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Burma’s Iron lady
The Burmese freedom fighter, whom the Dalai Lama calls his “little sister,” has worked tirelessly for her country’s democracy for the past 16 years. …
Danubu, Myanmar. April 5, 1989: Two months before the Tiananmen Square massacre in neighboring China.
A woman is accompanied by several men in the middle of the street.
Six soldiers from the National Law and Order Restoration Committee – the junta that has crushed the pro-democracy movement and killed thousands in Yangon – ordered the group to stop.
Tuanzi ignored. A young army captain drew his revolver and jumped out of the jeep, ready to fire.
The woman asks the man to get out of the way. “Giving them a single purpose seemed a lot simpler than getting everyone else involved,” she later explained.
In the nick of time, a major intervened and asked the captain not to fire. Madame moved on.
She is Myanmar’s Iron Lady Aung San Suu Kyi.
The fearless daughter of General Aung San, Burmese freedom struggle hero, Aung San Suu Kyi has spent the past 16 years in a near-permanent state of incarceration — either in prison or under house arrest. But she remained loyal to one project: democracy.
Why Myanmar Matters
Aung San Suu Kyi was born on April 19, 1945. Her father, General Aung San, was one of the “Thirty Comrades” who led the Japanese into British Burma, then turned against the Japanese, and eventually negotiated Burma’s independence with the British.
Just as he took over as Myanmar’s first head of state, General Aung San was assassinated. This is the first national tragedy.
On the same day, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared in a statement to the press: “I mourn Aung San, my friend and comrade, who at a young age became the founder of freedom in Burma. I mourn Myanmar has lost the life of its leader at this critical time of her choice and I mourn the loss of Asia who lost one of her bravest and most visionary sons.”
In 1960, her mother, To Khen Khee, was appointed Myanmar’s ambassador to India. Aung San Suu Kyi, a fifteen-year-old girl with long, thick braids, studied at Sri Ram’s College in Delhi.
“Her circle of Indian friends expanded. It was a great opportunity to explore and learn about Mahatma Gandhi’s country,” recalls family friend and diplomat Ma Than E.
When not in college, Suu keeps busy with Japanese flower arrangement, piano lessons or riding lessons. She also met Indira Gandhi’s children Rajiv and Sanjay.
Do we have a Myanmar policy?
As Ma Than E said in 1991: “India was an exciting and important experience for Suu. Her memory and love for the country remain strong to this day.”
As her mother led the hectic social life of a diplomat, Suu met many senior Indian politicians, officials and diplomats in the capital. In 1964, she went to Oxford University to study philosophy, politics and economics. Later, she started her first job as an Assistant Secretary at the United Nations Secretariat.
Her life takes another turn when she meets a young and brilliant British academic, Dr. Michael Aris, whose specialty is the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Before marriage, Aung San Suu Kyi asked her future husband for a “favor”: “I only ask for one thing, that is, if my people need me, you will help me fulfill their duties.”
For the next few years, her life as a mother of two sons and as an academic was smooth sailing.
When she decided to study Japanese in 1985 and was a visiting scholar at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University, she was separated from her family.
The family was reunited in 1987 and she returned to India. For two years, Dr Aris conducted a study on “Buddhist Hagiography Studies” at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.
The subject of his research is the life and times of the sixth Dalai Lama, who was born in the Twang district of Arunachal Pradesh in the 17th century. Suu herself was awarded a fellowship to study “The Growth and Development of Burmese and Indian Intellectual Traditions under Colonialism.”
This is an excellent opportunity for her to grasp the political and spiritual thoughts of Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Tagore, Gandhi and Radhakrishnan.
In her dissertation, she expresses her admiration for these people who “can communicate their views to the world in English.” Because they handle the idioms of Western intellectuals so adroitly, the world thinks these ideas deserve to be taken seriously. “
The couple returned to London in early 1988 after traveling extensively in the Himalayas and writing about India’s ancient tradition of peace and tolerance.
Fate befell her in March of that year when her mother suffered a stroke in Myanmar and Suu had to leave the UK immediately to return home.
A few months after her arrival in Yangon, the old military dictator General Ne Win resigned, sparking a vigorous pro-democracy student movement.
Soon, millions of Burmese joined their demands for true democracy.
This culminated on Aug. 8, when thousands of demonstrators were massacred by the military — a brutal foreshadowing of the Tiananmen Square massacre less than a year later.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s moment of reckoning has arrived.
“Her knowledge of Burmese traditions, her fluency in her mother tongue, and her refusal to renounce her Burmese citizenship and passport all combined with the tragic circumstances of her mother’s eventual illness made her engagement inevitable,” she said . The husband later wrote.
On August 26, 1988, she addressed a million people gathered at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
“As my father’s daughter, I cannot remain indifferent to what is happening. In fact, this national crisis can be called the second struggle for national independence.”
As a result, she became the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, which still opposes the junta to this day.
Over the next few months, she traveled across Myanmar and spoke at hundreds of conferences. The military government became increasingly tense, and on July 20, 1989, she was arrested. Since that day, she has spent most of her time in jail or incarceration.
In May 1990, despite her continued detention, her party won a landslide election victory; the National League for Democracy won 82% of the seats. But to this day, the generals have refused to confirm the election results.
In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but her fortunes did not improve.
Over the next few years, despite appeals from the U.S. president, the U.N. secretary-general, the Dalai Lama, other Nobel laureates, and thousands of others from the West and Asia, the junta remained unmoved.
Perhaps the most tragic event was the death of her husband in March 1999.
Even though she hadn’t seen him since 1995 and he was dying of prostate cancer, his visa was refused and she was not allowed to visit her one last time.
Aung San Suu Kyi could have left Burma to meet him, but apparently the junta would not allow her to return.
Forced to choose between her husband and her country, she chose the latter.
What gave the junta the strength to resist world pressure and keep Aung San Suu Kyi at home for 16 years?
Look north; it is the same regime that forced the Dalai Lama to flee his country in 1959. In China, the communist/capitalist regime fears the word Aung San Suu Kyi lives by: freedom.
There is no doubt that without Beijing’s active support (and India’s failure to take a stand on its stated principles), Myanmar would be a democracy today.
“Always walking the talk, Aung San himself constantly displayed courage that enabled him to speak the truth, keep his promises, accept criticism, admit mistakes, correct mistakes, and respect the opposition,” said Aung San Suu Kyi of her father.
She practices all of these values, most importantly Abhaya’s “fearlessness”, a “gift from ancient India”, “not only physical courage but the absence of fear in the mind”.
Whether or not she lives to see her dreams come true, Suu Kyu will always live in the hearts of those who stood up for spiritual freedom.
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