A TALE OF ROHINGYA
By Nuruddin Jahangir
Writing on Rohingya, in any form, is difficult for prohibitive nature of relevant facts and documents but imagining about the Rohingyas is impossible for inconceivable plights they are left to suffer. Turning the Rakhaine state into a highly restricted zone to visit, Rohingyas were reduced to a muted group in literal sense of whom no narrative is allowed to represent the reality in public. Yet, few litterateurs dared to portray their lives, capturing very familiar pattern of sins and sufferings, trials and tribulations, genesis and nemesis, which were perceived to be the very process of annihilation and dehumanization of Rohingya. It falls short of sense and sensibility in the way Rohingyas are portrayed and projected, through which they are defined simply as stateless or the most persecuted ethnic group in the world, where they are made a kind of un-man. Even an iota of truth of their maladies is more pitiful and heart-rending than the way it is represented in the reports crafted with carefully chosen words and censored terms by researchers in academia.
In this lacuna, reading of A Tale of Rohingya, a haunting novel by Nuruddin Jahangir, published in 2018 by Pratiksha Publication in Dhaka, could be a genuine pursuit to dive deep into the phenomenology of ethnocide perpetrated by state machineries on the basis of identity politics in Arakan. Nuruddin Jahangir, who unfolded hidden stories of plights of Rohingya, is a Bangladeshi novelist, of whom it is the first novel in English though he has a number of Bangla novels in his credit.
The narrative started with an interview for job at Cox's Bazar, a bordering city with Mayanmar. Solomon, the protagonist is a fugitive Rohingya of Arakan and subsequently unwanted refugee of Bangladesh, who was brought up in Cox's Bazar by a kind couple and provided with education and citizenship. He had left his parents at the very early stage of his life. Henceforth, he lost his connection with his parents, of whom he knows nothing now but retained fluency in Burmese, a language he was taught by his mother. It is the skill which is required to work for distressed people from an aspiring candidate, so, his interview for the job in UNHCR at Cox's Bazar was a successful one.
He was working for those Rohingyas, who were driven out from and uprooted through every possible ways from their habitat, culture, politics and economy. Worse to it, they were denied every right to live. The scale of brutality perpetrated against Rohingya combining with rape, killing, burning, community dislocation, torture and sexual harassment, is not to be coined in contesting word like genocide or ethnocide. It is the reason why researchers are in constant battle with political ontology of ethnocide against Rohingya.
Like many others in Rakhine state in Mayanmar, Solomon is the product of inter-faith marriage, whose mother was a Magh in faith and father is a Muslim. The case of inter-religious and inter-racial marriage between Solomon's parents was one of the causes of accumulated hate of Buddists for Rohingya.
Nuruddin Jahangir tried to narrate both intensified past and horrible present of the Rohingya, depicting panoramic picture of history without taking a moral position, yet readers may find points to take a position.
An unbecoming but important counterpart of Solaiman is Rubina, who represents the observer from outside as a refugee worker. Rubina, a highly educated woman of elite cultural background from Bangladesh, is quite unmatched with Solomon but they come close to each other in the way they deal the refugee crisis. They started a long journey for Teknaf, on the way to where they visited some refugee camps like Damdamia refugee camp and Dhoapalong refugee camp. Interaction between Solomon and Rubina was a kind of exploratory journey to historical legacies of Rohingya and the crisis attached to them.
Soloman is none but a missing Rohingya boy who was compelled to flee Arakan lest he should be killed by Nasaka after he had caused death to a drunkard Buddhist hooligan, who tried to harass Solomon's juvenile sister sexually out of fun. To save his elder sister, locally called Bubu, from being raped and to avoid the momentum of being killed by Magh, Solomon punched the attacker Mang Cha Lu.
Unlike any part of the world Arakan or Rakhine is not a place where Rohingya neither have a right to take resort to law of the land nor are they taken as equal before the law. Only annihilation through structural marginalization, killing, rape and forcefully disappearance are norms of the Magher Mulluk, the land of Magh. When a boy like Solomon escapes death, fleeing away from Arakan, he is declared as dead in family book by his parents to avoid continuous harassment or victimization as a member of RSO (the Rohingya Solidarity Organization). Sometimes, they are permitted to visit their parents and renew family book with names in exchange of bribes but paying such a huge price bears a serious consequences for family. It brings economic vulnerability to a family to such an extent that they become instantly powerless under unfavourable military rule.
Being sheltered in Bangladesh, what they face is not less disgraceful than the situation they faced in Myanmar, because, here too, family is treated according to family book they carry, where names of those missing boys are not included. It is why they remain refugees among refugees, who cannot meet their family in spite of residing in the same camp. They are deprived of rights enjoyed by a refugee only for non-existence of their name in their family book. A man like Solomon is stateless between the states and unwanted in families in refugee camp. They are the refugees who are struck again and again by trauma, from their home to the camp of homelessness.
A Tale of Rohingya, reveals everything about Rohingya, where their history, sufferings, marginalization, ethnic cleansing, insurgency, crime, vulnerability, refugee life, annihilation etc are depicted. At the onset one might not assume what will be unfolding in later part of the story, which is not compact, yet attractive for minutely expressive diction of narrative, where redundancy of words is carefully avoided. But Solomon's meeting with Fatima's mother to whom he owe a lot for she cared him when he was quite helpless, and that Solomon failed to meet his mother at the moment of departure from Teknaf and ultimately a quick departure of Solomon from the life of Rubina are such plots of scene that put a deep mark in readers psyche. A Tale of Rohingya deserves to be read for its historical relevance and literary elegance.
The reviewer is an M Phil research fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Chittagong