Editorial
03 June 2021

The Life of a Student in a Military Coup in Myanmar

The coup in Myanmar doesn’t show any signs of stopping. The people live in fear and terror of the attack by the junta every day. Read what’s happening and the plight of our student in Myanmar.

Myanmar. It’s been four months since the reign of the coup d’etat and the resistance against it is still running on high steam. I’ll spare you the general introductions of the military and the protests of the civilians for there are already abundant reports and devastating news on the Internet. What I’ll bring to you instead is a look into the daily life of a fellow student living in Myanmar, close to the chaos. The extra safety precautions, the impact on mentality, the spirit to fight for a better future; even this article only barely manages to show the tip of the iceberg under the ominous cloud-ridden skies.

Everyone living in Myanmar is affected by the coup d’etat and the protests. Our student,  May (not her real name), who decided to remain anonymous, lives in Mandalay, a state next to the intense happenings we see on the news. While her state is still considered ‘safe’, it certainly isn’t at the standard we Malaysians would consider, as snipers and patrollers still linger about. 

Here’s a glimpse of her daily life in the state of Mandalay, 2021.

May’s Experiences and Emotions

 

Here’s a piece written by May:

I've recently been waking up at 3 a.m. from violent and traumatic nightmares about being arrested and shot. In reality, this wasn’t just a dream for me. If COVID-19 wasn't enough trouble, there was a coup on February 1, 2021. Waking up to the sound of guns, bombings, and thundurous military jets on their way to drop bombs on innocent villages shouldn’t be normalised, but sadly it has become the norm here. 

For nearly two months, I and the rest of Myanmar were cut off from the Internet, unable to know what was going on around us or in the world until 9 a.m., when the junta allowed us to reconnect. During the internet outages, I had to text or call my friends to find out what was going on in my city. Not just that, but the junta has blocked access to Facebook, so I had to purchase a VPN to stay linked to the world. 

Whenever I go through Facebook, I see smoke and flames, mutilated human bodies, and unarmed demonstrators slaughtered like cattle. My people are being slaughtered as if they were statistics. The junta has been particularly targeting teenagers since we’ve been the ones who have been extremely active about this movement from the start. It's nauseating, and I'm so frustrated that I can't even support them enough. My entire social media feed is flooded with the gore and cruelty that my people face on a daily basis. I wish I could leave social media in order to avoid witnessing any of these horrors, but I can't, so the least I can do is amplify my people's feelings through my social media account.

Impacts on Convenience by Eunice

 

Before April 27 2021 (since February 2021), every day, from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Myanmar time, the Internet would be cut off by the military. Civilians could only rely on fiber internet or VPN to even have any access, and that only applies to those who have or know how to use them. This internet outage has affected a lot of working adults and students who study overseas, disabling them from attending online meetings and even getting work done. May was also a victim of the internet outages, nearly missing her exams and assignment deadlines. Thankfully, she managed to get in touch with her lecturers who understood the situation she was in and gave her a time extension. Regardless, the internet outage is truly inconvenient and troublesome to all the civilians.

3G internet and social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have also been disabled by the military, so civilians living in rural areas have to rely on phone calls and SMS if they don’t have fiber internet. This leaves a huge impact on news updates as the military is especially active in these areas and the disabled 3G internet causes the rural areas to receive information late and false information to spread fast. May shares that Facebook is basically the information hub to the civilians, just like Google is to us. They go to Facebook for information because it’s readily provided in Burmese, the language a majority of the civilians know. While the tech savvy or more privileged civilians are able to cope with using Google after the ban of Facebook, many still struggle with it.

Paying attention in class was especially difficult as the horrors were going on outside my windows. And due to the limited access to the internet, I missed some deadlines and could not make it in time for my exams. So, like many other international students during a coup, I decided to take a break from my studies to support my family during these difficult times. 

When the coup first occurred, I used to lock my room because junta soldiers would conduct night house raids. And, as a female minority in my own country, I feel extremely unsafe and anxious whenever I go outside. With so many news stories on social media about sexual violence by the terrorists, I’m afraid of being assaulted by the military personnel. I dare not wear clothes that show even the slightest amount of skin. I'm also afraid of walking outside with my phone because it makes it easy for them to lock me up. And every now and then, I hear gunshots in my neighborhood; how am I supposed to sleep at night with all this happening.

Impacts on Safety & Rights by Eunice

 

Remember when I briefly mentioned snipers lurking around? Before she and her family step outside, they make sure to look around and see if there are any snipers camping somewhere. The snipers are ruthless; they’d randomly shoot anyone on sight. Besides looking out for snipers, they also have to plan which route to take that they deem safest. The military sends the people out to patrol the roads and to camp at certain spots. According to May, whoever gets caught supporting opposing parties or other political parties are forcefully put into jail — interrogation centers being the worst option. To prevent getting caught, there are civilians who would bring along a dummy phone or clear their phones before heading out.

All civilians’ rights have also been revoked ever since the coup started. The military no longer issue warrants in order to enter houses; they’d just storm in. The vaccines for COVID-19 that arrived in Myanmar were also hoarded by the military. Access to vaccines is very hard for the general public and many have yet to get their vaccines despite Myanmar being the first country in Southeast Asia to receive them.

Finally, to be blunt, I know there is no one out there to save us. I've listened to UN meetings and the ASEAN Summit – they are just statements condemning the coup. I'm actually glad people in my country are waking up and realising there’s no one out there except ourselves to save us. I’m worried about my future and don't know when this will all come to an end. There’s a lot of uncertainty in my mind. I fear for the safety of my family and friends. I'm afraid of not having an education. And mostly, I'm enraged. Angry at all the victims who have been wrongfully killed, at the bloodshed and abuse that minorities face, and at the females who have been sexually abused in the country I call home.  

At the same time, all of the online discussions about an inclusive, liberal future empowers me. I’m overjoyed that the youth in my country are not dreaming of going backwards and are concerned about equal rights without ignoring any ethnic groups in my country. I’m glad that the citizens of my nation no longer believe the propaganda created by the military over the years. People here are more united than ever before; neither religion nor race divides us any longer, for we now have a shared enemy, and that enemy is the Tatmadaw. Until we achieve true democracy, we’ll not surrender and continue this fight.

Impacts on the Civilians’ Actions by Eunice

 

The economy of Myanmar is also suffering heavily with it’s currency value having depreciated to around 20%. The civilians are suffering from the poor economy, including May. It’s now more expensive to study abroad and the drop in Myanmar currency has caused those living abroad to struggle. Even the civilians who plan to live abroad have to reconsider their decisions too. It doesn’t help that the military goes around looting small markets either. May shares that once, a small market seller got looted of his watermelons by the military. Small market sellers depend on their products to earn profit, and because of the looting they’ve decided to close their shops out of fear.

Every day, at 8 a.m., civilians in Myanmar bang pots and pans to create a lot of noise to show unwillingness to surrender to the coup. May also shares that in Mandalay, the civilians also do that but the number of participating people has dwindled mainly because the military will shoot anyone who does that. It still hasn’t stopped some civilians from carrying out the action though.

Not too long ago, the civilians built a bonfire of the military’s 2008 constitution copies to show their disapproval of militarism. They also frequently light up fires outside buildings to block the views of snipers. Sadly, this has caused a lot of air pollution.

It’s disheartening to see a fellow country of Southeast Asia going through such harsh times. It’s vital that you do keep yourself updated on the news, whether it be national or international! May and her friends have provided a few sources you can get more detailed news and information of the coup in Myanmar. 

Have the heart to reach out to our fellow SouthEast Asians? Here are a few ways you can do so — every little action counts! You can donate to the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CPRH), the frontliners tackling the ongoing pandemic and also the refugees of the coup through Amnesty International and Chin Youth Talk. If you’re feeling brave, you can also bring the attention of our authorities to the matter. Put pressure on the Minister of the Parliament, send a letter to our Prime Minister, call the ministers of your state to stop supporting the coup and halt business ties with them or more. If you’re really going to approach the authorities for their aid, do remember to keep it professional and do let experienced adults check the contents before you send it. If you’re clueless on what to include in your letter, check out the list of sources you can stay updated on Myanmar that we provided!

As citizens living in Malaysia, we’re really fortunate that we’re able to solve our political matters through demonstrations and marches instead of war. The past government may have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at us, but no war ever occured at the same intensity as Hong Kong or Myanmar. We were able to settle the conflict with the old government peacefully, the entire nation cooperating together to vote for the new government. This is why I emphasise that we should never take peace for granted! Whatever protests or demonstrations we have to do, we must remember that violence is never the answer. Just as Sun Tzu the war strategist once said, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

Eunice Liow is currently pursuing a Foundation in Business at Taylor's  College. She is also a member of the Event Management team for Taylor's College Student Council.

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