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The terror in their eyes

  • Published at 05:57 pm March 2nd, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:11 pm March 2nd, 2017
The terror in their eyes

I think Shafiur Rahman’s short documentary film on the Rohingya women is a much-needed reminder for us and for the world, that the unimaginable terror that these people have faced and continue to face is not something we only hear in passing, not something we only scroll over on our newsfeeds, nor is it something that is a distant murmur of a tragedy like the Syrian war.

The documentary has given shape to the inhumanity that plagues the Rakhine state. The first-hand accounts of the women who have been raped, tortured, and forced to stand witness to their families’ slaughter give voice to the genocide of the most persecuted minority in the world. It makes it more real, more harrowing, and takes away the abstraction of the genocide.

There have been reports which said that UN humanitarian efforts were blocked off from the Rakhine state, the media was not allowed access to said state, and that the UN envoy was not welcome by the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. So much can change in 15 years.

Although Rohingyas have been the most persecuted minority for decades now, the end of 2016 wave of attacks and, for lack of a more appropriate word, the ongoing genocide have unfortunately failed to prompt Suu Kyi, a champion of human rights, to change her tune since her huge general elections win in late 2015.

She must be under a lot of pressure, for which she has to wave the flag of denial every time the world poses a question to her about the fate of Rohingyas in her country, but to do it for so long with such consistency -- this is the true testament of a world leader.

Most prominent world leaders have grappled for power at the cost of too many innocent lives to count, and for her to maintain her poker face in the face of this unimaginable atrocity shows a lot of showmanship for the job she applied for.

So, that is one side of the story -- a reality for the Rohingyas on one side of the border. Forced to leave their homes, fleeing death as fast as their legs can run, they have sought protection on the other side of the border.

They have now become the most persecuted refugees in the world, in the land of patriotism and nationalistic fervour, especially when it comes to taking down the Lady of Justice and allowing “special case” marriages with minors -- to ensure protection for the minor, of course.

It may seem like we have our priorities in utter disarray, but that is not wholly true.

There is so much happening at all times in a day, that the plight of the Rohingyas may take a backseat.

And I don’t know how else we can function as a collective conscience. Some stories, some tragedies have to take a backseat to make room for new stories. It is only natural.

This is why Shafiur Rahman’s documentary is so important. His efforts to document the loss and torture of people in the Rakhine state give a face to the ongoing inhumanity across our border.

It gives us more reason to question our government’s proposition to locate the most persecuted refugees on one island; it gives us more reason to ask: “Why is this so complicated?”

Why is our collective humanitarian effort to make the lives of the Rohingyas better and safer (OK, just safe?) marred with roadblocks, diplomacy, and bureaucracy?

It is too late to avert the initiation of the genocide, but there is still time to not let Rohingyas become mere background noise, not let them drown in our silence -- and one of the ways to do just that is to have more Shafiur Rahmans

I thought, because I was taught and told like thousands of others, that our Liberation War ended on a happy note because of our staunch courage; and also because we were able to seek refuge in India and ultimately receive military aid from India. So for a nation born from civil war and taking refuge in our bordering ally, shouldn’t we have more (ok, let’s start with some?) empathy for the Rohingyas?

This is not the first time that our borders have been crossed by hundreds in a wave of fear and desperation to not find a better life, but just life. Rohingyas are fleeing death, torture, and rape (you can rearrange that in any order you want), and Shafiur Rahman’s short film gives all of us a glimpse of just that -- their harrowing everyday life.

The irony is shameless. As the Nobel Peace Prize laureate sits in her hard-earned envelope of power and deny (chin up, with a point blank stare) the Rohingya’s fate, and existence, one can attempt to imagine how she manages to flaunt her apathy when she is no stranger to oppression and suffering, when she was unable to receive her Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 due to a house arrest, when she was a human rights advocate. Did she only fight for her rights then so that she can allow herself to bask in the power to trample on others?

The irony is stark. As pictures emerge of our Border Security Forces standing, facing the water, holding guns in anticipation of starved bodies, scarred bodies, limp bodies on boats -- only to turn them away back to hell, one can imagine how much worse it would have been to have the same fate handed back to us along the Indian borders in 1971.

Then, would our independence have come at a later date than December 16, or at all?

Thousands are already here, illegally or legally, and camps have been set up.

But much more needs to be done than propositions outlined by the government of an island for refugees as one of the (if not the only) answers to the unprecedented Rohingya migration issue.

The plight of the Rohingyas needs to be documented and shown to the world much more now than ever before so that we, at least, know this is a repeat of history that the international community pledged never to allow again. It is too late to avert the initiation of the genocide, but there is still time to not let Rohingyas become mere background noise, not let them drown in our silence -- and one of the ways to do just that is to have more Shafiur Rahmans.

Nusmila Lohani is an Editorial Assistant, Dhaka Tribune.