At a refugee camp in south Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar, the longing for one’s homeland dampens the spirit of festivities
It’s Id morning. Shoria has been up for hours making the traditional delicacy of vermicelli, sugar and milk, known as sevian in these parts but shai mai in her home back in Myanmar.
A few hours later, after prayers in the nearest Idgah, her husband Sabeer and their three-year-old son Rafiul join her in their dark and dingy room, still filled with smoke from the stove.
There are some fruits but no meat or spicy food for this family — out of cultural choice but also because they can’t afford it.
Though Shoria tries to follow traditions, Id in exile is just another day for this Rohingya Muslim family in south Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar.
Rohingya Muslims from the Rakhine State of Myanmar are the “most persecuted minority in the world”, according to the United Nations. Alleged “ethnic cleansing” by the majority Buddhist community in the neighbouring country has forced over 11 lakh Rohingyas to take refuge in different parts of the world. Of these, about 14,000 Rohingya Muslims are in India.
In Delhi, Sabeer is one of the nearly 900 Rohingya refugees in camps at Shaheen Bagh, Madanpur Khadar, Okhla and Vikaspuri. While some work as ragpickers and sweepers, others find small-time jobs in NGOs and private offices. They fast but do not feast.
Not at ease
“How can we celebrate Id when our family members and relatives are living in such danger?” said Sabeer. He fled to India in 2004 and has not been home since.
Sabeer met his wife Shoria, also a Rohingya, at a refugee camp here.
His neighbour Jaffar, another Rohingya who escaped violent clashes in 2011 in Rakhine, is in no mood to celebrate either. His nephew was stabbed back home last week after being accused of using a mobile phone to provide information to “foreign agents”.
“We meet and greet people. We distribute sevian to each other but at the end of the day we are refugees,” says Jaffar.
Sense of hopelessness
According to Ali Johar, a Rohingya working for the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) here, the Indian government allows Rohingyas to stay in the country, avail healthcare and educational services but they need to get their refugee cards renewed every year. “On humanitarian grounds, we continue to reside here but there is not enough assurance from the government,” Ali says.
While Jaffar, Sabeer and others remember their homeland with a certain sense of hopelessness, their children keep the excitement alive, punctuating the gloom with their laughter. Wearing new clothes and getting Idi, the gift given by elders, is enough to make them happy. “Only our kids are happy because they don’t know about the situation in Myanmar,” says Sabeer, who works for an NGO for ₹12,000 a month. This year, however, he found it difficult to get new clothes for his son Rafiul.
“Our prayers are for returning home. What is Id away from home, without the presence of loved ones?” said Shoria.