Let us live normally and in dignity: A note from a displaced citizen, daughter, mother, and scholar at risk
While travelling away from Myanmar, Dr MMT found that she and her family had contracted COVID-19. This photo was taken while they were trying to access medical treatment in Thailand.
Since 1 February 2021, the people of Myanmar have been living in a dark era after the military junta under Min Aung Hlaing illegally took over power from the democratically elected government. At the height of COVID-19 infections, my family, like the rest, was devastated by the news of the military occupation of the country.
I grew up in a society ridden with fear and tremendous socio-economic depression. People were stripped of their basic rights such as education, health, and development, as well as their fundamental freedoms. I fervently prayed that my children would not have to go through such life. But, just recently, my darkest fear turned into a grim reality.
Aspiring and working for a better society
I worked as a lecturer at the University of Education in order to build the capacity of the younger generation to conduct scientific work for the improvement of my country. As a Myanmar citizen and an educator striving for meaningful change, I always believed that it is the main responsibility of a teacher to contribute to shaping critical and informed minds leading to the development of strong and lasting democratic societies.
The junta, however, had a more vicious, sinister plan for my beloved Myanmar. The deliberate betrayal of the peoples’ trust not only disrupted, but also shattered lives and aspirations. But we did not surrender easily. The people turned up and fought against the return of a selfish, authoritarian rule of a few. Scholars like me from various academic fields utterly rejected the military coup, and non-violently protested in the name of democracy and our dignity.
In the name of democracy
I was inspired by the peoples’ movement, so I participated in pro-democracy protests, and eventually joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). Unfortunately, I was pressured by senior officers to disassociate from CDM. Otherwise, I would be removed from the civil service, stripped of my benefits, and even arrested under Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code. I was even asked to work under this illegitimate military rule, with the promise that I would be promoted to higher positions and would get to enjoy good things in life. I immediately rejected the offer, as I would not want to be part of a regime that is determined to destroy our democratic values and institutions.
Instead of joining the backbone of the junta, I remained committed to the CDM, together with countless university teachers throughout Myanmar. I did not go to work and disobeyed my seniors’ orders. Instead, teachers like myself marched together to express our political opinions. This military junta has been threatening and arresting people whom, in the first place, they are mandated to protect at all times. Numerous human rights defenders and academic activists have been killed, tortured in prison, and separated from their families. Many like myself have escaped reprisals by fleeing to neighbouring countries.
The journey away from home
The military junta and police have tried to come and arrest me and my husband four times. Together with my husband and 19-month-old child, we made the painful decision to escape to Thailand. We had to stay for one week in the border area and tried three times to enter the country. My baby had to take some sleeping pills, so that we could travel more silently and discreetly. No words can fully describe the fear, depression, and stress we went through.
Upon arrival in Thailand, we had to run and hide without knowing where to go next. Frequent relocations made us mentally and physically distressed. Along the way, we learned that we got infected with COVID-19. Our dilemma did not end there. Every evening, I would force myself awake to check whether cops or soldiers would come to arrest us. We feared for our lives, particularly of my innocent infant child.
I am still uncertain whether my life, and that of many others, will still go back to normal. I just want to live simply and be of service to my people – who are suffering in various forms and degrees. No one wants to be a scholar at risk; no one wants a life of fear and uncertainty.
I urge you to be the voice of my people. Please help us in condemning the military junta led by Min Aung Hlaing. I humbly ask neighbouring governments to provide safe refuge and humanitarian assistance to the people, particularly human rights defenders and academic activists like myself, who have fled or are trying to leave the country. Please open your borders for them, and do not repatriate us back to Myanmar.
The author wishes to remain anonymous for safety and security reasons. Before leaving the country, she served as an academic at a university in Yangon, Myanmar.