His students turned into his persecutors


His students turned into his persecutors

How would a teacher feel, if the students he spent years teaching, grooming and even raising, returned one day to set his home on fire?

At Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar, Kamal (not his real name), a former teacher by profession at a township in Maungdaw, is in a position to answer this heart-breaking question.

Kamal was a well-known face among the Burmese people as most of the students he used to teach were from Rakhine.

His identity could not save him and his family from the brutality unleashed by Myanmar security forces and vigilantes when “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingyas began in late August last year. his utter dismay, he discovered that the students he used to teach led the wholesale incineration of his village.

Whom I thought would be my defenders turned into attackers. Witnessing my students setting ablaze my own home is the worst thing I have ever experienced. It's heart wrenching”, Kamal, vice-principal of a high school, said while speaking to The Daily Star.

He recollected how his former students burnt down villages, looted valuables, killed Rohingyas and raped the women.

I understood that there is no hope left of surviving in Rakhine state as those I treated as my sons became so blood thirsty. They killed two of my paternal cousins in front of my eyes. The only pity they have shown to me is leaving me unharmed all the while their indiscriminate gunfire pierced through my elder son's head. Now he is on the road to recovery in Cox's Bazar,” Kamal added.

After the attack on his village, Kamal along with seven members of his family, took refuge at Balukhali Hakim Para camp, trekking through hills for three days to reach the border.

Kamal graduated with a physics degree from a local university in 1985 and joined a high school as a teacher. He also had a bachelor's in education. For his performance and skill, he was promoted to vice-principal of the school after a few years.

His family had a solvent life in Maungdaw. Besides teaching, he also ran a general store in his town. But he lost everything to the violence that engulfed his neighbourhood.

Despite the hatred, which has spread throughout Rakhine, Kamal still hopes to go back to his home one day and believes disclosure of his real name or the publication of his photo would have consequences then.

He witnessed how the peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Buddhists turned into a violent one over the years, following persistent propaganda from the Myanmar state.

I sometime get phone calls from my colleagues when I activate my Myanmar SIM card. They request me to come back assuring me of safety. But I have turned down their requests,” he added.

His family exemplifies how Myanmar began depriving Rohingyas of education thus forcing them to lead a medieval life.

I could receive higher education at a time when the hatred and deprivation were at their lowest. After me, it was my eldest son who achieved the feat of getting a bachelor's degree. But my other sons could not do so due to the restrictions in receiving higher education,” Kamal said.

Kamal's youngest son told The Daily Star that he passed matriculation from a local high school but could not go further as he was denied admission even though his father was the vice-principal of the school.

The Rohingyas were stripped of the right to further education after matriculation in 2012, a year which saw another spell of violence in Rakhine state between Muslims and Buddhists.

From 2012, not only education, but every aspect of Rohingya life, including the movement of the Rohingya people, was strictly restricted, Kamal said, adding that visitation by guests would result in the local administration fining them 500 kiyats.

Though we are facing hardship in the camp, we are at least safe here,” a distressed Kamal told The Daily Star.