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Poem: The Rohingya


By Usha Nellore

The Buddha said you can reach Nirvana or enlightenment by stamping out greed.

In Myanmar there has been a genocide,
as there has been in Rwanda,
as there has been in Bosnia,
as there was in Germany,
there has been ethnic cleansing,
the victims are the Rohingya,
the victims are the minority,
the perpetrators are the Buddhists,
the perpetrators are the majority.

Aung San Suu Kyi says that’s untrue,
there has been no genocide,
You bring her proof and she will still deny
there has been a genocide.
Isn’t she a Nobel Peace Laureate?
Wasn’t she the darling of the international community
feted for her house arrest for more than 20 years
in Myanmar by repressive generals?
Wasn’t she taken and held captive?
Doesn’t she know suffering?
Has she forgotten her tragedy,
how her husband died during her captivity?
Has she forgotten her own children,
forgotten by the generals of Myanmar
her separation from them, her years lost?
It seems she has forgotten.

The Buddha said you can reach Nirvana by stamping out delusion.

At first the Rohingya were separated
from the rest of the population,
they were the other,
they were the foreigners,
they didn’t belong,
they were not wanted,
they were the Bengalis,
same as the Darfurians in Sudan,
same as the Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina,
same as the Jews in Nazi Germany,
same as the refugees from the Middle East in Europe,
same as the Mexicans in Trump’s USA,
the other is easy to target,
the other is easy to deport,
the other is easy to displace,
the other is easy to put in camps
same as the Japanese were put in camps
in the USA
after Pearl Harbor,
the other is easy to demonize
and dehumanize.

The Buddha said you can reach Nirvana by stamping out hatred.

The generals put the Rohingya under strict surveillance,
they restricted their movements,
they watched them with soldiers always
in their vicinity in their villages,
they kept them on pins and needles,
and they rebelled, the Rohingya did,
wouldn’t you,
how long,
how long to bear
the derision,
the control,
the eyes,
the looking eyes,
a hundred suspicious eyes,
hostile eyes,
eyes of power
from the towers?
Where was Aung San Suu Kyi?

The Buddha said the fading of passion is liberation.

Some of the Rohingya
determined for rebellion,
with crude arms they fashioned,
with kitchen utensils and knives,
in their belts
and in their hands carrying
whatever they could cobble,
attacked a police station
in one Rohingya village
full of Buddhist soldiers
come against Islam,
come to wipe them out,
the Rohingya marched and killed
a few members of the police and army –
It was wrong,
but they were not well armed,
they were a rag tag misguided army of the repressed.
The retaliation came swiftly and it was more wrong,
when the Rohingya lit a match
that sparked a flame,
why did it became a conflagration,
where was the measured response?
Where was Aung San Suu Kyi?

The generals said it was terror,
it had to be faced,
it had to be countered,
it had to be fazed,
it had no place in Myanmar,
they conflated ISIS with every Muslim citizen of Myanmar,
they declared each and every Rohingya persona-non-grata,
and then the killings started,
and bloody.

The Buddha said life is an illusion.

It was real very real,
Allah watched it happen,
Jesus let it happen,
Yaweh slept as it happened,
The US knew it happened,
laid no sanctions on Myanmar as it happened,
the Chinese continued trade with Myanmar as it happened,
the Buddha didn’t come back from the dead
to stop what happened.

I wasn’t there to see it happen,
but I heard the victims
and saw them describe what happened
heard them weep out what happened
and it broke my heart that it happened,
because I am human,
that’s why I couldn’t bear that it happened.
Where was Aung San Suu Kyi?

The Buddha said, be detached.

I can’t be detached.
You can’t be detached.
No one should be detached.
When another human is attacked,
what is it like to be detached
what is it like not to fight back,
what is right about silence,
what is right about no documentation
of what happened,
of villages burned,
the women said,
their children were taken,
how to be detached,
they cried,
their children were cut,
their children were thrown into fires
on top of their houses on fire,
their children screamed,
their children rose from the fires
to save themselves and the soldiers laughed
and pushed them back like twigs with their bamboo poles,
their children crackled,
their children melted
the women said their children burned,
their houses burned
their villages burned,
and in rivers of blood the Rohingya flowed,

My friend told,
I should not have watched that program,
too disturbing to watch,
I should have turned it off
she said
and moved on to prettier things,
My friend said she went to Copenhagen,
she stayed in a fancy hotel,
she drank local wine every day,
she saw the Little Mermaid
she said since it is summer
the sun rose early
it set late in Copenhagen,
it was beautiful,
way up North
there was peace
and the magnificence of the weather
blew her breath away,
the bread was great,
the pastries melted in her mouth,
My friend chided,
I think about bad things every day
and that is unhealthy,
that is negative energy,
I need to see the positive,
she went to museums,
she saw art
it was a visual feast,
I need to get away.

The Rohingya couldn’t get away,
they plunged into fields,
the soldiers came after them,
the girls,
the children,
the women,
were shot
and as they lay shuddering in pain
they were raped,
one woman said another woman’s breast was cut off
and the soldier held aloft the trophy in his hand
it trembled that breast,
still alive that breast
and the soldier laughed
she asked how can she heal
her pain too much to feel,
how can she heal?

Where was Aung San Suu Kyi,
She got the Nobel Peace Prize, didn’t she?
Where IS Aung San Suu Kyi?

The Buddha said you must have right understanding, right speech, right intention.

How do you have the right understanding
of someone,
who pushes you into a river to drown you,
who cuts off your fingers one by one,
who throws your children in ovens,
whose sole aim is to exterminate
anyone who looks like you do,
who doesn’t want you standing
to live,
walk the earth with pride,
who wants you chopped
from your roots to your branches

My friend said,
that I shouldn’t worry about things
I cannot change,
I am a nobody,
nobodies can do nothing about anything,
I am giving myself airs,
I am not important,
I should relax,
enjoy life,
I can’t save every suffering person,
I can’t even save myself,
I must take it easy,
I’m too intense,
I froth too much
about injustices I must accept,
I should go
to Copenhagen.

The army said there was no genocide,
the army said its operation was counter-terror,
That’s what Bashar Assad says,
That’s what Trump says,
he’s deporting the vile and violent – the rapists –
that’s what he says,
that’s what the Saudis say when they kill the Yemenese,
counter-terror is code for terror
you counter terror with more terror
with weapons of mass terror
with war,
with massacres you counter terror,
the Rohingya have no home,
millions in Bangladesh in camps,
no one wants them,
You terrorize and what do you expect??
Expect terror.

The Buddha says you must have right action, right effort, right mindfulness.

Where was Aung San Suu Kyi?

The Buddha says to Aung San Suu Kyi –
Have ethical action.
Free yourself from evil.
See truth.
Speak truth.
Be aware.

Who IS Aung San Suu Kyi?

Usha Nellore is a practicing physician in Maryland, not far from Baltimore. She has been writing for years. She is also a playwright and an essayist. Usha shares her writing with friends and with the local poetry society and submits but rarely. Poetry is her flight from the bureaucratic madness of the medical world.


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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.


Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Women as the ‘displaced’: The context of South Asia’, edited by Suranjana Choudhury, academic and Nabanita Sengupta, academic, India.

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