Every so often the Internet throws up an image that not only makes you sharply aware of everything that's wrong in the world and but also breaks your heart. The photograph of a baby, belonging to the Rohingya Muslim community of Myanmar, shared on social media recently, is one of them.
Even the most resilient among us, our eyes desensitised by the steady flow of images of violence and misery, will be jolted by the sheer force of this photograph.
According to a report in the CNN, this is the body of Mohammed Shohayet, a 16-month-old boy from a Rohingya Muslim family, which was trying to flee the violence against them in their homeland, Rakhine State, in Myanmar.
Mohammed's father, Zafor Alam, had managed to escape to Bangladesh and asked a boatman to get his wife and child over to him. As the family was making their way out along with others, the Myanmarese military apparently shot at them, causing a panic, in which too many people clambered on to the boat, leading it to capsize. Someone found Mohammed's body on the shore of River Naf on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, took a photo on their cell phone, and sent it to Zafor.
"When I see the picture, I feel like I would rather die," the boy's father told CNN. "There is no point in me living in this world."
Not long ago, another boy, Aylan Kurdi, and his brother Galip, had been drowned, just like Mohammed, off the cost of Turkey, as his family was on the run from the war in his homeland, Syria. Three-year-old Aylan's photograph — lying face down on the shore — had haunted the Internet for days. Now the image of Mohammed, in almost the exact same posture, has shaken up that memory yet again.
United In Grief
The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are being persecuted by the state for years now. Human Rights Watch has labelled the actions taken towards the Rohingyas by the Myanmarese government as "genocide". The latter, however, has strongly denied such allegations and established independent commissions to prove that the government is above blame in the matter.
The Buddhist majority population of Myanmar are allegedly responsible for mistreating the Rohingya Muslims, who are considered Bengalis by the local population, in spite of some of them having lived in the country for generations. Their plight is especially shameful in a nation where the de facto ruler is a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, Aung San Suu Kyi,
Facing religious intolerance and social ostracism, groups of Rohingyas have fled to parts of India and Bangladesh, in the same way that Syrian refugees are running away from their war-ridden country, from the iron hand of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Just as Mohammed was trying to get to his father in Bangladesh, the Syrian brothers were making their way to their aunt in Vancouver, but perished along with their mother, Rehen. (Chilean poet Raul Zurita paid a powerful tribute to their memory at the Kochi Biennale 2016.)
Separated by geography, social circumstances and political history, these three boys are all united in one profound truth: the human face of tragedy looks the same the world over.
But that's not all.
What's more shocking is the fate of such images in a world that is endlessly exposed to a deluge of such photographs. As we confront these harrowing moments every day, we also teach ourselves to look away, to let go of them in the depths of the world wide web, in order to survive the world.
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