- Oct 10, 2009
SOURCE: Uighurs seek a passage to India - China - World - The Times of IndiaTOI Crest 7 November 2009, 12:03pm IST
With Han Chinese flooding Xinjiang — a region struggling with ethnic strife — the demoralized natives seek refuge across the border to escape the oppression...
When Ibrahim was investing in new computers to upgrade his web business, he could not have imagined being bankrupted by a government-imposed internet blackout after deadly riots between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in July.
On July 4th, Ibrahim was buoyant with the hope of tapping into China's burgeoning online business market, encouraged by the influx of the companies to the oil-rich region. But by the end of that same week Ibrahim knew he had to shut shop.
As Hu Jintao hurried back from the G8 summit in the wake of the most violent riots in decades, Beijing cut Xinjiang's 20 million residents off from internet in an effort to insulate the province and ease ethnic tension.
"Hundreds of internet businesses are bankrupt, so where is the economic development they talk about? I want to move to India, I don't want to invest any money here. My friends and I started to research routes (through Leh) to India, but it is policed well in China," he said. "Thousands are disappearing (into prisons) — they weren't rioting, but they were young and Muslim." he said.
Ibrahim holed himself up in his home after a brutal crackdown on Uighurs paralysed Urumqi following protests on July 5th.
According to the state media, 197 people were killed and 1,721 injured, most of them Han, assaulted by Uighurs. In response, vigilante Han Chinese mobs armed with butcher knives and axes taped to sticks stormed Uighur neighbourhoods seeking vengeance.
Mass arrests of Muslim men followed. Uighur women took to the streets to protest the arrests of "grandfathers and 11-, 12-year-old boys." A Human Rights Watch report published in October confirms that 43 Uighurs are still missing.
Before Ibrahim saw his savings go out with the light on his modem, he could not imagine living anywhere but Kashgar, and encouraged his family to learn Mandarin and become a part of the fabric of greater China.
"When I saw signs that you cannot go to mosque if you are a government employee or a working person, I thought okay, better to focus on business than pray. I thought only (political) troublemakers are punished but I know the innocent people who disappeared . I saw some who came back tortured. I am ashamed to say I am afraid to even help those families."
One such victim was Turghan. When Turghan was finally freed from prison last month, after 12 years of torture, his wife didn't recognize him. Instead of the husband she remembered, a handicapped, hunchbacked man stood before the family.
His sister-in-law Rahima remembers Turghan as a handsome, popular trader in Gulja's main market. "His crime was that he was Muslim right after the Gulja uprising of 1997, when Chinese authorities put pressure on local police to find ringleaders," she said.
In February 1997 riots erupted on the streets of Gulja to protest mass arrests of Muslims. Troops stormed Gulja after two days of protests, using teargas and ammunition to disperse the crowds, and arresting so many young men that they had to be detained at the local sports stadium, according to Amnesty International. As the temperature dropped, detainees were hosed with water and several lost fingers and toes to frostbite before they could even be questioned.
Today, the Chinese state media is full of warnings that Xinjiang remains a turbulent, untamed area because of its 5,600-km border with Russia to the north, India to the south, Mongolia to the east and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the west.
Months after the Urumqi riots, the border city of Kashgar still has troops on alert. Tajik and Khyrgyz traders have gone back to selling silks, blankets and beauty creams in the main Sunday Bazaar but the slow pace of business is punctuated by a column of soldiers marching through at regular intervals.
Michael, a foreigner working in Kashgar is "disgusted" by what he calls counter-productive security measures. "The government says it has no problem with Muslims and then sends 500 soldiers to point guns at Uighurs coming out of Kashgar's main mosque the day after riots in Urumqi. How can tensions die down?" As he finishes speaking, three trucks full of soldiers in riot gear roll by. Troops point their weapons at passers by as loudspeakers announce: "Don't do anything (illegal ) to hurt national unity.
Driving along the remnants of the fabled silk route from Kashgar to Yarkand to Hotan, as the road cuts effortlessly through majestic mountain passes that dissolve into the sand dunes of the Taklamakan dessert, it is easy to forget the region's recent upheaval. But the 50,000 soldiers that have flooded towns across Xinjiang serve to remind you that you are being watched and tracked, your identity card and passport numbers duly noted.
According to T P Sreenivasan, former Indian ambassador, "What China is doing in Xinjiang is identical to what they did in Tibet — repressing the minority, giving Han Chinese economic incentives to move there and creating tensions. The point is to destroy the Uighur culture and control the region. India should take note because China has been increasingly aggressive over Arunachal Pradesh. If they can colonize their own minorities to break down the Muslim community, imagine the aggression they are willing to use on outsiders."
David Goodman explains Beijing's ominous agenda in his article, 'China's campaign to open up the West'. "The 1990s (saw) comprehensive measures spurring Han settler colonization, exploitation in the oil-rich Tarim basin; and the building of key transport infrastructure in Southern Xinjiang," under the guise of economic development , and resulting in friction with the indigenous Uighurs. Beijing has relocated entire communities of impoverished Han Chinese in a wave of mass migration that took Xinjiang's Han population from four per cent in 1949 to 40.6 per cent in 2000 (according to census data).
Ibrahim cannot help feeling frustrated about Hu Jintao's recent comments about a return to normalcy in the region.
"We want dignity, what is normalcy?" he asks as his friends lapse into Uighur, talking excitedly about reports of Tibetans living in India, free from the fear of persecution, free to speak against the oppression of their people "back home."
"We can do more from India. We thought of Pakistan, but they have returned Uighur refugees to China. India has welcomed Tibetans and we are similar," he reasons before turning back to the heap of coffeestained notes and maps with highlighted routes into India strewn over his keyboard and table.
It will be interesting to see what the RSS & BJP make of this on the one hand it shows the reputation Indian secularism and plurality have in the world, on the other these are Muslims we are talking about.
Also it seems Pakistan is not such a homeland for Muslims of all hues after all, India(irrespective of religion) however cannot afford a mass influx we have enough people here already.