Myanmar citizens need a second independence

Taken and edited to Burmanized the article from the Star, “The true meaning of independence” in PUTIK LADA By RAPHAEL KOK

We Myanmars may have freed ourselves of the colonial yoke but we are still lost, having taken more steps backward than forward, and are no closer to the Promised Land.

ONCE upon a time, we were a great empire. We ruled over the Assam, Manipur, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia and upper four states of Malaya. We travelled the seven seas and the world.

Then they came from the West. They were driven by teak, Ruby from Mogoke, black gold, glory and gospel. They came not in peace.

Our empire fell under their superior firepower of the British. And for about than 100 years, they stole from the rich, the poor, the not very rich and the very poor. But they never stole our hearts. Relentlessly, we fought on.

True, we have had epic victories on the military front. Pushed off the British and later Revolt and expelled the Imperial Fascist Japanese Army. After that through democracy and diplomacy, our forefathers, Bogyoke Aung San and U Nu paved the way to independence.

Finally, on the 4th January 1948, we won our independence but lost to our own Military on 2nd March 1962.

That was then. Here and now, serious questions remain. How much independence that we won remained with us, really? How much good did independence bring to our lives? And when we say “we”, who are “we”?

Independence means freedom. Our three successive Constitutions bestows (at least on paper) upon us many freedoms, such as personal liberty, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. But our latest Constitution also takes away as much as it gives, by bestowing on our military dominant government wide powers to restrict such freedoms.

If you think that our liberty is safely protected by the court of law, think again. In Myanmar, a person can be arrested and detained without trial indefinitely and could sentenced 30-50-99 years in a Kangaroo Courts held in the prisons without needing to proof guilty without reasonable doubt. Sometimes there were allegations that judges need to just read out the verdict written by Military Intelligence Officers. “National security” is the reason often used, but this is rather odd considering that they are just involved in street demonstration and nonviolent politics.

Those draconian laws are frequently used on political dissidents, especially those involved in demonstrations. Oh, yes, in Myanmar we aren’t free to hold peaceful gatherings in public.

Neither are we free to express ourselves. There are certain forbidden subjects that thou shalt not question, such as the sovereignty of the military or the special rights of those military and ex-military personnals.

Try saying “Who made Generals king of anything?” loudly, and you risk suffering the same tragic fate as Socrates who had questioned the existence of the Olympian pantheon of Gods, or Galileo who spread heretical ideas about how the sun does not spin around the Earth.

Thus, what freedoms we have are actually hollow and illusory. Myanmar may have gained independence as a country, but as Myanmar citizens, we have gained little independence as individuals.

Until today, it can be said that corruption exists in officialdom. It even spills over to the commercial sector, where individuals with military connections but without competence often get the first and largest piece of the cake.

And what about racial equality? Oh wait, remember the Special Rights of ex-military Club? You do not talk about it.

There cannot be unity without equality. There’s no “we” or “us” in Myanmar, but only “I” and “my”.

So how did it all go so wrong? It’s perhaps down to the post-independence syndrome faced by  victorious revolutionaries everywhere bestowed with new-found power and wealth overnight.

What history teaches us is that Independence Day is simply the day on which a white knight disposes of a tyrant. Whether after that he becomes a benevolent king sworn to protect his people’s freedoms is a totally different story altogether.

A change of regime may be nothing more than a change of jailors. There may be an extra meal or longer visitation hours, but otherwise the people remain in shackles. They can check-out anytime they like, but they can never leave.

After independence, it’s another day, another dawn. The journey ahead is long and hard. We Myanmars may have escaped from colonialism, but even till today, we are still lost in the desert, taking more steps backwards than forward, and no closer to the Promised Land.

Here and now, what we need is not just one country, but to share one love, one blood and one life. What we need is faith and courage to leave this dream world where there is no spoon, and reach a place high in the desert plain where the streets have no name.

Once upon a time, we won our independence. Now it’s time we win our happy ending.

The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, visit www.malaysianbar.org.my.

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