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Letter from India
Burma Unifies People's Voices in North-East India
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
Aung San Suu Kyi

When monks took to streets in Burma last month, the world's spotlight came on the decades-long ongoing pro-democracy movement within the country. We are witnessing that despite and in spite of all control-measures of Junta Government in Burma (State Peace and Development Council), it is impossible to freeze information flow of human rights excesses. We hope the Junta Government is aware of, that unlike the way it succeeded in crushing the pro-democracy movement in 1988, this time the 'world is watching'!

Interestingly the ongoing struggles in Burma have given a strong beam of hope and vigour to similar pro-democracy movements going near its North-East border of India.

Hundreds of people came in support of pro-democracy movement led by Irom Chanu Sharmila in Manipur – a North-Eastern Indian state. They were fasting in solidarity and hundreds of other people in many countries apart from those in other states of India, prominent amongst which are Bangladesh, Pakistan, UK, Thailand, Nepal, and US, also took part in the five-days fast and demonstrated solidarity to the pro-people movement in Manipur.

Nava Thakuria, a senior Journalist in another North-East Indian state of Assam, who is also the General Secretary of Journalists' Forum in Assam, is part of an open public meeting at Guwahati Press Club on issues around Burma and its implications to North-East.

"In the recent uprising in the military ruled country that is adjacent to northeast India, a number of people (including a Japanese photojournalist) were killed. To suppress the pro-democracy campaigners and also the media, the Burmese junta has already taken numerous unethical means, where the military continued massive crackdown on the unarmed monks and the common Burmese with strict restriction on the media" remarks Thakuria.

"The junta government has already cut the telephone lines of working journalists based in Burma and also slows down the Internet connectivity, such that no legitimate information from the county could reach the outer world" furthers says Thakuria.

No matter how hard the Junta government in Burma may try to snap communications and thwart efforts to get information out of the country, it is virtually impossible to stop the world from watching and feeling outraged. Also ongoing people's movements are also slowly aligning themselves with the pro-democracy struggles in Burma.

The minimum pre-requisite of many people's movements around the world in recent past has been a singular demand –free Aung San Suu Kyi! She is imprisoned under the 1975 State Protection Act in Myanmar (Burma), which grants the government the power to imprison persons for up to five years without a trial. She has been intermittently under arrest of one kind or the other since 1990.

By 1988, Burma was burgeoning with pro-democracy movement, fueled by the energy and idealism among the country's young people. There were demonstrations against the repressive, one-party socialist government. Aung San Suu Kyi was drawn into the pro-democracy movement, which was snuffed out by State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which seized power on September 18, 1988. Thousands of pro-democracy advocates were killed.

Next came a general election in 1990, which political parties were allowed to contest. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was leading the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory, with 80 percent support. SLORC leaders refused to accept the election results putting the elected pro-democracy leaders under house arrest, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Despite the restrictions of house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi continues to campaign for democracy. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 1991.

The solidarity fast by hundreds of people in Manipur last month wasn't only in support of Irom Sharmila, but also demanded freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi as a minimum step forward towards establishing a just social order.

"It is with bated breath and great expectations the entire world is looking at current events in Myanmar and Pakistan. And the expectations are for change and democracy in these two countries, close neighbours of India" said Tiamerenla Monalisa Changkijathe, Editor of a tabloid 'Nagaland Page' in another North-East state of India – Nagaland.

The alignment of people's voices not only within Burma but globally is a positive development.

Only time can tell whether the voices of common people will be heard or the state will continue to trample over people's rights with anti-people laws and policies.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries and can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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