Rhododendron publication – VOL.II No.III MARCH 1999

(The following interview is conducted on Jan.9.1999 in New Delhi, India)

Name : Thangkhanpau ( name changed )
Age : 48
Sex : Male
Nationality : Chin
Religion : Christian
Marital Status : Married with 8 children aged between 23 and 6
Occupation : Farmer
Political affiliation : NLD organiser for Pyin GoneGyi Village Tract, Kaleymyo township

I am a farmer. I used to have some land in Pyin Gone Gyi village [near Kaleymyo], but I sold it in 1994, because it was too far from our house, about 8 miles, and also because all my children were at school, so they could not help in the farm work.

Then in December 1996, I left Pyin Gone Gyi because I no longer felt safe as an NLD organiser. I moved to Aung Chan Tha, a remote village along the road between Kalewa and Monywa. Aung Chan Tha is a Burman village in Kalewa township [Kalewa township is mostly Burman]. It has about 160 houses, and is located in a malaria-infested jungle about 24 miles from Kalewa. Back in 1995, my eldest son had stayed with the headman in that village, and found some land to clear for cultivation. I paid 50,000 Kyats for over 20 acres. This was quite cheap. Of course, the area had no irrigation system, and the harvest would depend on the rains. I moved in Aung Chan Tha with 8 other Chin families. We created a new ward in the village and cleared the land.

Q. To whom did you pay that money?
A. To the villagers who owned that land. In Burma the land belonged to the government, but people can registered it and used it. The previous owners had registered that land, and it was recognised by the village head, who is the Village Tract PDC Chairman. The transaction was signed in front of the headman [a perfectly legal transaction].

However, we could only get one harvest of paddy. On 2.8.1997, the SLORC Township Secretary, Major Khin Maung Than, came to the village for the school opening ceremony. Without inspection, he called the 9 Chin families, including mine. Immigration and Forestry officials came along with him. He requested us to sit in one line in front of him. He took photographs of us, and ordered: “You, Chin people, you must go back to your native land in the Chin Hills! This is not your land!” He ordered us to leave by the end of December 1997. I pleaded him: “We have already planted our paddy. Please let us harvest it, and allow us to stay until the month of March!” In the end, the Major forced us to sign a document that we agreed to leave the land before the end of February 1998. The Major then returned to Kalewa, and never reappeared after that. We went to Kaleymyo and left a letter of complaints to the District PDC [Kalewa Township is under Kaleymyo District].

We broke the agreement, and in April 1998, we were still using our land. Then, during the first week of May, the head of the Forestry Department from Kalewa Township, U Tun Than Oo, came to order us to vacate the land and leave the village immediately. He ordered the village head to call ‘volunteer labourers’ [forced labour] from each family, and plant teak seedlings on our land. Even in our house compound. They didn’t order us to demolish our house, but they ordered the villagers to destroy our vegetable garden and plant teak saplings in it. Even to put saplings under our house! My sugar canes besides my house were cut down, and left lying there. We were even ordered to participate in this labour on our own land, but we refused. They never took action for that. The other villagers had a lot of pity on us.

Q. Did the order come from the Forest Department?
A. Yes, but Tun Than Oo was given all authority by Major Khin Maung Than, the Secretary of the Kalewa Township PDC.

Q. What happened after they confiscated your land?
A. We had no money to move back to Pyin Gone Gyi. One family left for the Chin hills, and we finally managed to go back to Pyin Gone Gyi in September 1998. At that time, the political situation was very tense in Kaleymyo, and many NLD members were arrested. My party advised me not to go back to Pyin Gone Gyi village with my large family and no money, but rather leave the country. I borrowed money for the transportation costs and I arrived in Mizoram in October 1998 with my whole family.

Q. You said Aung Chan Tha is a Burman village. Was there any local tension when the 9 Chin families moved there?
A. Not at all. We had absolutely no problem with the Burman villagers. My son was even chosen as a Village PDC Chairman for a while. Our 9 Chin families being all Christian decided to build one church in our ward. The Burman villagers, all Buddhist, even helped us to build our Church and lend us their bullock cart to carry the building material. At the church opening ceremony, a pastor from Kalewa was invited, and all the Burman villagers came. We shared a meal together. We never had any problems with the Burman villagers. It was all created by the SPDC authorities. Tun Than Oo also complained about the Church because it was not registered at the Ministry, but our headman had recognised it.

(Source: Chin Student Union, Delhi)
It was since during the Ne win’s regime that Burma had claimed total primary literacy in its 45 million population. However, its subsequent enlistment in the world’s least developed counry had proved totally different. Again in the areas of SLORC/SPDC which succeeded the Ne Win’s regime, it had claimed that Burma has been improved and developed in its every espects, the education system and prevailing closure of colleges and universities proved the same to what was decades ago. During the ten-years rule of SPDC, formerly SLORC, schools and colleges have been kept close most of the time in fear of unrests. In 1996 it was again closed after a massive crack down on students demonstrators demanding the right to reformation of Students Union and the end to military rule, which was known to be the largest students uprising next to the 1998 pro-democracy movement brutally suppressed by the same rulers.

In August 1998, after two years of continuous closing, the SPDC reopened the schools and forced the students to sit exams without learnings. Shortly afterwards, demonstrations broke out from engineering students amidsts government’s precaution. The best solution for the junta was exactly that of the 1998 and 96. Crackdown and arrest. College students have to take their exams at their nearest high schools.

The following interview was conducted by Chin Student Union on 29 October, 1998 at the Indo-Burma border with a Chin student who had sit the recent exams in Kalaymyo.
Name : Salai Thangliana(name changed)
Age : 23 yrs.
Address : Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division
Education : 2nd yr (Geog)
Nationality : Chin
Religion : Christian

Q. when did the college reopen and when did you take your exam after it was annouced?
A. We were informed one month prior to the exam about the possibility. But students who took ordinary subject like me did not get preparatory learning since we sat our exams on the day the schols were annouced reopened while engineering and medical students have two weeks before they did theirs.We also have to sign before we took our exams that we will not cause any unrest.
Q. Why the exams held at local high schools not at the college?
A. I think this is a precaution for the authorities that students might gather and cause unrest if we were allowed to sit at colleges. However, medical and engineering students were allowed to do at their previous colleges in Rangoon and Mandalay.
Q. Then, were high schools closed during your exams?
A. Yes! students from primary to high school had to rest for two weeks during the exam.
Q. Can you please brief us how the exam was about?
A. Classes were classified according to our subject and the exam just went on the basis of one subject per day through a fortnight.
Q. Since you sit the exam without learning, did you then haveanything to write or answer?
A. We scarcely used our brains. We just copy off what we had written during the two months period in 1996.
Q. How about the security condition during the exams hour?
A. It was quite well, we did not see any police nor soldiers wearing uniforms. But we beleived there were pretty numbers of Military Intelligence with civilian dress. We just saw some firemen roaming around the entrance of the gate. During the examination hour, the rector, Township Education Officers who were the rank of Major woud frequent us and would warn us that we ( the students ) are the one who would suffer if anything happens.
Q. So, was there anything happened during the exams?
A. No, there weren’t any. But on the the second day of the exams five students were arrested for allegedly sticking posters in support of the NLD’s movement. We also heard that 20 persons including students were arrested for the same incident on the following night.
Q. Do you know what were on the posters?
A. As far as I remember, it included about an appeal to the people to support the NLD’s call to convene Parliament and the SPDC to implement the NLD’s demands, failure of which would result in a massive unrest.
Q. How do you (students) think this education system, i.e sitting the exams without learning?
A. We did not regard it as examination but as a copy-off competition. There is no reason we took our exams without learning anyhting. There were even some who did not sit because they felt nothing about it. Some would sit in substitution.
Q. When is the result expected to be out?
A. There were rumors that it would likely happen the following month and schools will be reopened in November.

Since 1990, the Burmese military junta has rapidly extended its control over Burma’s north-west region in Chinland and Sagaing Division. This expansion program has resulted in the establishment of over 20 new battalions of soldiers throughout this remote and mountainous areas. The principal outcomes of the increased military presence have been persecution and impoverishment of local population.

The North-Western command issued an order to its army battalions to collect food and anything they want from Chin civilians whenever they are in need. A villager said,” It is very difficult for us to feed thousands of these soldiers while we are beeing forced to be porters, laborers and treated like prisoners of war or slaves. We have no time to work for our own living. We have no reqular income or earning. Moreover the soldier frequently collect forced contribution money for building pagodas, porters fees, any kind of festivals etc., or impose a fine for making up reasons. In the past decades we never lock the door at night. We could leave our house without beeing locked. We never lost our possessions. But today our belongings disappear within our twingkling eyes. I think, people will do anything to make money. If you don’t have money to pay the soldiers, you would be punished. No one wants ill-treatment”. The Chin people who have no alternative to make money are doing hunting animals ( Tiger and Bear ) and seeking wild orchids in the forest which for them is the only and an easiest way to make money. The existance of wild orchids in the forest is beeing pushed to extinction and the forest itself is rapidly deteriorated. China’s demand of forest products and wild animals is threatening the Chin forest and wild life.

CHRO interviewed Pu Ralkap ( name changed ),aged 20, from Leitak village, Thantlang township on December 3, 1998 regarding forestry bleakness caused by seeking wild orchids.

Q. In Chinland people are saying deforestation in recent year has been increased because of seeking wild orchids. Is there such happening in your areas? If so, when did you begin seeking ?
A. Yes! it started since 1993, till today.

Q. How did you collect them?
A. We climb up in the tree and pull them off which we can reach. If there are some which we can not reach, we cut the tree down and trim the branches off and collect the orchids. Where there are plenty of orchids, all the trees are smashed like elephants went through.

Q. Do the forest department prohibit doing this?
A. Yes! They prohibit only cutting trees. But it is not a very serious prohibition. How could we get them without cutting the trees! Since there is no Forest Department in our village, no one gets trouble with this Forest Law and Regulation so far.

Q. How do you sell them?
A. There are people who buy these orchids in Thantlang and Haka. So we carry them there and sell them to those buyers. The buyers then transported them to the merchants (smugglers ) in Mandalay. And those merchants smuggled them to China. Probably, it is not useful in our own country. In 1993 it is worth Kyats 40 per 1-viss( about 1.5 kg ). and went up about kyats 600 per viss in 1995. And now it is worth kyats 2,000 per viss. Ofcourse the price vary depending on the color of the orchids. Generally there are two kinds: white orchids and red orchids. They pay kyats1,700 per viss for white orchids and kyats 2,000 for red orchids.

Q. How much money you could make in a day by collecting these orchids?
A. We could make from kyats 400 to kyats 3,000 in a day.

Q. Is there any one hurt or died from searching these orchids in the forest?
A. Yes! there are not only hurt but also died from falling the tree. We heard that many people from different villages get injury.

Q. Do you mean other villages also doing the same, seeking wild orchids?.
A. Yes! people from different villages are doing collecting wild orchids. Some people even take risk to go to Kalaymyo area in seeking wild orchids. Before the price went up, we could go anywhere and collect them. But after the price went up we are no longer allowed to go to another place. The village elders forbid us to go to another village areas . We can do only within our own village area.

Q. Why do the elders prohibit it?
A. They know that our forest is going to be destroyed.

Q. Of what seasons these wild orchids are obtainable?
A. They have a very short life. From November until the end of January. The buyers want to buy only those that are from this period of time.

Q. Do you have any concern about caused by seeking wild orchids?
A. Yes! I am really concerned about it because I have seen destroyed and smashed the forest in our area. The forest is now turned into desolation. Soil erosion has also taken place which causes frighteningly the decreased of crops production . And it also raises environmental concern. No rain. Rivers and streams have almost dried up.

Q. Do you see any advantage?
A. There is an advantage in some way for the poor people like us. We have no earning or earning access. We could pay for some of the forced contribution money to the army and escape from punishment. But not all the time. And also we could buy some salt, cooking oil and medicine ( basic necessities ) with the money we get from selling wild orchids.

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