Rebuilding A Peaceful Chinland: Hope of A Chin Exile
14 December 2010: When I read the scripture text on the Jew’s return from the 70-year-long Babylonian captivity, I envision the picture of the Chin refugees returning from all parts of the world to the God-given land of Chin State in great numbers. I strongly hope there will be a day when the deported Chin people will find their ways home to Chinland. There will be time the runaways will be back as returnees.
Although the way the Chin people left our homeland differs from the way the people of Judah left their land, our status is the same as theirs—both of us being exiles in a foreign country. The Jewish captives were exiles and so are we. But our dissimilarity is that the Jews were deported as captives whereas we are resettled as fugitives. Our captivity also differs from the Jewish captivity. Whereas the Jews were captives out of the country, we are captives in the country.
It is apparent that we are really captives in our own land. The entire Chinland is in captivity with its people being deprived of liberty and freedom. The whole Chinland is like a prison-house in which are the people detained. The whole Chinland is like a door-locked chicken-house in which the poultry are left starved with very little food over which they are fighting one another for their lives’ sake. The weaker chickens only stare enviously at the stronger ones greedily gobbling up the little food.
In consequence, it is reasonable that the poor weaker fowls should be struggling to get out of the house by any means. In the perspective of situational ethics, Christian or secular, the weaker fowls are justifiable to seek any possible way-out for their lives. They are just to fly out through the window. They are fair to get out through the ceiling holes. It is not guilty to create a way-out for an escape to freedom; for life is too priceless to give up to the pitiless. Likewise, freedom is too precious to entrust to the vicious. Loyalty is too invaluable to pay to the unreliable.
The situation of the Chin people is no better. The weaker poor people are deprived of their livelihood by the stronger so-called elites—the junta officers and their loyalists. I want to state my eye-witnessed unpleasant incident which was a case in this point. During one summer vacation while I was in Hakha, I planned to visit my native village. On being informed that I would go to my village, my niece, a mother of three children, kept a fattened hen for a dinner she planned to invite me to. Looking forward to my arrival, the little children frequently asked their mother, “Mum, when will uncle get to us?” It was not because they longed to see me but rather because they longed to eat chicken. (An average family in Chin State can hardly eat chicken once in two months. As for my family of three persons—my mother, my niece and myself—we could eat two chickens in a period of six years when I was in Hakha. That time, my salary was above the average person’s monthly income.)
Regrettably, I delayed my travel to my village because of some reasons. In the meantime, an army officer and his men came to my village, and seized the fattened hen that the children longed to eat. Who ate the chicken? The wildcats—so to say—the junta wildcats. Now the soldiers ate up the children’s meat. Thus they robbed the children’s hope, joy, potential and courage. In this way, the cruelly exploitation of the junta is sapping the children of their energy, their courage, until they lose their confidence. Consequently, these children lose their holistic rights of humanity. They lose their healthiness, their physical development, their psychological development, their intellectual development. Hence, they lose the blessed life of abundance. As a result, they lose even their life expectancy.
The primary and central cause of all these problems is political chaos. The aforesaid social ills are the effects of political injustice and discrimination. The political iniquity is the original and central cause of these problems. We face with many terrible encounters in three areas of human life—political, religious and economical.
Politically, the ethnic minorities in our country are suffering from bitter racial discrimination, oppression and pressure by various means with the purpose for Burmanization of the ethnic peoples; that is, they are forced to speak Burmese only and convert to Buddhism. The junta’s unwritten policy towards the ethnic minorities is both preventive and repressive. They create various means to block the development of the minority languages and identities. When the military regime took power in 1988, they eliminated the Lai language from the academic subjects in public schools. It followed that, within a period of two decades, the Chin young people can hardly read or write their own native language.
The Lai language is now in danger of extinction. We lose much of our cultural values such as traditional dances, songs, folktales along with the language which is the backbone of culture. Publication of books in minority language is strictly prohibited on pain of three-year imprisonment1. Literature works such as history, novels in Chin, are required to be translated into Burmese before they are published. In this way, we, the Chin ethnics, have been losing our own cultural elements in our own land. We have almost lost our own identity, our uniqueness in our own land.
Religion is a major reason that invites severe antagonism, opposition and oppression by the exclusive junta government. Simply on religious and racial bases, the Christian Chin people are treated as secondary citizens, given less opportunity for important posts in government offices. The worst of it is the government’s deliberative action against church activities in all Chin State.
While writing this article, I recall an event of the authorities’ preferential and partial treatments on two of my villagers who came to stay at my residence in the TABC Headquarters in Thantlang. They were from the same village. They came together. They came with their own businesses. The older man came to attend a Christian annual meeting whereas the other was to attend the government-organized People’s Militia Training courses. As they arrived at the gate of our headquarters, the man with religious affair was arrested whereas the other young man, who was to join the government-conducted militia training, was freed. The police authorities attributed the curfew as the reason for the arrest, for my guests arrived during the curfew hours. But this could not be a strong reason, for they did not arrest the young man. This was a discriminative and intentional act. This was a sign of their indifference to Christian movements. This was a sign of their antagonism against Christianity; it was a creation of a hindrance to the Christian activities. Their discrimination was very evident between the two, who came from the same village, arriving at the same time, in the same town, directing to the same house. One was arrested and put into prison simply on the basis of his religious business, while the other man with government business was freed.
There are still other more instances of such cases in Chinland. Religious meetings and assemblies are required to apply for permission from regional military authorities. In the application, the name list of the participants should be appended. The application should state who will speak on which day and on which night. This is nothing but the creation of a difficulty for our religious movements. This is a violation of religion by the state. As religion should not interfere with state’s affairs, the state should not interfere with religious affairs. Besides, the junta not only takes control over the church; but also intrudes into the internal affairs of Church-related organizations. While I was serving as a lecturer at a seminary, at every turn of each semester, the intelligence used to examine our academic subjects. Once, we proposed to put Chin History as an academic subject in the school’s curriculum, but higher Chin officers in the government offices argued against the proposal that it might invite problems from the government.
However, in the mist of our hardships, God has heard the cries of the Chin victims with the ears of UNHCR officers and many sympathetic countries, who offer their helping hands to us. A great number of us will hopefully be resettled to countries overflowing with milk and honey. There we will receive God’s blessings. We will also suck the milk of education in various fields. We will be improved and filled up with novel thoughts, ideologies, technologies, and the like. We will build a newly transformed community. We will be a new community, a community of God, a people of God, a people of righteousness, a people of love. We will be like a company of bees, not like the butterflies that live individually. We must not be like the butterflies that suck nectar for their own enjoyment and do not bring anything home for their children, for their fellows. We must be like the bees who diligently work in cooperation for their company—the hive—that stores a lot of sweet honey that signifies helpfulness and benevolence. With the various kinds of blessings we will rebuild our land, our people. We will make our Chinland a land on the hill, a city on the hill, and our people a people of God, love and justice.
There is hope for the future that the gate of a peaceful Chinland may be open to the expatriates. Then the recorded names of the returnees and the contributors will be called out. When the roll is called then, our names will be there in the list and we will be there.
1This Act, issued by the Revolutionary Council and renewed by the present government, was read to me when I was called up over to the District Peace and Development Council Officer, Falam, while I was editor of a monthly religious periodical TABC Authawng (Voice of TABC).
By Siang Nawl
The author is a volunteer teacher with the Chin Student Organization which runs informal community schools for refugee children in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He could be reached at [email protected].