Undoubtedly, “ethnicity” is now akin to the national identity in China. However, for reasons more than but obvious, Uyghur’s – Sunni Muslims, a Turkic minority with stronger cultural links to Central Asia are desperately struggling to save their identity in their own home. Xinjiang (which translates to “new territory” in Mandarin), the resource-rich, far-western region home to more than 10 million Uygurs, earlier known as “Uyghur Autonomous Region” is now flooded rather “dominated” by waves of Han migrants from China’s heartland.
There are no human rights in Communist China and it quells all types of protests ruthlessly but the protests related to religion, secession, democracy, and terrorism are crushed more brutally. There are reports about the oppression of Christians and other religions but the Government-sponsored repression of Muslims all over China especially in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is unparalleled.
The population of Xinjiang has increased by eight folds, all thanks to the most liberal residency rules implemented in Xinjiang which is in total contrast to cities across China, where migration is strictly controlled, with new arrivals struggling for years to secure the all-important household registration, or hukou, entitling residents to education, healthcare, social insurance and more.
This experience of discrimination and sense of loss resulting from growing Han migration (who now account for more than half the population of Xinjiang) has clearly engendered a profound feeling of bitterness and alienation for the Uighur, in the ‘Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’.
Uncanny similarity between Hans and Punjabis
The case of Hans in Xinjiang is verily the same as that of Punjabi’s in Pakistan. A parallel to Punjab is Pakistan and Pakistan for Punjab is perfectly orchestrated by the Chinese govt in Xinjiang – Hans are Chinese and China is Han
Pakistanis may not accept this, but it is a fact that the Punjabi domination (the bulk of the army and officialdom is drawn from this province and therefore the bias) of Pakistan has been the biggest obstacle in nation-building. By virtue of its population predominance, sense of martial superiority, and political and economic prowess, the Punjabis in Pakistan have treated the other provinces as their vassal states. The fact that historically and culturally the Sindhis and the Balochis are much older, is conveniently dismissed by the Punjabis similar to what the Hans are doing to the minorities in China.
Marginalization of Uyghur’s & Dominance of Hans
Historically, the agrarian civilization built by Han people was confined to the agricultural areas. Han people are both numerically and politically dominant in mainland China, Taiwan, and the city-state of Singapore; they also reside in nearly every country in the world as Overseas Chinese. The majority of the Han people are concentrated in the eastern half of mainland China. The only areas outside this region that are now predominantly Han are the islands of Hainan, colonized during the last thousand years; Taiwan, settled by Han during the last 400 years; and Singapore, colonized only since the nineteenth century.
Uyghur’s at the mercy of Hans
Ethnic tensions have persisted since the founding of the Peoples Republic (PRC) in 1949 and have been exacerbated in the last three decades by the steady migration of ethnic Han Chinese into Uyghur and Tibetan regions of China. In an attempt to ease ethnic tensions, the Chinese government has introduced a range of “positive discrimination” measures for ethnic minorities including the allocation of development funds to minority areas, the relaxation of family planning rules and easier university entrance exams for minorities. These measures have however led to resentment among the Han majority and have done little to ease employment discrimination against minorities.
In a 2011 study of 10,796 advertised job positions, researchers found significant discrimination against job applicants with ethnically distinct names. Only about half of the companies contacted had treated applicants equally regardless of ethnicity.
Minorities face Employment discrimination in Xinjiang
Employment discrimination is pervasive and widely tolerated, practiced by both private employers and government institutions. Laws and regulations aimed at eliminating employment discrimination are hampered by technical shortcomings, ineffective enforcement, and conflicting legislation and government policies that appear to promote, rather than discourage, the continuation of discriminatory practices.
Ethnic and religious minorities also face discrimination in the service sector, especially in low-level retail and restaurant positions where employers prefer to hire staff that appears more “familiar” and less “threatening” to Han customers.
Approximately, 11 million Uyghur Muslims live in the Xinjiang autonomous region. However, the word, autonomous is misleading and there is no autonomy in the region. Thousands of Muslims are forcibly kept in detention centers and re-education camps. Human Rights Watch mention that 800,000 Muslims are languishing in these detention centers while Uyghur leaders residing out of China claim that more than one million Uyghurs are imprisoned. There were cases where both husband and wife were jailed and children were sent to overcrowded orphanages.
Another aspect of the cultural dimension that affects the Uyghurs’ societal positioning is the race. Racial discrimination pervades the Uyghur-Han relationship in China. Many of the Han feel uneasy towards the Uyghurs, believing them to be thieves and hotheads and in more recent years, religious fanatics. Suddenly nearly every non-Han crime taking place in China is committed by Uyghurs. Recent years have seen violent incidents and ethnic clashes between these two groups, such as the Urumqi riot in July 2009, which resulted in the death of nearly 200 Han individuals.
Analysts mention that Government agencies take a large number of Uyghur Muslims to these re-education camps and brainwash them against Islam and its teachings. At few places, de-radicalization and re-education centers are camouflaged as vocational training centers and even as educational institutions. A US-based non-profit organization claims that the Chinese Government maintains the profiles of minorities and persecutes them on mere suspicion.
Chinese government’s justification that the crackdown on Uyghur’s is a pre-emptive measure; to stop China from becoming another Pakistan is disturbing and weak on many grounds. First, we try to dissociate minorities from their historical links, deprive them of their rightful resources, implement repressive policies to suit own interests, then scream terrorism and call them anti-national.
This sort of religious, cultural and economical intrusion is most definitely termed “ethnic cleansing” and not “ethnic unity”.
Why are Muslim countries, usually so vocal on issues of the rights of their co-religionists, unwilling to criticize China? Why is Pakistan not quashing its beloved all weather friends un-holy practices? Why the leadership of Pakistan both military and political supporting an unIslamic country? Are they blinded to what’s happening to Muslims in China or are they sold out? Given China’s growing international influence and economic ties with West Asia, there has been a little outcry about this war on Islam. Especially from “all weather” ally Pakistan, which lambasts India over Jammu & Kashmir, the silence on Xinjiang is deafening.
Kahlil Gibran had said “Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle. Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation”
21 Oct 2018/ Sunday Written by Afsana