The mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar has drawn the attention of world media, following what is widely being called ethnic cleansing conducted by the military of the Buddhist majority country.
Over 3,70,000 of them have escaped to the neighboring country of Bangladesh according to data from United Nations and India has claimed to now have 40,000 Muslims from the Rakhine region of the nation formerly called Burma.
Though there is a lack of clarity on the Indian government's stand on the handling of the issue as regards to its submissions in Supreme Court, what it intends to do is clear from the stand of the Home Ministry and its ministers that these ''illegal immigrants'' will have to be deported soon as they pose a security threat.
Such a stand has seen some 7,000 settlers of the community in Jammu region to submit a petition in the apex court asking to be treated with dignity as they are not terrorists and not such a single such case against them exists.
While the chances of the government changing its stance, stated by senior ministers, in the affidavit to be submitted on Monday remains slim, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and the country as a whole would do well to measure its response by remembering that despite Rohingya's being the latest and the most persecuted community in Myanmar and probably the world, various Indians communities have also suffered a similar same fate in India's neighbour with which it shares over 1500 km long border.
Indians from various states when the country was still under British rule, as was Myanmar, migrated there for job and trade opportunities. These included mostly who belonged to Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marwadi and Bengali communities. They were part of the civil service, traders, farmers, and laborers among others.
Although many of them did well for themselves financially, racial discrimination and slurs aimed towards them have existed ever since the beginning. Such communities flourished under the British Raj but major incidents of violence with racial undertones raised their heads towards the end of it.
The fourth decade of the 20th century witnessed first major instances of anti-Indian violence. The first of these in 1931 had its roots in clashes between the Telugu and Burmese dockworkers in Rangoon, the then capital of the country. The second one, which saw even worse rioting, broke out after a Muslim writer wrote a book considered critical of Buddha. Though it started out as a religious issue, violence quickly turned against all Indians.
The situation became worse in the 40's with World War 2 as Japan attacked the country and British withdrew, leaving the Indian communities vulnerable to attacks from the invading army as well as Burmese nationals. This led to the first major exodus of those of Indian-origin.
Independence of the country in 1948 complicated the situation and it deteriorated further after the military coup in 1962 as it followed growing demands of federalism by different ethnic groups in the country. Next couple of years saw the ouster of more than three lakh people with origins in India.
To make matters worse, a new citizenship law introduced in 1982 rendered those with origins outside the country stateless as it was based in racial terms and not on place of birth. This also led to reverse-migration to India and is still causing a similar effect in the treatment meted out to Rohingyas as well. The technical end of the military rule in 2011 has done little to change these ground level realities.
One major result of this for those of Indian-origin in present-day Myanmar is the dilution of the culture of the places of their origin. The Tamil community is a prime example of this, with Burmese becoming the medium of education and the closing of Tamil schools, the generations far removed from the original settlers are now more in touch with customs, culture, etc. of the Burmese rather than of their forefathers.
Meanwhile, those from the same community who had returned to India, finding it difficult to settle in the southern state of their ancestors, have according to many reports moved back to areas near the border between the two countries and set up businesses which help them stay in touch with their lives in Myanmar. The town of Moreh in Manipur, which has a large population of Burmese Tamils, an example of this.
Even with such a history of struggle, the actions or talk of representatives of the Indian government on the issue of Rohingya Muslims seem to suggest an acute ignorance, intentional or otherwise, of those still suffering similar fate to that of Indians in Myanmar, past and present. As little else would explain a decision to send them back that almost guarantees inflicting more persecution and violence on them.