The Rohingyas are crossing over to Bangladesh since the outbreak of violence amounting to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The numbers of refugees are swelling every day.
It has been reported that the number has already crossed more than five hundred thousand. Here it needs to be pointed out that another 500,000 Rohingya refugees are already been living in Bangladesh for more than a decade or so. These refugees are sheltered around Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf regions of Bangladesh. This region is also adjacent to the Rakhaine province of Myanmar. Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf regions are predominantly Muslim majority areas. However, there is also Buddhist as well as Hindu population living there peacefully side by side for centuries. The religious harmony and peace has always been the hallmark of the region. But only in recent time, there have been some incidences of religious tensions culminating into violence. The violence started in Ramu Upazila on the midnight of 29 September 2012 when Buddhists monasteries and houses of Buddhists were attacked by the local population. As reported, in the said incidence 12 Buddhist temples and monasteries and 50 houses were destroyed in reaction to a tagging of an image depicting the desecration of the holy Quran in a fake Facebook account with a Buddhist name. Later the violence also spread to Ukhia Upazila in Cox’s Bazar district and Patya Upazila in Chittagong district. It has been alleged that Rohingya refugees along with local people also participated in the violent incidences.
In the backdrop of the above incidences, refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf region pose challenges to peace and social harmony. Other than differences in religion and ethnicity there could be now conflict of interests among various groups on the question especially of local resource sharing. It should be pointed out here that Bangladesh is a resource constraint and most densely populated country in the world. Now with the influx of another half a million Rohingya refugees and being settled in that particular region where there is another half a million refugees already living there could be serious threat to peace and harmony in the region. But it is imperative that social peace and harmony should be maintain at any cost with the cooperation of all stakeholders that includes the local population of different ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs, local leaders, both political and social, government functionaries and above all the religious leaders of different faiths. Here it needs to be remembered that any breech of peace and harmony in any region has negative impacts on other regions of the country. It may be stated here that social development and economic growth take place when there is relative peace and harmony in the society. Bangladesh has been on steady growth path for quite sometimes. This has made positive contributions in the lives of the people. Their standard of living has improved remarkable. If we want to maintain this trend then we must ensure peace and harmony in the country and more particularly in the Rohingya refugee settlement areas.
It has been observed from various past experiences that, among others, the religious leaders can play effective roles in maintaining peace and harmony among different communities living side by side. As mentioned earlier that there has been peace and harmony among different religious and ethnic groups in the region and the religious leaders in particular have played very important and significant roles for that matter for ages in that particular region. It is quite common in Bangladesh that the people, in general, irrespective of religions have high regards for their religious leaders. They listen to their sermons and abide by their suggestions and recommendations on various matters concerning their lives including practicing tolerance in multi ethnic and religious environment. This has been the history of Bangladesh from time immemorial. This particular strength of faith and confidence on the religious leaders should be relied on for maintaining peace and harmony in refugee settlement areas. They need to be involved in all processes that will ensure peace and harmony in the society at large. The way forward in this respect could be more interactions among religious leaders of different faiths. This could be done by including them in different committees and bodies dealing especially with matters relating to Rohingya refugees. The religious leaders should also be motivated to preach tolerance for the purpose of maintaining peace and harmony in the localities. This will help in creating an enabling environment of living together in peace and harmony for all.
The writer is the Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh
The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude