The maya factor in Rohingya policy: Illusion and reality

Union Minister H.S. Puri’s sudden announcement about the housing of Rohingya refugee families in the National Capital Territory of Delhi is either inspired genius or the cat’s paw for the Hindutva dispensation to explore the process of enforced ghettoization, starting with the Rohingyas.

Disclaimer: This is an allegory. It is an entry for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Many truths, deep analysis, some plausible guess work and healthy imagination arising from knowledge of the principal actors reveal a heady cocktail, the classic whodunit. It is advised that it be read with a healthy attitude of Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

What had Puri tweeted?

EARLY yesterday morning, the Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, tweeted“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge in the country. In a landmark decision all #Rohingya #Refugees will be shifted to EWS flats in Bakkarwala area of Delhi. They will be provided basic amenities, UNHCR IDs & round-the-clock @DelhiPolice protection”.

The tweet is, interestingly, marked to the Delhi Police and the Prime Minister’s Office. This tweet, in the most powerful language group in the world – “bureaucratese” – alludes to some element of prior consultation with the two copied in on the tweet.

It ignores the fact that Rohingya refugees and others seeking shelter in India were classified as “termites” by the honourable Union Home Minister. It forgets to mention that the Supreme Court, in a baffling order, permits deportation, albeit after going through the motions of procedural fairness. Don’t you know, there is a cornucopian abundance of due process in the Foreigners Act?

Also read: Supreme Court’s Rohingya deportation order illegally flawed, ignores principles of natural justice

It does not refer to the Rohingyas and other Burmese refugees in jails in JammuWest BengalManipur and Assam, amongst others. More than 170 Rohingyas alone live in Jammu’s Hira Nagar Sub Jail in abominable conditions!

And then the good Minister Puri commits the ultimate blasphemy; he calls the Rohingyas “refugees”. According to the gospel enunciated by the wannabe Vatican of Hindutva, and all its major religious orders, ranging from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, they are merely illegal infiltrators.

The good Minister Puri commits the ultimate blasphemy: he calls the Rohingyas “refugees”.

No sooner have you recovered from Puri’s left hook, he delivers an upper cut by also mentioning that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (‘UNHCR’) identity cards will be provided to the Rohingyas in Delhi. Clearly, the Minister’s ukase is enough, and any individual determination process by UNHCR’s non-existent protection mandate for urban refugees in Delhi is being given the final heave ho! It is left to the reader’s imagination as to whether UNHCR in India or Geneva was in the know about this huge shift in recent Indian refugee policy.

And then the knockout blow in the throw away words, “round the clock @Delhi police protection”. It has an ominous ring to it. Shades of ghettoized detention centres. The detention centres in Assam still exist. Anyone remember how and why our friends from down under in the QUAD conjured up the ‘Pacific solution’ for boat people!

CNBC TV 18, a channel not known for deviating from the official truth, quotes Asian News International (‘ANI’), which is akin to Hermes or our own Narada, carrying tidings from all the denizens of the nether world, from Sardar Patel Road to Sardar Patel Bhavan and everything else in between. ANI is quoted to say that at a high level meeting “chaired by Delhi’s Chief Secretary was held in the last week of July in this regard, with senior officials from the Delhi government and police in attendance.” The Chief Secretary of Delhi and the Delhi Police are answerable to the Union Home Ministry, while nominally keeping the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, another appointee of the Union Home Ministry, merely informed on occasion.

Referring to the proposal to move a mere 1,100 Rohingyas to the 200 odd one room flats in the Bakkarwala area of outer Delhi, CNBC states that “ANI further reported that these buildings would be handed over to FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Offices), which will felicitate the relocation of Rohingya into these flats.” While working knowledge of the English language is not the news agency’s strong point. It is the worst kept secret that most officials working in the FRRO belong to the ubiquitous Intelligence Bureau (‘IB’). The FRRO is a department of the Union Home Ministry. This also indicates that the Union Home Ministry was in the loop as far as consultations on the issue were concerned.

Also read: India’s treatment of the Rohingya reaffirms the need for a domestic refugee law

Reaction, and possible rationale

Later in the afternoon yesterday, the Home Ministry woke up from its somnambulist trance. “With respect to news reports in certain sections of media regarding Rohingya illegal foreigners, it is clarified that Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA] has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi,” the Home Ministry tweeted from its official handle.

Puri, a former diplomat who previously served as the Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations (‘UN’), is without doubt the most knowledgeable person in the BJP cabinet about how the UN system works both in New York and Geneva.

It is no coincidence that suddenly, he or someone in the Union Government thought it fit to rescue him from being Amenhotep or Heminunu, the Pharaoh’s great architects. The grandiose Central Vista project was too restricted a geographical space to leave one’s imprimatur on. Or perhaps being one of the few in the Union Cabinet who had a liberal education, he had read English poet P.B. Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias, and was signalling that with the end of the Central Vista project, he was ready to take on greater responsibilities in his area of domain expertise.

Curiously, the Union Minister for External Affairs was not the one to make the announcement. The UN Division, dealing with all things UN, is within their remit. Nor did the Union Home Minister make the announcement. The FRRO is major department with a Joint Secretary of its own.

Puri’s sudden announcement about the housing of Rohingya refugee families in the National Capital Territory of Delhi is either inspired genius or the cat’s paw for the Hindutva dispensation to explore the process of enforced ghettoization, starting with the Rohingyas. The New Delhi Municipal Corporation falls within his administrative control.

The Union Home Ministry must be congratulated for agreeing to devolve one of its inherent powers to the Delhi state government while the battle rages on in courts as to the extent of powers that the Delhi State government has.

Was he staring as to what the stars portend? The recent visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh will cast its shadow in the deliberations of the next Executive Committee, popularly known as ExCom, of the UNHCR in October.

International politics vis-à-vis Rohingya refugees

Many of the non-Western members of the UN are not oblivious of the blonde and white Ukrainian refugees being welcomed with open arms, while African, Middle Eastern and Asian refugees are shuttled around the Mediterranean until they die or are near death. Many Association of Southeast Asian Nations States are no longer so well inclined towards the military junta in Naypyidaw. They are more sympathetic to Bangladesh’s concerns about the major shortfall in the voluntary contributions for its upkeep of the Rohingya refugee camps. They contrast this with China’s unwavering support to the Burmese generals, the generous military training provided by the Japanese, and the sale and gift of arms by India and the European Union allowing all its companies to do Chin Chin Choo with the Brass hats in Naypyidaw.

Also read: Rohingyas: Genocide in the backyard

India is a member of the ExCom of the UNHCR. Interestingly, it is one without having signed or ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. It will come up for re-election in October 2022. It will be a shoo-in given the UNHCR’s pusillanimity on refugee protection in India. Yet, there are many in the Afro-Asian comity of nations that apart from replaying the old Indian record of “burden sharing”, have done precious little for refugees of colour. Interestingly, UNHCR gave out generous grants to its NGO partners this year for in situ work with Rohingya refugees, numbering 20,009 in Delhi; 2,367 in Haryana (mainly in Mewat, with some  in Faridabad ); 416 in Jaipur in Rajasthan; 392 in Aligarh and 135 in Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh.

Home Ministry’s clarification adds to the confusion

The Union Home Ministry in its tweet yesterday used the term, “illegal foreigners”. According to today’s edition of The HinduThe Home Ministry also said that it had directed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government of Delhi to declare the Madanpur Rohingya area a “detention centre” immediately, which it has not done so far.”

The Union Home Ministry must be congratulated for agreeing to devolve one of its inherent powers to the Delhi state government while the battle rages on in courts as to the extent of powers that the Delhi State government has. North Block must also be lauded for earlier agreeing to devolve one of its sovereign functions to a UN agency, namely, the recognition of urban refugees.

Puri, in the meanwhile, issues a short comment that the Union Home Ministry position is “correct”. While you and I wrap our heads around this conundrum, I shall fall back on Hindu philosophy. It is all “maya”, (Sanskrit: “magic” or “illusion”). Maya, the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion.