Rebuilding Lives to Fight the Myanmar Junta

Zo Sang Puii, 45, spent the whole of Friday running from one end of Aizawl town to another looking for a young woman scheduled to arrive from Myanmar for a special health training workshop.

Despite her presence being required at her small ready-made garments shop - Puii's main source of livelihood - all she could think of was the welfare of the workshop participant from across the border.

After all, the network of resistance against the Burmese army rule has to protect the identity of such trainees so as to ensure that their re-entry into Myanmar is not compromised. If any information about them gets known, they would end up in jail. 

Much to her relief, Puii was able to locate the visitor. The young woman was escorted to the training hall to acquire paramedical skills in mid-wifery, first aid and the treatment of common ailments such as dysentery and fever to be imparted in her village in Myanmar on her return.

Decades of military junta rule in Burma have resulted in the collapse of the health infrastructure, subjecting the ordinary Burmese to long-drawn suffering. "Basic medicines are not available in Burma (Several pro-freedom political activists refuse to accept the military junta-christened name of Mynamar). After the training, the participants will return to their villages with some supplies of medicines. But they are far from enough," states Puii.

According to activists, such is the status of the nation's healthcare that even army personnel are known to seize the small supplies of Digene or Paracetamol tablets carried by travellers from India into Burma.

While Puii's acquaintance intends to return to her village across the border in the interest of her people awaiting medical supplies and skills, there are many Burmese migrants who have made Mizoram their home.

In fact, the northeastern-most state of India that shares a long border with neighboring Myanmar is said to have over 100,000 Burmese migrants - a majority being women and children.

The migrants blend in with the local tribal population as they, too, according to anthropologists, are categorised as Kuki-Chin-Mizowhich. Yet, to the discerning and rather discriminatory local eye, the refugees are disparagingly referred to as 'Burma mia' or 'People from Burma'.

Troubled by poverty, rising prices, the absence of livelihood options, conscription and sexual violations committed by soldiers - all fall-outs of the junta rule in Myanmar - these Chin refugees take the local discrimination in their stride. Working largely as domestic workers, the women are able to earn a living and sustain their families back home. 

While the reward for working long hours may appear a paltry sum, the monthly Rs 1,000 (US$1=Rs40) translates into a generous take-home - given the unofficial rate of exchange being 2,700 Kyats for every Rs 100. 

Ethnic Chins are also known to do petty trade - selling food items, clothes, shoes and other items brought in from Burma and peddled in front of Aizwal shops before they open and after they close for the day, elucidates Salomi, around 25, a Chin activist living in the state capital.

Despite the misery, they are perhaps better off than many of their countrymen and women who have no livelihood. Elaborates Sui, a social worker in Aizwal, "In rural Burma, a majority live mainly on rice gruel. There is no means of earning a living. A day's wages is not enough to get even half a kilogram of rice." As a result of people largely engaged in army-conscripted labour, they have no time left to earn a living. 

Thus, most migrants have accepted their predicament and that of their nation's, focusing their energies on making ends meet. Some like Lian Chung, 48 - who had to leave behind her four children and flee to India, as she was a vocal support of pro-freedom activist, Aung San Suu Kyii - simply wait for a better tomorrow. A widow, Chung's only hope is her 23-year-old daughter who escaped to Malaysia and has acquired a United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) refugee card. 

Yet, there are several Chin women who have simply refused to let the fire of protest die out. Feisty Chin women activists, like Puii, ensure that the pro-democracy movement gains in strength and that world attention is drawn to the human rights violations in Myanmmar. 

A committed activist and president of the All Burma Democratic Lushai Womens' Organisation (ABDLWO) and member of the Women League of Chins (WLC), Puii is herself is a migrant, who fled Myanmar in 1988 during the notorious crackdown by the Burmese army. A former student of Rangoon University, she can only return at the cost of imprisonment. 

Interestingly, the WLC - a part of the global network of Burmese women fighting for democracy - is the perfect example of how tribal differences have been put aside in the interest of a nation. The WLC was formed in 2004 when nine Chin associations, including the ABDLWO, came together to further the cause of human rights in Myanmar at an international level, says Chere Zahau, who is in her mid-20s, and one of the women at the helm of the WLC. Salomi and Zahau are Aizwal-based full-time Burmese activists working for WLC, whose projects are funded by both Indian and foreign philanthropic agencies. 

The League, which also caters to the distress of migrant women in Mizoram, recently released 'Unsafe State', a report, which documents the state-sanctioned sexual violence carried out by Burmese army against Chin women in Myanmar. 

According to Lian Mang, around 46 years, a Chin activist of Lunglei, this sexual violation is in effect a violence of annihilation. In the Matupi district of Chin Hills, several battalions of young army men have been posted, with the soldiers being promised promotions on marrying young Matu girls. "The aim is to assimilate the Chins and eventually wipe them out," says Mang, who formed the Chin Refugee Committee Lunglei and is currently in New Delhi seeking employment.

Most migrants walk across the border at Tiau River, Champhai, as this is allowed under India's laws and accepted by Myanmar. However, activists such as Lian Mang were hunted by the Burmese army for their support of democracy and eventually had to cross into India-Mizoram through jungle tracts for their own safety.

The Chin women have taken it upon themselves to be agents of change and put the human rights violations in Myanmar on the global stage. They do this despite knowing, as Suii observes, that they are at the end of their tether in the fight for freedom.


More by :  Linda Chhakchhuak

Top | Society

Views: 3317      Comments: 0

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.