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Even if your voice shakes

  • Published at 05:43 pm December 1st, 2018
The fight goes on REUTERS

Young activists in Myanmar aren’t staying silent anymore

About a decade ago, the world was told that Myanmar had transitioned into a democracy. Today, the country stands as one of the worst violators of human rights at a state-sanctioned level.

Change did not happen, and even after the country claimed it was putting military rule in the rearview mirror, clearly the military establishment in Myanmar is now more entrenched than ever, and even the great Aung San Suu Kyi either does not want to or does not dare to speak a word against the system.

But is hope for change completely gone?

So far, a popular uprising against the regime from the inside has seemed unlikely, as the government maintains a tight grip over media and freedom of speech.

Free reporting from the Rakhine state is almost impossible, and journalists can be locked up or worse if they get out of line.

But in spite of the best efforts of Myanmar’s propaganda machine, there is now little scope to hide the truth and extent of what is has happened and is still happening against the Rohingya, and young, conscious citizens within Myanmar’s borders will not stand for it.

It has long seemed that the persecution of the Rohingya community has always happened with widespread ideological support from the Buddhist-majority of the country, but a new wave of young people just might be turning the tide.

They are determined to speak the truth even if their voice shakes. 

Plenty of men and women are disenchanted by the actions of their former hero Aung San Suu Kyi, and are now not afraid to stand up for what they see as the right thing to do, and they do so at great personal risk.

These young people are promising to be a headache for Suu Kyi’s administration.

The path to change is paved with dangers, but we cannot give up on the hope that Myanmar will change its ways, and those responsible for ethnic cleansing will be held to account, but it is a safe bet that between now and then, there will be blood.

Just like Bangladesh, Myanmar has a young population but an ageing leadership, and there may well be a gulf between policy and majority opinion, and maybe the persecution of the Rohingya is not quite as popular among the citizens as the regime would like to believe.

Much ink has been spilled over how the rest of the world needs to come to the aid of the Rohingya, and there is no doubt that help is needed -- Bangladesh’s resources are stretched to the limit, while the presence of refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar are driving up commodity prices and depleting the supply of drinking water.

Quite simply, Bangladesh cannot handle this crisis alone.

As for change coming from Myanmar’s end, instead of hoping for Suu Kyi to change her position, it is the new youth movements we should look to -- they are Myanmar’s future, and the ideas and values the youth hold matter.

Myanmar’s activists, most of them in their 20s, are not naïve about the risks -- earlier this year during an anti-war March in Yangon, 17 people were charged with unlawful protest; free speech organization Athan claims 44 journalists and 142 activists have had to undergo trial under the Suu Kyi government.

The Rohingya crisis is too big and too complex for there to be a solution around the corner, and at home in Bangladesh we must do all we can to bring in the resources and expertise to do the right thing in a humanitarian sense; but regardless of what Bangladesh does vis-à-vis the refugee population, one thing is clear -- no government can be allowed to simply keep killing with impunity.

Perhaps the next generation of Myanmar’s own citizens will do something to make it right. 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.