illustration of a red oriental symbol

A Letter from a Rohingya Woman of Myanmar

Myanmar is a developing country in South-East Asia which suffered more than 60years under international sanction and civil war. Since independence from colonisation, the ethnic groups haven’t stopped fighting with the Myanmar military. At the time of colonisation, the British government favoured some ethnic groups over others to control the country. After independence, our leader General Aung San gave a huge effort to unite the whole country and he promised to establish federalism in ethnic areas. Unfortunately, it never happened as General Aung San was assassinated together with his fellows by Buddhist nationalists.


Buddhist Nationalism is not new in Myanmar and its always being in Myanmar in the whole history. ‘Rohingya’ which Burmese accuse as ‘Bengali’ are one of the ethnic groups in Myanmar whose faith in Islam. The name ‘Rohingya’ is actually very new to all other ethnic groups in Myanmar as the name, and the whole ethnic group, were systematically destroyed and hidden from the media by Dictatorship. The geopolitics of the Rakhine state and May Yu district, where almost all Rohingya live, plays an important role in the genocide. Before independence, Rohingya also has an armed group called ‘Mujahadin’, and they fought Japanese army to help the British. In the Rakhine state, there are many other ethnic groups but Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya are the majority groups. Both groups share the same ancestors, but are different in that the faith divided them very strongly and they have hated each other throughout history.


About 98 per cent of the population of the Mayu district, which is near Bangladesh, are Rohingya. After independence, Rohingya leaders and Mujahadens wanted to separate from Myanmar and unite with East Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan leaders refused. So, they decided to drop the arms and unite with Myanmar. At that time, the Rakhine Buddhist group was also having arms and wanted to separate from Myanmar to establish a Rakhine Kingdom. So, Rakhine people hated Rohingya for uniting with the Myanmar government which constituted mainly with Burman people, a major ethnic group of Myanmar. Since that time, the two groups hated each other and Rakhine people have been fighting with the Myanmar military and keep holding their vision for the Rakhine Kingdom. Myanmar has more than 20 ethnic insurgent groups that fighting for federalism. Under dictatorship, all ethnic groups suffered. However, the Rohingya were victims of systematically genocide by the military. Before the dictatorship, U Nu’s democratic government recognised 143 ethnic groups in Myanmar. They recognised the Rohingya as ethnic but with the name of ‘Chittagong Muslims’ as Mayu district is close to the Chittagong state of Bangladesh. They were granted full citizenship, full civil rights and representation in Parliament. Under Military Dictator General Ne Win, all of these rights were removed from Rohingya and removed from the list of ethnic minorities. He declared only 135 ethnic groups as the ethnic of Myanmar. His military committed mass killing of Rohingya people. During the more than 60 years of Military regime, all people of Myanmar were subject to propagandised education system and media. We only had two TV channels, and two published newspapers. The military government censored these, and we had to learn manipulated history at schools. Western literature was strictly controlled and leftist ideas were strongly prohibited. We couldn’t access any news or information that were truthful.


The media will usually cast Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and ethnic insurgencies as terrorists. Rohingya are not allowed to exist from the Rakhine state, and they need permission for movement inside the country. Rohingya are not allowed to marry without permission. Only thirty people are allowed to marry in a year in one quarter. If they marry without permission, they are arrested and extorted huge amount of money by the police. Rohingya are not allowed more than two babies. They can’t access any health services and education. The military regime intentionally destroyed all the evidence of Rohingya identity, national registration cards, family registration cards, literature and books. It is part of the genocide. Since the time of General Ne Win, no Rohingya children can get birth certificates, national registration cards or anything which can prove their identity. By this way, all Rohingya were forgotten in Myanmar and the world. The regime persecuted all educated Rohingya. My grandparents were one of the educated Rohingya who served for this country as school teachers. However, under the military regime, my whole family became victims of persecution. The military confiscated my grandparents’ farms and properties. My father ran from the Rakhine state to Yangon forty years ago where he met with my Buddhist mom, who is from another ethnic group. My wise mom decided to hide our identity for the sake of our education and, so, our persecution was not as extreme as other Rohingya people. But my whole life, I didn’t dare to say that I am a Rohingya. We survived under constant fear of persecution. My father didn’t get any chance to return to the Rakhine state and couldn’t see his parents until now. My siblings and I also didn’t get any chance to meet them. I am a doctor and served a few years for this country in the war zones, but my grandfather died in Rakhine state without any medication.


Since 2010, the previous government which composed of military personals used Rohingya issue to take political advantage and to push Aung San Su Kyi political defeat. It is the most convenient way to put Aung San Su Kyi into this dilemma which they prepared for more than thirty years. The Rakhine state is very important for the geopolitics of China and also very resourceful. China bought all the coastal places of the Southern part of Myanmar as it is critical for Malacca peninsula. China also built the gas pipeline which transported the offshore gas from the Rakhine state to China. The majority of Rohingya were living in this area of the Rakhine state where China wants to build the business zone. In 2012, there was a conflict between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya which killed more than 4000 Rohingya and put more than a million Rohingya into the IDP camps. So, the military government backed by China confiscated all the lands of Rohingya and Rakhine people and put both communities into IDP camps. After this conflict, China was able to establish this pipeline project successfully. At that time, Aung San Su Kyi raised her voice not to bully Rohingya. For this reason, many Burmese people and Rakhine people accused her as pro-Muslim and nationalist monks attacked her in many ways. She took this as a lesson and on 2015 election, her party didn’t allow any Muslims candidate to participate in election, and Rohingya cannot vote.


Although Aung San Su Kyi’s party won the election, she can’t be a president because of the constitution. According to the constitution, she will never be a president and the country power is in the hand of the military chief. Soldiers occupy 25 per cent of the seats in the parliament, according to this constitution. ASSK government can’t change the constitution without revolution. She has no power over the military and the Rohingya issue is also not in her priority. She seems to differ from the reality which happening on the ground. Recently, torching of Rohingya houses is still happening. She raised her voice for Rakhine issue on 19 September, but there are many flaws and vague mentions of a detailed plan of repatriation and the verification of nationality for Rohingya people. However, I am very welcome for her effort towards Kofi Annan report which no previous government wanted to do. On the other hand, Rakhine Buddhists and the majority of Burmese people have an extreme view on this issue. Some Rakhine extremists are responsible for mob attacks toward the aids for the Rohingya people and torching and destruction of Rohingya houses that is highlighted by international media by a foreign journalist who witnessed these. Together with the ASSK, Burmese so-called democratic, human right activists and educated people including Burmese diplomats studying at the ANU have the desire to blame the victims by justifying ethnic cleansing on both sides.


The whole country seems to forget the ill-treatment of the military for more than 60 years which they had suffered when it comes to Rohingya issue. Their hiding racism, nationalism and Islamophobia blindfolded them from critical thinking.  Their racism, hate and torture pushed the oppressed Rohingya to be radicalised. Before the insurgent attacks, Rohingya villages were blocked by Rakhine people and police for many weeks. They couldn’t go out of their villages to find foods and things to survive. Finally, they decided to fight back. You can see on the information committee Facebook page of the Myanmar government, the majority of insurgents which they captured after the 25 August attack were not well-trained fighters and most of them are ordinary Rohingya people who fight with a small knifes and bamboo stick. However, I strongly condemn the leader of ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) and his fellows for their stupid choice which costs the thousands of lives of my people including my cousins. We will need to find a peaceful solution, and I am sure it will take many years for reconciliation. However, the military and China will never let this happen. They will never stop their greed. My people won’t be suffering in this way if they are not from Rakhine state or my country is not between China and India. So, the only solution is international community and the government to work together to strengthen the rule of law in Rakhine state and to give safety for my people until Kofi Annan’s report was establish fully.


We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.