I’m writing my first real introductory paper to my “South Asian diaspora in Myanmar”  project. I’m exhausted, but at the same time, I feel at peace. I feel in my element. 

History and anthropology have very rigid hierarchical ways of presenting facts.  Not stories, as they claim, but facts. And the trouble is, I’m not interested in the project of telling facts.  Facts leave a people nude and up for display for the hungry gaze of anyone walking by. That’s what Western discourse has largely done for the last two centuries. Taken peoples and presented them as “facts”, compressing them into objects, and propping them up in display cases for all to hungrily, consumingly, gaze upon.

This gaze. This gaze that consumes and rips and slices through and breaks pieces off. This gaze has a revolting, barbaric quality to it. 

Colonialism was a large project and institutional violence was an integral part of it. This compressing of people into objects, however, was a small piece of the larger project. A past time taken up by elites whose money was managed well by others.  Elites who were actively, directly participating in the larger project of colonialism. Not indirectly by this telling of facts. They were directly participating in this project, by dictating what sentiments should be conferred on the colonized, and by directly deciding the fates of the colonized. 

It was a past time.Something one did in cozy libraries on large estates. A past time. 

But story telling isn’t a past time. It is a time honored tradition without which, communities, peoples, civilizations would perish in the dust, never again to be known anything else other than objects. 

It is a time honored tool that was used to survive. They told stories, charged their descendants with the enormous job of remembering. And if you know anything about memory, about story telling, and about the raw human aspect of it, you would know that these are incredibly holy and sacred spaces where not all are allowed to walk into. 

I’m interested in the project of storytelling. That part is in my blood, otherwise, I wouldn’t feel so at home. 

However, what is strange, is the environment. I am working in an environment which has systematically dispossessed my own community a hundred times over by compressing them into facts. I have a sense that I need to undo this doing, this compression of people into facts. 

I’m trying to decipher the language which would allow me to undo (at least just a little of) the terrible wrong that has been done. 

————

Three women telling me parts of a large, complex story. A mother and a daughter. The daughter continuously interrupting her mother to explain, to explain, to explain. 

Is that a co-optation of voice, I thought vaguely (in secret from myself) to myself, or is that a desperate desire to speak that has yet to find it’s venue. 

The third woman told me (after hearing what I was doing), “write about this. Write about this”. And across two oceans, she commanded, she dictated. 

Write about this.

——————

Every river must flow. Sooner or later, every river must flow. It will either flow underground for years before someone finds it, or it will break through the surface. And when it’s done flowing, it will quietly dry up and quietly disappear.

It will leave a mark.

Voices are like that I think. Dispossessed voices, unheard voices, trampled down voices. Sooner or later, they will find their venues. They will either burst out or they will quietly flow and and if no one hears them in their lifetimes (why doesn’t anyone think of this as a tragedy, why doesn’t anyone have mass funeral prayers over these unheard voices), they will leave a mark. An echo. Through generations. Etched in a forgotten memory. A pendant. A crumpled letter. An engraving on a buried wall. 

Voices will find their way to the surface. Voices will find a way to be heard.  This I believe. This I believe with a deepening spirituality. And so in accordance, I hope I am able to honor their sacredness as befits them.

(Though sometimes I get afraid. Of my own limitations).

 ——————

In 1939, deadly anti - Indian riots broke out in Rangoon, killing many. Unlike the ones in 1929, these were not about labor relations, but about a presumed religious conflict. 

"There was no conflict that I know of. We lived in Sule, and we saw nothing. Perhaps there were skirmishes far off. But not in the neighborhood certainly. It was quiet. 

Of course, I was a child. There is little I can remember now.” 

(So the mother told me. And I pondered. Was there a story that was missing, hidden in plain sight? There were riots, we know this, because there are records of it, but here’s a woman who lived in the heart of Rangoon telling me she saw nothing in Sule. 

I confirmed with her daughter. Family narrations figured the various travels during this time into World War II and then into Partition and after. But no riots. There have been no riots from this time in collective memory.)

(How could it be? What is this that I’m looking at? What is this that I’m looking at?) 

——————

"I’m a politician, not a saint", Aung San Suu Kyi on being an icon, and of the various protracted conflicts that has seized her country. She has been criticized for her evasiveness on the issue of the Muslim prosecution in Myanmar. In the meantime, the government has also systematically ejected NGOs that may be able to document what is really happening on the ground. Asked, the Burmese Government stubbornly gives numbers of casualties much lower than Human Rights Watch activists. 

[9:17:17 PM] QJ: Oh u could write abt this…nurses…like doctors usually are supposed to take an oath, as far as I’m concerned

[9:17:38 PM] QJ: To treat anyone or care for anyone disregard their race, religion etc etc

[9:18:09 PM] pb: mm. this is true

[9:18:17 PM] QJ: And the nurse services I called for my baby…they asked me what race I am. I get really offended

[9:18:34 PM] pb: huh. did they ask anything else?

[9:18:39 PM] QJ: Actually they r asking if I’m muslim or not

[9:18:52 PM] pb: did they ask if you were muslim, your race, or both?

[9:19:40 PM] QJ: They ask Luu Myo…which can be translated as race, but in myanmar it is very mistaken as Kalar or Indian if u r muslim

[9:19:55 PM] pb: mm

[9:19:59 PM] pb: i understand

[9:20:09 PM] QJ: Yeah write abt that too

[9:20:17 PM] pb: i will. thanks :)

[9:20:23 PM] QJ: I had surgery n my nurses left cos i was muslim

[9:20:37 PM] pb: did they. wow!

[9:20:52 PM] QJ: Yeah days post-op

[9:21:11 PM] QJ: Mind u, i dont have anyone at my house except my husband n they know

[9:22:16 PM] QJ: Enjoy your dinner, I’m chewing my meat

——————

There’s a larger story here that I’m being asked to tell. That I’m compelled to tell. I just have to decipher the language of the story so I can retell it. So I can pass it on. 

——————

As I write my paper, I define everything. What is Indian. What is kalar. What is diaspora. How did these people came about to be. How did they came to remain where they did. 

And so I play with the structure of the hierarchy of the environment. If I define everything as meticulously as possible, is there a chance that my writing will not be bastardized? But that is a secondary consideration. The primary consideration is setting up structures, definitions, so I don’t bastardize my own work. 

It’s a work in learning in progress. I wonder if I’ll really ever get it right. 

Popular Reads: “The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi” by Peter Popham

                 The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham is a timely book as Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) takes hesitant steps towards democracy. Popham explores the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most famous former political prisoner, and the unusual circumstances which brought her into the spotlight of the fight for democracy in Myanmar. Popham’s easy journalistic style of writing makes the book accessible to the larger public, and his book is well researched and thought-provoking.

Read More

Desmond Tutu is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace laureate.

In Myanmar, the word “kular” is an insult that you hear shouted at Muslims. You can see it printed in vicious pamphlets about the Rohingya, Myanmar’s largest Muslim ethnic group, calling for them to be kept away from towns, kicked out of the country or murdered.

Kular is a slang word for “dark-skinned” — a form of abuse I know something about. And I, like millions of South Africans, know that such abuse can never last. God did not create us for such hatred.

The Lady (2011) Trailer 

I watched the film in my class, after we discussed The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham. The film has given me a lot of feels, so here they are. Spoiler alerts, possibly.

The trailer pans this film out to be political, with instances of family life shown. I was disappointed to see that, especially in the latter part of the film, the viewer was led over and over through a heart wrenching journey over her family (love) life. I mean, I will be honest. When we were discussing this in class, many of my peers pointed out that the emotional aspect of the film is what gets the viewer to empathize with the figure of Aung San Suu kyi, but the film seemed so heavy on her family life (with empty detail) that I think the film took away her political agency, and not just in that aspect. We see her thrust in to this movement by other men, there is a remarkable lack of Burmese feminine presence throughout the film, especially feminine political presence. Her mother is portrayed in the beginning of the film, but she is shown as an invalid, without agency. Aung San Suu Kyi is herself portrayed as someone who was pushed into this decision by men, she is constantly surrounded by men, and except for one or two political speeches by her, we never really see her political activity. There is an absence of Ma Thanegi, who recorded diary entries of Suu Kyi’s activist life when she first began in 1988. The only other real female presence that we see are Dr. Aris’ sister in law (I think she is his sister in law? Or perhaps sister), and Daw Su Kyi’s maid who stayed in her house through her mother’s illness and house arrests. Both of them are still devoid of any real agency - Dr. Aris’ sister in law is around and the only reason she is there is for the concern of the family. Outside of that, she seems to have no concern. Same for Daw Su Kyi’s maid. All she does is bring letters to Daw Su Kyi or announce her visitors. She is not shown to have any feelings about politics (except when NLD won by a landslide), and that’s it. For a film that is about a huge female political figure, I found female agency considerably lacking in the film. 

It was also really annoying when at the end (serious spoiler alert now), the Saffron movement is portrayed and the monks all simply march to her house and start chanting her name. That was not the Saffron movement. The Saffron movement was not about Aung San Suu Kyi, and though a long line of monks did pass by her house, and she did come by her gate to greet and bow to them, they did not simply collect in front of her house and chant her name. That was a gross misrepresentation of a political history in the making, and it was so, so annoying.

I also think that Burmese oppressive history under the junta was also oversimplified, but I will give concession here that perhaps the filmmaker and scriptwriter did not have adequate film space to portray that. But the whole emotional conflict she seems to be constantly having in the film (what to choose, family, or country) was, I think, just over played. The film maker too away not only Daw Suu Kyi’s political agency, but a lot of political agency of many worthwhile Burmese activist in this saga, both male and female. I hope when the next movie comes out to portray Daw Suu Kyi, it delivers better. 

Here’s the New York Time's review if you are interested in reading other opinions

themindislimitless:

Ashin Pum Na Wontha is a 56-year-old Buddhist monk with a long history of political activism dating back to 1988. He now belongs to the Peace Cultivation Network, an organisation established to promote understanding between different faiths and communities.

In a recent interview conducted at his monastery in Yangon, he told Spectrum that Ashin Wirathu is a merely a puppet ”motivated by his vanity and thirst for fame”.

”Wirathu and the 969 movement receive financial support from the cronies,” he said, referring to a group of about 30 rich men linked to the military and the government who control the nation’s economy. Several Muslim businessmen have huge assets and, according to Ashin Pum Na Wontha, the cronies would like to get their hands on them.

He said he also believes the military is involved in the violence, as a way to destabilise the country and have the chance to present itself as the sole institution capable of re-establishing the law and order. According to his analysis, the military does not want to recover full power, as it had following the 1962 coup of Gen Ne Win, but to ”go back to 1958”.

That the cronies want assets belonging to Muslim businessmen isn’t without precedent. When Ne Win took power, he did set off strong hate for desi people in Burma— as well as Chinese people. Most people owned a building, which would consist of a store on the ground floor and housing above, and they came around the seized the stores— which would include all the supplied, inventory, essentially, the very livelihood of those people. That property was handed over to “true” (Bamar Buddhist) Burmese.

This entire article is extremely detailed as far as commentary on the latest attacks against desis (mostly Muslims, ethnicity and religion in Burma is tightly knit together because of Ne Win’s work too) and I strongly recommend reading it through.

Tags: burma myanmar

This picture was taken in Kandawgyi Nature Park, Yangon, Myanmar just a few days before Cyclone Nargis wreaked devastation on the city and the low-lying delta areas around the Irrawaddy River. The area suffered further damage due to the governing junta’s refusal to allow foreign aid to operate in the country. During this time, a constitutional referendum was also held as scheduled in the country (except in the disaster hit areas) despite vehement protests. Established in 1915, Kandawgyi Nature Park is still a protected forest area.The site suffered extensive damage as a result of the cyclone, for which little survey exists. It further displaced many who were dependent on this park for housing and other economic opportunities.
This post may not be reblogged except with explicit permission. 

This picture was taken in Kandawgyi Nature Park, Yangon, Myanmar just a few days before Cyclone Nargis wreaked devastation on the city and the low-lying delta areas around the Irrawaddy River. The area suffered further damage due to the governing junta’s refusal to allow foreign aid to operate in the country. During this time, a constitutional referendum was also held as scheduled in the country (except in the disaster hit areas) despite vehement protests. 

Established in 1915, Kandawgyi Nature Park is still a protected forest area.The site suffered extensive damage as a result of the cyclone, for which little survey exists. It further displaced many who were dependent on this park for housing and other economic opportunities.

This post may not be reblogged except with explicit permission. 

The armed forces are meant for this nation and this people, and it should be a force having the honor and respect of the people. If instead the armed forces should come to be hated by the people, then the aims with which this army has been built up would be in vain. 

- Aung San, requoted by his daughter Aung San Su Kyi (pictured above) in her first public address of August 26, 1988 outside Shwedegon Pagoda. Her public address was in response to government’s mass massacre of student protests of 1988. Her demand was simple, and unwavering. Speaking as “the mouth piece of the people”, she demanded for a multiparty democratic system in Burma, and said she was committed to a “second independence of Burma.”

On 27th March, 2013, Aung San Su Kyi accompanied Major General Zaw Win during Burma’s 68th Armed Forces Day parade. The Burmese army has been accused of committing genocide against the Burmese Rohingiya and other Burmese Muslim population in recent days, and committing other human rights atrocities including conscripting children into the army.

picture credit 1

picture credit 2

Where possible, I will use the name “Myanmar” instead of “Burma”. That does not mean that I agree and side with my country’s military government, but it is an acknowledgement to the fact that Myanmar houses more than just the Burman (or B’ama) people. And that’s important to me. 

Tags: own burma myanmar

themindislimitless:

A generation of street artists have risen in the streets of Yangon where graffiti has become a new form of expression, drawing inspiration from underground Burmese hip hop and punk scenes in the city. The walls and streets of the city of six million people provide many canvases, particularly Kaba Aye Pagoda Road with its high traffic and thus, option for high visibility for these artists.

Certain images have become highly symbolic. The artist Aung’s winged television set [above], often accompanied with the words “FOR UR RIGHT” protest media censorship and has spread through the city. That of a washing machine next to initials of well known banks refers to their role in money laundering.

Graffiti of an electrical socket trailing a wire, usually accompanied by the slogan “Plug the city”, became common in Yangon in May, when frustration over chronic power shortages led to nationwide protests.

“We didn’t do it on the people’s behalf, but because we ourselves were affected by the lack of electricity,” says Twotwenty, 27, the pseudonym for a member of the collective Yangon Street Art, known by its plump, multicolored tag “YSA”.

Only 25 percent of Myanmar’s 60-million population has access to the national grid, according to the World Bank.

[…]

Like critics of graffiti everywhere, ordinary residents of the already run-down city find it hard to distinguish between street art and vandalism. “Most people don’t know much about this art and the owners of the places where we graffiti are still very sensitive about this,” said Aung.

So far, he says, no street artists have been jailed, although some have been briefly detained and let off with warnings.

Graffiti artists also fought a paint war against an unpopular Yangon mayor. A brigadier general in the army, Aung Thein Linn won a seat for the junta-created Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a fraudulent 2010 election.

By way of protest, street artists defiantly tagged the wall of his official residence on Kaba Aye Pagoda Road.

“All of us try to draw on this wall,” says Aung. “It’s painted over the next day.”

Aung Thein Linn was replaced as mayor last year by another retired brigadier-general, and the graffiti war on the residence wall continues.

Another coveted target is the Yangon mansion of self-styled billionaire Tay Za, a U.S.-sanctioned business crony of the former junta. But its walls, which hide a fleet of top-end sports cars, remain unsullied.

“A security guard is always watching,” explains Aung.

[Andrew R. C. Marshall]

The 50 or so artists in the city all have an unwritten code of conduct- schools, hospitals, and religious places including pagodas, temples, churches and mosques are kept free of graffiti.  As the artist Twotwenty says; “We may be regarded as destroyers, but […] We don’t destroy these places, we destroy places we don’t like, the places that were taken by force.” A reclaiming of public property for the people again, a reclamation of their right to voice their dissent.

[Sources for images: 1, 2, 3]