Burma (Myanmar or Brahmadesh) may have officially transformed into a democracy after the 2010 November general election, but the ground realities for the poor Burmese remain the same. And the outcome is the continuous fleeing of Burmese to neighbouring India, Bangladesh and Thailand. If the earlier exodus was of pro-democracy political activists, now more and more common Burmese are leaving the poverty stricken country.
For India, the burden of refugees primarily from Chin State of Burma is carried by Mizoram. With its around10 lakh population, the Burma and Bangladesh bordering Indian State gives shelter to nearly 80,000 migrants. Leaving aside two thousand Burmese recognized by the UN High Commission for Refugees and staying in New Delhi, the rest are scattered in Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
“The people outside Burma start believing that the country has changed after the polls. But in reality, the election was fought and won by mostly the military men. So even after the military brand State Peace and Development Council, which ruled Burma for decades, is dissolved and the Parliaments are functioning, the common people are suffering a lot,” said a Burmese youth, now staying in Indian bordering town Saiha.
The youth, who migrated from Chin to Mizoram few months back for a better life and presently working as a daily labour, also added that there are serious crisis of food in Chin State after the phenomena of bamboo flowering last year. The Burmese government in Nay Pie Taw remains reluctant for the relief and rehabilitation of Chin people.
“When some parts of Mizoram also faced the bamboo flowering in early 2010, there were constant flow of relief from New Delhi and also international aid agencies. But for our people in Chin, neither the government initiated to send relief nor it allowed the outside aid agencies to serve the people in distress,” asserted the educated youth, who wanted anonymity, during an interview with this writer at Aizawl recently.
Pu Kim, a Burmese political activist who is recognized by the UNHCR and now based in New Delhi, argues that the so-called change of Burma for democratization is useless, as the military clout remains powerful and the judiciary has still no jurisdiction over the armed forces in the country.
“Many historic political events may take place in Burma in the last few months including the November election, release of pro-democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, running Parliament sessions at Nay Pie Taw and the demolition of the SPDC, but these changes are seemingly not adequate for the people and hence many of them have fled the country,” commented Mr Kim, while speaking to this writer from New Delhi.
Meanwhile the pro-democracy Burmese activists and their well-wishers around the world have appealed to the Indian Union government for taking an initiative ‘for restoration of peace, justice and human rights in Burma’ as well as in its adjacent Northeast India. They also urged New Delhi to continue supporting the Burmese peoples’ struggle for democracy and human rights in their country. Among other requests to the Indian government, allowing the UNHCR to establish its office in Mizoram (or somewhere in the Northeast) for the benefit of thousands of Burmese refugees taking shelter in the region, also included.
The appeal came alive in a memorandum submitted to the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on May 24, 2011 by a pro-democracy group Burma Centre Delhi. The memorandum conveys important messages on the recent historic political events which occurred in Burma such as 2008 (Nargis) Constitution, November 2010 Election, release of Burmese democracy movement leader Suu Kyi, convention of Nay-Pie-Taw Parliament and demolition of the State Peace and Development Council and installation of the New Regime, the military controlled civilian uniform type.
But India does not have a refugee policy and hence it often emerges as a major challenge for both the authority and the civil society groups in a situation like that of Mizoram. For the Chin people, Mizoram emerges as a place of their choice, as both Chin and Mizos share similar religious identity and food habits.
Moreover they are almost look alike and Mizo people in general embrace the Chin as their brother and sisters. But in some occasions, when few Chin youths were found involving in petty crimes, the majority Mizo civil society groups get irritated. Even the most influential Young Mizo Association had warned the Chin people to leave Mizoram as they were polluting the Mizo society.
The resentment of Mizo civil society had compelled a senior Burmese political leader to tender apology in front of the people of Mizoram.
Addressing a consultation meeting on the ‘implication and consequences of regime change in Burma’ after the November 2010 elections at Aizawl on May 6, Dr Tint Swe, a former Burmese MP seek apology for all anti-social activities carried out by a section of Chin people.
The senior member of National League for Democracy (led by Suu Kyi), Dr Tint Swe also claimed that the recently concluded election in Burma has not brought any changes to the common people and they are still ruled by the same group of military under the camouflage of a democratic regime. Hence he urged the government of India and the citizens of Northeast to continue supporting the Burmese peoples’ struggle for real democracy.
Organized by Burma Centre Delhi in collaboration with Chin Human Rights Organizations, Aizawl and Grassroot Development Network, Mizoram and hosted by Zo Indigenous Forum the consultation meeting was attended by various civil society groups, journalists and activists of the region.
Addressing the gathering, Vanlal Ngaia, Chairman of Mizoram Committee for Democracy in Burma reiterated that the regime change in Burma does not seem to bring any change in the condition of pro-democracy activists and general people of Burma. “The only change we have seen is the military uniform into civil dresses. Therefore people preferring for democracy around the world should work persistently for full restoration of true democracy in Burma,” he added.
Muanpuia Punte, vice-president of North East Students’ Organization commented, “The people of Mizoram have a deep relation with Burma as our Chin brother and sisters live there. My understanding is that Mizo, Chin and Kuki are the same people with same religious and linguistic identity. That is why we feel pain when our Chin brothers face problem and suffer under the regime of Burma.”
He also added that both the Burma polls and its 2008 Constitution were criticized and condemned by the UN, the EU and Burmese pro-democracy campaigners for adopting undemocratic norms and rejection of democratic principles and human rights.
Dr. Alana Golmei, advocacy coordinator of BCD also urged the people of northeast to have a closer people to people contact and work together for peace and human rights in the region and Burma. She further said that both the Burma polls and its 2008 Constitution were criticized and condemned by the UN, the EU and Burmese pro-democracy campaigners for adopting undemocratic norms and rejection of democratic principles and human rights. So, she added, no change is taking place in Burma after the technically new and elected government as the human rights
situation in Burma remains the worst.
The memorandum to Indian premier particularly mentioned about the presence of nearly one hundred thousand Chin Burmese population in India where Mizoram carries the larger burden of refugees.
“Though India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, it hosts and accommodates large number of refugees under the protection of the UNHCR. Since India has not yet ratified or acceded to this law, the Burmese refugees in Delhi are treated under the Foreigners Act without clear state’s policy which results in risking their lives as they are vulnerable to insincere and unfair conduct of the concern officials,” said the memorandum.
It also insisted that New Delhi should engage the Burmese Government as well as Suu Kyi and other ethnic groups of Burma. Burma is ethnically diverse and the failure to address the legitimate rights and aspirations of Burma’s ethnic groups is a root cause of instability and dictatorship in Burma, it asserted.
The copy of the letter was also sent to the Union Home Ministry, National Human Rights Commission of India, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with the New Delhi based embassies of United States of America, Republic of Canada, Australia, Czech Republic, Norway, United Kingdom and Indonesia.
Other resolutions included supporting the Global Arms Embargo against Burma and proper impact assessments before implementation of developmental projects in the region in line with Free, Prior and Informed Consent-FPIC. It also maintained that any current and future Indian investments in Burma should be both fair and responsible such that local participation in those development projects in Burma is ensured.