Is a ‘Black Squad’ Behind Killing of Rohingya Hindus in Myanmar?
Who are the Masked Men Targeting Rohingya Hindus and Why?
Hindus constitute less than one percent of the Burmese population. Those from the Rakhine province, the Rohingya Hindus are ethnically similar to the Muslims, and have coexisted peacefully for centuries.
However, the so called 'clearance operation' by the Myanmar military of Rohingya Muslim insurgents, which has seen 'scorched earth' tactics of entire villages, has also caused unfathomable collateral damage to the Rohingya Hindus.
Why one would want to drag Myanmar’s Hindu minority into the crisis that involves Buddhists and Muslims, does not require much imagination, if one is aware of the historical context of the sub-continent. Who is really responsible for the brutal killings and mass graves, is the big question.
So, What’s the Truth Behind the Massacre of Rohingya Hindus in Myanmar?
On 28 September, 28 brutally disfigured bodies, of mostly women and children, were dug up and laid out in rows in Myanmar’s Ye Bauk Kyar hamlet, around 15 km south of the Bangladeshi border. The victims, it is said, belonged to the nearby Kha Maung Seik village.
Myanmar’s authorities instantly laid blame on Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents. Graphic photos were quickly distributed across social media as evidence of terrorism.
On 29 September, 17 more bodies were unearthed. A press conference was organised to interview grieving relatives, who sat mourning over the horrific remains of their loved ones found in mass graves.
Journalists were flown to the area to be briefed by the Directorate of Public Relations and Psychological Warfare, and the Maungdaw district administration.
The day before the bodies were found, this reporter was visiting refugee camps in Bangladesh. Keen to speak to him were Hindu refugees from Chikonchori, known as the Oo Htein hamlet in Burmese, and is part of the Thit Tone Nar Kwa Sone village tract. Chikonchori is just two km from Kha Maung Seik, which is where the Rohingya Hindus were massacred. Their account of what happened is conflicting and contradictory to what the Myanmar government would have the world believe.
Theory 1: Masked Killers Who Don’t Discriminate Between Rohingya Hindu & Rohingya Muslim
On 25 August, Nilanjan (50) says, a group of at least 50 heavily armed black-clad masked men entered his Hindu-dominated village of Chikonchori and killed three of his relatives. He claims people in his village identified the group as the same men they’d seen massacre Hindus in the nearby Kha Maung Seik hamlet.
Five days later, on 31 August, the black squad left.
Unanswered Question: Why did this masked group selectively target Rohingya Hindus?
This begs the question – if the primary aim of the ARSA or the Rohingya Muslim Army, as the Burmese government suggests, was to selectively target Rohingya Hindus, why was Chikonchori spared? Why were only three of the hundreds of other Rohingya Hindus spared the same fate met by their neighbours in Kha Maung Seik?
Unable to identify them categorically, Nilanjan claims the black squad spoke both the Rakhine language and the Sadhu Vhasa, which is a literary variation of the Bengali language. “I don’t recognise them, but they kill Muslims too”, he says, indicating that this murderous group does not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims.
Theory 2: The ARSA is Killing Both Hindus and Muslims
Milon Kumar is from Shahab bazaar and was visiting his relative in Chikonchori when the masked squad held the village hostage for five days. He believes that the deadly group of mercenaries is part of the Al Yaqin, the former name of the ARSA.
Unanswered Question: Why would the ARSA, a Muslim Army engaged in an ethnic clash with Buddhists, first target their own, and then the Hindus?
By failing to discriminate between its victims, is the ARSA orchestrating massacres to frame the Myanmar Army? Is this a ploy to counter the narrative presented by the Burmese government?
Theory 3: The Masked Squad has the Backing of the Myanmar Government
Bodiur Rahman, a Rohingya Muslim, was the chairman of the Tula Toli village, which suffered one of the worst massacres in the area. Rahman says his grandson was brutally assaulted by masked men in black, with long hair tied in buns.
Bodiur Rahman firmly believes that these death squads are government-backed killers, who are made to wear black t-shirts and masks in order to resemble the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Unanswered Question: Are there people embedded in the refugee camps in Bangladesh who are directing the narrative that Hindus were slaughtered by Muslim militants?
What fuels this speculation is the relentless media campaign perpetrated by the Myanmar government, that has unraveled by itself, on more than one occasion.
A Narrative Dictated by the Myanmar Government?
Indeed, Myanmar authorities seem to have gone to great lengths to divide the Hindu community from the Rohingya Muslims in their media management strategy. One such attempt backfired spectacularly when journalists debunked photographs shown to them on a Myanmar government tour, which depicted a woman, purportedly Rohingya, torching a home and wielding a machete. Yet, the very same woman was also present as a Hindu in a school for displaced Hindu families, and without the peculiar Hijab she was sporting when engaged in arson as a Rohingya.
The Dhaka Tribune quotes a Reuters interview published in August. Three widowed Rohingya Hindu refugees claimed that they’d been attacked by Rakhine Buddhists. Later, they changed their statements to say that the attackers were Rohingya Muslims, who brought them here and told them to blame the Buddhists.
The Myanmar government had air dropped hundreds of troops into the Rakhine province a month before the actual assault. In November 2016, Al Jazeera (Myanmar arms non-Muslims civilians in Rakhine) reported how Myanmar was arming and training non-Muslim civilians in Rakhine. Human rights groups had red flagged the program, started ostensibly to counter “an allegedly growing threat from fighters belonging to the ethnic Rohingya minority group”.
A United Nations investigative team could be best placed to determine the facts. Indira Jaising, a senior Supreme Court of India advocate was to lead the UN’s investigative team, but Myanmar’s refusal to grant them a visa has stalled the prospect of any independent investigation for now.
The ARSA has categorically denied any involvement in the attacks on Hindus. They claim the media outrage by the Myanmar government engages in “victim blaming.” It is more than that, and is likely to have along-lasting and damaging impact on relations between the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Internationally, the reverberations are already noticeable in the rhetoric against Rohingya Muslims in India. And without a formal investigation, this confusion will only foment suspicion, division, and possibly further violence.