Published: 13th September 2017
The abandoned Rohingyas of Tamil Nadu: Stories of children with no motherland
About 19 Rohingya families live in a small settlement on the outskirts of Chennai and the news of the deportation has left them fearful about the future of their children
A few months ago, stories of the Syrian crisis were splashed all over our newspapers and timelines and now closer home, the Rohingya Muslims are facing a crisis. Over the last few years, thousands of Rohingyas have fled to India and made it their home, but now they fear deportation, to a land where death is almost certain.
In a small settlement in Kelambakkam on the outskirts of Chennai, about 19 Rohingya families reside. The families first started to arrive in 2012, most of the families are quite young and therefore many of their children were born in India and have only ever lived here.
Only the men work, while the women manage their homes and take care of the children but whenever they are not working, the husbands and wives huddle together staring into their phones.
Cold blood: The ethnic cleansing of the minority community in Myanmar and Bangladesh attracted international attention in 2015
The internet on their phones is the only way they can get a glimpse into what the situation is like in Myanmar, even though they are far away from danger, the Rohingyas are not happy, not even slightly. They worry about their families back home, wondering if they are dead or alive and now they are worried about getting sent back.
Oblivious to all this sadness and worry are the children, they have bright smiles on their faces and gleefully run around barefoot and naked in all the muck.
Even though they are far away from the direct violence, the Rohingyas are not happy, not even slightly. They worry about their families back home, wondering if they are dead or alive and now they are worried about getting sent back
About a year ago, the refugees said that the children didn't go to schools because they were having trouble following Tamil, but the parents now say that the children go to the government school close by. "They can speak a bit of Tamil now," Fathima Beevi (name changed) said and one of the older children was also carving out her name in Tamil on the wall. But funnily enough, in the middle of the day, all the children seemed to have stayed back home on a regular school day, "They all have holidays," a mother claimed.
Hussain Ahmed is the father of two, he fled with his wife and children in 2012 with nothing but the clothes on his back but his parents and other relatives are back home. He looks forward to the Facebook updates, the news alerts, he looks at pictures closely, he watches the videos twice over, trying to see if any of the places have
"My wife and I walked to Bangladesh and then went to Kolkata and then came here to Chennai," he said. The building they are crammed in, is called on their certificates as the 'Cyclone relief centre' but it only comprises of a small circular building, the families have partitioned this small spaces into smaller spaces for their families.
Those who can't fit inside, have constructed small make-shift structures around the building. The conditions are dire, infested with flies, ironically when it rains, there is nothing to protect the cyclone centre.
We are satisfied here, they keep telling us they'll shift us but we don't mind. We just don't want to get sent back, at least not now. We see videos of the military chopping up the bodies of little children. They are killing little children! How much worse can it get?
Mohammed Khasim, a refugee and a father of two
All the waste that they collect is piled up all over the settlement, a lot of the waste the refugees also seem to have been used for their make-shift houses. In other words, the settlement was just a small slum, in no way were the refugees seemed protected by the government or the UNHCR, but the Rohingyas don't complain.
"We are satisfied here, they keep telling us they'll shift us but we don't mind. We just don't want to get sent back, at least not now," said Mohammed Khasim, "We see videos of the military chopping up the bodies of little children. They are killing little children! How much worse can it get?
"We, of course, want to go back. Our families are still there but we don't know if they are dead or alive. We want to go back to our lands. But we don't want to go there and die.
Live fear: Thousands of 'boat people' have found refuge in India and are living in the fear of deportation
We want to go when things are better and when we are assured that we won't get killed," said Ahmed. Remembering his village, Ahmed said that was a farmer back home and they had a lot of lands, "We would grow rice, sometimes brinjal and potatoes too. Now all the land has been taken over by the government, my family has nothing left." Here, Ahmed is a rag picker, he makes anything from a couple of hundreds to on rare occasions, 1000 rupees too.
Over the last few days, government officials have visited the refugees and told them that the Centre ordered the refugees to be deported, "Where will we go? We keep seeing news about more and more Rohingyas fleeing, so where would we go from here?" he asks, showing a video on Facebook that shows thousands of Rohingyas huddled up in groups near the border, having nowhere to go.
We would grow rice, sometimes brinjal and potatoes too. Now all the land has been taken over by the government, my family has nothing left." Here, Ahmed is a rag picker, he makes anything from a couple of hundreds to on rare occasions,1000 rupees too
Hussain Ahmed, a farmer in Myanmar who is ragpicker in India
Fathima gets teary eyed talking about the whole situation, then she pointed at her daughter and said, "She doesn't know where she comes from, I don't know when she will get the chance to see our village. Whatever anybody says, our nation is our nation, it is our land, it is where we belong. Otherwise, how will our children know about their motherland?" Her daughter just smiles back.
Fathima's daughter and all the other Rohingya children are stateless- they were born in a foreign land and they have never seen the land that they parents belong too. But the children are oblivious to this, like they are oblivious to the fact that they don't know who their parents cry in worry about, they don't know who is fighting who and they don't know why their people are being massacred. They are oblivious to the hate that is being spewed against them, simply because they don't know what hate even is.