The Community behind the Leader

Some among the 4,000-strong Burmese community living in Delhi tell their stories as Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the National League of Democracy of Myanmar, meets top Indian leaders and delivers the Nehru Memorial Lecture…

As the Chairperson of the National League of Democracy of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi met Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at his official residence in New Delhi on Wednesday, pro-democracy Burmese living in India through the years of her house arrest are excited to have her in the city.

Her week-long visit to India began by paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat and Jawaharlal Nehru at Shantivan. She delivered the Nehru Memorial Lecture on the occasion of his birth anniversary.
Meanwhile, her supporters like 62- year-old Mya Mya Aye who fled Burma in 1995 and have been living in Delhi ever since, hope to meet with their leader. The lives led by Mya Aye and others are as much a part of the struggle for democracy, with many of them having given up their homeland for it. Their story also needs to be told.

Once, Mya Aye was a home-maker not too concerned with politics. Married in 1970, she had focused on the job of bringing up her children. Her husband, Dr Tint Swe, a medical doctor who later became a politician, stood for parliamentary elections as a member of the NLD and won from the Paletownship in Monywa division in 1990. He then became the minister of information and public relations in the then National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

A massacre in 1988, that followed a popular uprising led by students and which came to be known as the 88 Generation Uprising in Burma changed the lives of all the members of her family drastically. Recalls Mya Aye, “My two sons were among the 88 Generation protestors.” Before long, Mya Aye found herself being drawn into the movement and she joined the NLD party. With the military junta cracking down on the 88 Generation students and the NLD party, her husband and her eldest son fled the country in 1990. The family home and clinic were sealed leaving Mya Aye and her four other children on the run. “From 1992, we couldn’t even get a house on rent, because of the constant surveillance and harassment meted out to house owners who offered us accommodation,” she recalls. In 1995, she came to India and reunited with her husband. The couple has been living in Delhi ever since.

Today, they perceive the winds of change, as a slow democratic transition begins to unfold back home. Mya Aye is now able to be in touch with her relatives and friends through the Internet and Skype, and recently, she could meet up with her cousin sister–in-law Kyi Than at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Kyi Than had a visa to visit Bodh Gaya, but not one for Delhi. It was an emotional reunion. “We cried a lot – out of happiness, of course. We had so much catching to do, about our lives, our children, ourselves!” exclaims Mya Aye.

Nothing symbolised the change in Burma more powerfully than the release, in 2010, of Aung Sang Suu Kyi who had to suffer house arrest almost continuously from 1989 for her opposition to the ruling military junta. This is why not just Mya Aye, but the 4,000-strong Burmese community living in Delhi, is so excited about greeting her on her first visit to India after her long incarceration.
According to a 2009 survey by Refugee International, there are approximately 50,000 – 1,00,000 displaced Burmese in India – most of whom are in the Northeast and Delhi.

Take Hmaengi Lushai, a Burmese refugee living in Delhi who has been associated with several Burmese women’s groups. Hmaengi underlines the importance of Suu Kyi’s visit for the Burmese refugee community in India by pointing to the fact that the leader had, in fact, during her meeting in Geneva in June this year, talked about the need to support and render help to refugees in India. The impact of her statement in making things easier for the community here was almost immediate, according to Hmaengi. But there is an element of anxiety that lingers. The community is very conscious of the delicate relations that exist between India and the ruling military establishment back home.

Life in India is a struggle for this community, given the daily uncertainties entailed in being refugees. There are also innumerable cultural and behavioural differences to contend with, and women especially have many stories to relate - of discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment. Some like Mya Aye, who assists her husband at his clinic in Vikaspuri, west Delhi, which provides free service and treatment, have rebuilt new lives for themselves. Others still feel that they are living in a limbo.

But Mya Aye’s husband, Dr Swe counsels patience, “Much will depend on both our countries working towards a mutually beneficial climate of accountability and responsible investment.” He adds with a smile, “Things are still uncertain at present but remember there will soon be a connecting flight from Bodh Gaya to Mandalay. That’s a start!”

(Women’s Feature Service)
November 2012 

Aung San Suu Kyi to deliver JN memorial lecture in Delhi

Two years back in November, about 50 Burmese celebrated the release of democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, holding placards and calling “ long live Aung San Suu Kyi”. Beyond that was uncertainty. They only knew that their beloved leader was released and not more than that.

Today the dreams of democracy, of freedom, slowly began to dawn in Burma.

Last month Dr Tint Swe , who lives in exiled in Delhi met his sister in Bodh Gaya, India. His sister, a 75 year old Khyi Than got a tourist visa to visit Bodh Gaya. Since the visa was restricted within religious and tourist visit, the family reunited there “ we cried a lot, it was tears of joy “ said Mya Mya Aye who accompanied her husband Dr Tint Swe, a member of Burmese Parliament from the National League of Democracy( NLD) party in the 1990 election from Pale town-ship in Monywa division.

Dr. Tint Swe exclaimed “for the first time, my interview was published in a newspaper in Burma recently , this is a change” .

After a gap of 40 years Aung San Suu Kyi would arrive at Delhi to deliver the Jawaharlal Nehru memorial lecture on November 14. Her schedule includes a lecture at Lady Sri Ram college and meeting with exiled Burmese community. Suu Kyi studied in India when her mother, Khin Kyi, was appointed Myanmar’s ambassador to India in 1960. The 65 year old Aung San Suu Kyi who was arrested in July 1989 for her opposition against the ruling Military regime was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru international understanding in 1995 by the Government of India.

After five decades of Millitary rule, the momentous release of Daw Su Kyi followed by the process that led up to the April 2012 election when common Burmese citizens came out to exercise their franchise, was a moment, a landmark; the making of history in Burma.

The free movement of common citizens, the media coverage inside Burma and outside of the election process is an important turn of events that can be termed as indicator of the changing process.

Suu Kyi’s travel outside Burma is another notable positive turn of events . She first travelled to Thailand, where she addressed the World Economic Forum .

On the future of Burma, upcoming 2014 election and the Chair for ASEAN, Suu Kyi told ASEAN leaders not to engage in ‘hand outs’ but should ask and demand what ASEAN expect from Burma.
She addressed the British Parliament in London and students at her alma mater at Oxford University. She paid a significant visit to the US that ultimately lifted their sanctions against Burma. US president Barrack Obama is scheduled to visit Burma next week.

Strongly warning ‘investors’ Suu Kyi underscored importance on investment with transparency, accountability, she emphasised on job creation for youths and the need for a judiciary reforms. With cautious words on Burma’s current reformation, she stated that successful move towards improvement of systems, people’s lives will would ‘irreversible reforms’ which in the current state of affairs depends on how committed the ruling government was.

Presently, according to Suu Kyi, Burma is yet to achieve a fully democratic political system. She said that an infant Burmese parliament will take time to find its feet and its voice.

Suu Kyi said that Burma comprises of several ethnic nationalities that makes up the Union of Burma. Stressing the need for mutual respect , Suu Kyi underlined that she and her party, the National League for Democracy had been firmly supported all through the difficult times by the ethnic political parties.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, conferred to her in 1993 was a moving oration. She spoke on a personal note, a lived and living experience of moments, times, bitter-sweet memories. To her the announcement of the nobel peace prize came at a time when she lived in an unreal world and the information did not seem a reality, which she came to know from the radio , that was her only link to the outside world at that time. A world she had actually felt that she no longer belong to.

The Nobel Peace prize brought her back to the world of her fellow human beings, a sense of reality, she said. Slowly, she realized the significance of the prize, which was drawing world attention to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma.

The most critical moment in Burma’s transition was the bye election process, noted Suu Kyi.
The enthusiastic participation of people in large num- bers was the reward and encouragement, “the passion of the electorate was a passion born of hunger for something long denied’ she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi recalled the constitution of 1947, drawn between her father, Gen. Aung San and Clement Atlee.

"A constitution is effective only when people accept that it is not an external document that is imposed , but that makes them feel a sense of belongingness . The constitution of 2008 must be amended", she said.
She described her tour to different countries not a sentimental pilgrimage but an exploration of new opportunities for the people of Burma.

More than 15,000 Burmese exiles in Delhi are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Daw Aung Suu Kyi. They have hope; they have many questions in their minds.It may be mentioned that while the world condemn the military rule in Burma, India had remained silent and its engagement with the military in the recent years had not gone down very well with the pro democracy activist.

There could be several reasons , India did not seem to figure in the first priority country in Aung San Suu Kyi’s travel itinerary after her release. A close neighbour India and Burma , share 1600 km border running along Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland

As India welcome the Lady, common Indians and Burmese look forward to a new era that will usher in progress and peace in the region.

Definitely the visit of Daw Suu Kyi, follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals will be an effect, a factor that will impact India and Burma’s future relationship. Most of all the repercussion of Burma’s transition will effect the northeast region , for better or for worst.

The Sangai Express
 November 12,2012,