Priyanka Chopra
Priyanka Chopra at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar | @priyankachopra | Twitter
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If Priyanka Chopra had met with Congolese refugees or Ukrainian refugees, the trolls would have cheered her. But Muslim refugees are another matter.

There she faces ire of the troll brigade for the unpardonable crime of visiting a Rohingya refugee camp. Even more shockingly, Priyanka Chopra was moved enough by the plight of small children to write a social media post about them, appealing for help.

“This is an entire generation of children that have no future in sight. Through their smiles I could see the vacancy in their eyes… The world needs to care. We need to care. These kids are our future.”

But the troll brigade cares only about whataboutery even when it comes to children. What about the Kashmir Pandits? What about the Kairana Hindus?

For example:

Pet tera Bharatiya bhare aur madad tu Rohingya ki karegi…. Kabhi Kashmir pandit wa Kairana ke hinduon ke liye madad karne agey nahin aayi. Itni hamdardi un Rohingyo se to wahin bas jaa…. (Indians fill your stomach, and you want to help the Rohingyas… You never came forward to help the Kashmir Pandits or Kairana Hindus. If you have so much sympathy for the Rohingyas, go settle there.)

It’s funny how whataboutery seems a one-way street sometimes. It’s not like those trolling Chopra for not visiting the Kashmiri Pandits have tweeted regularly about the plight of the Rohingyas or the Syrians. When Anupam Kher or Sanjay Suri express their solidarity with the Kashmiri Pandits, or when they tweet #25YearsofKPExile, because it is absolutely their right, they are not immediately asked “what about the Rohingya?” Or what about the Tibetans for that matter, many of whom are living in exile right here in India for decades.

Case of us versus them

No one expects Priyanka Chopra to wave a magic wand and solve the Rohingya problem. She did not go to Cox Bazar and demand more Rohingyas be settled in India. So why troll her for merely visiting the camp? The issue of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits is a genuine issue. But the cause of the Kashmiri Pandits will not be diminished in any way by her visiting the Rohingyas. The charter of a Unicef goodwill ambassador does not say her goodwill work, like charity, must begin at home. Is there an unwritten rule that unless she meets the Kashmiri Pandits, she is not allowed to go meet any other refugee group anywhere in the world? It’s not as if Chopra is preventing the likes of an Anupam Kher from becoming a global ambassador for the Pandit cause.

But it’s not really about the Pandits, is it? Many seem less interested in real justice or rehabilitation for Kashmiri Pandits than in using them to score political points against people doing humanitarian work with communities they dislike, which could be Rohingyas, Syrians or others. Chances are if Chopra had met Congolese refugees or Ukrainian refugees, many of those trolling her now would be thrilled to bits about an Indian getting attention on the global stage. But Muslim refugees are another matter.

Teddy bears for a cause

Rohingyas have been portrayed as a sort of Trojan Horse that infiltrated India. The brutal murder and rape of a young child in Kashmir was seen as the “handiwork of jihadi Rohingyas”, a way to scapegoat people angry about settling “criminal Rohingya in Hindu areas”. How’s that for blacklisting an entire community?

That anger now gets an extra boost from reports that accuse the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) of two massacres in Hindu villages in Maungdaw, where the men were killed in execution style.

Tirana Hassan, crisis response director of Amnesty International, called the killings “brutal and senseless” and said “the perpetrators of this heinous crime must be held to account”. The Rohingyas could be the victims of ethnic cleansing but their militant outfit ARSA could also be the perpetrators of a massacre. Both can be simultaneously true.

There’s a tendency sometimes to drum up support for victims by turning them into teddy bears for their cause. It’s easy to forget that civil wars are bloody and vicious, and brutal and horrible things happen on all sides. It’s also easy to forget that when one of those sides is the state, the balance of power is often grotesquely lopsided. Amnesty made that point by saying that “accountability for these atrocities is every bit as crucial as it is for the crimes against humanity carried out by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine state”. According to them, some 700,000 Rohingya were driven out of their homes by Myanmar security forces.

Different refugee groups, same plight

Those who plead the case for the Kashmiri Pandits would be on much morally stronger ground if they pleaded the case of all refugees forced to flee their homes instead of pitting one refugee group against the other. In the end, whether the camp is in Cox Bazaar or Delhi or Jammu, the plight of the refugee marooned often in a no-man’s land is the same. They are at best bargaining chips for vested interests, and at worst unwanted flotsam in the countries where they wash up.

Amnesty, based on its interviews, has said that while ARSA could recruit some Rohingya villagers to help them carry out the massacres, the “overwhelming majority of Rohingya did not.” But the overwhelming majority of Rohingya will still pay the price.

Indians, of all people, should understand the terrible unfairness of this, given how many Sikhs paid a deadly price as a community for the murderous actions of those who assassinated Indira Gandhi. But we only learn lessons when convenient to us.

And how does all this anti-Rohingya outrage really help the poor Kashmiri Pandits again? Would not pressuring the PDP-BJP holy alliance be of more practical use in this regard?

Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.

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