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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Myanmar: The Brutal Golden Land I Fancy


Myanmar: The Brutal Golden Land I Fancy

By M.S.Shah Jahan - Daily Mirror
It was shocking to see the demonstration, in a country that is deemed a pariah, with no freedom of expression, no rule of law where a 34 year old woman activist, Aung Sang Soo Kyi, who came out of prison only last year after serving seven months for reporting forced labour to U.N, was clearly seen in the forefront, shouting slogans. Though thugs employed by the government tried to take her into their vehicle, she escaped with the help of a sympathetic run down taxi driver.

What prompted the unarmed innocent people to dare automatic rifles, for the first time after 1988 massacre? It was sheer desperation of the stomach. Normally Burmese are soft spoken and hardly one can see another talking louder or shouting in public or in their famous roadside tea shop chatting, as it was the only source of knowing current affairs since the government controlled media is overly biased. As six out of ten people on the road are said to be CIDs, government spies or informers, people whisper mouth to ear to whom they know only, not to strangers.

This is the mantra the Government of Union of Myanmar propagates to her citizens:
  • Don’t be frightened whenever intimated,
  • Don’t be bolstered whenever flattered
  • Don’t be softened whenever appeased
  • Oppose those relying on external elements acting as stooges, holding negative views
  • Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation
  • Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the State
  • Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy

The city of Yangon, which the Indian bearded Sikh soldiers serving the British who had their Head quarters here for the East, are accused of mispronouncing it as Rangoon, and Burma for Myanmar, is a quiet city. No teething of horns, no noise making tuk tuk vehicles like in Bangkok or like our Bajaj trishaws are seen here. Any thing that makes a sound similar to gun shooting is an anathema to Generals. The fact is those who live by the gun are scared of the gun. Strange, isn’t it?

Western media’s assertion that Burmese asked for democracy was wrong as youngsters do not know what democracy is since the country has been under military rule for the past 45 years. The opposition is now quietly explaining to people ‘Democracy means the generals can’t drive luxury vehicles while people starve’. Protestors shouted ‘Democracy Democracy’, but those words give support to Aung Sang Soo Kyi. In Myanmar no one has the guts to pronounce her full name in public or even the word ‘Daw’, means Madam, due to fear of arrest. When passing through, if you turn your head to the bylane called University Avenue Road where Madam lives, trouble will follow you. Myanmar’s intelligence service is so capable that one might say it would outsmart even the CIA or KGB.

Only those who were privileged to go abroad could understand democracy. But the country issues 500 to 1,000 passports only for a year that is valid for not more than 12 months. But it is a big headache facing many conditions like submitting income tax returns, property deeds or deposit of some money etc. which will be forfeited if one doesn’t return on time.

Read what a businessman said on New York Times dated Oct 15. “I joined the peaceful demonstration to show my support. I would do it again. I don’t agree with sanctions on Myanmar. Of course, I may be biased because I’m a businessman. My own experience of travelling to other countries opened my mind and changed my life. I love the freedom I find in the United States. It was something I had never experienced. If I hadn’t spent time abroad, I would have ended up as a military man. Or else I could have been an informer exposing the conversation we’re having right now”.

Burma was once next to Japan in riches and known as the granary of the East. At one time it supplied rice to India and Ceylon to meet famines. The saying there is, ‘this is a golden land-no one ever starves here’. That is why the military could last so long. The cost of living was very low but so was the income. A family of 3 or 4 could manage 3 meals for SLR 50 a day with rice and vegetables. Annual income per person is SLR 25, 000, as Western sanction ruins job creation. 90% people who live below poverty line today feel even one meal a day would become luxury. Crime rate is very low and you will be amazed to see customers carrying cash from banks so openly, like we would carry a pound of bread with our bare hands.

Road transport is severely inadequate with dilapidated buses and one can see many walking back home from Yangon wearing ‘lungyi’ [sarong] with a swinging lunch carrier in hand. Many commuters could not afford the hiked bus fare to work places so they started walking up and down. This made them to erupt. Unlike Sri Lankans, Burmese walk miles. For instance if you ask a passerby ‘where is this place?’ the answer probably would be,”Oh, very near only 30 minutes walk”. If you were to ask ‘How many miles?’ They would answer ‘Five miles’.

The government could have stood by without a price increase if not for the ‘Sigiriya’ they built at a cost of many millions of dollars in fear of ‘Mugalan’. Well, the new capital, as per the suggestion of astrologers, Naypyidaw, 240 miles away from Rangoon, in order to be out of the way of people or people’s anger, and also to guard from a foreseeable attack by a destructive element, namely US, tightened their already squandered money position. The English film currently running at the Naypyidaw Cinema and the Tamada Cinema in Yangon is Die Hard 4.0. Does it refer to the fate of Burmese people too? I wonder.

Besides, Buddhist monks who go to people to collect their daily alms saw the hardship people faced, and they on behalf of citizens came to the streets. “The monks are the only ones who really have the trust of people, when they speak up people listen. They feel their pain, and they cannot just sit back idly.” one said. But the monk’s expectation of the soldiers to be men of conscience who wouldn’t blindly obey their superiors to attack priests whom they revere in their daily life, totally went wrong when they were chased, kicked and beaten to bleed. Al Jazeera showed a special account.

The most lucrative career in Myanmar is to be a Tatmadaw (Army, Navy and Air), though the official salary is only SLRs.500 for a month, food coupon, living quarters, extra allowances make a soldier’s life quite comfortable. In brief soldiers are kept in the good books, being bribed as they are the only allies. The military runs kindergartens, medical schools and technical schools exclusively for their kith and kin. Civil administration is entirely handled by the army appointing ministers.

Corruption is the way of life from top to bottom. It is rampant in the import export trade. The official exchange rate is 1$ = 6 Kyat [Chaat] while the unofficial rate is 1,300 per dollar. Off the bank deals are done on unofficial rate. Any commercial venture needs an unofficial ‘sponsor’, a minister, an officer or one closely connected to them. Your prosperity depends on how powerful your ‘sponsor’ is. When he falls from grace you too would go to dog’s house, leaving your project incomplete with severe financial loss.

The regime directly deals with timber, natural gas and gems, proceeds of which are supposedly not benefited by the people and the government spends pittance for education and $10 per person for health. A Dubai based conglomerate, dealing with cement, fertliser etc. in SL, was exporting teak from Burma bidding from government auction. Once, as the Teak price shot high in international market, the government refused to oblige the agreed price causing huge loss to the bidder who closed office in disgust.

When locally assembled Suzuki Wagon, a proto type car was introduced four years ago, it was allocated only to army officers, forcing others to buy from them on open paper paying a premium. Throughout the world, this was how from Hitler and Mussolini to Than Shwe, every evil minded army chief kept his folks happy. Any condemnation of the armed forces is considered treachery.

Local telephone service is horrible. An overseas call costs $5 per 3 minute call from the timebell rings. Unbelievable news is, three years ago when mobile phone connectivity was introduced with Chinese fund, in a country of 56 million, 3000 SIM cards, without SMS facility, were sold in no time to selected people on a flat price of US$ 3,000 per card which today change hand on premium or on hire $50 a month. No mobile roaming facility, no credit card, no TC’s, no Yahoo, no Hotmail while internet is restricted and email is monitored, G mail goes through local ISP.

The Junta is famous for his lunatic superstitious beliefs following astrologers. Driving was shifted from left to right with right hand vehicles. Nine is military’s auspicious number. In order to anger the authorities the protesters in September had a successful campaign for three evenings to bang on the pots, pans and other metal objects at 7; 02 p.m., 8; 01 p.m., and 9 p.m. The Junta finally responded unleashing brutal attack on 27/09/2007. Don’t you see 9 here?

The military’s argument to be in power is to suppress the separatist claims of some tribes like Karen [Christians], Shan, Chin, out of 135 tribes Burma has. Well, had the majority tribe treated the minorities equal and taken care for the fraction of the money spent today on arms, there would have not been any separatist claims in any country.

Myanmar is a heaven on earth but made hell by Tatmadaw. Lord Buddha said ‘nothing is permanent in this world’. We hope, so too.

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