Something I rarely talk about is that to be Burmese is to be afraid. It’s a low-level, visceral feeling most of the time, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. Because all the worst things you can imagine that could happen to you or your loved ones have happened, to you or to people you know, because of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known. There’s a reason Aung San Suu Kyi’s most famous book was called Freedom from Fear.
I grew up in the U.K., but my second home was in Myanmar, where my family remains. In a country ruled by dictators since 1962, I witnessed decades of gaslighting and fear piped into people’s minds and homes, from our newspapers to our TV to the billboards around town with bilingual slogans like “The Tatmadaw is your Mother and Father,” “The Tatmadaw and the People in Eternal Unity—Anyone Attempting to Divide Them is Our Enemy.”
Not only was mass media tightly controlled, but the few phones that existed were tapped, our letters were redacted, and the postal service so untrustworthy that we used a system called lugyone: asking others, often strangers, to ferry items in their own luggage.
While we put your faith in complete strangers, at the same time we could trust no-one, because of Tatmadaw informers (known as dalan). A standard conversation would be: “Go take this tiffin to that Aunty next door, but don’t badmouth the junta, because she might also be a dalan.” Literally anyone could be an informer.
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People weren’t allowed to gather on the streets. Some disappeared in the middle of the night. Once, when I was staying with a cousin in Yangon, I had to hide in her wardrobe as junta inspectors came to the door because I wasn’t listed as a resident. My dad grew up without his father, who was a political prisoner, and was forced to hide in a jungle camp as a child. An uncle died in 2012 as a result of conditions he’d suffered in jail. My mum’s cousin was murdered in a “burglary” where nothing was taken.
My parents left Myanmar in 1979 because they were sick of dawn raids at gunpoint by the Tatmadaw looking for evidence of sedition and they were tired of living in fear. Before they left, the junta forced them to sign a bond saying that they and their children would never speak out against them, to guarantee the safety of their family that remained in the country and the privilege of being allowed to return. When we did go back, we were shadowed by the “MI” (plain clothes military intelligence), each trip home a bizarre mix of joy and anxiety.
In 1988, when I was 9 years old, the Tatmadaw slaughtered thousands of people during the 8888 Uprising. And my parents told me that we could say and do nothing in public, because otherwise our family would …read more
Source:: Time – World
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