What does a Rohingya feel when he is told that he is an ‘illegal immigrant’, a ‘security threat’ and ‘unwanted’ in India? What was their life like before they had to run away to save themselves? What does it feel to be reduced to just a statistic? What do the Rohingyas feel when they hear the news that they will be deported back to the land where their lives are in danger? In a five-part series, Raqib Hameed Naik speaks to five refugees who had to give up all they owned to attempt a start a new life. Their stories, in the first person, are an attempt to go beyond majoritarian narratives and give them a platform to express their views and opinions. In the second part, we listen to Mohammad Ali.
Mohammad Ali, 31, comes from Buthidaung town of Rakhine State. He along with his wife and four girl children live in a hut made up of polythene sheets, wood, and tin in Shram Vihar locality of South Delhi. He fled his town in 2012. This is his story.
“My name is Mohammad Ali and I was 26 when I left my country Myanmar on July 26, 2012. I remember the exact date because I had noted it in a diary. I have studied till class 10. I used to live with my parents, two brothers and two sisters in a two-room house in Buthidaung town.
I used to teach English subject to around 13-17 students up to class 6, earning enough to finance my needs. Parents used to come and request me to not leave their kids until their homework given in school is done.
But things were never good for us. After violence erupted in 2012, the government used to impose curfew in our town from six in the morning till six in the evening. We used to stay inside. Anyone who dared venture outside was shot dead. The guns were especially used against Muslims. The army used to come inside our villages and kill us.
Mostly, they used to target young boys as killing young Rohingya men would ensure that their next generation is wiped out.The army used to raid our houses and take us outside and kill us on the streets. The authorities used to issue notices to the families which had young teenagers as family members to report at the police stations or army camps.
It was their routine that every night, some 6-7 army personnel used to search our houses for young men and most of the time I used to give them a slip and take refuge in the neighbouring houses so as to save my life. Many youths were killed by the army and many of my friends and relatives fell to their bullets.
I remember Salauddin. He was my close friend in the town. He worked as a labourer in the town. He was called by the army to their base and since then I don’t know where he is. But this thing I know for sure he was shot dead because this is how they used to kill the youths: call them to their camps and kill them.
In another town, Maungdaw, seven of my friends were shot dead by the military. They were inside their houses when the army came and burned the structures down to ashes.
I was the only young man in my family. On 26 July, I received a similar notice from the army asking me to present myself at their camp. That was the moment my family asked me to run for my life because they knew if I go, I would meet the same fate as others.
The same night I left home and bid farewell to my family. Everyone was in tears when I left. I stayed in Shawprudaung village. Early morning I left at 5 am, marching through the mountains to reach Bangladesh-Myanmar border. On the way, I met hundreds of youths like me who were running for their lives. We shared food and water on the way.
In Bangladesh, I stayed in a border town. One of my relatives had already arrived in Delhi. I got in touch with him and he asked me to come to Delhi as he felt it was quite peaceful here. After resting for few days, I again set up on my journey to reach India and crossed the West Bengal border.
When I arrived in India, I didn’t know Hindi or any other language. It was very hard for me to communicate with the people here. In Bengal, I didn’t have any money with me to pay for the train ticket to Delhi and fortunately, a man came to know that I was from Myanmar and he bought me a ticket.
After reaching Delhi, I went to Haryana where I learned mason work because I didn’t know the local language here and I wasn’t that much qualified like other Indians to teach. So I left my profession and passion of teaching and started working as a labourer.
In 2013, I met Asmida Khatoon from Shawprudaung whose husband was killed by the army and in fear she fled Myanmar. She has deeply broken and I was also alone without a family so I married her.
I am earning at least 300 rupees a day subject to availability of work. The work doesn’t land up every day. I barely get 15 days work a month, fetching me just enough to make ends meet but at the end of the day, I thank God for keeping me and my family alive and safe in this safe country.
Sometimes, my fellow co-workers are from Indian states and they are really good. They appreciate my work and we eat together during lunch breaks and many times we share our food.
A few weeks ago I came to know that government is planning to deport us. If we are deported from India, then obviously we will go back to Myanmar and everyone knows how we are being slaughtered there.
I want to make it very clear to everyone out there that I am not a terrorist as the government is alleging us. I am just a common man like others, who yearn for peace and try hard to earn two square meals for his family so that they don’t have to sleep empty stomach.
I will go on my own when a solution is arrived at when the government stops killing us. Who doesn’t want to go back to his country?”