VOL.II No.I JANUARY 1999 NO EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
(Interview with two Chin students, conducted in New Delhi on 14.7.1998)
Since December 1996, throughout Burma, all colleges and universities were shut down by the military junta, in response to students’ demonstrations in Rangoon. Up to now, most of the colleges and universities remained closed, and most students cannot pursue their studies. This is the case of Kaley College, in Kaleymyo, Sagaing Division, near the border with Chin State. There is no university or College in Chin State, and Kaley College was primarily established to provide further higher education to students of Chin State and of the Kaley region.
Since 1997, for those who completed High School and passed the matriculation, there is no option for further studies. Many Chin students have started trickling into India looking for an opportunity to continue their education. However, opportunities are few for them in India. Being Christian, their only hope is to join a Christian College, where food and accommodation is sometimes provided. Those institutions are usually Bible School or Theological College, which do not provide them with an educational, vocational or professional background for their future. There is no other choice.
CHRO interviewed two Chin students, Muana and Ngheta (not their real names). These two young men have passed their Matriculation in 1997. Since they cannot continue their education in Burma, their parents sent them to New Delhi to do theological studies.
Ngheta, 19, and Muana, 20, are both young Chin Christian from the Kaley region in Sagaing Division, close to Chin State. Muana used to live in Tahan quarter of Kaley town, while Ngheta is from Let Pan Chaung, a large Chin inhabited village in Kaley township, about 10 miles away from Kaley. Although their present situation is similar, their past experiences are somewhat different. We have interviewed them separately.
Question : Is education freely available in your village or town?
Ngheta : Each household in Let Pan Chaung village had to pay 2,500 Kyats in February or March 1997 for school buildings. After collecting that money, they did construct some buildings to the Middle School and to the High School. However, they did not look so nice or big, and were not worth all the money collected from the villagers.
The high school teachers are all paid by the villagers who provided them with paddy. Every 9th Standard student has to provide 10 baskets per year and every 10th Standard student 12 baskets. Each teacher received thus 200 baskets per year, which is a lot [13/14 baskets is enough to feed one adult for one year]. They can sell the rest for 400 Kyats per basket. The high school has 450 students. This way they can collect a lot of rice. In fact, this arrangement has been set up by the School Committee, and the Village Tract PDC is part of the School Committee. Actually, the Chairman of the Village Tract PDC is also the Chairman of the School Committee. They are very corrupt. The School Committee keep half of the rice given from each student and the teachers only received the other half.
Let Pan Chaung has more than 2,000 houses. It is mostly Chin, only 10 houses are Burman. The language of education is only Burmese. [Note: In Chin State, Chin language is allowed up the 2nd Standard, but Let Pan Chaung is located in Sagaing Division where only Burmese language is recognised] Until 1992, our big village only had one Primary School. Then the government set up a Middle School, but there were not enough teachers. Then, our village create a High School with volunteer teachers who received paddy as their salary. The Primary and Middle School students also need to give rice to the extra teachers. If the parents are unable to provide the rice, the child cannot go to school.
Muana : I studied 9th Standard in the Tahan quarter of Kaley town and 10th Standard in Mandalay. At the High School in Mandalay, the admission fee was 750 Kyats which included registration, sports facilities, etc.. But other fees were constantly collected for festivals, pagodas, monasteries, furniture, computer, etc.. School books and exercise books had to be bought by the students themselves. The computer fee is 150 Kyats per year. The school bought one computer and only 10 students a year were selected to learn computer skills. There were so many rules and regulations in my school. If we ever mention anything political, we would be beaten and expelled from the school. Those who didn’t wear their school uniform were be expelled too. And, every week, every month, we have to give donations!
Teachers in Burma are very badly paid by the government. In order to increase their income, they organised private tuition. However, many students complained that attending and paying for these private tuition is compulsory in order to pass their examinations.
Question : Did you take private tuition?
Ngheta : I had to attend 2 months of private tuition. The teacher did not explain the subject properly in the classroom, and he invited the students for private tuition. He was doing one hour per day and had to pay 250 Kyats for one month.
Muana : In Mandalay, I was doing one and half hour of private tuition threetimes a week for each subject. He had to get tuition for five subjects: Maths, English and three Science subjects. Private tuition for each subject cost me between 2,500 and 3,000 Kyats a year depending on the subject.
Question : How can they afford this?
Muana : I have 6 brothers and sisters who are all at school. My father is a carpenter as well as a pastor. My mother was a businesswoman trading between India and Rangoon. She was supporting us all. Unfortunately she died in a car accident last year.
Ngheta : My parents are farmers. I have 6 brothers and sisters, and 3 of us are students. Therefore, our family had to provide a total of 26 baskets of paddy per year, only for our education:
– 12 baskets for myself as a 10th Standard student
– 10 basket for my sister who is a 9th Standard student
– 4 baskets for my younger sister who is attending 4th standard
My family owns 10 acres of paddy fields. We can only get one crop per year because of irrigation problems. We usually harvest an average of 800 baskets a year. We manage to save 200 baskets a year for ourselves. Each year we are forced to sell 12 baskets per acre to the Government at government rate [much lower than market rate] and donate one basket per acre for the Army. We also have to donate one basket per house for the Village Tract PDC. They sell this rice to get money for entertaining VIP’s and to cover their office costs.
Question : Did you have to do voluntary labour while you were student?
Ngheta : The Let Pan Chaung villagers are forced to work on road construction every year. The villagers have to repair all the roads linking the various villages in the township. They also have to repair the bridges. This work is usually taking place in the summer. Every villager ends up doing one day of road work per week for 4 or 5 weeks every year. Then, in the rainy season, we have to repair the dam and canals for irrigation. There is little rain in Kaley area, so the villagers have to use an irrigation system to grow their crop. The dam is built with stone and mud, so it often breaks during the monsoon, and we have to go and repair it. I often missed school or arrive late in class, because that dam is quite far from our village. I am the only young man in my family, so I always have to go. The labour is ordered by Village PDC, and everyone failing to go to labour is fined 100 Kyats.
Muana : In Tahan quarter, the largest forced labour projects have now been completed: the Kaley to Gangaw railway and the Ye Chaung hydro dam. Since then, people are ordered to clean the ground in front of their house and to paint the façade, the fences and the trees around it whenever a high-level leader of SPDC is coming to Kaley. This is happening 4 or 5 times a year. We were also forced to build a platform in front of our house because the main road is a little higher. Also every household had to build a drain for sewerage water in front of his house. The Township PDC gave the measurement and ordered it to be built with brick and cement, but they did not provide the material.
CHAOTIC SITUATIONS IN PALETWA TOWNSHIP
Lt. Col. Saw Tun, commander of Burmese army Light Infantry Battalion (LIB ) 538 ordered the following 18 villages from Paletwa township, southern Chin State, to hold a football ( soccer ) tournament in Sin-Oowa village.
In order to prepare for the tournament, the following villages Sinletwa, Sin-Oowa, Kinwa, Kohci, Dathwe-kyauk, yokewa, Bilawngwa, Rakan, Lettee, and Thalu were forced to work for a week. One person per household had to help repair the football grounds and to construct tents for temporary shelters. Any family who failed to comply were forced to pay Kyat 1,500.
Moreover, each village was ordered to pay Kyat 2000 before November 10, 1998 towards a football tournament fund. Many villages, which are a significantly far from the tournament location were also forced to pay the fee. Villages Pathiantlang(A), Pathiantlang (B), Arakan, Pintia, Ramri, Hemapi, Hemate, Sia-Oo, and Para were ordered to pay Kyat 2,000 each before Nov 10 to Major Zaw Tun Tin, the company commander of Sinletwa army camp.
Seven police officers led by Cpl. Soe Myint were sent to Pathiantlang village on Nov 12, 1998 to guard the tournament. They forcibly stole four chickens and a tin of rice from the villagers. While the police were cooking the chickens, the Chin National Army (CNA) suddenly arrested them, confiscated their six rifles, one Ne Win Stengun, 820 rounds of ammunition and one hand bomb. After a brief interrogation, the CNA released the police unharmed the same day.
The police then went to Shweletwa and asked U Sa Ki,one of the village elders, to inform their families that they were planning to flee to Mizoram, India. They fear a serious action would be taken against them, because their weapon had been taken by the CNA. U Sa Ki reported the incident to the village tract chairman U Tin Win, who is a member of the Buddhist hill missionary and favoured by the SPDC. U Tin Win has full authority over the villagers. They also fear him as much as the army personel. U Tin Win wrote a report to company commander Maj. Zaw Tun Tin saying that the police would never have been arrested if they were accompanied by a Chin police officer. The report contended that the police had faced problems because they were Burman and the villagers took advantage of this fact by cooperating with the Chin insurgents.
As soon as the army personel receives the reports, 50 soldiers led by company commander Maj. Zaw Tun Tin came to Pathiantlang ( A ) village on Nov 13, at 12:30 pm and ordered village head men from Pathiantlang ( B ), Arakan, Pinte, Ramri, Hemapi, Hemate, Sia Oo, Para to meet with him immidiately.
On November 14, LIB 538 commander Lt.Col. Saw Thun went to Sia Oo village and he ordered the village head men to meet him. The Lt. Col. immediately condemned the CNA for arresting seven police officers and confiscating their weapons. Lt. Col. Saw Thun said he believed that the arrest was an act of Chin aggression against the Burmese. “If a Chin had been among the police, this incident would never have happened”, he said. The Colonel contended that all the Chin villagers were involved in this case and demanded the police weapons be returned by December 2. Lt. Col. Saw Thun threatened to burn down all the villages and kill all the village head men if his demands were not met.
The village head men responded with the following plea. “If we go to CNA camp, they will arrest us because we are all members of the village security guards that you have formed”. The Lt. Col replied that it is the duty of the village head men to make peace just as Church pastors have made peace among the Karen and the Kachin. He suggested the villagers go to the CNA camp accompanied by pastors and relatives from Mizoram in order to avoid harm from the insurgent fighters and that they may get back the police officers’ guns. After that he forced pastor Sa Chi and an evangelist L.T Khunzin to go to the CNA camp along with the village head men.
However, the village head men did not dare to go to the CNA camp, knowing that the CNA would never give them back the guns. On the other hand, they also knew that if they returned to their villages empty handed, they would be killed by the Burmese army.
They, therefore, fled to Laki village, Mizoram State of India. On November 16 1998, ten families from Hemapi village moved to Laki village leaving behind all their belongings. They said that the Battalion commander was residing in Hemapi village and the army had closed all the roads to the border and planted land mines. The tactical commamder was residing in Pathiantlang village and Arakan, Ramri, Pinte, Hemate villages were being relocated to Hemapi village.
On November 30, 1998, another six families from Hemapi village came to Laki village. They reported that the soldiers were still waiting for the return of the village headmen. If they come back empty handed, again it was said they would be killed on the spot and all nine villages would be burned down.
Now these refugees are currently living in Laki village without shelter and struggling against many hardships. Until November 5, 1998, they have still not received assistance from any individuals or organizations. The CHRO has learned that the nine villages surrounding Hemapi are also ready to flee to India.
The CHRO therefore requests to individuals and organizations advocate for the safety of the villagers wanting to flee as well as for the refugees who have already fled to India.
200,000 KYATS RANSOM FOR 34 LIVES
Burmese army Infantry Battalion 274 from Lailenpi village, Matupi township of Chin State consumed all the food and domestic animals from the surrounding villages without any payment to the villagers. The villagers were left with no more food and were facing daily hardships.
Therefore, thirty four people from Sabawngte village went to Pintia village to buy rice on September 29, 1998. Upon their return, they met with a group of Burmese army personnel led by Lt. Han Kyaw from IB 274. The Burmese army doubted that they were carrying rice for CNA and, subsequently, arrested them all.
The army then brought the arrested to Sabawngte village where they gathered all the villagers. The soldiers accused villagers of providing food to the Chin insurgent CNA and threatened to burn down their villages and kill the 34 people.
The villagers explained that because of food shortage, they had been compelled to seek out food from other villages. They begged the soldiers to spare the lives of the villagers and not to burn down the village. At first, the soldiers ignored the pleas of the villagers. However, later on, Lt. Han Kyaw told some village elders that if they were to give him two hundred thousand Kyats(200,000 Burmesecurrency) and not tell anyone, he would release the villagers and do no harm to their property.
The village elders begged the Lieutenant to reduce the extortion price because of their dire poverty and the difficulties they already faced for daily survival. The Lieutenant denied their request.
Since the villagers had no alternative, they sold their cattle and managed to hand over one hundred thousand Kyats to Lt. Han Kyaw on November 30, 1998. The Lieutenant ordered them to pay the other one hundred thousand in materials. He ordered them to go to Mizoram State in India to buy kitchen ware such as pressure cookers and steel plates before December 5,1998.
VILLAGE HEAD MEN COMPELLED TO SELL LIQUOR(Army Run)
In Chin State selling intoxicating drinks is forbidden by most villages’ elders in their local areas excetp some surrepitiuos pub. The Burmase army company commander from IB 274, Lungler army camp, Thantlang township called village headman meeting from Tlangpi, Tlanglo, Farawn, Vanzang, Sopum, Zaangtlang, Lungding, Bungkhua, Thangzang, Fungkah, Saikah, Ruakhua, Ruabuk, Sihhmuh, Dawn villages and gave 30 bottles army rum to each village headman to sell it in their respective villages. He also ordered these villages’ elders to come and meet with him once a month.The reason was to collect the money from the sell and to give them a new quota for selling the army rum. Whenever he gave them their quoata of rum,he took back two or three bottles which the villager headmen had to pay from their pocket. Although the villagers are too poor to afford the alcohol, they are still compelled to cover the cost of their quotas. If they fail to make the payments, the whole village is made to suffer.