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When Buddha Looks Away Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Drik Calendar 2018

There was no other soul in sight. We were crossing a small stream close to the holy Mansarwar Lake in Tibet. Our driver stopped by the stream and honked continuously. My incredulous gaze must have given me away. “I might hurt the fish” our Buddhist driver explained. While that first experience of Buddhism in practice has stayed with me, I am constantly shaken by the extreme violence that Buddhists have demonstrated in Thailand, Sri Lanka and now Myanmar. This is of course not limited to Buddhism alone, the violence by Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews, all in the name of religion, is the bane of our world today. Being the ‘wrong’ religion, colour, race, class or sex has been reason why entire populations have been decimated, unjust wars waged, the continued brutal persecution of innocent people across the globe.

Myanmar identity card of a Rohingya refugee. Balukhali camp, Ukhiya upazila. September 14, 2017. © Rabbi Al Mubin
Relatives and co-travellers gather around a Rohingya woman who fell sick when the boat encountered rough waters. Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf upazila, September 14, 2017. © Abdullah Apu

Greed is nothing new. We are no strangers to people being dispossessed by landgrabbers, or wars being waged in the pursuit of others’ resources. It is the duplicity of the international community, the hugely differing responses to crises depending upon how valuable the victims are as political pawns and the rhetoric used to justify such actions that vex me.

Having crossed the Naf river in the middle of the night, a Rohingya family disembarks from the boat to safety and shelter on Bangladesh soil. Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf upazila, September 27, 2017 © Enamul Hasan.
Since August 25, 2017, over half a million Rohingya refugees, a majority of them women and children, have fled to Bangladesh over a two-month period. Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf upazila, September 10, 2017. © Naymuzzaman Prince

The credibility of a Nobel Peace Prize that went to Kissinger and Obama but not to Gandhi or Edhi has long been shred to tatters, but the silence of the Nobel Peace Committee when their awardees justify the killing of innocents, demonstrates how little such entities care either for public opinion or for justice.

Afraid of losing their lives, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas flee Myanmar. Palongkhali, Ukhiya upazila, October 9, 2017. © Suman Paul
Man and household cow, after having crossed Naf river safely. Shah Porir Dwip, Teknaf upazila, September 9, 2017. © Parvez Ahmad

But what difference does that make to the little girl who has seen her father killed, her mother raped, her home burned? What comfort would it bring her if world leaders did indeed denounce such barbaric acts? It is their inaction that affects her now. She is hungry, homeless and scared. She needs a family, a caring touch. She needs to believe that tomorrow can be different.

Fleeing persecution in his native land, a son struggles to save his mother and himself. Lamber Beel, Teknaf upazila, September 7, 2017. © Tapash Paul/Drik
A Rohingya child near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, on way to Balukhali camp, Ukhiya upazila. Many children have lost their parents. October 4, 2017. © Abu Ala

The evidence of injustice is overwhelming. The scale of the persecution unbearable.The need on the ground staggering. Food, water, toilets, medical care are all very real and very immediate needs. The challenge of managing the largest refugee camp in the world by a country little equipped in dealing with such emergencies insurmountable.

Sanowara Begum with her two-day-old infant in Taingkhali refugee camp. Palongkhali, Ukhiya upazila, October 5, 2017. © Samsul Alam Helal
The pain and anguish of being forced to be stateless at an age when one had expected peace and tranquility. Hakimpara refugee camp, Ukhiya upazila, October 2, 2017. © Hasan As Sakib

These photographs, powerful as they are, show the visible pain. The torment, the insecurity, the fear, the burning inside, the sense of eternal loss, remain undocumented.

Desperate for food, as the world's conscience slumbers. Balukhali new camp, Palongkhali. October 17, 2017. © Shakawat Hossen
A Rohingya family takes shelter beside the road after entering Bangladesh. Balukhali, Ukhiya upazila, August 8, 2017. © Noor Alam

If the world indeed has a conscience then the time is now to demonstrate that we, as a people, cannot, will not, stand by while one of the greatest injustices of modern times continues to take place on our watch. Even if we fail to make ourselves accountable, our children and our children’s children will ask us how we could have let it happen and we will never have an answer. It is a question that will haunt us all our lives.

A young Rohingya girl tends her father on the floor of the 250-bed District Sadar Hospital in Cox's Bazar, stretched with patients thrice its capacity. October 7, 2017. © Shahidul Alam/Drik

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