The Ethnic Crises in Burma/ Myanmar
Although I am very late, finally I can come up with my draft for our module 4 feature story. Despite trying my best, I am not satisfied with what I have done and I think I can do better with your support. I am very excited to read your suggestions on my piece to be a marvelous final post.
If I have to capture with words how I was feeling at that moment, I think I was so small. I had much frustration on what we were talking about. One problem was that I did not have enough understanding and knowledge on that vigorous discussion. Another was that why they all were lively expressing their bitter hatred on Bamars and how and how much Burmese people are bad and exploiting them. Although I was hearing their referring of themselves as (ethnic) minorities, I felt I am the real minority then. I wished I evaporated into thin air.
Indeed, that PCB (Program for Capacity Building) class was used to be one of my favorite times in my daily schedule. During that six month course, we would have to pursue a variety of subjects comprising economics, environmental and cultural study and politics. That is the learning experiences what I eagerly want for myself and my community. There was no doubt that how I appreciate the contents, the wonderful trainers form British Council and my awesome classmates. We were very diverse group in terms of gender, age, experiences and our race. We had all major ethic nationalities in our room. We all had great times and we were doing good jobs sharing and learning each other.
The topic we have to explore on that day was “the ethnic issues in Burma”. As a motivated student, I was very excited to move onto something new for me. The discussion was so fruitful as soon as the teacher presented some background inputs. It led to very heated conversation among the participants sooner. However, one of its students was totally lost. That was me. I was soaking with sweat in the room with state-of-the-art facilities. I could not focus on what was going on. I had a number of questions in my mind. “Why all of them are assertively telling how Burmese people have been making troubles on the ethnic nationalities?” As a Bamar, I must be able to explain the story but then I realized that I do not know anything. My classmates of Kachin and Kayah were sharing how their rights are violated by the Burmese. That frustrated me. I used to have not only those ethnicity but also others like Karen and Chin in my primary to high school student life and I had never recorded they are discriminated.
That situation haunted me to remember what I had argued with my dad who makes a lot of traveling because of his career. When I was in upper primary, once he said how the lives of Mon, Rakhine and Shan are difficult. I did not comprehend then, too. I countered him pointing the fact that I have such friends in my class and I witness they are treated equally with us. He replied that it is because we are in Yangon, the biggest city in the country, and I will learn the truth one day if I can go to their areas. Our chatting ended there and I assumed that is not my business and I should not take into account in my life. I, however, was a child at that time. Now, I am in the early days of my career. I have already dedicated to work for the development of my country. That is my issue, the matter of my community and the affair of my country. I had decided to investigate those had been hidden in my life from that disgrace experience.
I experienced it two years ago but this is still conspicuous in my brain. That is my very first personal suffering on the problematic situations between ethnic nationality communities and the Burmese. That made me realize how the issue is crucial for people who are living together inside the nation. That was the root that cultivates me to write and be able to write this piece.
Burma, officially the Union of Myanmar, is a country in Southeast Asia and the second largest one by geographical area in the region. My country is a very ethnically diverse nation, with ethnic nationalities comprising about 40 percent of the total population and according to United Nations, 2010, we have 50.5 millions. Our diverse populace has played a major role in defining the politics, history, and demographics and we have been struggling with ethnic tensions since independence in 1948, exposing it to one of the longest running armed conflicts in the world. We have eight major ethnic groups and world famous so-called Bamar is one of them. In fact, we have 135 ethnicity in total. According the CIA-World Factbook’s last updated on March 9, 2011; ethnic composition in Burma is Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Mon 2% and other 5%. Obviously, Bamar is the dominant ethnic group. Official language is Burmese and ethnic groups have their own ones. The country is divided into seven states and seven divisions. Divisions are predominantly Bamar and states are home to particular ethnic nationalities.
Like most Bamars, I live in a very big city which is the heartland of the country in terms of development, peaceful, prosperity, stable and many concerns from the international community. If we left our places and go and stay in the areas of our ethnic sisters and brothers, we will be shocked by tremendous human right violations and the suppression. Who is the perpetrator? Are Bamars actually committing such brutal crimes? To gain insight, let’s show our empathy on the suffering of our siblings going through their locations.
Kachin State is the northernmost state of Burma and it is bordered by China. Most areas are undeveloped and many people are still engaged in agriculture. Under the military regime, the government exploits the country by taking various timber lands. Although natural resources of the Kachin people have been extracted, there is little development in infrastructure, health care, and other basic necessities of the people
Kayah State is situated in eastern Burma and it is bounded on the east by Thailand's Mae Hong Son Province. In post 1988 era, starting from 1996, the Burmese government has been accused of committing massive human rights violations such as population transfer program, forcibly moving villagers to designated relocation sites to deprive in the region. It has been alleged that villagers live under the constant threat of rape, beatings, arbitrary arrest or execution, conscription as slave labor for the Burmese army, and having their food and possessions taken without compensation.
Much of the Kayin state has still been a battlefield. The civilians have taken the brunt of the war. The KNU (Kayin National Union) today forms the world's longest running resistance. According to official statistics, less than 10% of primary school students in Kayin State reach high school. All the institutions of higher education are located in Hpa-An, the capital of the state.
Chin is a state located in western Burma and it is bordered by Bangladesh in south-west and Indian state of Manipur in the north and Indian state of Mizoram in the west. The state is covered with mountainous region with few transportation links; Chin State is sparsely populated and remains one of the least developed areas of the country.
Mon State is an administrative division of Burma and has a short border with Thailand's Kanchanaburi Province at its south-eastern tip. Forests cover approximately half of the area and timber production is one of the major contributors to the economy. Minerals extracted from the area include salt, antimony, and granite. Natural resources such as forest products, and onshore and offshore mineral resources, are exploited only by top Burmese military leaders and foreign companies. At the present time one of the biggest foreign investments into Burma is for the exploitation of natural gas reserves in Mon State. The Yadana Gas project which connected pipelines alongside the towns of Mon state made harassed danger to the native Mon land and Mon people.
Rakhine State is situated on the western coast and it is bordered by the Bay of Bengal to the west, and the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh to the northwest. While most places in Burma suffers from chronic power shortages, in rural states like Rakhine the problem is disproportionately more so. In 2009, the electricity consumption of a state of 3 million people was only 30 MW, or 1.8% of the country's total generation capacity. In December 2009, the military government added three more hydro-power plants at a cost of over US$800 million. The three plants together can produce 687 MW but the surplus electricity will be distributed to other states and divisions.
Shan State borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south, and five administrative divisions of Burma in the west. Shan State covers 155,800 km², almost a quarter of the total area of Burma. The state is largely rural, with only three cities of significant size. Educational opportunities in Burma are extremely limited outside the main cities of Yangon and Mandalay. It is especially a problem in Shan State where vast areas are beyond government control. According to "Education statistics by level and by State and Division" 2009 by Myanmar Central Statistical Organization, only about 8% of primary school students in Shan State reach high school.
These are just the significant examples of the plights of each ethic nationalities in their respective communities. In reality, individual group has been grieving the mixing-up oppressions in their native land. Are Bamars are the culprits for the offenses?
I confess that we who predominantly live in big cities and more developed divisions have better socio-economic status than those who live in the states. I admit that the country’s leaders who historically suppressed you are Bamar. I accept the fact that although you have your own language and culture, your children are Burmanized and they have to pursue for their education in Burmese language in the school which makes them put in huge difficulties. I acknowledge the fact that your girls and boys are raped and tortured by the military where overwhelming majority are Bamars. After realizing the scenarios in my country which I had never learned in my young age, my heart is broken and my blood are boiling. I do apologize for what my ancestors did on you from the bottom of my heart. I can empathy the reason why you do not like our Bamars.
Let me ask you the questions again. “Are Bamars really carrying out those conflicts?” I have never discriminated and treated badly to any member of any ethnic group at any level throughout my life. My parents would also say that have never and so would my grandparents. My sisters would also reply “No” and my Bamar fiends, too. So, who are committing such inhumane treatment?
I would like to request you to have an impartial look and judge to the lives of Bamar in this country. Even in the outskirts of the city like Yangon, thousands of Bamar children also cannot go to schools. According to CIA-World Factbook, only 1.2 % of GDP is allocated in education expenditures. Majority of Burmese ordinary citizens are in extreme poverty in very resource-rich country. 32.7% of population is below poverty line by 2007. We all are facing the awful corruption in our state public offices and intimidated by our police and soldiers. We, the Bamars, know our ethnic brothers and sisters are under fire. We, however, do not have any freedom of expression. We are also living with inferiority in daily basis. The reason what I am telling this is to deny the accusation we are facing or to dim your losses and not because of I am a Bamar. I just want to make sure we all know the real criminals and to know our enemy.
Imagine a situation where Bamars living in the areas where now our ethnic fellows live and ethnic people form those border regions living in cities like Yangon, Mandaly and the capital Nay Pyi Daw where international communities are easily accessible in terms of information and intervention. Who would be the victims of military regime at that time? I truly hope you can reach to what I would like to intend. Please, be just clear Bamar and Burmese military regime. If we all are united, that can pose a threat to their power. If all of us are grown, their dictatorship industry will not sustain. What an unacceptable and freighting strategy of wedging among a family.
The north and eastern corner of Burma, close to the country’s borders with Thailand and China, is also home to some 500,000 internally displaced people. Among them are girls and women who have been raped by members of Burma’s military as a weapon of war, a trend that Shan Women Action Network documented in a disturbing 2002 report called ‘License to Rape’.
Despite the abuse they suffer, these women are not suffering in silence, as has been the case with men when confronted by the Burmese military. Their display of anger — which has often included shouting back at Burmese troops — has also been noted in the region home to the Shan ethnic minority, which has faced similar abuse due to another decades-long separatist conflict. Women in these situations resist more strongly helping their community. They show a lot of bravery talking back to the soldiers as a way of protecting their people.
I am very proud of being a woman and the remarkable strength of my fellow sisters who are in those conflict areas. I absolutely trust that is the way we have to perceive and practice. As long as we are putting the blame on each other, we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Either group has what others do not have in terms of natural resources or opportunities. Even the world leading democratic country like the United States today, it took many years to end the Civil War and to have the equality based on racism. Today, they have African-American president but it could not even be a dream for their predecessors. A strict and closed country like Burma, it will take more time to overcome all these barriers. Anyway, why don’t we fight for our equality and fairness for our people as our women doing?
2011 is set to become Burma's most important and defining year in two decades. The parliament has been emerged that could well determine the country's political landscape for another generation. Although the regime’s proxy party Union Solidarity and Development Party won over 75% of the seats, it couldn’t be possible for ethnic and democratic leaders to meet face-to-face with any generals and ministers and propose what is needed for their people. In essence, there are three major areas by which the parliament can work in bringing potential solutions (or problems) to the country's crises: political, ethnic and economic. They are closely inter-linked and, unless there is inclusive progress in all three fields, precedent strongly warns that Burma's troubles will only continue.