I do not want to memorialise genocide. I want to celebrate life. I do not want to speak to an abstract international community. I want to speak to my Rohingya brothers and sisters and talk to them about a possible future. It is the unacknowledged genocide that has made it impossible for me to do what I want to do today. I don't think our conscience needs to go to legal definitions to acknowledge that the Rohingya is killed simply because she is a Rohingya. By common sense, that is genocide. But we must have an international legal acknowledgment in order for the possibility of legal redress to begin.
At least since 2017, they are killed and their land destroyed, so that their name can be extinguished from the place where they have hung around in, one way or another, before any idea of the nation-state. Genocide of the Rohingya has been acknowledged by the United Nations, even by the Congress of the United States. But it cannot be acknowledged by the International Criminal Court. Subterfuges are brought up regularly.
Capital investment is also involved here. Greed combines with prejudice, and nationalism is ethnicised. This is a global problem. Ethnicised nationalism destroys what is politely called “illegal immigrants,” citizenship redefined. To greed and ethnicity is added sex. Genocide and land grab plus greed adds brutal rape and castration as spectacle; as weapon. Rape as weapon is also declared by the United Nations. Plenty of videographic evidence, with no more than voyeuristic use, it seems. Rather listen to a Rohingya brother speak in rage: They themselves describe their condition as subhuman, as Nasir Uddin with 500+ hours of videos can witness. Therefore we must not think of the international acknowledgment of genocide, which will make it politically possible for the Rohingya to be established on their own ground, as an end, but as a beginning.
No access to being-human is possible unless the children can be trained in the intuitions of democracy, which is the awareness of other people. I am dreaming the impossible dream of citizenship. The Rohingya vote cannot be up for sale. It is only for the sake of that impossible dream that I exhort the international community not so much to memorialize but to acknowledge genocide and, at the same time, insist on divestiture. We must be able to think, of the time after this acknowledgment is made and the Rohingya are more stable.
I am a teacher of the Humanities, beyond the discipline, as the instrument of the ethical. Our work begins in that stability. Countries in the region have not come forward to make this acknowledgement. As an Indian I make an appeal to our best instincts: come forward for these brothers and sisters. I have been involved with the Rohingyas one way or another since the late eighties. But for me as a person who has given her life to poetry, a mention of the great 17th century Rakhine poet Alaol is necessary here. I have no blood quantum theory to tell me if he is a true Rohingya. I only know that he spoke of the Rohangs as his audience and that I met him, across the hills of the Arakan region, across three hundred years, as a young person, thanks to my Mother, as a classic from the area.
He wrote of women who would not be raped, and people who would not be killed. It is in his name that I ask you all, let us not stop at merely commemorating genocide, rape, and greed. Celebrate the historical future, as only memory can, by pushing, hard, for legal acknowledgement. I embrace you all, as the struggle goes on.
I end by picking up the Rohengya self-description: "amanush, manusher odhikare banchito kore jare, shommukhe dariye rekhe, tobu kolay dao nai sthan, mrityu majhe hote hobe tahader shobar shoman." (sub-human, depriving them of human rights, keeping them standing in the fore, but not giving them place in your embrace, only death rendering them equal.)
Then we will memorialise genocide in a shared death.
* Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University