NEW DELHI, Nov 19 (OneWorld) – Exiled political leaders from Burma have expressed their anguish at the Indian government's policy of appeasing the Burmese military junta that has internationally been seen as committing gross human rights violations and suppressing its own people.
|Aung San Suu Kyi © Digital Freedom Network|
The India Social Forum, a potpourri of culture, political debates, youth activism, and everything anti-establishment, provided the right platform for exiled Burmese leaders and students to lament India's growing proximity with the military regime in Burma, renamed Myanmar. The exiles not only held protest marches but also organized a seminar: "Participation of India in Burma's Democracy."
Dr. Tint Swe, a member of parliament from Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, urged the Indian government to change its stance towards the military regime and instead support the Burmese people for restoration of democracy in his country.
"Till the 1988 uprising for democracy, we enjoyed India's support, but now India is warming up to Burma because of four factors: improved Chinese relations with Burma, turmoil in northeast India, economic opportunities, and import of gas," lamented Swe, who has been living in exile in New Delhi for around 16 years. "We wish that India would promote democracy in Burma, which will also lend stability to India's troubled northeast."
|© International Confederation of Free Trade Unions|
Many Indian analysts agree and too want a change in India's foreign policy. According to Ravi Hemadri, executive director of the Delhi-based NGO The Other Media, "India's role cannot be underestimated in Burma's situation. Indian companies–both private sector as well as public sector–are keen to invest in Burma where lax labor laws and environmental laws are in force. Just about 10 years back this was not so in trade and external relations."
Hemadri added: "Our earlier policy included supporting pro-democracy students, providing camps for Burmese refugees in the northeastern state of Mizoram, and we even gave a Jawaharlal Nehru Award to Aung San Suu Kyi. Now when the Indian president went to Burma a few months back he did not even inquire about her or utter her name."
Social activist Jaya Srivastava feels that globalization and marginalisation are the culprits that have forced countries as well as corporates to queue up to Burma as an economic and trade partner.
"It is because of globalization that companies are looking at resource rich regions and Burma is just one of them that can be used to make profit," Srivastava said. "It is for the same reason that countries also want to improve their relations with the military regime."
|© Free Burma Coalition|
Srivastava added: "The spectrum of marginalization is so large in the Indian society–political and business classes–that the Burmese issue has been marginalized. Rural India, northeast India, and many other sections have been marginalized. Even the media does not cover most of these issues. But the question is how do we get out of this marginalization?"
She suggested that the exiled Burmese people link up with the various movements and struggles in India.
"The Burmese will have to reach out to other groups–student, environmental, social, and political–and tell them about the Burmese cause. Only then will you be able to take your fight for democracy forward," suggested Srivastava to an audience that mostly comprised Burmese youth.
But Swe brought out the on-the-ground realities. "There was a time when entire Burma would be glued to radio sets to listen to All India Radio's news, features, and pro-democracy speeches of our political leaders. But now the radio does not even take the name of Aung San Suu Kyi, most probably due to Indian government directives," he said. "People stopped listening to it and prefer other foreign radio services for news on Burma."
|Burmese military. © Burma Campaign UK|
Swe lamented that India prevented the International Labour Organization from taking measures against the Burmese regime for its forced labor practices.
"India, along with three other countries, supported the military regime for its poor human rights record over forced labor. All construction in Burma has been done by the military regime through forced labor. It is simple. Every family is asked to provide one person for work and no money or food is given for that work," said the exiled Burmese leader.
Hemadri says the exiled leaders get maximum support from the Scandinavian and other European countries, but the Indian government's policies towards Burma are important as India is a key neighbor and regional power. "The world looks at India and China for their relations over Burma, which is why Indian support is necessary for democracy in my country."