A CAUSE BETRAYED Has the World’s Largest Democracy Turned Its Back on the Cause of Democracy in Burma?
(Editor’s Note: In the wake of India’s renewed offensive against Burma’s pro-democracy opposition groups, notably the Chin National Front since July 2005, many activists based in India are increasingly frustrated and are helplessly feeling that their cause has been betrayed by the world’s largest democracy, a country they have always looked to for support.
The uncertainty and disappointment brought about by the storming of Camp Victoria, CNF’s headquarters by the Mizoram Armed Police on July 21, has many Chins raised though questions. Mizos and Chins consider themselves ethnically and culturally closely related. The following article takes on a unique angle on Indo-Burma relations in the wake of India’s recent military operations against the Chin National Front.)
India prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy, a country of diverse cultures and civilization. With such a prestige, India stands on the side of those supporting the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world. As a regional and emerging world power, India has a unique responsibility to support democracy and freedom movement in countries across the regions of Asia.
From the time of the first government of independent India under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru through the era of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, successive governments of the Congress Party of India has taken a principled stand to support freedom movement in Asia and around the world. It was through this noble foreign policy that India quickly threw its support behind the movement for democracy in Burma in 1988 when thousands of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators were butchered and exiled by Burmese Armed Forces. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of the Congress Party of India wholeheartedly and unreservedly supported those working to restore the respect for human rights, dignity and democracy in one of India’s most important neighboring countries. India showed its continued support for the cause of freedom and democracy in Burma by awarding the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding to Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995 and Rajiv Shmirti Parashka award in 1996.
However, it is very unfortunate that the current administration of the Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi has chosen to foster economic and security engagement with Burma’s military junta at the expense of those working to restore fundamental freedom, human rights and democratic governance in Burma, a stance that has completely diverted from the legacy of the predecessor Congress government. Concerned by China’s growing economic and military influence in its neighbor and simmering insurgencies in the North East, India has signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Burma, a bilateral agreement that would increase trade and security cooperation between the two countries. What does this mean in practical terms? India has essentially chosen to embrace a pariah state in pursuit of short-term economic interests, thus effectively walking away from its longstanding traditional policy of putting principle above all other considerations.
In this context, it is inconceivable that the world’s largest democratic country has turned its back on the movement for freedom and democracy in Burma. The recent attack on the headquarters of Chin National Front, a major opposition force in Burma’s democratic movement has brought deep disappointment and frustration to those still struggling for the reinstatement of a civilian democratic government in Rangoon. India should be mindful of the fact that in choosing to side with the military junta, it is dealing with an illegitimate regime that is responsible for displacing nearly half a million of its citizens to Thailand, India and Bangladesh and internally displacing more than a million people inside the country. Burma’s military regime still imprisons more than 1300 political prisoners including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of opposition parties. For more than one decade, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the International Labor Organization have repeatedly condemned the regime’s systematic practice of forced labor and violations of fundamental human rights. The UN General Assembly, proposing a Tripartite Dialogue, has passed resolutions after resolution urging the Burmese military regime to enter into a political dialogue with pro-democracy oppositions led by the National League for Democracy and representatives of Burma’s ethnic groups. To this end, Secretary General Kofi Anan under the power mandated by the General Assembly has been endeavoring to restore human rights and civilian democratic rule in Burma through his Special Envoy Razali Ismail and Special Human Rapportuer Mr. Paul Sergio Pinheiro. The growing friendly relations with Burma’s military junta and India’s recent attacks on Chin National Front, a major player in Burma’s democratic movement, is seriously undermining the international effort to bring about democracy and respect for human rights in Burma.
Where are the ideals of human rights and dignity that are affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Where is the principle and visions of democracy? And where are the security and safety of the oppressed people? Does might still determine right? These are the questions that immediately come to mind in light of India’s unprincipled actions.
Mizos and Chins are blood brothers. It was only in 1947 that we became separated into two different countries. The only difference that lies between us is the fact that those integrated into India call themselves Mizos while those concentrated in Burma call themselves Chins. We share the same ancestry, history and culture. It is said that blood is thicker than water. And because we are bound by our blood no one can set us apart.
On July 21 this year, amidst pressure from the Central Government, the Mizoram Armed Police stormed and destroyed the Headquarters of Chin National Front, a group that has been fighting against Burma’s military dictatorship for the rights of Chin people and restoration of democracy in Burma. This was very unfortunate! If only people would realize the sad fate of the Chin people who have been victims of oppression and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Burma Army. The suffering of Chin people is the suffering of Mizo people because we are one and the same people. The movement of the Chin people today is a movement for democracy and human rights. And it is in India’s long-term interest to have a democratic country in its neighbor as well as in the regions of Asia. On the contrary, it was very unfortunate that the government of Mizoram had ordered that attacks on Chin National Front. It is troubling to think that this incident might leave a black spot in our history.
For 20 years from 1966 to 1986 the Mizo National Front had led an armed struggle for Mizoram statehood and liberation of the Mizo people. During these years, it is common knowledge as to how staunchly and wholeheartedly the movement was supported by Chin people living in Burma and Bawm people living in Bangladesh. The mere fact that we are separated by artificially created international boundaries did not deter us from standing together in times of importance and hardship. Rather, we were reminded of how intimately close people we were!
Many people were elated and encouraged when the MNF was elected to lead the Mizoram Government. For those in hardship, the election of the MNF was greeted with a deep sense of optimism. And it is a fact that in the minds of our people the international boundaries do not exist between us. We’ve always counted on the fact that as brothers we will stand by each other’s side in times of joy and hardship. We are to feed each other when one is hungry and provide shelter when another is in need of refuge. That is what family is all about. Unless we take care of each other in times of need and hardship, the only thing we can accomplish would be distrust, frustration and disappointment.
It is high time we reevaluate how we treat each other as family members. We have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask whether driving away those in need of our help is really consistent with our tradition and values that we dearly hold close to hearts. Are we to be satisfied that people in need of our help are left to die? Blood brothers risk their lives for each other and help one another in time of hardship. It is upon us to be able to notice the kinds of divisive strategy employed against us and be aware of how that would affect us negatively for our collective interest. Let’s act together and help each other. For we are a people characterized by our love for peace, a people who can show to the world we are for peace.
By Ram Uk Thang
August 22, 2005