The military rulers of Myanmar continue drawing international attention for their relentless and brutal crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators since 1 February 2021. Given such a situation, people in its neighbouring North-east Indian states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh are feeling sympathetic towards the oppressed in that country. It is something neither new nor unusual.
Myanmar-bordering Indian states have been supporting Burmese refugees since the days of the democratic uprising in the South-east Asian nation under the leadership of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Even during her earlier house arrest by the military junta, Suu Kyi enjoyed visible support among the people in the North-east.
Historians explain that various ethnic communities living in IndoMyanmar border localities were politically divided into two nationalities.
But they share the same ancestors, ethnicities, religious and historical backgrounds. Communities like Chin, Mizo, Lusai, Chakma, Naga, Kuki, Zomi, Meitei, etc still bear the pain of separation as they were compelled to adopt separate nations. Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh share an international border of around 1,643 kilometres with Myanmar.
Mostly porous and unguarded, the border areas are routinely used by Burmese refugees to get into India (North-eastern militants take the opposite route) and it is assumed that nearly 50,000 refugees are taking shelter in various Indian localities now.
Since the coup by Tatmadaw, Myanmar has been witnessing uninterrupted protest-demonstrations by common people across the country under a civil disobedience movement. It was called by the jailed National League for Democracy chief Suu Kyi to oppose the armed forces that overthrew a democratically elected government alleging voting frauds.
Armed military personnel have undertaken lethal attacks on demonstrators, who are hitting the streets with their demand to end the military rule and restore the democratically elected government in Naypyidaw.
A series of protest programmes in Yangon, Mandalay, Meiktila, Magway and Myingyan resulted in the killing of more than 700 people by the military.
Thousands of civilian protesters have been injured in the brutal crackdowns and more than 3,000 democratic activists, civil society representatives, influential social workers along with journalists have been arrested.
Lately, the military authority, led by top general Min Aung Hlaing, has started publishing a list of journalists and social media users who are wanted under various cruel military rules.
The Geneva-based media rights body Press Emblem Campaign informed that no less than 65 journalists were detained and arrested by the Tatmadaw with half of them still behind bars. In a strong message to the military junta, PEC asserted that journalists performed their duties while reporting the unrest and hence, must not be harassed.
“The arrested journalists face sedition laws under Section 505 (A) of the Myanmar Penal Code that may put them behind bars for around three years. The military authority run-Myanmar Radio and Television continues to broadcast the names of wanted journalists under the aforementioned rules, which is appalling,” said Blaise Lempen, the general secretary of PEC.
Recently, a senior Burmese journalist commented that they apprehended the adverse situation in their country and were ready to face the consequences. Soe Myint, who leads the Mizzima media group, asserted that they would not bow to the military generals but continue reporting about their beloved country’s present crisis.
He claimed that it is now a frontal war between Tatmadaw and common people, and no longer remains a military versus NLD or Suu Kyi conflict.
The editor of both the English and Burmese versions of Mizzima newspapers, free-to-air Mizzima Television channel and digital daily newspapers added that he might be arrested by the military or even get killed by their thugs. Myint, who is presently working from hideouts to avoid probable assaults by military personnel, finally admitted that he may go for exile once again in neighbouring countries, including India, if the situation demands so.
Amid reports of more people being tortured including politicians, rights activists and media persons in Myanmar, Mizoram chief minister Pu Zoramthanga made an amazing comment in the state Assembly.
He declared that if people from Myanmar arrive in Mizoram, Aizawl would welcome them with food and shelter. Similar sympathetic views were aired by several ethnic groups in the bordering states. Following that the Centre, which otherwise takes time to officially condemn military violence against Burmese protesters, asked the state governments in Aizawl, Imphal, Kohima and Itanagar to act against the “infiltrators” from Myanmar under prescribed laws.
Directing the four Myanmar-bordering governments to maintain a strict vigil and prevent people from entering Indian soil, New Delhi added that no state government has the power to grant refugee status to foreigners as India follows a centralised policy on refugees and is also not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention (1951) or Refugee Protocol (1967).
Even then, the Manipur High Court recently asked the government to arrange safe passage for a group of Myanmar’s citizens from the bordering town of Moreh to Imphal. Listening to the petitioner for allowing those asylum seekers to approach the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in New Delhi, the court directed that no coercive steps or adverse action should be taken against them.
They should be stationed under adequate security arrangements till further direction, it said.
The writer is the Guwahati-based Special Representative of The Statesman.