This article has been written by Pooja P N, a student at

National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata (NUJS)

Image sourced from The Newyork Times

Democracy – the form of government which is believed to save the country and its people from the dreadful fists of authoritarian rules and free it from the sickening reigns of dictatorship. The form of government Myanmar longed, fought and sought for so long. The one solution the whole world thought would solve Myanmar’s sorrows. Democracy is finally knocking on the doorsteps of ‘The Land of Golden Pagoda’ thus fulfilling the decades-long demand. It took 42 years for Myanmar to partially overcome the Burmese coup d’état which pushed it into a military dictatorship under the Burmese Socialist Programme Party. 2010 general election, dissolving of Junta in 2011 and release of the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi were the result of Myanmar’s struggle to free itself from the grasp of dictatorship and fly in the vast sky of democracy. The minorities who were subjected to suppression and ethnical discrimination saw this as a ray of hope amidst the endless and scary darkness. The landmark 2015 election where Suu Kyi, the face of Myanmar’s fight for democracy was elected came as the hope for a bright morning after a long night of fear and helplessness for the minorities. Now after almost one full term of the ruling could the Myanmar government prove itself as the face of democracy that the people have dreamt of for so long? Could it gift the minorities a life free from fear and protect them from being subjected to discrimination and prosecution in their own land? Could it spread the light that democracy promised to all the people of Myanmar or did it gift more darkness to its minorities? The reports and analysis of the situation of the ethnic minorities of Myanmar portray a more vulnerable situation where the government considers only a part of the population as citizens and is keen to label the rest as aliens. The Rohingyas and the people of Rakhine state were subjected to ethnic prosecution and were driven away from the country as a part of the government’s clearance policies which grabbed the attention of the entire world. The world nations who once supported Myanmar’s fight for democracy went on to oppose the policies of the democratically elected government of Myanmar. With many more fighting for their democratic rights within the country could Myanmar really get its hands on the Democracy in its absolute terms?

Myanmar is now moving towards another milestone in its democratic transition. The much awaited general elections are to be held on November 8th. The election still lacks the soul of democracy – Right to Equal Political Participation. The Muslim minority is mostly affected by the discriminatory policies of Myanmar Government which does not confer them any citizenship rights. The government has notified that elections would not be held in 56 townships of the country including the Rakhine province – home for the prosecuted Rohingya community. The government also does not offer the citizens the right to question the stances of the government thus prisoning the essence of democracy and what it stands for – to protect the rights of the masses. The government has imposed a blanket ban on internet in the Rakhine and Shin provinces thus curbing the people from accessing important information; even about COVID-19. The wide circulation of hate speech and threats against Muslims are a common sight in Facebook and other social media platforms.

Thousands of students protesting on the streets demanding Equal Political Participation, Right to Freedom of Expression, Right to Access Information, release of political prisoners and to stop the intolerance of government and military reminds the world of the fight of Myanmar to overcome the oppressive military dictatorship. The scenario is a spitting image of Myanmar’s pre democratic era. Myanmar’s democracy can be compared to a hollow frame, which can be acknowledged as a part of the door but cannot be put to use. Myanmar showed the world that a shift towards democracy can be successful only when one adopts the essence of democracy to the fullest. The 2017 Rohingya prosecution and the ongoing oppressive rule forces us to doubt the ideals of a government which has voiced its demand for end of military dictatorship. Was the demand for the actual good of the people or was it just about transition of power from one iron fist to another?

The grave human rights violation impedes one from presuming Myanmar as a country on the path to democracy. The government chooses to shut its eyes in front of the human rights violations and war crimes against the minorities; does not show the will to provide for the safe return of 740,000 Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries; continues to arrest and detain peaceful protestors who demanded removal of restrictions on right to freedom of expression and peaceful association and assembly. The minorities are subjected to forced labour, ill treatment, abduction and extortion by the military. The lack of protection and adequate steps taken by the government is leading to the adoption of radical methods by the oppressed groups to fight against the oppression they are subjected to. One of this radical tactic was the attack by Arakan armed groups on various military instalments which resulted in the military breakdown on the Rohingyas in 2017. Many fled to neighbouring countries and the ones who stayed back are subjected to oppression similar to apartheid. The Rohingyas still living in the Rakhine state are deprived of nationality, equality, freedom of movement and access to basic education, healthcare and employment opportunities. The 128000 Rohingyas living in detention camps in the Rakhine state are solely dependent on the humanitarian aids for their survival. They are not even allocated ration cards which would help them to get food items at subsidised rates. Hungry eyes and scared faces are a common sight in these camps. The adults seem anxious of when and how will they get a morsel of food to feed their hungry kids whereas the children seem terrified on when they will be dragged away from their parents. A group of people tagged alien in their own land, the government snatching the means of survival from them and the military throwing screens of oppression over them; living in constant fear; without hope but just waves of fear.

Human rights activists and protestors fighting for their democratic rights are arrested and imprisoned; the film maker Min Hitn Ko Ko Gyi was sentenced to one year in prison along with several other students for criticising the military. The rulers used vague laws to prevent the people from exercising their rights. The Myanmar government refused to cooperate with international organisations over the alleged humanitarian crimes committed against the Rohingyas and instead went on to set up a panel consisting of military personnel for investigation against the military – ironic.

The country with a Nobel peace Prize laureate being an eminent part of its administration, with a government full of leaders who fought for decades to end the military dictatorship, a country supported by the whole world in its pursuit to become a democratic nation; and now the country which prosecutes a part of its population on the basis of its religion and contended ethnicity – much unexpected and disappointing. The prosecuted minorities are forced to leave their own country and live as unwelcomed immigrants in the neighbouring countries or suffer the heinous human rights violations and torture by choosing to stay back. Democracy cannot be said to be practised in its absolute terms unless all the residents of a country are given equal rights and political participation. The government should not be ruling the country the way it wants but should be acting as a representative for its people and guide the country in its best interest. Myanmar’s fight for democracy has not ended here but has actually started off with a different opponent this time. This time the people of Myanmar need to be more resolute in what they want. The support of world nations and international organisations are important, but the most necessary element would be the unity of the people of Myanmar. When a democratically elected government turns its face on the ideals of democracy it fails the people who elected it. The fight for democracy in Myanmar should end only when every single person including the minorities can access equal rights and there stands a government which would strive to protect the rights of the people than to deprive them from exercising it. When these dreams of today will turn into reality that will be the day when Myanmar in real terms would free itself from the fastened ropes of oppression and fly high.

Disclaimer: This article is an original submission of the Author.

NLR does not hold any liability arising out of this article.