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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Iron-Fist Rule

Published: October 12, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

It was a Sunday morning when my family and I visited Shwe Dagon Pagoda, a sacred place for Buddhists and a treasure of Burma (Myanmar).

People have always been curious as to why Burma has two names. “Is it Burma or is it Myanmar?” they often ask me.

My answer to them is: “Those who truly love their country call it Burma.” The democratic parliament and the people still use the term Burma, whereas Myanmar is a name created by the military to legitimize their rule. This is why I refer to my home country as Burma and not Myanmar.

That day at the pagoda, the sun was shining and the white marble platform reflected a bright light which forced me to squint my eyes.

Like every other day at the Shwe Dagon, it was a peaceful scene with people of all ages praying, meditating and donating. Its a place of peace and tranquility.

I sat down and I started to pray for the well-being and safety of my family and my friends.

But that was two months ago. That fond memory I have of my family and my home was shattered as soon as my father called me from Burma and told me to watch the news.

I am a native Burmese who came to the U.S. to study at Brandeis University. When I first heard the news of the protests led by monks back in Burma, I was taken by surprise. My immediate thought was, Finally, people are standing up to the military regime for better change. But not long after that, feelings of anguish and anger rushed over me.

The military opened fire to a peaceful crowd of monks and civilians demonstrating. The government used tear gas to break up groups, shooting at peaceful crowds, raiding monasteries, posing curfews and arresting whoever they suspected. I trembled when I read the news.

How could they shoot at monks? Monks are revered highly in our society where the majority of people are Buddhists. I was brought up to speak with my hands clasped to show respect and address them politely. It was shocking news when I heard the military, who were Buddhists themselves, started attacking monks and raiding monasteries.

The news I hear of people being detained, tortured and shot dead disheartens me. These are the same people I saw every day when I went out. The same roads I took every day to school are now covered in blood. The same Shwe Dagon pagoda I went to with my family is now barricaded by barbed wire and blocked by soldiers with guns in front of all entrances. The military regime does not adhere to morals or human rights or for the well-being of its people.

Why did the monks start protesting? Sparked by the doubling of fuel prices, which hit the poor the hardest, the monks initiated the movement by protesting in the streets. The protests are an outcry of the people's frustration and anger due to economic hardship by the governments mismanagement of the countrys economy.

An average citizen in Burma has the spending power of less than a dollar a day. In contrast to this, last year, the head generals daughter had a wedding ceremony where she wore countless jewels and received wedding gifts worth $50 million.

The Burmese people are struggling each day to make money to buy meals and what is the military government doing? They are busy building their new capital at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. These people ruling the country are simply idiots with guns who will do anything to stay in power.

Over the past weeks, I have been worrying for the future of the country and for my family. I become more and more frustrated as I read news online.

The future of Burma is not very promising. Protests have now subsided and the military agreed to a national reconciliation with Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, but only if she confesses to offenses she has not committed.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a symbol of hope for the people but has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years. It breaks my heart to watch Burma, a country with rich culture and traditions, to be ruined by the military junta.

However, I truly believe that one day justice will be served and the people of Burma will rightfully get the chance to live their lives as normal citizens.