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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

There Are No Two Sides Of The Pain Of Rohingyas: Jeffrey Gettleman At JLF

  • IWB Post
  •  January 30, 2018

Diaspora is not just a word. Migration is not just a phenomenon. It is the constant yearning for a home that is far off, or probably doesn’t even exist. And those living in the safe confines of their homelands with a nationality that they take for granted will never really understand it. The session The Rohingyas Crisis on the Day 5 of JLF tried to explore the same idea.

While a lot of political contemplation has gone into the presence of Rohingyas in India, there is a question that has been seldom raised – what was their fault? From being referred as “stateless” to being called a threat to the nation, the Rohingya identity is tainted with shame.

During the session, Nick Perry raised the point that while the validity of testimonies and trials given by the rohingyas is always questioned, how is it possible that the stories of pain and loss remain uniform even when the people narrating them change? His message was clear- there is a huge possibility that they have been uttering a painful truth all this while.

Jeffrey Gettleman took up the task of narrating one such tale of pain as an evidence for the fact that what the Rohingyas are going through is a real crisis and needs immediate attention and more than that needs human compassion.

With a belief that in the contemporary world it is a task of great difficulty to keep people focused at one issue for a long time, Jeffrey somehow found himself at one of Rohingya “mega-camp” to challenge it. He went there in pursuit of a story that “grabs people by the shoulder and shakes them”.

He was introduced to a young woman who had scars on her face. She was bruised and really thin. Just by the sight of her he could sense a story full of horror and pain. He yearned to listen to what the woman had to say. He looked around and saw that a mass of people had gathered around them astonished by the presence of a first world media man among them. Immediately becoming aware of the vulnerability of her situation he decided to have a word with her in a secluded area where she could confide sans any fear or shame.

They found a makeshift house located at the center of the camp and asked the inmates of the house to vacate it for a short while and they obliged. Jeffrey then sat with the troubled woman, a cameraman and no one else to listen to a story that would haunt him forever.

While the relationship of the Rohingyas and the Buddhist people who lived in Myanmar was always a troubled one and the Rohingyas always lived in the fear of the Myanmar army, it took a gory turn that day. While small disputes with minor interjections from both sides was a day to day thing, that day the army reacted like never before. On a regular, uneventful day, they were suddenly attacked by the army.

As soon as the army arrived, men and women were segregated. The women were asked to “wait in the river” and while they waited, the men of the community were systematically butchered in all kinds of savage ways. After they were done with the men, the women were raped one after the other and then killed.

The woman told Jeffrey that she had a one-year-old baby boy and when the army approached her she clutched him tighter. As a reaction to the resistance, they snatched him from her and threw him in the fire and the last thing she remembered was his painful cry.

They raped her repeatedly after that and killed her mother and sister and set her house on fire just like all the other houses of the community. She woke up because of the smoke and walked out of the house all naked and covered in blood and somehow made her way to the refugee camp.

Jeffrey recalled how after sharing her story with him, the woman disappeared in the crowd of many other Rohingyas with stories similar to hers and that was the last time he saw her. But the feeling of “helplessness” that she left him with stayed for a long time.

Through the medium of the story Jeffrey had just one thing to say to the audience at JLF: while a lot of Rohingya stories are claimed to be fabricated and a part of Myanmar politics, he saw in her eyes that her pain was real.

“There are no sides to it- there are no two sides of marching six million Jews into gas chambers. They have been victimized hundred percent and a woman had nothing to do with the politics of Myanmar was raped and her kid was killed,” he finished.

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