(Sunset at Shewdagon Pagoda, Rangoon)
I am deeply moved and humbled by the plight of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi whose fight for democracy has resulted in her being put under house arrest for the last 12 years.
Suu Kyi is the torchbearer of Democracy for the ordinary Burmese – the people she represents – against the opression of the junta, who has been ruling Burma with iron-clad fist.
Although the whole world has watched the human tradegy unfold in Burma and especially in the last few weeks, little is being done from the outside to bring the junta to its senses.
Burma is a poor Asian country. It is backward in comparison to her South East Asian neighbours who have progressed economically by leaps and bounds. The Burmese by and large are poor as a result of of the regime’s mismanagement. Over a million Burmese, many of them ethnic minorities, have fled for economic and political reasons to Bangladesh, India, China, Malaysia and Thailand to seek work and asylum.
More than 150,000 Burmese live in nine refugee camps in Thailand and roughly 30,000 live in two camps in Bangladesh. Roughly 30,000 Burmese (mostly Chin and Rohingya) have fled to Malaysia.
According to the UN Development Programme’s 2006 Human Development Report, public health expenditure equaled only to 0.3% of Burma’s GDP. High infant mortality rates and short life expectancies further highlight poor health and living conditions.
Education is not something that the junta considers as of paramount importance. Borneo Blues in his blog related how the regime had shut down the institutions of higher learning…Apparently, universities open once a year just to enable all students to sit for their examinations and the junta “… let everybody pass so they can get jobs.”
(the lives of the ornidary Burmese and the monks are entertwined)
In this devout Buddhist country, the lives of the ordinary Burmese and the monks are entertwined as the latter depend solely on alms/donations from the former. When the inflation rate is constantly on the rise, the Burmese have very little to spare…and to give away for donations. My favourite Time Magazine’s correspondent, Andrew Marshall, writes with candour on the recent street protest led by the monks in Rangoon. I have never been to Rangoon but I have seen many Buddhist monks in Tumpat, Kelantan, in their saffron-coloured robes doing the round carrying their bowls in humility for alms.
On September 24th, 2007, the monks took the street of Rangoon in protest of yet another unjustified fuel-hike by the junta which is causing an added hardship for the people. The road along the sacred Shewdagon Pagoda where the march began was filled with maroon and saffron-robed monks as thousands of them gathered to march in protest against Burma’s military government chanting calls for democracy. In Marshall’s own words, “the mantra will haunt me for days: Let everyone be free from harm. Let everyone be free from anger. Let everyone be free from harship.”
Thousands of ordinary Burmese joined them, altough it was reported that the monks had discouraged them from participating becuase they feared reprisals by the military. In protest, some monks held their bowls upside down indicating their refusal to accept alms from families & relatives of the junta.
However, their “freedom” to protest was short lived. In retaliation, the soldiers on the command of the ruling junta raided the monasteries and attacked the monks dragging them out of their safe enclaves, beat the protestors with cane and locked the gate of Shewdagon Pagoda.
September 26 and 27 of 2007 will surely fo down as another bleak day in the history of Burma.
The people’s plea for peaceful dialogue had gone unheeded by the junta. Curfews were promptly imposed. The junta’s reign of terror knows no bound when protestors were shot at random. Blood of the innocence, once again, flowed in the street of Rangoon.
(The scene at a market in Rangoon)
I believe the US & China (which has close ties with the ruling junta) can use their influence towards efforts for a genuine reconciliation and restoration of democracy in Burma through a policy of engagement. I place a lot of hope on the shoulders of Ibrahim Gambari, UN’s special envoy, in his effort to negotiate a solution in Burma.
Let us stand in solidarity with the Burmese people and show the military rulers that the world will not tolerate repression. It is my fervent hope that the light of Democracy will soon shine on the shores of Burma.
[Pictures courtesy of Time]