Pukr (rhymes with cutter) is a common word in several South Asian languages, including Urdu, Hindi, Sindhi, Gujrati, and Punjabi. Written as پکڑ in Urdu, pukr means to nab, capture, snatch and seize. The antonyms for pukr are to release, liberate, return. Broadly interpreted, pukr is associated with siege, humiliation, home raids, loss of liberty, and extreme family distress. Those who perpetrate pukr could be cops, bullies, kidnappers, bounty hunters, and “suppressive states,” a phrase I use in A Legal Theory of International Terrorism.
PUKR also serves as an acronym for Palestinians, Uighurs, Kashmiris, and Rohingyas. These four peoples in various parts of the world are similarly situated in terms of pukr, that is, subjugation and suffering. Furthermore, these four peoples are predominantly Muslims. Studying their shared predicament may compromise the specifics of adversity that each population encounters, as there are varying degrees of persecution severity. Yet the study unfolds a shared script of cruelty containing siege, denativization substitution, and expulsion, and the failure of nations and international institutions to find meaningful solutions beyond selective condemnation.
The following analysis reveals that the PUKR peoples are treated as non-natives in their ancestral homelands while the suppressive states alter the demographics, and they are subject to harsh military clampdown forcing many to leave homes and become stateless refugees. The suppressive states deny persecution or justify repressive measures; they defy international pressure and blame the PUKR peoples as the villains of peace and security. The mantra that the PUKR people spawn terrorists and jihadis has been so repeatedly chanted in unison that the clarity of oppression has been thoroughly muddled.
A repressive siege has become the defining theme of the PUKR stories.
The Palestinians, trapped in the territories of Gaza and West Bank, are a native Arab population nearing 6 million, who endure a siege that the Israeli Jews have tightened for over seventy years, creating dependence without dignity. The Uighurs in the province of Xinjiang, a native Turkic population of over 12 million, suffer a siege that the Huns have gradually stiffened since the 1950s. The Kashmiris ensnared in the valley of Kashmir, a native Dardic population of over 12 million, experience utter defenselessness as Modi’s Hindu government has intensified repression by revoking the state autonomy, a bargain under which Kashmir acceded to India. The Rohingyas in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, an Indo-Aryan population of now less than a million, subsist in sheer misery as they undergo state-mediated massacres and expulsion.
Together, the PUKR peoples constitute over 30 million inhabitants of diverse ethnicities suffering oppression at the hands of Jews, Huns, Hindus, and Buddhists. Each suppressive state, be it Israel, China, India, or Myanmar, ignores international law, acts with defiance, and lashes out at the institutions, such as the Human Rights Committee or Council, that may expose or criticize occupation or persecution.
In each story, the siege script asserts that the PUKR people are outsiders, not native to the land.
After the Second World War when the European Jews started to settle in Palestine, some argued that the Jews are native to Israel, but the Palestinians are aliens to the land. Golda Meir, a Ukrainian Jew and the fourth prime minister of Israel (1969-1974), claimed, “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” While some Jews would contest Meir’s denativization of Palestinians, the Jewish settlers fiercely believe that they have an exclusive right to the land. The demolition of Palestinian homes, evictions, and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank confirm Meir’s characterization of the Palestinians.
The Huns, who constitute nearly 92% of the population of mainland China, perceive the Uighurs as untrustworthy outsiders, though the Chinese laws recognize the Uighurs as one of the 56 ethnic minorities living in China. Article 4 of the China constitution states that “all nationalities are equal” and that “discrimination and oppression of any nationality are prohibited.” However, reality has drifted far away from the laws. Bordering Pakistan and several Central Asian states, Xinjiang is a large province historically inhabited by Uzbeks, Kazaks, and other non-Hun populations. Claiming Xinjiang as an integral part of China, the Huns no longer see the Uighurs as Chinese. Xinjiang, according to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, “resembles a massive internment camp.”
For years since the 1947 partition of India, the Kashmiris exercised a modest amount of political autonomy but remained subservient to the Delhi dictates. The Kashmiri leaders now regret being part of Bharat (the constitutional name of India), as Hindu extremist state and federal governments hide cruelty by touting democratic diversity and non-violence for international consumption. Hindutva brands Muslims living for centuries in India as “occupiers” and “foreigners.” In 2019, the Modi government revoked the autonomy of Kashmir, deployed a huge army to lay siege, and turned Kashmir into a massive cage.
The Rohingyas, the most powerless people anywhere on the planet, suffer the most at the hands of Myanmar’s armed forces. Since independence in 1948 from the British colonial rule, Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, contends that the Muslim Rohingyas are illegal settlers and that they do not belong to the nation, even though the Rohingyas have been inhabiting Myanmar for centuries. The national laws recognize 135 ethnic groups as lawful inhabitants, but not Rohingyas. State-sponsored persecution takes place in the name of removing “illegal immigrants.” In the orgy of hounding, the Buddhist monks, otherwise chanting the peace mantras, turn belligerent and take part in burning the fragile houses of Rohingyas.
In each siege, as if reading from the same script, each suppressive state portrays the PUKR people as foreigners holding a defective entitlement to the land where they have lived for centuries.
In each case, the siege script takes away the lands and houses that belong to the PUKR people and uses questionable laws to transfer them to the “true natives,” that is, Jews, Huns, Hindus, and Buddhists.
The Israeli laws authorize the government to demolish Palestinian houses, build settlements on Palestinian land, while the Likud government is gradually but determinedly extending the original territorial borders demarcated under the 1949 Armistice Agreements, appropriating lands that belong to the Palestinians and Syrians.
Starting in the 1950s, the Huns from mainland China, under a deliberate government policy, have been relocating to Xinjiang to alter the demographics of the province and reduce the native Uighurs to a small minority. The Uighurs’ province has become even more important for China’s national economy as the Belt and Road initiative, a massive infrastructure of highways and pipelines, connects Shanghai and Beijing to Pakistan’s Gwadar port through Kashgar, a historic city in Xinjiang. For China, the stakes are too high to allow the Uighurs to have any control in the province of Xinjiang.
The Modi government has effectively revoked the Kashmir state constitution that prevented the influx of people from other parts of the mainland. This revocation is designed to gradually alter the demographics of the state. Hindutva proposes to transform Kashmir into a Hindu-majority territory.
The Myanmar siege is by far the worst in its intentions and scope. Military and civilian governments, including that of Aang San Su Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, refuse to confer citizenship on the Rohingyas living there for hundreds of years. The purpose of forced eviction of the Rohingyas from the state of Rakhine is ethnic cleansing, a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute, intended to populate the Rakhine state with Buddhists.
In each case, the script alters the demographics of the territory under siege. Settlements, evictions, demolitions, and transfer of families from the mainland to the land under siege are the crucial elements of substitution of one population with another. Jews uproot Palestinians, Huns displace Uighurs, Hindus dislodge Kashmiris, and Buddhists replace Rohingyas. The theme is fractal.
Closely related to denativization and population substitution are expulsions, as the production of refugees is an inevitable consequence of the siege script.
Millions of Palestinians forced out of their homes and villages have turned into refugees. According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, more than 1.5 million individuals live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and other places. The refugees dream to go back home but Israel is unlikely to accept any plans, even under international pressure, to allow them to return. The Israeli laws grant the right to return to the Jews living in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere, but not to the Palestinians.
Much like Palestinians, the Rohingyas have also turned into refugees. However, while the Palestinians can migrate to many “brotherly” Arab states, the Rohingyas have nowhere to go. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, nearly a million Rohingyas fled Myanmar in successive waves of displacement since the early 1990s. Between Rakhine and any state that might accept them as refugees, there is the unforgiving Bay of Bengal. The vast majority of Rohingya refugees are women, children, and the elderly. “They have nothing and need everything,” says the Agency. Bangladesh has allowed the refugees to come in but plans to transfer them to a fragile island of Bhasan Char, off the coast of Chattogram (Chittagong), where the sea waves are frequently merciless.
The Uighurs have not yet fled their homes. It is unlikely that China would allow the Uighurs to leave Xinjiang and turn into witnesses against China’s violations of laws and human rights. As an emerging superpower, China distinguishes itself as a force of good for the world and cares for its “moral image.” The production of Uighur refugees, though demographically useful, will undermine China’s self-concept of a wise hegemon.
The conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir complicates the predicament for the people of Kashmir. The historic State of Jammu and Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan. Both countries fiercely guard the line of control that divides the State. Routinely, they exchange fire, reminding the Kashmiris that they are sitting on a tinderbox. Right now, the Kashmiris are trapped in their homes with limited access to outside contact. If the Kashmiri resistance to the siege boils up to an unmanageable temperature, India would likely pressure the Kashmiris to cross over to Pakistan, leaving their homes for the “true natives.” This scenario would also ignite the much-feared nuclear war.
Being forced out of homes is as heart-wrenching as being forced into homes. The choice is to lose property or liberty.
Each siege has been condemned by different nations. International human rights institutions, such as the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental entity of 47 states, cannot escape international politics while condemning human rights violations. States condemn human rights violations but not if their allies commit them. For example, it is harder to condemn India and China within the Council than it is to condemn Israel and Myanmar.
Israel does have a point that the world singles out Jews for the occupation of the Palestinian territories, while there are numerous other nations engaged in occupation and persecution of disfavored minorities. Israel, much more than India and China, is a transparent tormentor. The world media have a little more access to the West Bank and Gaza than to Kashmir and Xinjian. Still, as a policy, Israel, India, and China do not allow human rights watch groups to enter the lands under siege.
The U.S. is no longer the human rights champion as it once portrayed itself to be. It is by far the most duplicitous hegemon. Using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council, the U.S., without any moral consistency, selects what oppression will be bypassed and what will be sanctioned. For example, Democratic and Republican politicians, and the State Department, are quick to show anger over the treatment of Uighurs (to put down China) but they rarely condemn Israeli and Indian sieges.
The argument that India and Israel are democracies draws a veil of forgiveness over their brutality. No one should forget the history that democracy can be as evil as any other form of government when it comes to launching wars, apartheid, occupation, and colonialism.
The 56 Muslim countries are no exception to selective condemnation. They are reluctant to highlight the siege of Uighurs as they do not wish to alienate China and jeopardize commercial ties. They have been lukewarm in defending the Rohingyas against Myanmar, a relatively powerless nation. The rich Gulf States could have done significantly more in the Rohingyas’ dignified relocation. Some Arab governments with no roots in the people are abandoning the cause of the Palestinians.
The fact that the PUKR peoples are Muslims does not help but hurt them as the suppressive states unleash the terrorism offensive to divert attention from siege while Muslim governments are divided, confused, and themselves in turmoil.
Combining the stories of the Palestinians, Uighurs, Kashmiris, and Rohingyas bring out a common script of cruelty. Though the pains that each of the PUKR peoples endures are distinctive, the elements of oppression are similar. In each case, the suppressive states argue that the PUKR people do not belong to the land and make laws to alter the demographics, forcing the PUKR families to leave homes or suffer intolerable repression. Dictated by commercial interests, nations selectively condemn the suppressive states. International institutions, such as the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. agencies, point out the human rights violations but, because of noncooperative powerful states, can do little to find any meaningful solutions.