By Shahbana Mahfooz
She gazes at you through the portrait. The painter captures her earnestness well, the sincerity in her eyes, the goodwill and honesty in her smile. Her radiant being stands framed in her loved one’s abode and then adorns one of the walls surrounding an arena where she learned to value the principles of politics and philosophy. Years later, she desecrates the principles, the once accommodating space rejects her being and her portrait now collects dust in an unfamiliar confinement.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the defacto leader of Myanmar, was once revered in the world for her commitment to non violence and her silent yet determined struggle for democracy in her country. There is no dearth of accolades for her – she is a Nobel Laureate, has scores of prizes for freedom of thought and human rights, honorary presidencies and memberships, honorary doctorates – the list of decorations is long. Rubbing shoulders with the world’s famous state leaders, making it to the list of world’s most influential women and once the darling of the east, Suu Kyi is now receiving criticism rather than admiration and that also at an increasing pace, with even some accolades being stripped off. The world questions her vows to non violence after witnessing one of the worst examples of violence in her state under her rule. Her contemporaries deplore her practice of human rights and freedom of thought, values she once championed. Her fellow Nobel laureates beg to differ at the ‘peace’ moves in her country, while alumni of prestigious institutions to which she also belongs, try to bring to her memory the principles she once cherished. But Aung San Suu Kyi denies any ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ taking place in Myanmar, shows offence at her being questioned by a journalist celebrated but belonging to the faith whose followers have nothing to celebrate in her country and trampling her prior commitments to non violence, peace and human rights, defends to root out ‘militants’ from her homeland.
Consistent criticism and isolation can hugely burden a person under the debt of guilt and self consciousness. Some principal of rationality or responsibility seem to be settling on Suu Kyi’s shoulders, as she recently called for ‘speeding up measures for humanitarian aid, rehabilitation, resettlement and development in the conflict-torn Rakhine state’ and ‘laid down the priorities for the government for effective implementation of the measures.’ For the first time, interfaith prayers were also held at a stadium in Myanmar’s biggest city of Yangon, where amid thousands of people, Buddhist monks, Hindus, Christian nuns and Muslim men listened to religious leaders who took turns to appeal for friendship. Stepping off the podium, the chief Buddhist monk of Yangon shook hands with the Muslim leader. Rakhine also received its first substantial food supplies in months after international pressure on the government to help.
But genocide leading to the possible extinction of the Rohingyas continues in Myanmar and their exodus has become an accepted fact, with upto more than 11000 refugees arriving at the Bangladesh border in a single day.
What holds back Suu Kyi from taking effective and real measures? Is it the fear of the military looming over her head which ‘has an outsized role in the politics, the economy and the social life of the country by virtue of the Constitution which guarantees it 25 percent and a veto proof standing changing the Constitution.’Is Suu Kyi’s silence over the Rohingya issue due to a need to obtain support from the majority Bamar ethnicity ? Does she silently support their sentiments and herself believes that after living for centuries, Rohingyas are still illegal migrants in Myanmar? Or is it the promise of a bright future for mineral rich Myanmar, which has brought in effect indifference and a damn care attitude to world pressure? A bright future is possible for the country, as an offshore gas field has already been built with oil and gas pipelines transporting Myanmar’s reserves to China, while another mega development project and economic zone is under development in Rakhine – although the people are not reaping benefits in the form of additional jobs or increased economic growth. A report by Global Witness suggests that natural resource exploitation, especially the country’s billion dollar jade business, may also be playing a part in the country’s religious and ethnic tensions. Myanmar’s jade industry was worth half of Myanmar’s GDP in 2014, claims Global Witness. But instead of the money reaching to ordinary people, the sector is allegedly controlled by the military, which seems to be at the centre of a vicious cycle.
Whatever the reason, Aung San Suu Kyi has left the hearts of many, just like her portrait which once greeted students entering the Oxford College where she had also studied. She has little to offer to the Rohingya Muslims, in contrast to what the Dalai Lama claims, that Buddha, whose name and image she herself reverently holds to the point of worship, would have definitely helped them.But Buddha seems serene in all his imagery, oblivious to the mayhem, seated in his famous lotus position having attained nirvana. He served his purpose, now it’s our turn. After the pulling out of portraits and honorary titles, maybe the wall Aung San Suu Kyi has built around herself should be pulled down too – brick by brick. It should pave way to reverse the exodus of Rohingyas from the outside to the heart of their homeland, where they still belong. Until then, the pile of dust continues to settle on the fallen portrait and the shadow replaces the limelight.