Field Notes: Rohingyas Made To Believe They Are Sub Human


As a lawyer and researcher, I have been working on the issues of refugees since 2017. While working in England, I remember speaking to refugees from Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan; their stories were beyond dreadful. 

Working with the Rohingya refugees has been a different experience. They have grown accustomed to being treated as sub-human; therefore, their needs and aspirations are minimal. The invisibilisation of the community has been so rampant that it feels like they have forgotten about their way of life and how to experience joy, happiness and other positive human emotions.  

Nearly every refugee knows the word 'interview', which they learn during the Refugee Status Determination process conducted by the UNHCR when they apply for refugee status in any country. 

So, when I spoke with former inmates of a Delhi detention centre for a story about desperate conditions inside and having no legal recourse, they knew what I wanted to know. They narrate their past in Myanmar, where they were attacked, abused, raped, assaulted, and killed and from where they escaped by swimming, floating on waters, on boats and on foot. 

They can even show videos and photos to substantiate their claims. They cannot remain private about their abuse. The memories of their brutality are the only instruments they can use to gain refugee status and survive in the most minimal sense of that word. 

A*, a 25-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Delhi, escaped the genocide in Myanmar, swimming for over six hours and travelling for days, mostly on foot, to reach India in 2012. She was detained at the Delhi detention centre for 14 months in utmost indignity and dire circumstances. 

While speaking of her ordeal, A looked straight into my eyes. She did not stammer or even pause to cope with her trauma. She just spoke. Her every sentence exuded fear. 

The Rohingya refugees told me their stories, but they all insisted that I not publish their names anywhere or even share a photo that could remotely reveal their identity. When I called the interviewees to clarify anything, they spoke to me warmly but requested that I not record their conversations.  

When I apologised to B* for asking too many questions, the Rohingya refugee told me that nobody wants to hear about their past torture or the present indignity. Even speaking about the brutalities made them feel better. 

When I visited the detention centre to take pictures from outside, a Rohingya woman C* and her 3-year-old nephew, D*, accompanied us. The woman's sister (the child's mother) has been in detention for many months. 

When the journey from Madanpur Khadar in southeast Delhi to Inderlok in northwest Delhi began, C and D were excited to meet Shoeb's detained mother and because they were in an "air-conditioned car". We shared lighter moments of jokes and laughter during this one-hour-long journey. However, on reaching the detention centre, the officials refused to let C and D meet his mother. It may have been because I, a lawyer, accompanied them.

Even after I left the location after repeating that I was not connected to them,  they refused to allow the three-year-old to meet his mother. 

When I returned, C and D were crying inconsolably. Their tears will haunt me for some time. 

You can read Ujjaini Chatterjee's full story here

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