Con­fer­ence pro­vides a mi­cro­phone to Myan­mar’s ‘mi­nor­ity mi­nori­ties’

The Myanmar Times - - News -

THE Kachin con­tin­gent showed uni­form unity in their match­ing mil­i­tary­green T-shirts, the Shan shone out in a blaze of orange, and the Kayin main­tained a dis­ci­plined and tight-lipped pres­ence in their loose-fit­ting thin dine shirts.

But if the larger mi­nor­ity groups dom­i­nated the Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence in Pan­g­long, Shan State, over the last week in terms of num­bers, it was of­ten rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the smaller eth­nic­i­ties who stole the show in terms of tra­di­tional cos­tume - and who ex­pressed the most en­thu­si­asm about be­ing in­volved.

From Na­ga­land in the north­west to Dawei in the deep south, del­e­gates made their way to join the week-long con­fer­ence aimed at strength­en­ing links be­tween young peo­ple from dif­fer­ent eth­nic back­grounds, achiev­ing peace and gen­er­at­ing con­sen­sus on how a fed­eral Myan­mar should look.

And while po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic ac­tivism is well-es­tab­lished among Myan­mar’s bet­ter-known mi­nori­ties, for a num­ber of those present, the top­ics be­ing dis­cussed took them into new ter­ri­tory.

J Yaw Daw, of the Lisu Net­work, de­scribed some of the chal­lenges fac­ing his eth­nic group, which he said strug­gles to main­tain its iden­tity as a Kachin peo­ple apart from the ma­jor­ity Jingh­paw group.

“Some peo­ple don’t know Kachin has many groups. They think Kachin lan­guage is Jingh­paw, and ask if I don’t speak Jingh­paw, how can I be Kachin?” he said.

He added that in many peo­ple’s eyes, Kachin and Jingh­paw are in­ter­change­able. But he said he be­lieves that is chang­ing.

“Now we’re get­ting a lit­tle more chance to get a place. Be­fore, if there was any meet­ing such as this, the Lisu wouldn’t get any in­for­ma­tion. Now things are get­ting a lit­tle bet­ter.”

He said in the past, Lisu peo­ple would be pun­ished or even killed if they rose to too high a po­si­tion in the Kachin army. But he hopes moves to­ward fed­er­al­ism will lead to greater equal­ity for his peo­ple.

“Ac­cord­ing to fed­er­al­ism, we will also get the same op­por­tu­ni­ties and that will be bet­ter.”

J Yaw Daw said one thing that had contributed to dis­par­ity be­tween the Lisu and Jingh­paw was that the Jingh­paw gen­er­ally had bet­ter ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion. One of his prin­ci­pal rea­sons for at­tend­ing the Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence was to go back and share the in­for­ma­tion he gained there with young peo­ple in his own com­mu­nity, most of whom, he said, were not par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics or ac­tivism.

“Be­fore we didn’t know any­thing about democ­racy. But after the elec­tion, we Lisu got a lit­tle bit of light and we opened our eyes. We Kachin tribes should say some­thing about what we need,” he said.

“For the Lisu that is es­pe­cially about ed­u­ca­tion. We still don’t have big pro­fes­sors. Also some peo­ple go to other coun­tries to work and stay there. If we get ed­u­ca­tion, hope­fully vil­lagers will get more democ­racy.”

Myint Naing from Na­ga­land said peo­ple in his re­gion also need ed­u­ca­tion, along with ba­sic ameni­ties in­clud­ing elec­tric­ity, trans­port and wa­ter. He said the con­fer­ence had pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop his aware­ness of eth­nic rights ac­tivism.

“For a long time I’ve been in­ter­ested in this kind of pro­gram for Naga peo­ple, but there’s no place to dis­cuss such things. It feels a priv­i­lege to be here. It makes me feel com­fort­able rais­ing our is­sues for Naga peo­ple,” he said. “The gov­ern­ment has cheated our lo­cal peo­ple. We want to re­search things – many things, like the con­sti­tu­tion.”

He said he would bring the is­sues raised at the youth con­fer­ence back with him to dis­cuss with se­nior Naga lead­ers.

“Our lead­ers don’t want dis­cus­sions on fed­er­al­ism, they say only ‘in­de­pen­dence,’” he said, adding that after at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence he would be keen to en­cour­age them to think about the prospect of be­com­ing in­volved in dis­cus­sions about fed­er­al­ism.

From the opposite end of the coun­try, mem­bers of the Dawei del­e­ga­tion, who made the long jour­ney to Pan­g­long from south­ern Tanintharyi Re­gion, also ex­pressed their hap­pi­ness at be­ing in­volved in the event.

Ko Kyaw Min Htaik said, “I want to in­tro­duce the Dawei to the other eth­nic peo­ple be­cause our area is so far away [from the bet­ter known eth­nic mi­nor­ity heart­lands] that even our neigh­bours don’t recog­nise us.

“If we use the English name ‘Tavoyan’, that is more fa­mil­iar, but when peo­ple hear Dawei they just think that’s a city.”

He said one ma­jor con­cern for Dawei ac­tivists was that most younger

‘For a long time I’ve been in­ter­ested in this kind of pro­gram for Naga peo­ple, but there’s no place to dis­cuss such things. It feels like a priv­i­lege to be here.’

Myint Naing Na­ga­land rep­re­sen­ta­tive

peo­ple of Dawei back­ground are iden­ti­fied as Ba­mar on their ID cards.

“It is rare for any­one born since the Ne Win era to have [a Tavoyan/ Dawei ID],” he said.

Ko Kyaw Min Htaik said he had been work­ing as an ac­tivist for Dawei rights for more than 10 years.

“This is the first time I have left my group to come to some­thing like this, so it’s re­ally fantastic. Be­fore I worked with a small al­liance, and we shared our prob­lems, but here there are so many peo­ple we feel united.”

Photo: Fiona MacGre­gor

Del­e­gates in tra­di­tional at­tire lis­ten to a speaker at the Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence in Pan­g­long on July 27.

Photo: Fiona MacGre­gor

J Yaw Daw, of the Lisu Net­work, lis­tens to a speaker at the Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence in Pan­g­long on July 27.

FIONA MACGRE­GOR

THU THU AUNG

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