Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
The Rohingya tribe in Myanmar is one of the numerous dying communities in the world. People belonging to this community practice Islam and can be found mostly in remote parts of Myanmar and Thailand. Although the origin of the tribe is still a topic of debate, the origins of many of the tribals can be found in Bangladesh and Bengal. Nirvair Singh Rai, a young Indian photographer, studying at the famous Pathshala South Asian Media Academy in Bangladesh visited the tribe earlier this year as part of a course project. His fascination with this tribe is what drove him to document their lives. "I had read a lot about the Rohingyas and watched a lot of documentaries about them and was really interested in spending some time with them and documenting them," said Rai. (All images courtesy: Nirvair Rai's blog .) The Rohingyas have never had an easy life, ostracised from the society; they did not even have official citizenship of Myanmar until recently. They have next to nothing for survival. "When I went there, I saw women cutting their hair and selling it to feed their children. Their diet consists of boiled leaves and water from a nearby river. It is an almost animalistic approach to life," said the photographer. The year 2012 saw one of the worst communal riots in Myanmar between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Muslim Rohingyas. Hundreds lost their lives and over 1,00,000 people were displaced. Entire Rohingya villages and settlements were razed to the grounds, making the tribe even more obscure. "When I went there, I saw women cutting their hair and selling it to feed their children. Their diet consists of boiled leaves and water from a nearby river. It is an almost animalistic approach to life." Rai recounts a horrifying conversation he had with some children who told him about how the Rakhines beheaded the children's fathers and played football with their heads."The kids spoke about it without any emotion. As if it was the most normal thing to talk about," says Rai. The photographer says that life for them has been riddled with violence and even illegal activities like smuggling are part of their lives. Even though Rai fears that the community may vanish in the next 10 years, he says he wanted to concentrate on the little dignity and grace that the Rohingyas seem to have left in their hopeless lives. "I spent a lot of time with them (close to a month) and saw that even though they had terrible lives, they led it with much grace and dignity and that is what I wanted to capture," he said. To view more of Nirvair Rai's work, visit his blog or his Facebook page.  An earlier version of the story was first published on The News Minute on December 19, 2014.  

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