Sabha Member, Mr.  Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary and the local MLA of Kokrajhar, Mrs. Pramila during my one hour discussion with them in Kokrajhar last week. The Bodoland Students Union as well as All Assam Students Union (AASU) which have strong mass appeal in the region shared this feeling. Naturally, blamed the Central government for its failure to give attention to the Assam Accord.

 Assam Accord has to be understood in substance for the removal of all doubts spread by the vested political interests about its bonafides.

i).      Clause 9 of the Agreement made bold and unambiguous assurances to stop infiltration from Bangladesh by erecting physical barriers like walls, wire-fencing and other obstacles.
ii).     It was also assured to construct a road along Bangladesh borders in Assam.
iii).    Encroachment of tribal line was strictly taken into consideration with assurance that the land of the tribal shall be protected.
iv).       It was also assured that detection of the foreigners, illegal migrants into Assam shall be done in accordance with the Foreigners Act, 1946.

Dr. Alka Sharma, a former MLA, AGP and widow of slain AGP Minister who had been actively involved in the activities of the civil society for the implementation of Assam Accord maintained that the national political parties have not been able to understand the genesis of the Assam problem. Naturally, they would not be in a position to appreciate the scientific solutions. The President of Assam High Court Bar Association, Mr. Ram Sakiya, doubted the sincerity of the Central leadership to implement Assam Accord. That was obvious from the fact, he observed, that the Central government has not constituted a necessary tribunal for the detection and expulsion of the illegal migrants as was the direction given by the Supreme Court of India while quashing the so-called Tribunal.

The Governor of Assam, a seasoned political figure in India, Mr. J.B. Patanaik, while appreciating the efforts of my team to visit Kokrajhar and other affected areas in Assam, admitted that the government has to restore confidence of the people and provide them reasonable security so that they may return to their homes without fear. He also agreed that the so-called relief camps were not adequate at all to provide shelter to nearly 400,000 migrants, both Bodos and the members of the Minorities. About half of them have returned back to their homes yet the government cannot be exempted from its responsibility to ensure urgent return and rehabilitation of the people in their homes. The Governor may himself lead peace march in the area to extend solidarity with the suffering people.

Situation in Assam is more threatening than in any other parts of the country. The people in the entire North-Eastern region deserve urgent attention of Central leadership. Urgent measures have to be taken to work viable solution with Bangladesh so that illegal migration from Bangladesh shall be checked at the source. The Assamese Districts bordering with Bangladesh have to be cordoned properly and effectively as was assured in the Assam Accord. The Central government should constitute Tribunal in Assam to detect and deport the illegal migrants as were to be determined in accordance with the Assam Accord and the Supreme Court`s direction. The separatist groups like ULFA have to be disciplined without any delay and with a clear message that Assam and the rest of the North-Eastern States are unshakable and integral part of the Union. An urgent attention of the Union must be drawn towards the Indo-Burmese border which may be opened for trade between Manipur and Myanmar, very soon. The problem of Chakmas in Tripura hills is also a matter of grave concern for the security of the country.

Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, shall be doing a great service to the national security vis-à-vis North-East by convening an urgent meeting of the National Integration Council as he has done in the past on the issues relating to J&K. It shall be exemplary message for the people of North-East if such a meeting of the NIC is held in Assam with special invitations to the representatives of all legitimate representatives of all the political parties of Assam and the North-East. The Prime Minister himself represents the people of Assam in the Parliament and the people have great expectation from Dr. Manmohan Singh that he shall show the light to the new generations in Assam and in the North-East to strengthen the bonds of National Integration from Imphal to Delhi.

Suu Kyi draws rare criticism

She is known as the voice of Myanmar’s downtrodden but there is one oppressed group that Aung San Suu Kyi does not want to discuss.

For weeks, Suu Kyi has dodged questions on the plight of a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, prompting rare criticism of the woman whose struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar have earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, and adoration worldwide.

Human rights groups have expressed disappointment, noting that the United Nations has referred to the Rohingya — widely reviled by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar — as among the most persecuted people on Earth. They say Suu Kyi could play a crucial role in easing the hatred in Myanmar and in making the world pay more attention to the Rohingya.

As a new phase in her career: The former political prisoner is now a more calculating politician who is choosing her causes carefully.

“Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this,” said Maung Zarni, a Myanmar expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. “She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She’s a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote.”

The Rohingya have been denied citizenship even though many of their families have lived in Myanmar for generations. The U.N. estimates that 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar where they face heavy-handed restrictions: They need permission to marry, have more than two children and travel outside of their villages.

Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh but Bangladesh also rejects them, rendering them stateless.

Long-standing resentment between the Muslim Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists erupted in bloody fury in western Rakhine state in June. They attacked each other with spears and machetes and went on rampages burning homes and razing entire villages. Human Rights Watch estimates that 100,000 people were displaced by the fighting and says the government’s tally of 78 dead is “undoubtedly conservative.”

Rights groups claim the government did little to stop the violence initially and then turned its security forces on the Rohingya with targeted killings, rapes, mass arrests and torture.

Most of the world’s outrage has come from the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has accused Myanmar of launching an “ethnic cleansing campaign” and King Abdullah announced Saturday he would donate $50 million in aid to the Rohingya in Myanmar. Islamic hard-liners in Indonesia and Pakistan have threatened attacks against the Myanmar government.

The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the violence at a summit this week and said it will present its concerns to the upcoming U.N. General Assembly.

But the outrage stops at Myanmar’s borders. A tide of nationalist sentiment against the Rohingya has put Suu Kyi in a no-win situation.

Speaking up for the Rohingya would risk alienating Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and angering the government at a time when Suu Kyi and her opposition party are trying to consolidate political gains attained after they entered Parliament for the first time in April.

By not speaking up, she has offended some of her staunchest supporters in the international community — the very groups who lobbied tirelessly for her freedom during 15 years of house arrest. Though, many are cautious about directly criticizing Suu Kyi, who is hailed as a human rights superhero and often called the Gandhi of this generation.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch called it “unfortunate” that Suu Kyi did not confront the issue during her triumphant tour of Europe in June, shortly after the violence occurred.

At news conferences in Geneva, Dublin and Paris, Suu Kyi dodged journalists’ questions about the Rohingya by giving vague, scripted answers about a need for “rule of law” in Myanmar.

“The root of the problem is lack of rule of law,” Suu Kyi said in Dublin, seated beside the rock star Bono at a news conference.

Asked if the Rohingya should be granted Myanmar citizenship, the Oxford-educated Suu Kyi replied: “I don’t know.”

Canadian-based academic Abid Bahar, a Bangladesh-born expert on Myanmar’s ethnic groups, said he was “shocked” by Suu Kyi’s failure to take a more principled stand.

“As a Nobel Peace Prize winner she has a big role to play, to work as a conscience for humanity, which she has ignored,” Bahar said. “I thought she was the only person the Rohingya could depend on.”

President Thein Sein’s popularity at home has surged since the June crackdown, analysts say. Many in Myanmar rallied behind his proposal in July to send all of Myanmar’s Rohingya to any country “willing to take them,” a suggestion quickly shot down by the U.N. refugee agency.

“This is an unexpected difficulty that we have faced in our march to democracy,” Thein Sein said in an interview with Voice of America broadcast this week. He denied accusations of genocide from Muslim countries, saying that images posted online showing piles of bodies were “fabrications” and from “incidents that happened in other countries, not here.”

Thein Sein has won widespread praise for introducing a wave of reforms since taking office last year, following decades of repressive rule. But the United Nations and others say the violence in Rakhine state shows Myanmar still has a long way to go, and needs to place human rights at the top of its reforms.

“The situation in (Rakhine) state is giving the so-called new Burma a black eye — in the eyes of the international community,” said Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

“As a political leader with moral authority, Suu Kyi should take this on,” he said. “No one is saying she can dictate policy to the government, but if she speaks out everyone will pay attention.”


Dhaka Forecloses the Grameen Brand

Bangladesh's government is taking over the pioneering microfinance bank, just as its founder feared.

For the past 18 months in Bangladesh, the specter of a government takeover has haunted Grameen Bank and its founder, Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus. Many thought Mr. Yunus was imagining the threat, but this month the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina finally showed its hand. Her cabinet decided to push the microfinance lender's elected board of trustees aside and give power to the government-appointed chairman to name a selection committee that will soon find a new managing director.

The decision marks a new turn in a campaign to vilify Mr. Yunus, which began last year when the government removed him from his long-time role as managing director. Then it ginned up a controversy that micro lenders were "loan sharks," when the opposite is true: These banks give poor borrowers an alternative to usurious moneylenders.

This time, the cabinet impugned Mr. Yunus's honesty by asking questions about whether he followed bank rules on tapping the bank's credit facilities when he was managing director. It also alleges that he wrongly received tax exemptions on his foreign earnings. Last week, it opened a tax investigation.

Grameen Bank is important because it established the microfinance model--banks that provide unsecured loans for poor women for investing in income earning projects. It has been copied throughout the world and inspired the phenomenal growth of micro finance. In 2006, both the Bank and Yunus were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for, as the Nobel committee put it, "their efforts to create economic and social development from below." By giving the poor the ability to help themselves, it undermines the culture of dependency on the government that ties the poor to Bangladesh's political parties.

In May 2011, I visited Dhaka and talked at length with Mr. Yunus, whom I have known since the early 1990s. He had been under attack by the Awami League government for some time. Even after he was removed from his position, he sought to ensure that the bank board could still elect his successor without political interference. It now seems all but certain that the bank he led to international renown will come under new management.

Many Bangladeshis I respect told me then, and still think today, that the Awami League is out to get Mr. Yunus by any means possible. The politicians believe, wrongly, that he is a long-term threat to their interests.

Many suspect that the root of the problem is that, when Bangladesh was under a military caretaker government in 2007, Mr. Yunus's name was briefly put forward in 2007 as a possible leader of a "third force" to replace the two dysfunctional major political parties led by Ms. Hasina and Khaleda Zia. Their personal animosity has made progress impossible. He never volunteered this idea, but he didn't reject it at first either. Nevertheless, this third party never took off.

In addition, most Bangladeshis say that Grameen Bank now provides low-hanging fruit for what is perceived as a corrupt government. Officials can loot the bank's substantial assets at will now. They can also tap its customer base of women borrowers and turn them into a serious vote bank by promises of loan reductions or write-offs.

World leaders need to take note of these perverse motivations in Dhaka and condemn them, but they aren't doing so. I came back to Washington after my 2011 visit feeling great foreboding about Grameen's future. The South and Central Asian Bureau of the U.S. State Department, however, did not share my concerns when I met with its officials. Their reaction was tepid then. Now, more than a year later with news of the cabinet's decision, I am told they are "working on it."

For all the laurels Mr. Yunus has received from the West, his strategy to protect the bank he founded didn't work, partly because Western governments failed him. In the 15 months since the attack on Grameen began, the U.S. and others have let themselves be distracted by other business and lulled into complacency by Ms. Hasina's waiting game.

Now it may be too late to save the bank. The U.S. is playing catch-up on an issue on which it had an early warning. By this time, Prime Minister Hasina is not inclined to listen to other governments and back off her determined course. I am sure it will take more than words to deflect it. The U.S. and European governments will have to threaten to cut off bilateral assistance programs and other aid through multilateral institutions like the World Bank.

Getting donors on the same page at such a late date will be a real uphill battle, and given all the other pressing issues in South Asia is a long shot. It is thus with a heavy heart that we must prepare for the disappearance of the pioneer of microfinance and the marginalization of its visionary founder.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Once again Assam in deep communal turmoil

The fresh communal riot in India last week, this time in the eastern state of Assam left about 100 people killed. Four lakh people fled homes to take refuge in schools and other places. Houses were plundered and set on fire. The victims, as usual, were mostly Muslims. It is obvious that the communal disturbances in secular India have wounded the sentiment of the three neighbouring Muslim countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan and Maldives. Secularism in India is a façade. In fact, communalism is deeply rooted in the cast-ridden Indian society. The massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, demolition of centuries old Babri Mosque, killing of Christians in central India still reminded the horrors of communal atrocity. Only months ago, Allahabad witnessed a communal riot.
Although the incidents took place close to the Sylhet border, there was no reprisal in Bangladesh. Here the people have religious tolerance and live in complete harmony with minority communities. Details of the situation of riot torn three or four districts of Assam were not known. Borders were sealed by security forces of both sides to check infiltration. Scanty report was given by international news agencies. Al Jazeera TV channel showed footage of a couple of refugee camps. Hundreds of men and women, young and old crammed in a village school in Kokrajhar district. The victims narrating their woes said their houses were looted before setting on fire. Hunger and fear stalked their faces. Absence of water and sanitary facilities may cause health hazards. An elderly inmate of the refugee camp told the TV crews that they came under sudden attack with lethal weapons, reasons not known to them. There was no police or paramilitary forces to protect them. International wire services reported that the riot was triggered by a group of Bodo ethnic community shooting down two student leaders of Muslim settlers in a long running dispute over access to land. 

The army and paramilitary troops in addition to state police remained deployed in Assam to fight a number of secessionist groups and Maoist insurgency that spread in and the adjoining states. The riot could be avoided with prompt action on the part of the government. Nothing would happen if the army personnel swung into action and stood in between the rioters. The carnage continued for three days before the army was asked to control the situation only after Muslim MPs of the state flew to Delhi and pleaded for it. JUD squarely blamed the federal home minister and state chief minister for not taking timely action and demanded their resignation.
In the blame game, the Congress accused the opposition BJP for inciting the Bodo community and its activists against the Muslim settlers. BJP had led the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and directly involved in Gujarat massacre in which about 2,000 Muslims were killed. Clearly, the administration had support behind the BJP actions. The daily Sentinel of Guwahati had quoted BJP’s central leader Sushma Sawaraj saying two years ago “if Bangladeshis staying in Assam illegally are to be deported, a movement like Assam agitation is needed, and if the youths of the state are ready for such agitation, BJP will extend its helping hand.”
How can the settlers be Bangladeshis? Assam with many resources had been a state of jungles with scarce population. Muslims, and not only Muslims but also Hindus had migrated from different parts before and after partition of India and settled in the state. They are holding national identity card and regularly take part or cast votes in elections to local bodies, state legislature and national parliament. Hindu settlers also came under attacks in occasional movement launched against non-Assamese – ‘Assam for Assamese’. ULFA was the pioneer of such movement.
It is hoped that India will take into consideration of the deep concern of the Muslims across the world as it has demonstrated the anxiety and concern for the plight of Tamils of Sri Lanka. In fact, New Delhi mounted pressure on Colombo for providing autonomy to the Tamil populated northern province of Jaffna. Tamils had supported and assisted the LTTE secessionist fighters in the decade long war that ended three years ago. India’s Tamil Nadu state government had even asked New Delhi for military action against Sri Lanka to secure the extraordinary rights for the Tamils. New Delhi has not stopped at that. Being a member of UN human rights body, it orchestrated drawing charges of violation of human rights against Sri Lanka.
BY :   Shamsuddin Ahmed.

Assam Muslim massacre linked to geopolitics, bigotry

The gory tale of slaughtering innocent Muslims in Assam is something India should be ashamed of as the world’s largest democracy. The death toll is surpassing hundred, according to the latest count, while more bodies are missing or being discovered.
The constant attack on Bangladesh as a source of illegal migration is not supported by facts either. According to the 2011 census, the population of Assam stands at 3,11,69,272, of which 1,59,54,927 are males and 1,52,14,345 females. The wolf crying about illegal migration is not supported by data that shows the decadal growth of the State’s population at 16.93 percent during 2001-2011, against 17.64 percent national average.
Two major phenomena explain the rioting more convincingly: Geopolitics and communalism. Geopolitically, western Assam, where the rioting is occurring, is crucial to the entire Northeast through which passes the only supply route to the whole region. Wedged between Bangladesh to the south and west, and China to the north, the region has no access to the sea closer than Calcutta, on the other side of the Shiliguri corridor, the utility of which is economically unprofitable for India as it entails 2000 km journey from Mizoram to the Calcutta seaport.

During the 1962 Indo-China war, a Chinese military advance of 80 miles or so managed to cut off Bhutan, part of West Bengal and all of North-East India. The area is constantly patrolled by the Indian Army, the Assam Rifles, the Border Security Force (BSF) and the West Bengal Police. 
Bangladesh and India having no free trade agreement, all land transportation between mainland India and its north-eastern states must use this circuitous corridor. Despite there being a major broad gauge railway line in addition to the old metre gauge line which connects the region with rest of India, national Highway 31 is the main conduit between Siliguri and Guwahati, Assam‘s capital.
From a communal standpoint, the instances of rioting increased in frequency since 1996 following the birth of the Bodo Liberation Tigers Force (BLTF) which demanded a separate state for the Bodos, within the territories of Assam. In the four major riots between 1993 and 1998, an estimated 400 people have been killed, including Bodos, Muslim settlers and Adivasis.
Communalism is a quintessential Indian epidemic that must not be condoned any more. The current rioting is the sixth major tragedy in the Bodo belt of western Assam since 1993, and the fourth involving the Bodos and the Muslim settlers from East Bengal (now Bangladesh); the other two being between Bodos and Adivasi (tribal) Santhals of the Burmese descant. Public policies being equally responsible for fomenting these riots, the geopolitical machinations are too evident to bypass attention. 
For instance, the first clashes between the Bodos and the Muslim settlers took place in October 1993, leaving some 50 dead, mostly Muslims. It happened within months of signing the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC) Accord on February 20, 1993, between the Government and the rebellious Bodo leaders. 
The Accord stipulated that all villages with 50 per cent Bodo population would come under the jurisdiction of a newly created Bodo Council. This ‘conflict-provoking’ clause was enough to lead a section of the people to target Muslim settlers and the Adivasis in areas where Bodos were minority. Through violence, Bodo minority villagers strove to eject Muslim villagers to attain majority status in each village, leading to riots.
The BAC was replaced by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) that came into being after the signing of a Memorandum of Settlement on February 10, 2003. It was, in effect, a peace accord by which the BLTF laid down their weapons on December 6, 2003 under the leadership of Hagrama Mohilary, and, in return, Hagrama was sworn in as the Chief Executive Member (CEM) of BTC on December 7, 2003. 
Comprising 35% of Assam’s territory (27,700 km), the area under the BTC jurisdiction came to be known as Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD), which spreads across four contiguous districts — Kokrajhar, Baska, Udalguri and Chirang. The areas housed only 29 per cent of the Bodo population at the time of the Accord‘s signing. 
There was another caveat: Although tribal lands are safeguarded by Chapter X of the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation Act of 1886 - which clearly mentions that the land ownership will be only at the hands of the tribal - this exclusivity over land of the tribal was scrapped in para 3 of the Sixth Schedule of the 2003 Memorandum of Settlement to facilitate land owning in the state by other settlers from different parts of India. It is in these localities where rioting has spread lately and Muslims are being slaughtered indiscriminately. There is even fear of an indigenous Muslim insurgency gaining foothold.
That is expected too. The 1983 Nellie Massacre claimed over 3,000 lives, mostly Muslims, after the All Assam Students Union (AASU) went on a rampage targeting minorities following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s declaration to hold elections in the state despite AASU’s opposition. The AASU’s foremost demand at that time was that electoral rolls be cleansed of illegal immigrants.
In 2008, further clashes between Muslims and Bodos resulted in 55 deaths, most of them Muslims, alleged to have migrated illegally from Bangladesh. Each time, illegal immigration was used as a ruse to conduct ethnic cleansing. 
This time too, BJP has alleged that illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants were behind the ongoing violence in the Bodo Territorial Area District (BTAD). During a press conference in Guwahati last Thursday, BJP national general secretary and Assam in-charge, Vijay Goel, said, “The illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants are behind these riots. The indigenous minority people are not involved.” 
If riots in Assam are attributed to illegal migrants from Bangladesh, what can explain why Hindu-Muslim riots are recurring phenomena all over India. Bangladesh or Pakistan can not be blamed for India having 2000-odd castes, eight major religions and 15-odd languages spoken in various dialects in the 22 states and nine union territories; besides a substantial number of other tribes and sects. And, what explains why in 2002 more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs in Gujarat after a train fire killed 60 Hindus returning from a pilgrimage? 
The Gujarat riots left tens of thousands of people homeless after the rioters set fire to Muslim homes and businesses. The state government, run by the Hindu nationalist BJP, was accused of facilitating the attacks by looking other way round as the rampages went on. No convincing explanation can be offered either for the 1992 Bombay riot or the 2002 Godhra riot. Hence, blaming Bengali immigrants for the Assam riot is the worst form of communal bigotry. 
It’s time that the immigrant population of Assam be treated as equal as they’ve moved there since the Ahoms from Burma conquered the region in 1228 and ruled for six hundred years. Moreover, Bangladesh’s ties to Assam are more historic than that of mainland India. 
The first significant Bengali speaking migration to Assam followed the British conquest of Assam in 1826; due to the British recruitment of Bengali officials for Assam’s administration. In 1831, the Government of Bengal designated Bengali as Assam’s official language and, the services of Bengalis became indispensable in the government due to local teachers not being available to impart lessons in Bengali, which was Assam‘s medium of instruction. It was not until 1873 that the Assamese succeeded in persuading the British to recognize Assamese as a separate language. And, by the early 1900s, East Bengali (Muslim) migrant settlers already constituted twenty percent of the border district populations in Assam. Are they still settlers?
Finally, following India’s partition in 1947, the Indian and Pakistani governments established a two-year ‘grace period’ during which Hindus in Pakistan could settle in India and Indian Muslims could emigrate to Pakistan. 
Pakistanis who migrated to India during the grace period automatically became Indian citizens. That explains why Assam today has a substantial number of Hindu Bengalis too.
Ignoring those facts, communalism has gone unchecked all over India, and, Assam bore the main brunt of this chauvinism. In the 25 years since the Nellie massacre, the anger against illegal migrants from Bangladesh played out over and over again, often fanned by communal politicians.
The current rioting sprang from an incident of May 29 in Kokrajhar, whereupon the All-Bodoland Minority Students Union (ABMSU) had called for a shutdown following a declaration by the BTC that a part of forest land used as an idgah maidan was an illegal encroachment. The tension between the BTC and the ABMSU took an ugly turn on July 6 once a Muslim man was shot dead in the Muslim neighbourhood of Kokrajhar. Since when Muslims lost their right to pray in India or in any other country?
As expected, clashes between the two communities continued on and off since, spinning out of control on July 19 when a leader of the Assam Minority Student Union and another one from the ABMSU were shot by unidentified gunmen. Next morning, few miles from Kokrajhar, four former cadres of the disbanded Bodoland Liberation Tigers were hacked to death, sparking all out counter attacks and rioting.
Look at the spins the politicians are putting to this tragedy. A letter written after the July 6 incident by a local Congress leader, Y.L. Karna, to the Assam Pradesh Congress president - with a copy to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi - reveals Karna mentioned the July 6 incident and cautioned that communal passions were running high in the area. Yet, no one bothered to deploy troops in the vulnerable areas. Instead, Bodo Council chief Hagrama Mahilary has claimed that armed Bangladeshis from across the border had come in and incited the violence. His deputy at the Council, Kampa Borgoyari, went a step further to say, “it is not a case of Bodos killing Muslims, it is a case of Muslims killing the Bodos.”
Worst still, members of the security forces joined the orgy of Muslim massacre, according to reliable sources. 
Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) and President of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) said, ‘Armed men in olive green jungle fatigues went about killing Muslim settlers.’ 
A human rights group is reportedly referring these allegations to the International War Crime Tribunal.
BY :  M. Shahidul Islam.

Mass graves for Myanmar's Rohingya

A recent journey to western Myanmar has revealed a provincial capital divided by hatred and thousands of its Muslim residents terrorised by what they say is a state-sponsored campaign to segregate the population along ethno-sectarian lines.

Decades-old tension between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in coastal Rakhine state exploded with new ferocity in June, leaving at least 78 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.

Exclusive reporting conducted last week in the highly restricted region suggests that the long-term fallout from recent violence could be even more damaging than the bloodshed.

The United Nations has estimated that 80,000 people are still displaced around the cities of Sittwe and Maungdaw, and international rights groups continue to denounce Myanmar for its role in the conflict.

As it stands, any thought of reconciliation between local Buddhists and Muslims appears a distant dream.

Many Rohingya have fled the polarised region, fearing revenge attacks and increasing discrimination. Their status has sparked international concern and disagreement.

Rights groups have condemned the violence. The Myanmar government has denied any wrongdoing, while neighbouring Bangladesh has rejected an influx of refugees and slashed access to aid.

For those Rohingya caught up in the dispute, the day-to-day situation is rapidly slipping from desperate to dire.

Social 'non-engagement'

In Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, the scars of recent conflict were everywhere.

Burned homes, shops and entire markets dot the Buddhist-majority city of nearly 200,000 people. 

Traditionally Muslim neighbourhoods, such as Shwe Pyar, Nazi Konetan and Mawlike, were deserted, locked up, or living in deep secrecy.

Prominent mosques and buildings, many of which were burned in arson attacks during the violence, now bear signs from the municipality reading, "No one is allowed to enter". Locals told Al Jazeera the properties have been taken over by the state. In some areas of Sittwe, the devastation from the violence that peaked in June is comparable to Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008.

Most striking was the almost completely absence of the Rohingya population that once made up nearly one-third of the city's residents, and the largest portion of its working class.

The impact of that loss was obvious. The Rohingya who worked as the city's ever-present rickshaw drivers and porters at the jetty and markets are now gone. There are no signs of Muslims at the airport, the boat that shuttles ferry passengers to outlying islands, or even the local busses that run from Buthidaung to Maungdaw, two Rohingya-majority states.

Local Hindus, and residents who appear to be of Indian descent, have taken to applying bindis on their foreheads to avoid being mistaken for Rohingya.

A range of interviews found that Buddhist Rakhines had collectively decided to practice a policy of "non-engagement" with the Rohingya. In practical terms, this meant a ban on businesses, as well as controlling access to food, medicine, travel and communication.

According to local sources, Rohingya are no longer allowed to enter the city's largest market or to travel from town to town.

'Facing starvation'

Outside Sittwe, where the fleeing Rohingya had gathered, the situation was worse. The village of Bhumei, a few kilometres to the west, was overrun by thousands of refugees who said they were forced from the city, first by mobs, then by security troops.

By local accounts, this camp is the biggest of the camps that have sprung up to shelter the displaced city dwellers.

The refugees endured the current monsoon rains in mud-floored tents, living mostly on bags of rice provided by the UN's World Food Programme. There is no clinic, proper bathroom or clean water, as witnessed by Al Jazeera.

The camp is surrounded by all hours by security troops. Many wonder if the soldiers are there to protect them from attacks from the Rakhine, or keep them under guard.

"Many of the refugees who fled from inside the city are manual labourers and daily wagers. We are having great difficulties just surviving each day. We fear what will happen to us if we go back to the town. We can't go there yet. Those who risked going back to their homes and shops were prevented by authorities on security grounds," said U Shwe Maung, a Rohingya refugee in Bhumei.

"We are sharing food with each other. We are now facing starvation. Even though we are provided food by the WFP, that is not enough for such a huge number of people like this," he added.

The Rohingya now forced to live in the Bhumei camp appeared desperate. One woman was crying in the street with her rain-soaked children on her lap. She said they were sick and there was no clinic to look after them or food to eat.

"We want to go back to our homes if the officials provide security for us," said Mahmud Shiko, a Rohingya in Bhumei.

"The police told me I'd find nothing back there if I return, but I still want to go back."

Military accused

The wave of violence in June was sparked by the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men in a Rakhine village.

Both ethnic communities attacked rival villages and neighbourhoods in the days that followed, destroying and torching homes, businesses and holy sites, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released last week.

The HRW report denounced both sides for the cycle of reprisal attacks, estimating that the death toll was far higher than the Myanmar government total of 78.

HRW also blasted Myanmar's security forces, sent in by the government, for standing down while the Rakhine and Rohingya groups battled each other. As the attacks escalated and thousands of Rohingya rioted, the report said that police and paramilitary troops fired on Rohingya protesters.

In an outlying area, according to the report, soldiers shot at Rohingya villagers as they tried to escape and looted food and valuables from their emptied homes.

Benjamin Zawacki, a Bangkok-based researcher for Amnesty International, described the violence as "primarily one-sided, with Muslims generally and Rohingya specifically the targets and victims".

HRW says hundreds of men and boys were rounded up in mass arrests, their whereabouts still unknown. Informal Rohingya estimates put the number of missing and arrested in the thousands.

On the hushed streets of Sittwe and in the tent city outside Bhumei, Rohinyga speak of the brutality of the Rakhine and the Myanmar forces, and of the many loved ones still missing from the conflict.

Animosity abounds

The alleged victims are not the only combatants talking about the violence.

In a series of interviews with off-duty security officers at bars and restaurants in Sittwe, a picture emerged of what some Myanmar military and police think about the Rohingya.

An ethnic Rakhine soldier from the 352 Light Infantry Battalion claimed he and his comrades killed "300 Rohingya" from Myothugyi village near the area of Three Mile between Buthidaung and Maundaw townships on the night of June 8.

The soldier, whose name has been withheld, explained that the killings took place when hundreds of Muslims blocked and tried to overwhelm the truck carrying his unit. The victims were unaware the truck, a civilian vehicle used for road construction, was carrying soldiers.

"I put the butt of my gun here at [the right side of] my waist and shot down many Muslims while keeping my left hand on magazines so that I could quickly fill up my bullets," said the soldier, now stationed at a village outside Maungdaw.

"There were so many dead bodies that we even had to call in a bulldozer to make a mass grave."

Another ethnic Rakhine soldier boasted that he and his troops killed uncountable numbers of Rohingya in the village of Nyaung Chaung in the countryside around Maungdaw during the early June crackdown.

"We have even still kept this from our [commanding] officers," he said.

It was impossible to verify these claims. Even so, the uncaring nature of the statements shows the animosity that some who wield power have for the Rohingya.

Such anger is easily apparent on the streets.

An educated Rakhine woman, visiting Maungdaw from the US where she has lived for 20 years, spoke bitterly when asked if the human rights she enjoys should be granted to Rohingya to ease tension between the communities.

"Human rights are for human being only. Are Rohingya humans?" she told Al Jazeera.

"We are the house owners and they are the guests. When the guests attempt to drive out the homeowners, human rights are no longer meant for them."

Government 'solution'

The Myanmar government has strongly denied accusations of abuse from rights groups.

"The government has exercised maximum restraint in order to restore law and order in those particular places," read a statement released on Monday.

The government also denounced "attempts by some quarters to politicise and internationalise this situation as a religious issue", a sidelong reference to the criticism emerging from Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, over the assaults on Rohingya.

Then again, the government has, over the years, denied the entire existence of a "Rohingya problem", and even the Rohingya themselves.

Myanmar's formerly military government and its state-run media have strictly avoided the word "Rohingya", referring to the group instead as "Bengali Muslims", implying that the people are not indigenous and have migrated to Myanmar a fewl decades ago. The Myanmar immigration minister has repeatedly said that there are no Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Last month, in his meeting with a UN High Commissioner for Refugees delegation, President Thein Sein said refugee camps or deportation was the only answer for nearly the country estimate 800,000 to a million Rohingya Muslims.

"We will take responsibility for our ethnic people but it is impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingyas, who are not our ethnicity," he told UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres, according to the president's official website.

The former general said the "only solution" was to send the Rohingyas to refugee camps run by UNHCR.

"We will send them away if any third country would accept them. This is what we are thinking is the solution to the issue."

Uncertain future

The government, when it does discuss the issue, blames the resentment and fear that the Rakhine have for the Rohingya on a potential population explosion that would see the group seize power.

Outside its capital city, Rakhine state is nearly two-thirds Rohingya. The adjacent states of Maungdaw and Buthidaung are already majority Rohingya, according to official figures.

The population fears, possibly stemming from cultural stereotypes, are an issue that 72-year-old Rohingya elder Sayyad Abdullah can appreciate. He has four wives, 28 children and, in his words, "lots" of grandchildren.

Last week, authorities cited Abdullah's family and quoted him in press briefings about the so-called population explosion. Abdullah rejected any desire for an autonomous state and said he was open to government measure to curb Rohingya families to one wife and two children, but not at the expense of dignity.

"We just desire equal rights like the Rakhine and the Burmese, and we want nothing more than a normal life," he told Al Jazeera.

Other Rohingya leaders say the perception of their community is wrong, and racist. The majority are impoverished farmers and labourers, but some Rohingya hold university degrees and own many businesses in Sittwe and Yangon.

Thein Zaw and Kyaw Hla, who are now overseeing the distribution of food aid at the Bhumei refugee camp, belong to the wealthiest class of Sittwe. They claim their forefathers have lived in Rakhine state for 350 years.

As it stands, the vast majority of Rohingya are denied Myanmar citizenship, cannot own businesses, marry or relocate. The president's proposal to relegate the Rohingya population to UNHCR-run camps seems unsustainable and humiliating.

Whether this long-simmering dispute is founded in race, religion or population, matters little to the Rohingya stuck in camps such as Bhumei. Nor to the Rakhine who live in majority Rohingya areas and claim to live in constant fear of attack.

Some scholars, such as Myanmar expert Bertil Linter, claim the animosity between Rakhine and Rohingya began during the Second World War, when Buddhists backed the Japanese and Muslims the British. Other experts say the rift began centuries before.

In either case, unless the government or international bodies intervene, the violence and discrimination seem destined to continue.