In a bizarre and insensitive move, China has recently slapped fresh restrictions on Uighurs, inhabiting the country's western region of Xinjiang, in its ongoing campaign against so-called Islamic terrorism.
The new restrictions perceived to be inhuman, and bereft of sensitivity, include forbidding the Muslims from keeping abnormally long beards, wearing veils in public places and refusing to watch state television.
China has been dealing with the Uighurs' problems since long as they have been demanding a separate independent state called East Turkestan. Chinese authorities have been ruthlessly pursuing a policy to subjugate the Uighurs, with scant respect for their religious sensitivities.
The last few years saw a brutal crackdown on the Uighurs even during Eid festivity; Ramadan fasting was forbidden and restrictions were imposed on blaring of loudspeakers from mosques calling for namaaz.
|A local Uighur woman on a crutch shouts at China's paramilitary province in Xinjiang Autonomous Region.|
Mercilessly going ahead with the stifling measures, new steps announced recently include not allowing: children to attend government schools, not abiding by family planning policies, deliberately damaging legal documents and marrying employing only religious procedures.
Further, rules coming into effect that workers in public places, such as railway stations and airports, are now needed to dissuade those who fully cover their bodies, including veiling their faces from entering, and to report them to the police. Fresh restrictions have already been posted on the official news website.
Uighurs, all Muslims, have a different cultural identity more akin to the central Asian nations and even their language is linked to Turkish. The region's economy has largely revolved around agriculture and trade. Meanwhile, over the years, Han Chinese have been settling in the Uighur region leading to blatant racial discrimination, with Hans occupying key positions and availing privileges denied to the Uighurs. This move has calculated state support to unsettle the Uighurs.
Ironically, the Chinese government views the Uighurs as terrorists and continues to exterminate them through encounters and torture. Uighurs do maintain links with some Islamic terror groups of Pakistan. In 2007, during the Lal Masjid siege in Pakistan, Chinese intelligence had tipped off Pakistan about several Uighurs' presence in the hostage crisis and terror attack.
|Chinese authorities have been ruthlessly pursuing a policy to subjugate the Uighurs, with scant respect for their religious sensitivities.|
Reeling under Chinese pressure, then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ordered storming of the mosque, resulting in arrest of some Uighurs (subsequently handed over to the Chinese and some neutralised by on-the-spot encounters).
It is ironical that the same China is pursuing a devious policy of protecting terrorists such as Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed from sanctions and is coming down heavily on Uighurs. Such conflicting and discriminatory acts deflate Chinese policy of any fairness.
Several thousand Uighurs, scattered in Germany, Turkey and other CIS countries, have been waging a crusade against China for the continued oppression but China has been brutal and extreme in its action in silencing any Uighur voice of dissent.
It's significant to note that Uighurs and Tibetans have a very strong bonding, though one is a Muslim grouping while the other is Buddhist. Both are victims of Chinese highhandedness. Atrocities on them have given them mutual respect for each other's agony.
Equally important is to know that Uighurs have immense respect for Indians and in earlier times, Uighur students came to various parts of India in pursuit of higher studies. The bonhomie seems to be declining, though.
Many Uighurs are thought to have gone to Syria to join IS ranks, and also to Chechnya to fight against the Russians; they were also noticed fighting in Afghanistan but importantly never sided with the Kashmiri separatists.
It would seem India has a moral obligation towards Uighurs but possibly due to diplomatic constraints vis-a-vis China, India's support to Uighurs has not been open or overwhelming. And it may not be so in the near future.
All said and done, the new harsh restrictions imposed on the Uighurs and infringement on their religious freedom certainly merits condemnation by the Islamic fraternity. Their silence is intriguing and defies the spirit of Islamic unity. International human rights groups and China bashers need to come forward and criticise China against curbing the religious liberty of Uighurs.
One is yet to see electronic channels like Al Jazeera targeting China on the oppressive policies. Such media houses are otherwise more than vocal in the case of slightest attack on the cause of Islam or Muslims.
Turkish president Erdogan, who is trying to emerge as a champion of the Islamic cause, as is evident from his growing proximity to Pakistan and sympathy for Kashmiris, needs to condemn China in clear terms for its repressive actions against the Uighurs.