‘Rendered Stateless Not Voiceless’: Rohingyas in India sketch their stories in a comic book

Saher Hiba Khan

As I was on my way to the Rohingya Refugee camp in the capital city, I saw the Shaheen bagh protest in its uproar. It was a rainy Friday and people were offering their prayers on the main road. Kanchan Kunj, the place I was headed for is 15 minutes away from Shaheen Bagh, the epicenter of protests against discriminatory citizenship law, CAA. Earlier, Union minister and senior BJP leader Jitendra Singh said, the government’s next move will be to deport Rohingya refugees, as they will not be able to secure citizenship under the new law.

When I reached the camp, the conditions were much worse than that of Shaheen Bagh. The commonality of their lives is the fight for existence. It was a dumping zone where they had their bases built. It was difficult to breathe and you had to walk through a passage with garbage on each side.

I met a girl named Yasmeen, might be at least 10 years old and she had this beautiful smile and those mesmerising eyes whose image is stuck in my mind. I asked her about the comic book which their community has sketched. She took me to a general store where I met a lady named Sanjeeda, the owner of that store, a mother of two children. Sanjeeda, on the other hand, was a bit reluctant to talk. They had been living in India since 2012 and she is the sole bread-winner. She had worked in Bosco for a year, I asked her about the comic book and she called her daughter to show it to me right away.

A comic book called Rendered Stateless Not Voiceless shows us the life of Rohingya refugees in India. The book was written and sketched by Rohingyas as part of Put together by World Comics India, a collective that promotes comics as a communication and empowerment tool for the marginalized. The book is an outcome of a workshop conducted by the organization with around 50-60 Rohingya refugees in Kalindi Kunj and Nuh, Mewat. 

Ali Johar, a Rohingya refugee and who is a part of this initiative told Maktoob that comics are individuals’ works and people reading something which is written by the person itself about their adversity makes it more intimate and brings closure.

“It will also be easy for the majority of the refugees who are illiterate, to read and write their stories in this form,” he said.

Foyazul Haque’s comic strip titled ‘My heart is still in Myanmar’.

When asked how a comic helps in making people aware for they are basically humorous he says, “This book will break the stereotype of comics being not only funny but how you can promote the serious issues. And it is also easy to read a comic book which hardly takes 10 minutes.”

Ali told Maktoob how the people were excited and participated with passion. “It took only two days to train them, they were very eager to share their stories.”

Tasmida’s comic strip titled ‘Born uncertified’.

They will be sending these books everywhere, be it private or government firms for the people to know about them and empathize with their asperity.

As I went through the comic, it was terribly painful. The stories were just too despondent to read.

The women had been abused and assaulted; the people have been suffering from diseases like cholera, typhoid, malaria, loose motions, and whatnot. The most basic of rights such as good healthcare, proper education or even clean water isn’t available to them.

It also included how the Indian Government is as silent as the grave. Even after so many years of filing PILs’ by the Rohingyas, they still haven’t been given any basic amenities, how they are fighting for their right to exist, how their children are bullied in schools, how they have to go through the fight of speaking an alien language, how they are victims of terrorism whereas they are targeted of being terrorist everywhere and so on.

Zuhara’s comic strip titled ‘Not a terrorist’.

The stories in the book were divided into many comic strips titled ‘My Dream’, ‘Exist without identity’, ‘My heart is still in Myanmar’, ‘Born uncertified’, ‘Not a terrorist’, ‘In search of a safe life’, ‘Long journey’, ‘The exodus and aftermath’, and ‘Hoping against hope’…etc.

Saher Hiba Khan is freelance journalist based in New Delhi and she studies English literature at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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