These people have been in the news for a while now, actually for years, and their plight is confounding. What can be done to solve their problems?
If one says “Let them chant Hare Kṛṣṇa” it would be correct, of course, but given that they are Muslims we should be respectful of their religion and not try to convert them outright. In similar situations Śrīla Prabhupāda encouraged people to follow their own tradition and chant the names appropriate to it. If they want to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa it’s fine but if they prefer discussing the glories of Allah we shouldn’t discourage them either.
Practically, suggesting that they should take up Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not going to work – we are not in the position to give unsolicited advice. When I talk about solution here I mean something that could be done by the powers that be – governments in the region, maybe UN, not by a hypothetical Vedic king.
I guess if we had an opportunity to offer advice we should tell people and their governments that only chanting can offer respite from the problems created by Kali Yuga but even in that case we should be clear what kind of respite it would be. We can’t guarantee that it would solve the problem everyone else is talking about – the fact that Rohingya are stateless and homeless. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not meant for accommodating people on this planet, it’s meant to taking them back to Kṛṣṇa instead.
In a way, being rejected by every country and every government is a message for Rohingya to abandon hopes for material happiness and surrender to the Lord but that’s probably not what they want to hear and not what the governments looking for solutions want to hear either. We need a more skillful advice than that.
For those of us who advocate establishing varṇāśrama the answer “chant and be happy” would also be hypocritical – that’s not what we tell ourselves when something goes wrong. Instead we set out to search for working material solutions under auspices of vaṛnāśrama rules, according to dharma and prescriptions of śāstra and our ācāryas, and it’s fine, someone needs to know how to manage things down here in the material world, but what should be vaṛnāśrama solution to Rohingya problem?
There’s nearly a million of them but the ones who get in the news should probably be classified as śudras – they gave up their land and went to foreign countries in search of employment. Telling śudras to blame themselves and find solutions on their own is inappropriate, their fate should be responsibility of their rulers. It’s their own karma, of course, but not so much their responsibility as they are dependents. If they followed the orders of their authorities and got themselves in trouble it’s the authorities fault and so responsibility to correct the situation should be on authorities, too.
If Rohingya were of kṣatriya stock they would have fought for their land and Myanmar government would have ceded at least some degree of control, there are tons of ethnic minorities there who do not take orders from the central government and there’s nothing central government can do about it, it’s not strong enough to impose its will on everybody. In Rohingya case, however, they appear to be completely powerless and unable to stand up for their “rights”. One more reason why the problem should be solved by the government and not Rohingyas themselves.
Now the real problem is that the government of Myanmar does not accept responsibility for these people. It does not accept them as citizens even if they lived on that land for generations. Not long enough, in Myanmar view. Changing the minds of the rulers in Rangoon (or it’s Naipitaw now) is notoriously difficult and even their democracy icon, ASSK, is not standing up for the rights of the Rohingya, it’s too much even for her and her ostensibly pro-western supporters.
Bangladesh doesn’t want to take responsibility for Rohingya either. As a state it’s even younger than ISKCON and most of Rohingya migration happened long before Bangladesh became independent. They are not going to clean up any more mess left by British there, bloody war with Pakistan was more than enough.
Other countries in the region can’t help much either. There are thousands of Rohingya currently at sea and it’s hard to accommodate even this relatively small number, what to speak of the rest of the million who’d jump on the next boat if they hear of their compatriots’ success. No one wants to open that floodgate. However bad situation in Arakan state, current home of Rohingya, is, no country wants to trigger another massive wave of migration.
What to do about people on the boats already? Their first stop is Thailand, then they continue on to Malaysia and possibly Indonesia, but it so happens that all these countries are being forced by the west to fight human trafficking and refusing entry to Rohingyas is an unfortunate consequence of that.
As it is, traffickers are the only ones who have any kind of plan for these people. They profit from it unfairly and they treat their subjects poorly, there are mass graves in both Malaysia and Thailand where hundreds of Rohingyas met their end, but the traffickers are still the only ones who offer them prospects of a place to stay and work. Cracking down on traffickers robs Rohingyas even of that, not even a dream left.
Should they be legally accommodated by Thailand and Malaysia on compassionate grounds? Easier said than done. Both countries can surely set up temporary camps and provide Rohingyas with food and shelter, but then what? Rohingyas do not speak the language, they are illiterate, they don’t have any employable skills, there’s no chance they could enter the societies there. All Thais could offer, I’m afraid, is slave labor on fishing ships, which is what EU has been publicly berating Thais for for a long time, and now they are threatening to curb Thai exports, so even that avenue is closed to Rohingya ATM. Thais are also Buddhists and so they legitimately view influx of frustrated Muslims as a security issue, considering their long running Muslim insurgency in the south of the country.
Malaysians are also caught between a rock and a hard place. Those of them who wanted Rohingyas can’t come out and admit that they were hoping to get cheap slaves, and no one else volunteers. As fellow Muslims they could make an extra effort to help, comparing to Thais, but that still won’t be enough and as a government of a multi-ethnic country they can’t favor one religious group over all others forever, they already get enough of flak for their “bhumiputra” policy, which is affirmative action on steroids.
So, even if these two governments, and Indonesia, too, started acting selflessly and according to best humanitarian principles, there’s still not much they can do for the Rohingyas. Their own kṣatriyas are not powerful enough to take Rohingyas in their care. It appears that these people are doomed no matter what and they have a case of a very severe karma. In Kali Yuga it can’t be corrected, their plight should be the message to us all that the material world is not a hospitable place and no one should take anything for granted here. All we can do is be thankful that it’s not happening to us rather than preach human rights and democracy as a universal solution. It isn’t, and Rohingya case is a perfect example of the limitations to this western paradigm.
I can’t think of a varṇāśrama based solution either, not unless there’s a Vedic king in charge.