The life of Rohingyas in Chennai

Namrata Devikar
Sunday, 22 September 2019

78 Rohingya refugees are living in Chennai for last six years

Violence has led the Rohingya community to seek refuge in different countries. In India, the community has sought illegal migration in different parts. Once such place is near Chennai in Kelambakam. Forty eight Rohingya refugees had come to Chennai six years ago. Now, the population of the community has increased to 78 in the last six years.
The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM), a mental health NGO, is working closely with the community to understand the issues and challenges the community faces.

Speaking during a conference in Pune, RK Radhakrishnan and his associate Anjali Singla from BALM spoke about various aspects about the community. 

Radhakrishnan said when the community was first sighted in Chennai, the neighbours were not happy.

“The neighbours and the locals were not very happy that these refugees were seen in the area. One of the reasons was that the Rohingya community does not live clean. The local police also view this community as trouble. As the community follows Islam, they are viewed as a threat,” said RK Radhakrishnan.

Sharing her experience with the community, Anjali Singla said that the community did not visit the Primary Healthcare Centre at first (PHC).

“The community is very conservative and did not want to go to the doctor. They went to a PHC for the first time when a woman in labour had complications. After then, they have started to visit the PHC for treatments and now trust the doctors there,” said Singla.

Radhakrishnan highlighted that as a migrant community, insecurity is very high in these refugees. “If a person visits them from some other city, they tend to seek all details of that city. Because they fear and they will have to relocate very soon. And in that case, they must know where to go,” said RK Radhakrishnan.

Singla also underlined that as a conservative community, Rohingya women are confined to homes and household chores only.

“They hardly get out of the house. There are about three children on an average in every household. So their entire day goes attending to them. Girls are allowed to study only until they reach puberty and child marriages in the community are rampant. The feeling is at least the girl is safe,” said Singla.

She further highlighted that there is no mobility for women. “These women do not go out of homes at all because the men do not allow to do so. However, as we have started to observe the community, now the women are at least going to drop the child to school and pick them up. From zero mobility, it has gone to two times a day, which is good. We also asked the women if they can engage in work. For example, many of them said that they can make paper bags and can sew. We have been successful in this,” said Singla. 

Radhakrishnan further said that the men in the community work with local butcher shops.

Speaking about the family dynamics, Radhakrishnan and Anjali Singla both said that there is no communication between husband and wife. 

“The men at least share how they feel about the violence back home and the consequences of it but the women do not get to speak about their feelings at all. The women feel that they should not share how they feel with their husbands and add to their troubles,” said Singla.

Radhakrishnan said that Rohingya refugees are present in 14 states in India. “Different states are tackling the issues in different ways. However, there is no central policy to address and understand these issues faced by the community and provide the solution to this problem,” said RK Radhakrishnan.

The violence against the Rohingya community and their migration has made the community deeply insecure and more conservative in nature. On one hand, they want to go home and on the other, they wonder if there is any home left. Between these struggles, the community tries to adapt itself to Chennai for the time being.

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