Salai Mang Hre Lian | 17 October, 2017 | During the last decade, the world had witnessed many unprecedented major political shifts and the collapse of State due to large-scale of political movement, civil mobilization and demonstration that demand their civil, political and fundamental human rights. The most significant anyone can finger out occurred in Arab countries which is known as “Arab Springs” in the world political record. However, only little has been aware regime change and peaceful political move in a country like Burma which was under military dictatorship for more than half-century.
Actually, political transition from military dictatorship to democracy governance happened with general election held in Burma in November 2010 that made Burma a more open country from long isolation, without surprising, has accommodated the civilian to claim their rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and so on within certain limitation in the constitution and laws. Releasing political prisoners, initiative of political dialogue with ethnic armed organizations, public protest, and peasant demand for their rights on the street without harm at Mandalay and Rangoon drew international attentions that change in Burma is without doubt, fully committed with irreversible mean.
The gradually political move also welcomed many international organizations to participate in development sectors, public awareness and the return of prominent political activists based in abroad and across the neighboring countries. This openness created job opportunities, prevalence of civil participation in socio-economic and decision-making process which in turn advocate and strengthen democratization.
Notwithstanding changes happened in the central of Burma which can be visible in Rangoon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw, it still does not seem to reach and cover ethnic areas or States like Chin State, especially to people living in remote or rural areas. They are still bounded by fear environment; with little access for education opportunities, health-care, INGOs intervention which actively involved in humanitarian assists and public awareness in urban and central of the country. People from remote areas of Chin State address that they are still struggling with their daily survival due to the denial of development and basic infrastructures such as transportation, communication, water scarcity and electricity supply which can be said to indirectly coincide with human rights abuses.
Chin State: Blessing in Disguise?
Chin State is remarked as the poorest State with second least literacy rate in Burma by UNDP, which report was released in 2014. It is situated in high mountainous in Western Burma and bordered by Rakhine State in the South, Bangladesh in the South-west, Sagaing Division and Magway Division in the East, Burma. Its total population is 478,801 with 85% of Christian majority according to the Union Census Report in 2014. Many political activists had said poverty in Chin State exist due to the denial of development project in Chin State by the previous successive government in the context of lack of natural resource in Chin State, and being only Christian majority State in Burma. Despite being the poorest State under the previous government, there was no still a clue to see concrete development plan, well-being for Chin people under President U Thein Sein government and it still seems to maintain its status quo even in the current De-facto civilian government led by National League for Democracy (NLD).
If you listen to Chin songs, old and new, that compose over Chin State and people, you will understand more than hundreds of songs read, “Even though our soil and land do not produce natural resource, we will make Chin State rich and strong with education and qualified human resources.” Up to now, it seems that the dream and wish of Chin songs’ composers remain unimplemented in actual application level.
The said ‘blessing in disguise’ seems true that Chin State is the only State in Burma that does not produce natural resources in a country which is known as one of the richest natural resources country in the region. Compared to other ethnic States in Burma, Chin State and people enjoy more peaceful life in term of civil war and conflict. But, people do not feel safe due to poverty, neglect of development in term of their daily survival, education for children, health-care and other basis human survival. It seems not true that peace exists without wars, peace means both mental, physical peace, external and internal peace.
By chance, I found an opportunity to give human rights training under the project of Federalism and Democracy initiated by Chinland Development and Research Society (CDRS) in four townships of Chin States, namely Leiring Village in Matupi, Tuikhingzang Village in Tonzang, Ramthlo Village in Falam, Amlong Village in Mindat Township with another two events (one at Sagaing Region and another in Magwe Region) from the earlier of June to the second week of July, 2016. The training venue was selected based on its center basis to gather other villages and participants were limited minimum of 120 and 150 for its maximum. The participation rule included 30% of women and covers 10 to 15 villages in each of the event and numbers of participants were selected based on number of population of a particular village.
The three days-long training offered half-day onthe end date for a divided three group discussion, exploring and examining the problem and challenges facing in their community. What I found after discussing with them are surprising. I will highlight what I discussed with trainee as a group and individual who raised the issues which draw my interest during our training.
New Government and 100 Days Plan
After NLD won the 2015 general election with landslide and formed its government in early April 2016, public sentiment on developmental opportunity increase that their socio-economic status would reach better condition with the performance of their new government which they voted without hesitation. The most sentiment arise within Chin community, especially people in remote area that infrastructures such as transportation, telecommunication, electric supplies, better education and water shortage would reach them soon.
Our training coincided with the end of government 100 Days’ plan and they expressed that the newly government is not much different from the previous government in term of tackling their issues raised while meeting with a new Chin State government in Matupi town. The government’s public meeting led by Chin State Chief Minister, Salai Lian Luai with representative from village elders, heads of village-tract in April was to set up plans that would initiate prior need of the Chin communities. They visited the whole towns of Chin State within April, 2016 after they took the office on March, 31.
One of the village heads in Matupi Township said, “When they (the Chin State government) met us in Matupi, we addressed our needs and most of us address the fast initiative of re-construction of roads destroyed by landslide, providing school teachers in our villages, water scarcity and the other such as better transportation, communication, electricity and government loans on our cultivation as the following implementation. But up to now, no JBC and government road-construction department come to help us. Everything still remains the same though 100 days’ plan gets over.”
Salai Phwe Khin, one of Matupi youth leaders who also was present at meeting between government and public in Matupi said his awfulness to hear Minister for transportation’s response upon the demand of qualified school teachers in Matupi.
In response to his request or question, “The minister suggests parents to send their children to study in Monywa and Rangoon if they want them to pass with distinctions and high qualification. In Rangoon and Monwya, there are many boarding and private schools with qualified teachers under well-guidance so that your children can pursue their favorite major in the university.”
His impression on the first meeting and hearing from the minister revoke his anger and doubt whether the new government can tackle the need and development of Chin State in the five-year term. He said that everybody know that schools in plain areas are much better than in Chin State, but question how parents can afford such amount of money when they even hardly send their children in Matupi boarding school which are ten time cheaper than in Rangoon.
Almost remote Chin people and villages face shortage and inadequate or lack of school teachers. In many primary schools in Chin State, there are many villages which have only one or two school teachers to teach from grade 1 to grade 4 in primary school. According to Myanmar Education Department, Chin State has been in line of the lowest rate for five years of passing matriculation which allows students entering University.
One of Leiring Villagers told me that, “We have only two teachers in our primary school. They have to take-care of teaching from Grade 1 to Grade 5. They always feel tired of handling two or three classes at the same time within school period. We are asking the government to provide more school teachers and hope that it would happen soon.”
According to UNDP report, Chin State stands on the least regarding to Child schooling in Burma. Many students have to quit their further studies due to the need to move to different village or nearest town where higher school is operated. Another fact that makes children to quit school is barrier of language. In Chin State, spoken dialects vary from village to village and town to town. The Chin National Conference, held in Hakha in November 2013 demand to give over 80% of education authority to State Government and urge to support mother-tongue learning education in Burma.
“Even though we are diverse in language, it is important that school teachers in particular village are their local people. It will help the children to continue school. In reality, language diverse is not the major problem for student to quit school because students of Grade 2 and 3 can understand different dialects since our dialects are mutual understandable differing only little from some place to another place,” urges one of high school teachers in Thantlang whose service in teaching student is over twenty years.
Lack of basic infrastructure such as transportation, communication, electric supply and water scarcity mainly stand on the line that hamper the survival of Chin family and people in remote areas. The latter affect more on women that they think they are more responsible to the basic survival and need of the family.
“Since there is no electricity, there is no choice, but to cut trees for firewood. When we are dealing with cultivation for our survival and food, women have to struggle with getting water, carrying tree for firewood. We know cutting trees destroy environment sustainable but we have no choice,” said one of elders from Leiring Village in Matupi Township.
Many villagers faced water scarcity mostly in the time of winter and summer seasons. Even though many villages reach water pipelines from the support of UN agencies, most are out of service due to its old and many could not manage to get proper ways.
“Some NGOs come and help us technical support for long-term cultivation in the name of shifting cultivation to permanent farm, but only little could implement as monitoring and follow-up support are lack,” said Pu Kil Mang, villager from Luivang in Matupi Township. “We can survive from our products of cultivation and even make money because we have huge land for cultivation such as paddy, rice and corn. But the problem is that there is no market place in our community and since transportation is hard to access to rural, we sell with very low price,” explained Pu Kil Mang.
In each of the training event, it is begun by asking question about UN, name of Secretary General, Special Rapporteur to Burma, UDHR and if some of them have ever received human rights training. Most of them are aware of United Nations while little knows the name of Secretary General and the rests are not known by any of the participants.
In the three-days training, an introduction of UDHR and UN Charter/System could be delivered due to the limitation of time. I found participants’ interest in knowing human rights and come up with many questions over my presentation. My enthusiastic still remains with the remote people in more delivering human rights education training so that they could understand more their basic rights and stand for liberation from fear environment and fight for their rights.
Our training went well despite the disruption from members of the Police Force and the Military Affairs Security in Leiring Village of Matupi Township. In this political juncture, it is so important that public awareness events such as human rights and other political, economic and other series of trainings to be encouraged under the new government so that strengthening democratization and rule of law in Burma would be achieved without delay.
Mr. Mathew, Harvard Graduated lawyer and human rights expert on Burma issues suggests that a new government could apply many reforms under the military constitution in term of legislative reform, engagement with international law, justice sector, strengthening independent commission, empowerment of civil society and providing moral leadership. It is believed that the new government would set up concrete plans which would impact people across the country including remote people in Chin State.
One the last day of the training in Ramthlo Village of Falam Township, one of the elder approached and shaken my hands and said, “My son, I am much thankful to hear your lecture. I become to understand that change is on our hands. I used to believe that US and UN military intervention will occur if Burma fails to initiate democratic change. I understand now it is not true at all. I am sure I will share your lecture with my community in Dokthek village.”
Acting Chairman of Dokthek Baptist Church continued his words of thanks with kind and enthusiasm.
“Please keep sharing your lecture to others. I know there are many people who do not know their rights like me. Now, I am 67. I don’t want others to be ignorant like me. I will pray for you and God bless you!”
Development without accommodating public awareness and education will not be sustainable. Without public awareness on education and human rights, development will be like whistle in the air. Sustainable development and civic education has long been hampered by the violation of fundamental human rights perpetuated by successive military regime in the country. Only if development and civic education and education policy is strengthened can all citizen in Burma fully enjoy their basic human rights. Good governance, rule of laws could be achieved through making good citizen first. Sustainable peace, development and democracy begin with citizen.
Some names are changed upon their request!
Salai Mang Hre Lian, former Field Coordinator of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) is co-founder of local-based organization ‘Fidi Foundation’ where he works as an acting Managing Director. Currently, he is pursuing M.A. in Human Rights (International Program) at Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.