The crippling government and Rakhine abuse of Rohingya has been building for decades. When I was first in Burma and Rakhine State I witnessed many many shameful abuses of kind and peaceful Rohingya people. The following is an episode that exposed the deep psychological wounds of persecution upon a Rohingya woman.
“We have no time for you.” How these words have haunted me. Haunted ME?!? How about the mother who carried her ill six month old son to our health compound hours before clinic hours started. This mother asked for medical help for her son. Our clinic assistant replied, “’We have no time for you.’” Four mornings later this mother’s son was dead.
She repeated, “’We have no time for you,’” as tears rolled down her cheeks. Tears flowed while she cradled her arms, showing me how she yearned to hold her precious alive baby boy again.
I was sitting close to her. I instinctively reached for her hand. Her hand welcomed the touch, my touch. Soon, we held hands. This contact communicated so much. She mattered. Her son’s death mattered. They mattered to a stranger, to this American doctor.
This woman adjusted her black headscarf, which shifted in the breeze, as we sat outside her woven bamboo house. You see, she was Muslim and, therefore, here in Rakhine State, Burma, aka Myanmar, she didn’t matter. The message to this loving mother who’s concern and correct judgment to ask for medical care for her ill infant son, was “You don’t matter.” She and her son didn’t matter to our Rakhine Buddhist clinic assistant.
This mother and I sat close in the front seat as our driver took us into our clinic compound. She dreaded having to return to the scene. She pointed to identify which assistant had turned her away and said, “The fat one.” Then she bent her head down, cried more and accepted my offered hand, again.
Of course the fat clinic assistant was standing close to the fatter Burmese clinic doctor. I couldn’t just assume and had the driver loop around again. Through tears the dear mother clarified and specifically identified the assistant as the perpetrator of refusal of care.
Then, she quickly turned away her head. Somehow, I knew she was expressing more than sorrow. The assistant shamed, humiliated her. She was a mother with a sick infant seeking help. “Shame on you,” was the message within the response. This caring and grieving mother still felt humiliated, dehumanized for doing what mothers universally do, i.e. care for their children.
My hand, my closeness, listening and understanding were making a human connection with someone who was mourning the loss of her son and the lack of humanity in connection with his death.
This was not the first time this mother had been dehumanized. The atmosphere of life for Muslims in Northern Rakhine State, AKA Rohingya, was infused with humiliation and dehumanization from the ruling military government, the military border security forces, named NaSaKa, local security forces, many Rakhine Buddhists and other civilians from outside Rakhine.
Northern Rakhine State (NRS) is the area in Burma with the largest and most concentrated numbers of Rohingya Muslims. Muslims of Rakhine and many other minority populations in Burma have been targets of the ruling military regime’s brutal persecution and human rights abuses for many decades.
The aura of persecution clung to me soon after my arrival to the project. But I found the Muslims’ strength of character and peaceful dignity in the face of inhumanity awe inspiring and compelling.