After five decades of silent tears, Myanmar woke to a great dawn of hope in 2010. President U Thein Sein, leading the reform with sagacity and self-confidence, opened the country to greater freedom of expression, release of prisoners and entered into a proactive dialogue with the opposition. Bold steps taken by his statesmanship, brought countries to our shores, greater opportunities for our people who lived under darkness for five decades of suffocating political oppression. A functioning parliament with the opposition in attendance raised great hopes that this long suffering nation is taking its place in the community of nation and its date with destiny has arrived. Streaks of hope filled a nation.
Sadly recent events have raised fears and anxieties in the minds of people of Myanmar – and our friends in the world. With anxiety the people of Myanmar hope that the dream of a dawn may not turn into an illusion of nightmare.
In August, 2015, as thousands of our country men and women were battling historic floods, Parliament was coerced by a fringe group of religious elite to enact four black laws, virtually fragmenting the dream of a united Myanmar. That these four bills were conceived not by the elected representatives of the Myanmar people, but by an extra constitutional fringe element – with its hate speech, packaging primordial anxieties into a national agenda for parliamentarians and the President, is a dangerous portend for the fledgling democracy. History is a great teacher. Similar efforts in other parts of the world have resulted in disastrous consequences for the people. Wars and hordes of refugees are the sad result of hatred. “Those who failed to learn from history “warned President Kennedy “are condemned to repeat the blunders of history”.
Once again Myanmar is at cross roads of hope and despair. Myanmar cannot once again take the path of chronic conflicts. Fifty years of agony is enough. We need peace. We need reconciliation. We need a shared and confident identity as citizens of a nation of hope.
But these four laws seemed to have rang a death knell to that hope. This is a challenging moment for the people of Myanmar. All people of Myanmar need to be on guard against these elements whose task seems to be institutionalizing and mainstreaming extremist ideologies. The light of hope set on the mountain of freedom by the founders of our nation, led by Great Aung San cannot be extinguished by a handful of men who appropriate to themselves the representative role of this nation and religion. The martyrs who died with Gen. Aung San belonged to all religions. Our future is unity in diversity. United we stand. Divided we invite a sinister future to mutilate us all.
For centuries this nation has been nurtured by the great teachings of Lord Buddha. His teachings on Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness) extended blessings not only on living beings but even on the living things. The death of a leaf, as per His teachings, needs to bring tears to our eyes, since a part of us die in the death of a leaf. Hatred has no place in his life and teaching. The image of Theravada Buddhism of our nation and the spiritual wealth it offers continue to draw hundreds from every corner of the globe. Sages and seers fill this nation.
Such great teaching of Karuna (Universal Compassion) and Metta (Mercy for all) is being threatened by peddlers of hatred whose hunger for scapegoats, has brought agony to people of Myanmar. Any effort to dilute the pristine image of Buddhism and its message of universal love needs to be resisted by all people of our nation. Narratives of hatred in the name of religion are offences to the teachings of the Great Teacher. And that it is being perpetrated with immunity is a warning sign to all. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.
The Four laws are result of this hatred. We urge our rulers and elected representatives to review these laws which can turn out to be a toxic recipe for more decades of conflict. As a nation we hold in our hands a great promise of prosperity and peace to all. But these laws portend a very perilous future. We plead with you. This is time to sow peace.
Those who forced the parliament to enact the laws have not allowed our representatives to attend to the most urgent needs of the people of Myanmar. Those who worry about religious conversion and sought a law to prevent that may not have noticed that poverty is the common religion of many of our people. 30 percent of our people are poor and in Rakhine and Chin states the rate is 70 percent. As a nation a real conversion is needed for 30 percent of our people who live in the oppressive religion of poverty. The nation with resources needs a road map to pull out our poor out of poverty. 27 % of our people do not even have identity cards. (Census data 2014).
Those who are worried about population growth of certain people and forced a law on Population control, have bye passed the serious concern of UN agencies about the status of Myanmar children and mothers – of all religions. Myanmar has the sad distinction of having the biggest infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rates in the region. UN reports state:
Myanmar’s infant mortality rate is 48 per 1,000 live births while the mortality rate for children under five is 62 per 1,000 live births, both of which are the highes in Southeast Asia, says UNICEF (http://www.irinnews.org/report/99129/myanmar-s-infant-mortality-woes). At 200 deaths per 100,000 live births, the maternal mortality rate in Myanmar is one of the worst in the region, according to a recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (http://www.unric.org/en/latest-un-buzz/28957-maternal-mortality-remains-a-threat-to-myanmar-mums).
These children and mothers belong to ALL cultures and religions. Will there be a law for a greater protection of the new born? Will our young mothers live to see their children grow rather than die during child bird? Will the allocation for health move from a miserly 3% to at least 6% in the national budget?
Noble human sentiments like love and marriage are brought under Marriage law today. Spontaneous relationships are criminalized, denying the basic right to be human. Those who configured these inhuman laws and those who voted for them, may spare a thought for nearly two million of our young men and women forced to work under modern forms of slavery in the neighboring countries, whose dreams of marriage are frustratingly postponed because of injustice and unbearable poverty? Will there be a law that would facilitate marriage at appropriate age? Will these custodians of culture force our law enforcing authorities to close the gates of human trafficking and drug in the border areas that condemn our youth of all cultures to virtual hell? Can there be positive laws those ensure the dignified development of our youth people who make up 40% of our population?
Myanmar people – of all cultures and religions – seek peace and prosperity. We have suffered enough last five decades of oppression, war, displacement, poverty. Peace alone can bring prosperity. Sadly that road map is being challenged by laws like these, amplifying the acute alienation sections of the people felt. Laws like these fragment the people, jeopardizing this rainbow nation.
I am hopeful the President and the political parties of this great nation have vision and courage to withstand myopic vote bank politics and self-defeating exclusivist nationalist discourse.
Let all beings be in Peace. Let My Country be in Peace.