In Myanmar Protests, A Message for India

img1 Albert Thyrniang
15 Mar 2021

Watching the viral video of the 19-year-old girl Kyal Sin alias Angel who was killed in an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar on March 3 is heartrending to say the least. Angel, a taekwondo champion, is now a martyr and symbol of resistance against the military junta's coup and the violent suppression of protest movement. Wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the iconic phrase "Everything will be OK" when she was shot on the head, the first-time proud voter in last year’s general election, drew more than 1,00,000 people for her funeral.

Mourners signalled the "three-finger salute" against authoritarianism in the South East Asian country. The hero, who had earlier posted on Facebook informing her blood group while requesting that her organs be donated in the event of her death, was among the 38 people killed on the ‘bloodiest’ day taking the total to at least 67 (till 8th March) in the post-coup turmoil. 

Another moving image that has gone viral on social media is of a nun kneeling down with outstretched arms urging soldiers to take her life instead of the young protesters. The bravery of the nun has won accolades in the Buddhist-dominated nation and the world over. The nun’s solidarity with her country men and women could move the world into action.  

The visuals emerging from the South East Asian nation are troubling. Smokes from tear gas, gun fires, low flying fighter jets, night raids, brutal crackdowns and funerals are a summary of the current chaos in Myanmar. The statement there is obvious. Myanmar people want democracy and reject the military.  

The sad end of the life of the promising young girl and many others who have sacrificed their lives for the future of their country should make us reflect on the freedom we ‘enjoy’ in our country. The nun could not remain silent and stepped out of her tranquil convent to confront security forces out on duty to clampdown on dissenters.  People in Myanmar and other parts of the world have to risk their lives to fight for democracy. They have to resort to civil disobedience to gain, preserve and restore democracy. In many countries like North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and elsewhere, citizens can’t even raise their voice. We, on the other hand, take democracy for granted. It should also make us ponder whether we do stand-up when democratic rights are threatened to be stifled.  

Constitutionally India is one of the world’s most democratic countries granting all the rights to its citizens. But democracy does not always translate automatically from the ‘Rule Book’ into reality. Its expression is viewed differently by different rulers. The present government is perceived as a regime that dislikes critiques and dissent. Therefore, the elements of democracy need to be reiterated repeatedly so that the government fulfils its constitutional obligations to its citizens. 

When protesting farmers at the Delhi borders were denied electricity, water and internet service, the Central government had to be reminded that it was muffling the constitutional guaranteed right of protest. Within the country, concerned citizens expressed dismay at the treatment of farmers. It needed young international celebrities like singer Rihanna and climate change activist Greta Thunberg to ruffle the entire Union government set up. 

Individuals who choose to speak up are not taken kindly. The Delhi Police hunted down Disha Ravi and named her a "key conspirator" in the toolkit case. She was also a victim of detestable hate on social media by the Hindutva brigade. The court while granting bail to her pronounced that her case was not sedition but a legitimate dissent. 

Six journalists were also charged with sedition ‘for doing their jobs’ (reporting) on the alleged police violence at farmers’ protests. This is seen a jolt on free press prompting many to term the current situation an ‘undeclared emergency'. But does it mean we stop criticising the government? If we don’t want anywhere close to Myanmar then sacrifices are worth making. 

We are not Myanmar, but Press freedom is on the downslide in our country. The press is subjected to ‘crackdowns’, journalists have been beaten, arrested and forced to resign for reporting on contentious issues. Based on press freedom to news organisations, journalists, and netizens in the country, the World Press Freedom Index 2020 ranked India 142 out of 180 countries. India is ranked just above Pakistan (145th), and Bangladesh (151). The opening line of this paragraph is mistaken because Myanmar ranked above us (139) in the World Press Freedom Index last year. It’s quite a humiliating perspective. 

Press freedom is mentioned here because when there is no press freedom there is no democracy. The press is the fourth pillar of democracy. If the pillar collapses democracy follows suit. Anti-democracy proponents know this very well.  They target the media to weaken and rescind democracy. 

The situation in Myanmar is alarming. The international community has condemned the coup but has acted little. The failure of the world community to act decisively against the military in the past has emboldened the junta to usurp power from a democratically elected government and unleash the current violence against its peace loving citizens. 

After the atrocities against the Rohingyas in 2017 the responsible commanders are still in office. Of the world leaders who have threatened sanctions directed against the military only Australia has acted suspending all its bilateral defence cooperation program with the rulers by default. Half-hearted actions in the past have encouraged the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) to take over the country even though the National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the November 2020 elections with a landslide margin.

The coup is justified on fabricated claims of election fraud. The military which runs a sprawling business empire was able to rule for nearly 50 years probably because of international indifference, for whatever reason. 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice should take the military leadership to task. The UN Security Council (UNSC) needs to perform its responsibility to hear the cries of the people of Myanmar. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has to be more decisive to force the military to return democracy back to the people immediately and not legitimise the coup by entertaining the Tatmadaw’s assurance of conducting election after a year. 

India’s reaction so far is limited to the External Affair Ministry’s statement commenting that India believes in the rule of law and the democratic process. There has been no strong condemnation on the violence that has led to many deaths. It is suspected that India has no authority to speak against the Myanmar ‘coup’ because of its own non-envious records. 

Protesters against CAB/CAA were crushed with an iron hand. The citizens of Jammu and Kashmir have been treated unfairly by the country. Allegations of human rights violations continue to emerge from the troubled UTs. However, dissent should not be given up if we care for democracy.

Freedom of the Press, religious freedom, human rights, rights of minorities, equality et cetera are international issues. They have no boundaries. They are not internal matters of any country. Therefore, the plea that when violations of fundamental rights take place in a country others should not interfere does not hold water. 

‘George Floyd’ is not an internal matter of the US; ‘ISIS’ is not an internal matter of Iraq or Syria. Taliban is not an internal matter of Afghanistan. Terrorism is not an internal matter of Pakistan or any other country. Racism, violence and violation of democratic principles are not internal matter of a particular country. Therefore, any individual from any part of the world has the right to speak against these violations if they happen in any part of the ‘global village’.  

The effects in defending democracy may not be forthright. But giving up is not the option. Nothing worthwhile that is done is worthless. Watching Myanmar on Youtube and Television, viewing the troubling images and visuals and reading about the suffering of the people we share border in the North East in the print and visual media we can only value our rights and freedom that much more. Citizens have gone to jail, charged with the draconian sedition law, thrown with FIRs by law agencies and groups. Unfortunately there is a price to be paid. Nothing comes for free, democracy included. The young of Myanmar are an inspiration. The soul of India is to survive. 

The soul of India has been under attack time and again. The latest is by Yogi Adityanath. The UP Chief Minister publicly declared that secularism is the biggest threat to India's traditions getting world recognition. His statement is unconstitutional and must be condemned.  FIR should be filed against the Yogi who parrots the obnoxious view of the Sang Parivar, fascist rightists who are in fact a threat to democratic and pluralistic India. Stand up and be counted to defence democracy.

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