Wed 12 Mar 2014
Filed under: Ethnic Issues,Inside Burma,News
State school teachers tasked with carrying out this month’s census in Muslim-dominated areas of Rakhine State have expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of the local language will hamper data collection.
A Muslim man discusses the holding of the census with officials and EU ambassador to Myanmar Roland Kobia during the EU delegation’s trip to Rakhine State on January 31. (Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)A Muslim man discusses the holding of the census with officials and EU ambassador to Myanmar Roland Kobia during the EU delegation’s trip to Rakhine State on January 31. (Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)
They are also worried by the government’s refusal to assign extra security to the restive region while the census is being undertaken from March 30 to April 10.
Several teachers assigned to work at schools in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in northern Rakhine State told The Myanmar Times recently that their schools had posted notices on bulletin boards saying they understand both Rakhine and the language of the local Rohingya Muslims. However, they say this is incorrect and most only speak Myanmar and Rakhine.
“Just a few [ethnic Rakhine] locals in Buthidaung and Maungdaw know a little of the Bengali language. Most of the rest of the state can’t understand it at all,” said a male teacher from the Taung Pyaw area of Maungdaw township, who asked not to be named.
“I’m not a local but I was listed as being able to speak Bengali. Most other school teachers are also on the list like me,” he said.
The government and most Myanmar citizens reject the term Rohingya, insisting that most Muslims in Rakhine State are Bengalis.
Because of the lack of contact between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities, few ethnic Rakhine in Maungdaw and Buthidaung can understand the language and most see no need to learn. For teachers, the problem is compounded by the fact that most are assigned to northern Rakhine from other parts of the state.
Myanmar is used as the language of instruction in all state schools.
“I would say 95 percent of school teachers don’t understand Bengali,” said U Win Thein, a Rakhine political activist from Maungdaw township.
“We are not locals. We’ve arrived here as our duty. We don’t understand the Bengalis’ language – even the local teachers aren’t familiar with their language,” said a primary school teacher from Maungdaw, who also asked not to be named.
At a press conference in Yangon on February 10, Minister for Immigration and Population U Khin Yi said the language barrier could be dealt with through interpreters.
Residents say they are also concerned over comments made by U Khin Yi during the same press conference stating that additional security would not be allocated to Rakhine State during the census. He argued that this could intimidate respondents and affect the quality of collected data.
“I’ve heard that school teachers are worried for their security so it would be better to provide increased security for Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathetaung townships,” said U Win Thein.
“[Minister] U Khin Yi has said the government will not provide more security for Rakhine State. So we are worried about security because we don’t understand the Bengali language and the state is still in a state of unrest,” the primary school teacher said.
Despite the concerns from those administering the census, both Rohingya and Rakhine residents said that they are enthusiastic about taking part and hope that it can be conducted smoothly.
“We will participate in the census so it will be carried out calmly and concluded peacefully,” said U Shwe Hla Maw, a Rohingya resident of Sittwe township’s Aung Mingalar ward.
The census, Myanmar’s first in more than three decades, will be conducted with assistance from the United Nations Populations Fund.
Translation by Zar Zar Soe