First, They Erased Our Name: A Rohingya Speaks is a heartbreaking book narrated by a Rohingya on his life from his birth to becoming a refugee. Written by Habiburahman (Habib), Sophie Ansel and translated into English by Andrea Reece, this is such an important book depicting the systematic discrimination and organized massacres towards Rohingya People in Myanmar. I read this book via Scribd.
Habib was born in 1979 and raised in a small village in Rakhine (Arakan) State in west of Myanmar. When he was 3 years old, General Ne Win, then country’s military leader declared that he and his people were not on the list of the 135 recognized ethnic groups. He shared about the brief and sporadic joy he had in his childhood with his friends from other ethnic groups in the village. When the situations in his village exacerbated, Habib and his family had to flee their villages abandoning their home.
Habib recounted how he and other Rohingya in Sitwe (capital city of Rakhine State) have faced further extreme prejudice and persecution from the military and the nationalists. They had been denied even for basic human rights. They couldn’t travel outside of the city and if they wanted to visit a sick relatives in distance town or village, they had to bribe the officials in order to receive a travel permit. Despite all these horrifying events, Habib’s father knew the importance of education in his children’s life. He spent his hard earned money for his kids to get the State education.
After he completed the matriculation exams, Habib realized that to free himself and his people from the oppression of the dictatorship, he had to escape Sitwe and pursue higher education else where. He later involved in a student movement organized by a professor which later led him to flee the country. The book includes his struggles to survive as an illegal immigrant in Thailand and Malaysia. Habib also shared his adventurous escapade to Australia, his time in detention center as well as his active participation for the freedom of his people through various reporters and organizations.
As the title suggest, Habib tells how the junta had planned and executed various operations to eradicate the Rohingya people from the list of official ethnic groups as well as from the face of the earth. Habib shares his owns experiences so that he can be the voice of his own people when many people in Myanmar and around the world failed to speak up for them. The writing and narrative is slightly odd in some chapters which might possibly be the poor translation. Regardless, this is an important book to learn and listen to the the voice for the Rohingya People who have been voiceless for several decades.
Through the words of Habib, I learn about the persecution of Rohingya people. The violence and murderous attack he and his people have had to endured throughout this many years is terrifying. The heritage sites like mosque have been destroyed to make sure that all trace of Rohingya people are erased. Museum and pagodas are replaced to tell the made-up histories. The atrocities by the Military and the extreme buddhists/nationalist are abhorrent to me.
Truth be told, I didn’t know the word ‘Rohingya’ until late 2010. I was totally oblivious about their existence. I didn’t have bitter hatred towards Rohingya for their religious belief or their skin colour. It is embarrassing but I’ll admit that I have been ignorant and I didn’t voice out for them.
Many of us have been put in the dark for many years not only on the genocide of Rohingya People but on the abuse and killings on ethnic minorities groups. We have been tricked as if the military is the saviour. Now witnessing the act of barbarity and brutality by the military troops and police force in current situation, we understood. Our eyes are open now. We have to apologise for our ignorant and not able to speak for them. So, we shall open our mouth and voice out for them. And continuously, we shall open our arms to accept them and welcome them home or for those who are still in Myanmar, make them feel at home.