April 17, 2021
Opinions and Commentary

A Retrospective Evaluation On The Union Day Of Burma

19 February 2010: Burma is a beautiful country in South East Asia and is rich in natural resources. The population of Burma is about 50 millions according to 2009 UN estimation. She lies between the Asian two giants India and China, and her neighbours include Laos, Thailand and Bangladesh.

The modern Burma area was inhabited by the “Mon and Pyu kingdoms dominant from the 1st century BC to the 9th century AD.”[1] The Burmese dynasty united the two kingdoms in the 11th century but later “was overthrown by the Mongols in the 13th century.”[2] The withdrawal of the Mongols produced several kingdoms such as Ava, Bago, Thanlyn, Thahtung, Pyi, Mrauk-u and other local chieftain kingdoms. Finally the Alaungpaya dynasty ruled Burma from 1752 to 1885.[3] However there is not enough evidence that the Burmese dynasty ruled all the ethnic regions in the history because they were ruled by their own chieftains such as Duwas and Zawbwas, although there were several exchanges of war and peace between the Bamar and some of the ethnic nationalities.

Burma has also experienced westerners since mid 16th century through trade with the Portuguese, Dutch, and English until the 17th century. The trade turned into an annexation after three wars between the British and Burmese. First in 1824-26 when Burma renounced their claim to Assam and Manipur and ceded Arakan (Rakhine) and Tanesserim (Thanintyaryi) to the British according to the treaty of Yandabo in 1826.[4] Second in 1852-53 which ended in the annexation of the rest of Lower Burma.[5] The third and final war started in 1885 when upper Burma was annexed on the 1st of January 1886.[6]

In 1935-47, Bogyoke Aung San fought for the independence of Burma starting with various significant involvements including Oway Magazine, Student Union, Thakhin Movement, Burma Independence Army, Anti-Fascist Movement, a series of meetings with ethnic nationalities, Panglong Agreement and Interim Government. He started by attending secret military training in Japan. He invited the Japanese to fight with Burmese people against the British to allow Burma to become a democratic country.[7]

However Japan took control of the country, ruling Burma with a cruel fascist system for almost 5 years. Again Aung San determined to fight for the independence for Burma. Aung San went to London and met with UK Prime Minister Clement Atlee. This achieved the “Aung San-Atlee Agreement.”[8] The British government demanded Aung San to prove that all the ethnic nationalities in Burma including the Bamar wanted independence. This was a complex task and the British did not appreciate how many ethnic nationalities needed to come together and be persuaded that it was in their interest to achieve independence from the British colonial power. Burma is inhabited by the Chins, Kachins, Kayahs, Karens, Mons, Bamars, Shans and Rakhines, and peoples of Burma with a total of over 100 languages being spoken.

Aung San retuned to Burma and persuaded all the ethnic nationalities to agree with the Bamar to get independence for once together and enjoy for forever together. Most of the ethnic groups agreed with Aung San, Bamar representative, because of his persuasive speech, dignity and personal integrity. Therefore there was an agreement signed on the 12th of February 1947 in Panglong Town in the Shan State of Burma, which has become the origin of the Union Day of Burma. If there were no Panglong Agreement there would not have been any independence and there would not have been the Union Day of Burma. It was a very important and crucial agreement for the modern Union of Burma. Until today, the Panglong Agreement Pillar can still be seen in Panglong Town, Shan State even though the military regime ignores to implement the agreements.

To be able to sign the agreement, General Aung San had to travel to the ethnic nationality regions to convince them and persuade them to sign and participate in the independence agreement. Therefore all the ethnic nationalities and Bamar needed to find agreement. The agreement states that there must be a federal system and democracy in Burma. This is nothing like the military dictatorship controlling the country today. The military commits every possible human rights abuse against its fellow citizens on a daily basis and has done since the independence of Burma on the 4th of January 1948.

As a Chin man, I should mention and emphasize about the role of the Chin people in the cause for the independence of Burma and the stability of the independence after the assassination of the independence architect General Aung San. In the post-independence of Burma, there were communist multicoloured and ethnic nationality insurgencies in Burma. The newly won independence was feeble and weak against its opponents. During the pre and post-independence periods, the Chin people played a very important role in protecting the new Burma.

In the pre-independence period, there was a series of meetings between the Bamar and Chin in order to establish mutual trust and friendship.

A Burmese Prince Shwegyophyu was exiled and seeking asylum in Chinland because he was defeated by the British in 1887.[9] The Chins always believe that the Bamars and other ethnic nationalities are our fellow citizens and brothers and that the Chin offered Shwegyophyu Minthar a refuge.[10] The British demanded the Chin that Prince Shwegyophyu should be handed over to them, and that if the Chin did not hand the Prince of Bamar over to the British then the Chin region was to be attacked.[11] The Chin did not obey the British. As a consequence, the British attacked the Chin people several times. The Chin fought back the British under the leadership of Chin national leaders Pu Lal Luai, Pu Khai Kam, Pu Tlaisun Cawn Bik (Sunbeik), Pu Thet, Pu Pya, Pu Tai Kam, Pu Khaw Tin Kap, Pu Kee Yaw Ning, Pu Khaw Pe Ling, Pu Kam Sut, Bo Kai Tua, Pu Man Tin, Pu Thang Maung, and Pu Vomtu Mawng (Thang Pet Mawng from Vomtu Village of Mindat Township), with the spirit that they would not let themselves be enslaved.[12]

By the persuasion of General Aung San, the Chin and Bamar officially had a friendship talk so that the Chin would trust the Bamar and agree to take independence from the British together with the Bamar. There were a series of campaigns for which the Chin leaders travelled from village to village to explain the Chin people about the need of independence together with the Bamar and other ethnic nationalities for once. There was evidence that the Chin-Bamar Friendship Conference took place in Thilin Town, Gangaw District of Magwe Division.[13] The Chin-Bamar Friendship Conference (CBFC) was led by Deedoke U Ba Cho on behalf of Bogyoke Aung San, the leader of Bamar delegations and Pu Vomtu Mawng, the leader of the Chin delegations. The CBFC was held for three days from 3 to 5 March in 1947, which attracted over 20,000 Chin and Bamar nationals.[14] Deedoke U Ba Cho spoke to the delegations about the rights of every citizen and said: “No nation is bigger and smaller than any other in the whole world, no matter what country one is in. There is only one difference. That is to get and practice their rights for their own nation.[15] The delegations welcomed his speech and trusted his promises of the fundamental human rights in the future independence of Burma. There was a written plate of Chin-Bamar Friendship memorandum and a pillar was erected in Thilin Town. The Chin-Bamar Friendship Pillar proves the fundamental human rights and the equality between the ethnic Chin nationals and Bamars. And also, the Panglong agreement proves the equality between all the ethnic nationalities and Bamar.

To make sure the CBFC agreement allowed Chinland to become a part of the future independence, Burma was thoroughly implemented by the Chin leaders. Thakhin Aung Min, U Maung Kalay and Dai-Chin Pu Kee Paing (U Maung Gyi) toured in the southern part of Chinland and U Ba Hsaing did the same to the northern Chinland. Although Pu Vomtu Mawng was invited to attend the Panglong Agreement, he failed to attend the conference as he was busy travelling to the Chin villages to convince the entire Chin of becoming a part of Burma.[16]

The Panglong Agreement was signed by Pu Hlur Hmung (Falam), Pu Kio Mang (Hakha) and Pu Thawng Za Khup (Tedim) as the Chin representatives alongside the Bamar, Kachin, Shan and other ethnic representatives.[17] It was on the 12th of February 1947. The Panglong Agreement produced the Union of Burma and it was acceptable to the British to give independence. It was a historic agreement ever made in Burma’s political history. If there were not Panglong Agreement there would have been no Independence for Burma. The core agreement was to gain independence for the Union of Burma and that all the other ethnic nationalities should have their own federal system in their own regions, meaning there must be a peaceful co-existence, self-determination and self-government in Burma Proper and in the ethnic regions. The Panglong Agreement guaranteed ethnic equality, self-determination, and democratic rights.[18]

Because of the Panglong agreement, Burma gained her independence from the British colonial rule on the 4th of January 1948. After that the newly independent Burma was in a fragile situation.[19] There have been three constitutional drafts in the history of Burma so far which were in 1947, 1974 and 2008. According to the Burma Lawyers’ Council’s thorough research, the 1947 Constitution was rooted in a democratic system, but the 1974 was in favour of the military dictatorship because General Ne Win took power by coup and drafted in his favour and the constitution lost a democratic value. The 2008 constitution of the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) is the worst constitution Burma has ever had because it worsens the human rights and produces absolute power of the military regime, and then the military dictatorship rule shall never end.[20] The unpopular 2008 constitution allows the military to take 25% of parliamentary seats without election.

Maj Hrang Thio (Falam) offered heroically his life to stabilize the newly independent Burma.[21] Aung San Thuria Captain Taik Chun (Matupi), Maj Hrang Thio (Falam), Captain Mang Tung Nung (Tedim), Thiha Thura and Thura Gei Shing (Mindat), Thura Naing Ling (Mindat), Thura Cung Tik (Mindat), and Thura Shing Thang (Mindat) were also decorated with medals for their bravery while serving in the Burma Army to save the independence of Burma from the insurgencies in the post independence era.[22]

Despite the fact that the Chin people served Burma faithfully in the pre and post-independence periods the Chins were discriminated, prejudiced and persecuted by the military regime (SPDC). Burma is a tribal melting pot, with the National Population and Census registering a total of 135 tribes that are further made into 8 main ethnic groups (Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Bamar, Shan and Rakhine).[23] Although the military junta registered the Wah and Kokang as Burma’s ethnic groups, there are many more groups in Burma who are left unrecognized and unregistered. The Bamar are always the majority group. Sadly some of the people are still being denied even their fundamental rights of their citizenship by the military regime. On top of that, travelling is banned and household registrations (Form 10) become an obstacle especially for the Chin Christians just because they are Chins and Christians. The SPDC does not allow the growth of Christianity in Burma and buying property for the Christians. The Christian crosses, churches and buildings were destroyed and replaced with Buddhist images, pagodas and monastery by the regime in Chinland.[24]

Furthermore the military regime systematically abuses the fundamental human rights in Burma in any possible ways. One obvious example can be seen by looking at the Muslims, Rohingyas, Maramargyi, Chinese and foreign mixed blood being denied the citizenship by the military regime. There is no NRC (National Identity Cards) for them even though they have lived in Burma for generations but since 1970s some of these people were allowed to have FRC (Foreigner Registration Cards). The NRC is for citizens and the FRC is for foreigners. These people are Burmese citizens and they have every right to have citizenship (NRC) and their fundamental human rights.

In reality, if we look back the history of Burma, we can see the role of the faithful Muslims and other citizens for the cause during the pre and post independence periods in Burma. We can clearly see from the history record of Burma that Muslims were good citizens. Some high-profile Burmese Muslims included M. A. Raschit, U Abdul Razak, Yebaw Ko Htwe and many more.[25] Ko Raschit was the first chairman of All Burma Students’ Union (ABSU) and Ko Aung San became the vice chairman in 1936. They effectively organized students, people and were able to work together with other organizations as well as political organizations struggling for independence.[26] U Abdul Razak was a Cabinet Member of General Aung San’s Interim Government and Yebaw Ko Twe was the bodyguard of the Ministers. They were assassinated alongside Aung San as national heroes and they were indeed the martyrs of the independence of Burma.[27]

Likewise all the ethnic nationalities and their leaders joined General Aung San’s independence cause. All the ethnic nationalities came together with the Bamar and they fought the Japanese and British colonials with unity spirit then Burma regained her independence on 4th January 1948. The independence of Burma is the fruit of the united spirit of all Burma’s ethnic nationalities. That is Burma which is called the Union of Burma. The diversities of languages, cultures and religions are the beauty of the Union of Burma. The only thing Burma needs is a peaceful and harmonious co-existence as a federal Union of Burma.

The military regime should stop its human rights abuses such as child soldiers, forced labour, rape and violence against ethnic women, religious persecutions and so on.[28] The civilised manner and heroic act should be done by the military junta with dignity. The military should realise its crimes and mistakes, and should make a sincere apology to the people of Burma via nation-wide televisions and newspapers. If the military regime does so, the people of Burma should also forgive them for their crimes against humanity and forget all bad memories in the past and go forward for the better future. It is not easy but if there is a will, there will surely be a way. To make peace and reconciliation between the military and the civilians, the military should implement the 1990 election result, review 2008 constitution, release all the political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and have a meaningful dialogue.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Noble Prize laureate and democracy leader wrote about the role of the citizen in the struggle for democracy, saying: “If someone were to ask me whether I believe we can win in our fight for democracy, I should reply honestly, ‘Yes, we can,’ and because I believe we can. That is why I have chosen to take part.”[29] She also spoke once at a pagoda in Myitkyina, Kachin State on 27 April 1989 saying: “We all must work together if we are all to live together in unity and harmony”[30] and she added: “We must have as our goal the building of a real and lasting union.”[31]

I should conclude my article leaving a few thoughts to with the readers. I am always proud to be a Burmese citizen. I love Burma as I love my own people, Dai-Chin tribesmen. I am pleased with my Chin identity. I wanted to see a democratic government in Burma. At the same time I realise that the military is neither the father nor mother of the people of Burma. The military (Tatmataw) should be the servant of Burmese citizens. The military should serve the country and protect its fellow citizens. I strongly believe the religious persecution, racial discrimination, ethnic cleansing ideology and Burmanisation plan harm the real meaning of Union Day of Burma. I want to see that we, all the Burmese citizens, enjoy our fundamental human rights without fear for forever.

Written by Shwekey Hoipang


Endnote

[1] Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Myanmar; Please also see: http://www.answers.com/topic/myanmar

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Shelby Tucker, Burma – The Curse of Independence. London: Pluto Press, 2001, p. 28.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. pp. 29-30.

[7] http://www.aungsan.com/Time_Line.htm

[8] Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), Back to the Past. Ottawa: Rhododendron Vol. VI, No. 1 January-February 2003. Please also see: http://www.abitsu.org/?page_id=271 and http://www.shanland.org/oldversion/index-226.htm

[9] Lian H. Sakhong, In Search of Chin Identity: A Study in Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identity in Burma. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2003. p. 93

[10] Ibid.

[11] Yawnaka Pho Htaung, Article: Rhododendron flowers blooming in the Union Garden – The New Light of Myanmar Friday, 4 February 2005. Yangon: The Government Printing Press, 2005. p. 2; (Please also see: http://www.myanmar.gov.mm/Article/Article2005/Feb/Feb04.htm)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Shwekey Hoipang, Unheard Chin Hero U Kee Paing, General Aung San’s Comrade Passed Away In Kanpetlet. Chinland Guardian News (23/1/2010). Please see: http://www.chinlandguardian.com/news-2009/886-unheard-chin-hero-u-kee-paing-general-aung-sans-comrade-passed-away-in-kanpetlet.html

[14] Op cit, Yawnaka Pho Htaung

[15] Thin Khar, ‘Deedoke U Ba Cho’, a biography of U Ba Cho. Yangon: Khithmee Sarpay Taik, 1976); Please also see: Htin Lin, Deedoke U Ba Cho ei myochit seik neh thamaing hmattaingmyar (14/10/2008) and http://moemaka.blogspot.com/2008/10/patriotic-dee-doke-u-ba-cho.html

[16] Op cit. Yawnaka Pho Htaung

[17] Ibid.

[18] http://www.encburma.org/fcdcc/fcdcc_draft.htm

[19] http://www.encburma.org/fcdcc.htm

[20] http://www.blc-burma.org/legal_resource.html

[21] http://chinlandtoday.info/2009/02/ ; (please also see: http://www.chinworld.info/ebooks/hrangthio/hrangthio-part1.pdf)

[22] Op cit., Yawnaka Pho Htaung

[23] Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear. St. Ives: Penguin, 1995 (second Edition), p. 57.

[24] Benedict Rogers, “Carrying the Cross”: Christians in Burma. London: CSW, 2007.

[25] http://www.myanmarmuslim.net/news.php?extend.311

[26] http://abfsu.net/?page_id=3; Please also see: http://b-m-a.org/PDF/uraschid.pdf

[27] Thant Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps – A Personal History of Burma. London: faber and faber, 2007, p. 254

[28] Benedict Rogers, A Land Without Evil – Stopping the genocide of Burma’s Karen people. Oxford: Monarch Books, 2004. p.241

[29] Op cit. Aung San Suu Kyi., p. 212

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid; p. 218

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