About: This is the news cooked this week, in our World. I’ve dug out some old dishes and flavoured it with present day spices.
“There should be no boundaries to human endeavour. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.” – Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything
Oh Myanmar, The Military, Suui Kyi, and the Rohingya!
I can clearly recall the many times a proud House Owner, on showing-off his newly built house, would proclaim on touching wood, ‘that’s made from original Burma Teak’. I heard the sound!
Teak grows throughout much of Burma and due to its natural water resistance is sought out for a variety of uses, especially furniture-making and shipbuilding. And it is an important part of Burma’s economy.
Burma was renamed as Myanmar in 1989 by the then ruling Military Government. Both names can be traced to the majority ‘Bamar’ ethnic group living in the region. Some say the names are derived from ‘Brahma Desha’, after Lord Brahma (one of the Hindu Trinity Gods).
Myanmar has a population of about 54 million. The biggest city is Yangon (Rangoon) and the capital is Nay Pyi Taw. The main religion is Buddhism.
These days, Myanmar is in the news for reasons other than its trustworthy hard teak. Let’s do a flashback.
Myanmar gained independence from the British (who else was a better coloniser?) on 4th January 1948 largely due to the efforts of Aung Sung who founded the Myanmar Armed Forces and headed the Transition to the country’s Independence. He is considered the Father of the Nation, of modern-day Myanmar. Unfortunately, he was assassinated just six months before Myanmar officially gained its independence. His surviving children are, a daughter, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was two years old at the time of his death, and a son, Aung San Oo, now an US citizen and estranged from his famous sister.
Following Aung Sung’s assassination, his colleague, U Nu, took over as Burma’s first Prime Minister. And the wife of Aung Sung was appointed the Burmese Ambassador to India, which led to Aung San Suu Kyi studying in the Convent of Jesus & Mary School, New Delhi, and graduating from Delhi University’s Lady Sri Ram College. She married a British historian Dr Michael Ari who later died of cancer in 1999.
In March 1962 the military led by General Ne Win took control of Burma through a coup d’état following internal ethnic strife and civilian unrest. And the government has been in direct or indirect military control ever since.
Entering active politics, Suu Kyi formed and headed the democratic, National League for Democracy (NLD) Party during the uprising of 8th August 1988 (called the 8888 uprising) in the country. In all the instances – mostly on international pressure – when the military woke up and allowed General Elections, and when Suu Kyi’s NLD participated, it invariably swept the Elections, often winning in a landslide. And also invariably the military government would ignore the election results, refuse to hand over power and instead detain Suu Kyi and place her under house arrest. She spent a total of 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010 in this manner of a cat & mouse game until the time of her final release from ‘house arrest’ on 13th November 2010.
In between all of this, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for, ‘her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights’. And for ‘being involved in the second struggle for national independence employing non-violent means to resist a regime characterised by brutality’. The Nobel Committee as also said that Suu Kyi ‘emphasizes the need for conciliation between the sharply divided regions and ethnic groups in her country’.
In the General elections of November 2015 Suu Kyi led the NLD to yet another landslide victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election of 25 years.
Meanwhile, the clever Army Generals, had made statute changes, and were prepared to gun her down with new Laws. Under the current Constitution, which came into effect from 2008, she was barred from becoming President, being the widow of a foreigner (her husband was British) and the mother of foreigners (her two children are not citizens of Myanmar ). A post called ‘State Counsellor’, akin to Prime Minister, was created for her, alongside the President, from the NLD.
But since becoming Myanmar’s State Counsellor, her leadership has been defined by the treatment of the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.
In 2017 hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to the neighbouring Bangladesh due to an Army crackdown sparked by deadly attacks on police stations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The Rohingya, who numbered around one million at the start of 2017, are one of the many ethnic minorities in the country. Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine state. They have their own language and culture and are said to be descendants of Arab traders and other groups who have lived in the region for generations.
But the government of Myanmar, predominantly Buddhist, has denied the Rohingya citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 census, refusing to recognise them as a people. It sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Since the 1970s, Rohingya have migrated across the region in significant numbers.
In the last few years, thousands of Rohingya made perilous journeys out of Myanmar to escape communal violence or alleged abuses by the armed forces.
The exodus began on 25th August 2017 after Rohingya Arsa militants launched deadly attacks on more than 30 police posts. Rohingyas arriving in Bangladesh said they fled after troops, backed by local Buddhist mobs, burnt their villages and attacked and killed civilians. At least 6,700 Rohingya, including about 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the month after the violence broke out. And – according to reports – the Myanmar military raped and abused Rohingya women.
Suu Kyi’s is accused her of doing nothing to stop the mayhem, possible genocide, or ethnic cleansing, by refusing to condemn the powerful military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities. The Nobel Peace Prize hung upon her. Maybe, she was a pragmatic politician, trying to govern a multi-ethnic country with a complex history and trying to find an opportune moment to shoot the goal she wanted, playing ball with the military? Could be that the military did the Rohingya Act to besmirch Suu Kyi and show that a civilian government cannot rule? I wish I knew, only time will tell. I would place my trust in Suu Kyi – she having endured so much.
Her personal defence of the Army’s actions at the International Court of Justice hearing in 2019 in the Hague was seen as a new turning point that obliterated what little remained of her international reputation.
At home, however, ‘the Lady’, as Suu Kyi is known, remains hugely popular among the Buddhist majority who hold little sympathy for the Rohingya.
Trooping over to the present, in the General Elections of 8th November 2020, the NLD again won by a landslide securing 83% of available seats in what many saw as a referendum on Suu Kyi’s civilian government. It was just the second election since the end of military rule in 2011.
But the military, true to its nature, has disputed the result, filing complaints at the Supreme Court against the President and the Chair of the Electoral Commission demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud. The Election Commission, in turn, has said there was no evidence to support the claims.
The New Parliament was set to convene on 1st February 2021 to acknowledge the Elections, swear-in new members and open-up for business, when yet another coup was staged by the military. And power was handed over to the Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing. Back to Military Rule. Here we are.
Suui Kyi is again under House Arrest and several charges have been filed against her such as, breaching import and export laws and possessing unlawful communication devices – aka walkie talkies!
Fascinating to learn that this is happening right next-door and there is nothing much we can do about it. What next? Another round of Elections? Another round of House Arrests? Another merry-go-round? And a timeless drift for Myanmar to become the seasoned wood of a Burma Teak?
I think the United Nations and all right-thinking Nations ought to put some sense into the Army Generals and fire them to return to their barracks; live and let live.
Meanwhile, last week’s Person in the Russian News, Opposition Leader, Alexei Navalny, was handed a three years jail sentence, by the Courts, on parole violations; charges which appear specially cooked-up and politically motivated. As more pro-Navalny protesters across more than ten cities were detained many Western Nations including the US, Germany, and France condemned the violence against the protestors and called for Navalny’s immediate release.
Changes in Russia do not happen quickly or easily. However, Alexei Navalny has at best galvanised a movement, and the direction it takes will be worth a watch over the coming months… and years.
It’s an uphill task fighting for a cause and finding the momentum. Someone in some part of the world is fighting for Freedom. And it always comes at a price?
India’s Promised ‘Never Before Budget’?
It was a fantastic effort in book-keeping and was neatly written on a foundation of six defined pillars: health & well being, physical & financial capital & infrastructure, inclusive development, human Capital, Innovation and R&D, and Minimum Govt & Maximum Governance. And read out from a paperless ‘made in India’ Tablet. Wow! However, it presses the growth accelerator after a pandemic year of continuously topping up the fuel tank and guzzling fuel – running the engine standstill at seemingly endless red signals and not covering ground. The Government is still spending more than it earns – this is estimated as 9.5% for this year and 6.8% for the next.
Broadly, the Government is tirelessly focussing on infrastructure: roads, airports, ports, urban transportation, power, etc., ‘creating assets to catalyse future growth’- as someone put it aptly. Also targeting to sell off inefficient Public Sector Companies to realise money for its various operations. And creating a ‘Bad Bank’ – a Sink for non-performing assets, which can be cleaned up by selling the collected dirt that has some value. All this is happening keeping the sights on much needed healthcare – for the wellness of the nation, and education – hoping it leads to greater wisdom. There are plans to set up a National Language Translation Mission (NLTM) to enable the wealth of governance, policy information, and knowledge on the internet being made available in major Indian languages, so that people can understand each other better in addition to what’s happening around the world. Namaste – Vanakkam.
Having been stirred and shaken in battling the coronavirus pandemic, the Government has pledged to fund four new National Virology Institutes, nine new High-Containment Laboratories for studies on highly infectious pathogens and a National Institution for ‘One Health’ to coordinate research and surveillance on animal and human infections. Viruses living on Bats & Friends beware, India will hunt you down.
Meanwhile, the citizen has not been loaded with any new taxes and tax compliance has been encouraged with easing of some complex rules. In a first, Income Tax has been done away for pension & interest dependant Senior Citizens over 75 years old (No Time To Die?)With the average Indian Life expectancy near about 71 years, I wish the Government had climbed down to 65years to keep us alive. I’m hitting sixty next year and wish the cool definition of senior citizen – 60 plus – is lent real meaning. Proud to be a Senior Citizen, I must say?
Growing COVID-19 Vaccinations
More than 119 million doses have been administered across 67 countries, averaging 4.54 million doses a day.
India has vaccinated near about 5 million people (Source: Ministry of Health), about 0.33 doses per 100 people, and it’s an awfully long drive to reach the ’70% to 75% vaccinated’ herd-immunity milestone.
I continue my story on the vaccination effort in Israel, which is by far the first country where vaccinations are starting to curb the pandemic and experts claim with caution, ‘the magic has started’.
Israel has been able to rapidly rollout its vaccination drive due to a well-laid out healthcare system that requires every citizen to be a member of one of four non-profit, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)s, which collectively operate clinics throughout the country. A resident connects with his HMO to make appointments, manage prescriptions, and get test results.
Having secured vaccine supplies from both Pfizer and Moderna, Israel was able to use this solid healthcare infrastructure to push ahead with vaccination faster than any other country. The HMOs send alerts to all people over 60 years old, to say they are eligible, and outlines who could self-book via Phone, Website or App. At the vaccine centre – ranging from stadiums to drive-throughs – A nurse confirms the medical history including allergies on an iPad in less than 30 seconds to clear the person for a jab. People can book an appointment for the second dose while waiting for the first.
As of Friday, Israel had given roughly 59 shots per 100 people in the country, while the United Kingdom has given 16 doses per 100, and United States, almost 11.
New Vaccines such as Johnson & Johnson’s one shot Vaccine are expected to reach our arms in the coming weeks and months, and it would surely accelerate the vaccination drive. Get that arm ready!
A Steven Spielberg movie is always a delight to watch. Who can forget the dramatic jaw-dropping scenes of the 1975 movie, Jaws? We never get to see the deadly shark until about half-time into the movie, where the music, the sound effects, and the images do all the talking. Isn’t that what a motion picture should do?
This week, I finally got to see the ‘greatest war movie ever made, one of the finest movies of our time, nominated for eleven Academy Awards and winning five, including Best Director for Steven Spielberg’s 1998 movie, Saving Private Ryan.
This is the story of eight marines tasked with saving the life of an ordinary solider, Private James Ryan, who no one knew before, and bringing him back home, safely from behind enemy lines. This is because Private Ryan lost three brothers, killed in the same war he was fighting. And his mother was to receive three telegrams, at the same time, informing their deaths and the US Army General deciding this was more than anyone could possibly bear.
The story is set in 1944 during Word War-II when American soldiers land at Omaha Beach as part of the Normandy Invasion and the opening scene presents one of the bloodiest battles of the war. I could feel the thud of the bullets, ‘hear the smell of blood’, and see the images as if I was in that battle, in a fantastic, riveting 20 minutes of the incident.
Hollywood stars, Tom Hanks, Matt Damon (Ryan) and Vin Diesel form part of the awesome cast. Watch it to see the very best of film-making and feel what war can do to human civilisations.
There’s nothing like a good song, a good book, or a good movie to inspire the best in us, isn’t it?
There’s a new story hatching every day in some part of the World. I’ll make sense of them and bring them to you every week.