Doctrine divides, Action unites

 

  March 2014


Naw Bway Paw (Photo by Saw Mort)

 

The People’s Story: A Woman in a Conflict Area in Burma

Saw Mort
 

Back in Burma

During the last two weeks, I went back to Karen State in Burma to the T’Nay Cha Township area. It is a four-hour trip from the Thai-Burma border by car. This visit was the first time I had been to this area since 2002.

When we traveled to this area in the past, it took five days to walk there, but now it takes just a few hours. When we previously arrived in the village, we were afraid of the movements of the Burma soldiers, for they could arrest us or kill us at any moment. We naturally tried not to be arrested or killed. We visited the villagers during the day; and at night, we had to stay outside the village and sleep in the jungle. At that time, human rights violations happened every day—forced labor, illegal tax collection, etc. No workers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), whether from local NGOs or from international organizations in Rangoon, came and helped the people. Only Karen community-based organizations, such as those engaged in health care and education, came to aid the people.

Now I am back in this area, and I feel, from an outsider’s perspective, that there is freedom compared to those times of the past. You can now travel freely without fear, and you don’t hear any gunshots. I talked with teachers, villagers and Buddhist monks and heard a lot of stories from them. I feel that the people are still oppressed but in a soft way, which in some ways is even worse. I feel though the strength of the people who now speak out. Many Karen people who even live in areas controlled by the military are not afraid to speak into the camera and permit interviews recorded by the video camera. Thus, the people are standing up, and our role is to listen and think about what we are going to do with the stories we hear and the information we collect.

It is with this purpose in mind that I would like to share the story of a woman named Naw Bway Paw. She lost her land, but she still has dreams that one day she will get her land back. She, like others, isn’t afraid to speak out anymore.

The Story of Naw Bway Paw

Naw Bway Paw lost her land in 1996 after a Burmese military offensive in T’Nay Cha Township, which is located in Karen State in Pa-an District. Now Naw Bway Paw, along with 66 fellow villagers, is trying to get back 1,500 acres of their land that was confiscated by the Burmese military. She started to talk to me when I began recording with my video camera.

When the battalion commander Saw Win came, he stayed at my house, and afterwards, he took my land and worked on my land. He lived with us the whole rainy season; and in the summertime, he told us that we would have to leave, that we have to live outside our land. We were not allowed to stay in their battalion area, and they forced us to leave.

The commander [of the Burmese army] asked us to sign [a piece of paper] that those lands did not belong to us, that those farms were not our farms.

I told him that, if the farm is not ours anymore, I couldn’t sign. If it meant I don’t own my land, then I couldn’t sign. I could not sign; I would rather leave. Nobody in Lay Kaw Hti signed.

He told me that “the Burman, when they want to take, they will take it and get it. . . . Now the Karen face the problem, when they run, they don’t have land. When they die, they don’t have a grave; they have to find their own [land for a grave].”

I told him that I can’t [find another piece of land]. This is our land and was given to us by our grandparents. We will stay here.

“You can’t live here,” he said.

I asked him, Where are we going to live?

I told the battalion commander that the Burman would force us to flee.

He told me that “the Karen are like wild cats; they don’t like to stay on flat land; they like the jungle.”

I told him that we already had made the field a farm. Our grandparents gave us [this land], and he told me that “this is not your grandparents’ place; it’s our grandparents’ land.”

It only belongs to your grandparents, not ours? I argued with him. Nobody dared to argue with the commander—only me—I talked to him because he lives in my house.

He told me that “now the land is owned by the State so you all have to leave; you can’t live here; it’s all ruled by the State.”

If they have no mercy, the villagers can’t live. The military has [all of the] power and can do anything.

I asked the battalion commander, Are you not satisfied that you took a lot of land? One came and took more; came another one and took more so where are we going to live?

“Now,” [he said,] “you argue with me. . . . I am a soldier. . . . I have a gun. . . . I can do anything to you.”

I told him we know it very well. . . . You are a soldier, and you can win. . . . For villagers, even if we talk to you, we lose. . . . [If] we don’t talk [to you], we lose.

I was very frustrated and was not afraid of anybody. . . . I argued with everybody [the soldiers]. . . . Other people dared not argue with them. . . . Your aunty [Naw Bway Paw] was not afraid of them anymore. . . . I told him that, even if I am still alive or dead, my life is no different—no land, . . . no home, . . . Life is nothing. . . . I am not afraid to die.

Homeless and Landless: Life on the Edge of Survival

After the Burmese army took my land, I worked as a gardener. Summertime—I planted long beans, tobacco; and after that, I exchanged tobacco with rice. . . . I have no land and farm so we lived very hard outside the military area.

Now I am not like other neighbors. . . . If I go to another village, people have a house; they have a music player; they have a video player. . . . For me, . . . I have nothing.

If I want to watch a movie, they asked me to provide one liter of gasoline for the generator. . . . Although I want to watch the movie, I have no money for that.

Other people have a two- or three-story house. . . . My house is like a chicken’s house. . . . I am very disappointed. Other people can donate for a religious activity; but for me, [there is] nothing I can do so I am very sad.

Other people have enough food for their life, but me—I have a hard time struggling to survive on a daily basis. . . . Each year I have a little amount of rice and have to manage very well to live on it. I cannot donate for my religion [Buddhism]. I can’t share with my friends. . . . I have to struggle with my life up and down. [It is] like that.

As I get older, I don’t have nutritious food. . . . If I want to drink milk, I have to buy it. . . . If I want to eat sugar, I have to buy it. . . . Sometimes I sell one kilogram of beans, and I bought sugar. Sometimes I sell one or two kilograms of cucumbers and bought milk.

If I get sick, . . . I can’t work and have to borrow money from others, and I have debts; and when I get better, I have to pay back the money. My life is in a cycle like this.

I have nothing left, and I can’t depend on my children. . . . My children also can’t depend on me . . . so we have to struggle on our own.

Amid Despair, Hopes and Dreams Live On

Now I still dream that I live on my land; . . . but in reality, I am not on my land.

I always dream that I live in my house and on my land. . . . I always wish that one day I will get back my land, but I don’t know when.

When I look at my land, I know exactly the boundary of my land. . . . I planted those trees; I planted those mango trees and dogfruit trees there. . . . I can recognize everything. . . . Every year the Burmese army takes every product from my trees. . . . When I look at the garden, . . . there are a lot of dogfruits.

I think to myself that these are my trees; and if I am there, I can have [the fruit] for myself. . . . But they [Burmese army] have taken everything, and [there is] nothing left.

This farm belongs to our great grandparents, [and] they told us to pass it onto our children—generation to generation. . . . They told us not to sell the farm to others, to share with our children.

Now I didn’t sell the farm, . . . but the army took it. [I] lived on the land and constructed buildings on the land, and thus, I lost everything.

I thought before that I would give this farm to our children. Then, when we get older, we can depend on our children. Now we can’t depend on them. . . . We can’t depend on each other. . . . The older I get, the more difficulties I face. What are we going to do?


* Saw Mort, a 2007 alumni of the School of Peace (SOP) conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF), is a video journalist for Karen News.

 

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