By Nai Saing (Commentary remembering 8-8-88) : I.Demonstrations for democracy, blood on the streets, brutal regimes, gunfire and another generation of military rule – that is what we have had since 1988.
After 21 years we continue to call for remembrance. We were so young but we so wanted to sacrifice for our poor people living under the one party rule of the Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP). In that way students’ spirits were born out of the BSPP’s oppression and miss-management of the country.
We still remember. We were totally reliant on the black market, even to get a single shirt. The residents of my town were lining up in front of the BSPP’s socialist cooperative to obtain just a little soap called “Shwe War”. My brother was taken as a porter for over one-month in the Burmese Army’s offensives against the KNU/KNLA in Kalar Ma Mountain in eastern Karen State.
My mother cried while my father was taken by the authorities after he failed to ‘serve the State’ – he refused to sell his rice at a below cost price. The forestlands east of my village were taken for government’s rubber plantation projects. We gradually lost the resources we had.
My teacher, who was Mon, told all his students who spoke Mon language that, “You must speak Burmese in the class – don’t speak Mon. If you speak one Mon word, you must pay 5 pyar”. I did not know that this was called racial discrimination, but his words hurt me, and left me with a question – why?
We call the BSPP era the ‘Council Age”. The members of the village council, the township council, and the district council were the bosses. They used their power against the people. They taxed us as they liked and they put suspected guests, even our relatives, into village jail cells.
Not only the Mon people were in trouble. I found that the Burmans in the cities had a more difficult situation than us. They faced shortages of foods, water and electricity. Their children lost their opportunities for an education. Trishaw drivers could not make enough money to feed their families.
II. It is not surprising then that students became revolutionaries under these oppressive rules. When I started to attend the University, I always thought there was something wrong in our society and in our communities.
Why did the BSPP government see the students as the enemy? They shot us while we held a peaceful demonstration near our University compound. They blocked our campus, checking everyone and put some in military trucks. We heard our brothers and sisters were dyeing. Our sisters were raped at “Ye-kyi-aing’ interrogation center. Why? My heart was crying, but I was not alone – my friends felt the same as me.
We were forced to return home after the crackdown of June 1988 on student demonstrations near Inn-ya Lake. Students were beaten and killed in Tadar-phyu (white bridge), which was across from Pyi road and goes to the lake. We were heading to our homes with unhappy minds and spirits.
I was taken by military intelligence just 2 days after I had arrived back home. This is how the dirty oppressors work – I was interrogated and tortured. I could hear other students’ crying, and they could hear my crying. Electrocution, sleep deprivation and being forced to stand as if riding on motor cycle were the types of inhumane treatment that the BSPP military intelligence used on us, and copied from Japanese’s Kin-pein-tai.
But the authorities and the intelligence could not stop the people’s movement that started on August 8th, 1988. Students’ networks were connecting with each other and they set up ‘strike camp’s’ in every place and location – at schools, at monasteries, at community halls, and even in BSPP offices. Students were leading and the people were following. The demands for democracy, national unity, and end of one party system were so loud. The entire country clapped and cheered for student leadership. The democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was supported by student leaders.
(3) The students had just pens, papers and loudspeakers. The soldiers had machine guns, trucks and ammunition. They used violence and drove out the demonstrators from strike camps.
Bloody killings were going on everywhere – in city streets, in monasteries, in strike camps, and in detention centers. Friends with white shirts were killed right in front of us and many people were injured.
Actually, if the political system had changed, all we would have wanted would have been to go back to our classes. But our campus and universities had been totally confiscated. We, who wanted to fight on, had to leave our beloved native homes and our families. My mother cried until she lost consciousness when I told her I would leave.
I left my childhood – the rice farms, the playgrounds, the friendly abbots and monks, and many friends. We moved to New Mon State Party controlled area. But it is very difficult for a student to become involved in violence, so I served the refugees and children’s education system, and did my best to sacrifice for the people.
Even now our revolution has not died. Many of the 88’ generation students sacrificed for the people, with their hearts forged through pain and hurt. They never forget their friends who died in the uprising, in the jungles, in the rivers and from malaria.
Now, we are creating a new revolutionary generation. We have openly challenged the military regime, and we must fight until the military rule has collapsed. We want to see our country as a country of non-discrimination, of equality and as one that fully guarantees human rights to its citizen.
During demonstrations, I wrote a poem for my colleagues:
This is on a boxing stage My opponent is the oppressor I am the oppressed But I have more supporters They clapped their hands Shout to me to fight I must fight I don’t know Whether I will die or survive
(Nai Saing is a former 88’ Student from Rangoon Institute of Technology)