United colours of discrimination

United colours of discrimination

Khin Mg Myint, Kevin Halim, Nasreen Habib and Dena Rachman share experiences of discrimination at the regional seminar and workshop held for journalists in Bali from March 18-20. (Photo courtesy: the Journalists Association for Diversity, Sejuk)

Rohingya, Transgender, Assamese Bengali Muslim share stories as persecuted minorities

Morung Express News
Bali (Indonesia) | March 31

It is genocide. Khin Mg Myint of the Harmony Working Group, Myanmar (Burma), shows no sign of doubt while speaking about the persecution that the Rohingya people from the Rakhine state of Myanmar have been undergoing for decades now.

“More than one million Rohingya have been forcibly deported to Bangladesh,” said Myint, sharing experiences of “systematic oppression” of the Rohingya people in Myanmar at a regional seminar and workshop for journalists held here in March on the Nexus Between Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Express in Southeast Asia.

“After forcing us to flee, the Burmese security forces bulldozed our homes in an attempt to remove all signs of our existence,” informed the Rohingya activist.

Not only has the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government denied the alleged “genocide” in Rakhine state, “90 percent of the Myanmar media acted against the Rohingya, taking the military’s side,” maintained Myint. With big economic interests in Myanmar’s resources, western nations have kept mum, as has the international community.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been “complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity of the Rohingya,” alleged Myint, by staying away from the issue, even attempting to “whitewash” it due to similar economic interests in Myanmar.

Gender expression
With no policies for legal gender recognition in Indonesia, “scars often become our identity.” Kevin Halim, Deputy for Trans Program, GWL-INA, was referring to the violence that transgender people in Indonesia face as a result of discrimination, news reportage of stereotypical images and lack of government policies that recognize and affirm gender expression.

“The media is not interested to report on transgender people if we display non-stereotypical behavior,” revealed Halim. Reportage on the community often hinges on “vague generalizations of sadistic love” and other such prejudices. According to activist Dena Rachman, transgender people are not even allowed to follow a religion as they are seen to be “not following the rules.”

Halim called for policies that allow self-determination of gender identity as well as affirmation of gender (through surgeries, for instance, in the case of transwomen) so that they are protected against stigma and discrimination.
Legal gender recognition, she asserted, will help transpeople gain access to basic rights available to cisgender people, like going to school or traveling freely.

Plight of those left out
In an attempt to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, 4 million people – more than half of them women and children – have been disenfranchised by the state. Inundated by the process, 21 people have already committed suicide with many poor people running helter-skelter trying to prove their ancestors lived in Assam before March 31, 1971. Those “suspected” of being “illegal Bangladeshis” are being crowned Doutbful or D voters (even before the NRC process began); with no repatriation treaty with Bangladesh, India is likely to force these people to spend the rest of their lives in a detention centre.

Nasreen Habib, Sub Editor of the Assam Tribune, explained the haphazard NRC process and how the Assamese Bengali Muslim people are facing the worst brunt of the discrimination it furthers, a discrimination that has run like a current through Assam for decades now. By pitting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2006 as a parallel force, the government attempted to save the Bengali Hindus from the disenfranchisement the NRC would invariably create for them.

The media in Assam often became a tool for majoritarian assertion depending on which part of the State it operated in.

Educate people
The media has a role to educate people, asserted Kevin Halim, while listing what it could do right to avoid further violence against the discriminated.
Report the good news about marginalized minorities, suggested Dena Rachman. And, “get strong public opinion behind you, whether locally, nationally or internationally,” recommended Endy Bayuni, Senior Editor of the Jakarta Post.

People are more than their gender or religious identity. This humanity needs to be accorded to all groups of people.

In Assam, Bengali-origin Muslim poets are taking a different route; they are turning “Miya” – a slur for illegal immigrant – on its head. Here is a poem by Shalim:
See me catch a plane, get a Visa, catch a bullet train
Catch a bullet
Catch your drift
Catch a rocket
Wear a lungi to space
And there where no one can hear you scream,
I am Miya
I am proud