Saturday, 6 October 2007

When I was away, something happened in Myanmar

When I travel, the picture of the world in my mind always becomes more beautiful. Being captivated by all the beautiful scenery througout my journey, it becomes somewhat easier to forget the other ugliness that exist in this same world. Obviously, it helps when I am tuning in to TV programs in a language that I do not understand and reading newspapers that contain nothing but trivial local news and reports about the stock exchanges.

While I was in Tokyo admiring the beauty of Tokyo Tower and the mountains of Hakone, the uproar and protest in Myanmar continue to rampant. When I returned home and flipped through the newspapers for the past week, I realised that the latest development of the pro-democracy protests in Myanmar hit headlines day after day.... how big scale the protests have become, how many were killed, what is ASEAN and UN doing to salvage the situation, etc. I had no idea that the country is in such dire conditions.

Myanmar came under military rule since the 1960s. It is an era synonymous with corruption, oppression and food shortage. Over the years, Myanmar's military junta did ridiculous things, including cold-blooded murder of student protestors, shooting at participants of peaceful demonstrations (for democracy), annullling results of democratic elections and putting leader of opposition party under house arrest.... One of the most significant event in recent history was the 8888 Uprising (8 Aug 1988), which was a protest led by university students in Myanmar against the military's decision to withdraw some of the Burmese currency. At that time, the General gave an order that "Guns were not to shoot upwards", implying that gun shots should be fired directly at the people. Thousands were killed as a result, pure cruelty.

Just like a hit movie will always have a sequal, the history of violence has repeated itself in Myanmar. Weeks ago, the military government in Myanmar raised the prices of fuel by 500%. This was not announced to the public, and was only discovered when car owners tried to top up petrol for their cars. Instantly, the people became alarmed and feared that escalating prices of food and other necessities will soon follow suit, thereby creating a frenzy amongst the people to stock up on daily supplies. Outraged by the military dictatorship, the monks of Myanmar started out on a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration, which subsequently developed into the bloodshed and violence we see today.

I find it hard to imagine that the Buddhist monks of Myanmar are the ones who are leading the fight against the military junta ("junta" is Spanish for committee). Buddhism is a religion that embraces compassion and tolerance. Throughout history, we have seen Christians' sacred battles, Muslims' radical activities, but violence associated with the Buddhists... I never thought this could be possible. Maybe the monks (as well as the people of Myanmar, majority of whom are Buddhists) have been suppressed too long and the anger which has built up inside their hearts just had to be released. As it is now, the familiar sights of serene Buddhist monks, clad in maroon coloured robes, were no longer visible on the streets of Myanmar, instead we see only their fury and their bodies covered with blood from being beaten and shot at by the military.

It pains me to think of what kind of life the people of Myanmar are going through now. The daily curfew and midnight arrests have instilled much fear in the people. People stay indoor most of the times not because they did not want to miss their favourite TV programs but because they were frightened. Each night, the chants of the monks, who are taken into captivity by the military, become terrifying to those who have heard. Ultimately, even the internet, international phone calls and other means of communication have been barred to stop the transmission of updates and photos of the protests within Myanmar to the outside world. Isolation seems to be the strategy adopted by the military.

Myanmar is a close neighbour of ours and it is hard to understand why the lives of people in the 2 countries are so different, when the distance is so near. While we spend all our time pursuing material pleasures, the Buddhist monks (and people) in Myanmar dedicate their lives to fight for democracy, human rights and some very basic freedom. Are we not, in relative, very fortunate? Maybe tonight is the time to say "Thank You" to our Gods above.

So what lies ahead for Myanmar? I only wish that peace will soon return to the country and that the chants of the Buddhist monks will once again be music to our ears.

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