This essay will outline the recent bloody crackdown on the Buddhist monks and civilians who took part in demonstration in Rangoon against the Burmese military government. It will analyse on how this crackdown has impacted on the people of Burma as well as people from around the world. It will also analyse how the people have exposed their solidarity with the monks and people of Burma. In this essay red-colour has been used to memoralise the monks. The essay found that Rangoon (Burma) has been observed as landscape of trauma.
However, it is too early to figure out the impact of recent bloody crackdown in Rangoon as well as others part of Burma. It is misleading to even interpret that there were very small numbers of monks and civilians who had been killed on that episode compared to the mass killing in 1988. Lack of freedom of expression, gathering and organisation have substantially increased the neglect, corruption, social inequities and elitism which had resulted in the consequence of civil conflict between the innocent civilians and the military members. For Rangoon, the term “bloody crackdown” is a more accurate description of how the Burmese military regime has showed their way of solving problems with violence rather respecting people’s rights. Failure in managing the political economic problems and refused to hand over power to the legally elected parties have resulted several mass protests and finally bloody crackdown on innocent people. This brutal mode has affected its neighboring countries as well as the whole world. This tragic episode in Rangoon as well as other part of Burma will continue to exist in the world record Burma as a landscape of trauma.
Buddhist monks have a long history of political involvement in Burma. Burma was ruled as a British colony for 62 years from 1886 to 1948. In 1920s, Burmese politicians, university students and Buddhist monks began their activities to protest against the British authorities until Burma gained independence in January 1948. However, the democracy survived only for 14 years in Burma. The Burmese military regime under the leadership of General Ne Win took over power in 1962, when some leaders were killed and many were jailed (Silverstein, 1976). In September 1987, university’s students revolted in Rangoon after the Burmese government announced all Kyat (Burmese currency) 25, 35 and 75 notes were no longer legal tenders. The universities and colleges were shut down for two months (Keeler, 1997). The nationwide demonstrations emerged after a minor accident occurred at a teashop in Rangoon in March 1988. Hundreds and thousands of monks, students and civilians took part in protest against the Burmese Socialist Party Program (BSPP), a single party government. The BSPP’s chairman Ne Win resigned but before his resignation he made a last public address, in which he warned the protesters “If in the future there are mob disturbances, if the army shoots, it hits” (Harris, 2001).
After the substantial number of protesters marched throughout the country, the BSPP’s chairman had been replaced by Sein Lwin, who had ordered the armies to shoot the peaceful demonstrators. The official lists found that more than 3,000 people were killed but activists claimed there were about 10,000. Moreover, Hundreds and thousands of monks, students and civilians had been jailed for many years some of them are still in jail until today (BBC, 2007). On the other hand, the Burmese military leader, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) chairman General Saw Maung promised to hold the democratic election in May 1990. The general election was a significant victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD), a political party under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner in 1991. Some ethnic national parties also won several seats in that general election. However, Burma became under the military control again because of the SLORC refused to hand over power to the elected parties such as NLD, whose leader was still detained in her house since 1989. The military regime continued to rule Burma (Victor, 1998).
In September 2007, after two decades of the mass killing in 1988, public demonstrations once again emerged in Burma. Hundreds of thousands monks took part in protest, Burmese people supported the monks. Followed by the fuel price hike up to 500%, the people of Burma could no longer tolerated on the ruling government. The number of monks and civilians in demonstration rapidly increased after the military government launched a brutal crackdown on 500 monks’ protest in Pakokku. The military government released an official statement after the bloody crackdown. They said that 13 people was killed including a 50-year-old Kenji Nagai, a Japanese national who was shot on the demonstration spot, and 3000 monks and civilians were detained (Amnesty International, 2007). However, the activists claimed that more than 200 were killed and about 6,000 have been detained, about haft of them were monks. The curfew ordered in Rangoon and in other cities. Some Buddhist monasteries were raided by the military government (USAToday, 2007).
The impact of bloody crackdown in Rangoon
Since the massacre occurred in Rangoon there were significant impacts on the people of Burma as well as the whole world. Rangoon has been viewed as a landscape of trauma, where hundred and thousand of monks and civilians were killed, tortured, detained and treated mercilessly. The evidence of photos and videos has revealed the real situation of Rangoon which has been seen as a killing field. For instance, the Japanese journalist, Kenji Nagai, he was shot in front of demonstrators when he tried to photograph the demonstrators. It was a great tragedy to see on TV and photos of such a person was shot to death in front of the crowd. The city becomes an evil place where no man wants to go there and everyone was shocked of what has happened there. The bodies of monks have been cut many pieces and were chucked into the rubbish bin and into the river. It is such a tragic event that everybody cannot imagine how the military government who hold the guns and weapons had mercilessly shot at the innocent monks and civilians. A young man has been cut by a knife on his face. It is so shocking to see such a tragic photo of this innocent boy covered in blood while lying on the table.
This event has physically and psychologically impacted the people of Burma. People are helpless, they have no where to escape as Burma is their homeland. How people will survive when they are physically and mentally assaulted or tortured by the people who hold the power and control over the country? It is no doubt that the people of Burma have been coping with this kind of trauma since 45 years ago after the military coup in 1962. Their parents, sons/daughters, relatives and friends have been killed, detained, tortured and raped by the military members particularly in remote areas such as at the villages and along the borders where the ethnic people live. They grew up under this unfortunate circumstance at the landscape of trauma. The trauma that the people of Burma face in Rangoon has more impact than before because the military attacked on monks. Monks are highly respected by the Burmese community and monasteries are the places where the Burmese Buddhist community go for worship and give donations. Therefore, the Burmese community has been affected by the trauma when they see the pictures of bloodshed in monasteries. The pictures thoroughly demonstrated how the monks’ blood have stained on the floors and walls. The Buddhist monasteries have become the slaughterhouses in Rangoon, the capital city of Burma.
The world populations were shocked when they see the situation in Rangoon. People around the world paid tribute to the monks and civilians who have been killed by the military government during the demonstration in Rangoon. All different religious groups from the around world pray for Burma and stand united with the monks and people of Burma. The mainstream media from the globe have highlighted the real situation of the people who took part in demonstration and how the military junta have done bloody crackdown and shoot to the protesters. This has significantly impacted on the world population and they have been psychologically affected from the media when they see this bloody event, the way the Burmese armies shot, beat and attacked peaceful protesters. This trauma has impacted on people, whenever people hear about Burma or see the red-colour, the horrific situation in Rangoon that they have seen on TV or photos will bring back this traumatic memory to them. This psychological trauma will remain in people’s mind for many years. Moreover, people from around the world wear red-colour with intention to pay tribute to the monks who have been killed and they pray for peace and democracy in Burma. The red-colour which is indicated to the monk’s robe, it means people feel sympathized to the monks and will remember them. All students wear red-colour in some schools in US.
Wearing red colour
In seeking to understand the impact of the Rangoon bloody event that it has brought, we use an unconventional but potentially useful social and psychological indicatorญwearing Red T-shirt. In the wake of Rangoon bloodshed, the red color (as the Monks’ robe colour) have become a popular meaning for people to express their trauma, honor the deceased, and pay tribute to people who were killed by the armies. In uncovering the meaning behind these bloodshed-inspired red colors, it is necessary to see them as memorials. Red colour provides a meaning by which those mercilessly killed in the protest and it expresses and deal with memories of trauma and place attachment, a way to make these feelings visible not only to the monks themselves on a daily basis but also to a larger public.
In attempting to explain the importance of wearing red T-shirt as mode of expression, it explores how trauma is dealt with through the construction of memorials and suggests that Rangoon landscape presents a special challenge to the project of memorializing tragic event. This bloody crackdown is similar to other significant tragedies such as the 1988 uprising. It has been able to engage in large-scale testimonial stories which will remain in the history. In such an the current issue, wearing red colour has emerged as an alternative site for people to remember and reflect on the crackdown on monks, a way of symbolizing and retelling their story in the absence of a stable social and physical landscape upon which to memorialize. Finally, it focuses on the event of crackdown and the wearing of red-colour to remember the monks and uncover the personal and emotionally charged story behind it, to illustrate the cultural importance that people wearing red color is a way to pay tribute to the monks.
Red colour as a symbolic commemoration
After the tragic occurrence of 1988, the Burmese pro-democracy movements called for some sort of memorial that could explain this trauma to future generations as well as sent a message to the world what the Burmese military government did to the peaceful protesters. Burmese pro-democracy activists contend that the commemoration of tragedies such as the 8888 uprising has conducted in a new era of memorial history in Burma. Rather than commemorating a painful event only after a substantial time has passed, significant political ideology and international attention are being emerged. This memory will exist for the future generation and it is not only an important history and cultural identification of the 8888 generation but also the people of Burma as a whole and people from around the world who strongly support in the issue of human rights and democracy in Burma. Whenever this day comes the 8888 victims will be remembered as the heroes of democracy and human rights. Burma issue has been emphasized worldwide because of this significant Memorial Day.
They are couched in the past, but served and shaped by contemporary social needs. In the case of remembering tragic events, memorials assist with the process of coping with trauma, i.e., the anger, sadness, and loss experienced by those who survive. Public remembrance is not only about establishing a historical record of what happened but also about helping people understand and perhaps heal from tragedy and trauma (Gardner and Henry 2002). Memorials are as much about the present as they are about the past. Small, temporary memorials are spontaneous efforts to deal with unexpected grief. They are the product of a desire to “do something.” Large scale memorial and monuments are erected when the number of people affected is of regional or national scale. The raising of money to support those who are detained, mental and physical affected people, deciding on a design and a meaning, are processes in ‘making sense’ of the traumatic event. Both large scale monuments and small, temporary memorials require a stable landscape. Geography, rather than being incidental to the memorialization process, plays an important role in shaping how people connect with the past, having the capacity to make certain memorial messages visible or invisible (Alderman 2004).
Rangoon city remains a site of trauma not easily memorialized. The questions then become: How have some Rangoon residents begun to work through the trauma of the massacre? And how has the bloody crackdown and the aftermath been impacted to the people of Burma as well as the world so far? Pro-democracy activists (2007) argue that red colour has emerged as an important memorial device, filling a symbolic void normally filled by more conventional forms of commemoration. Red colours do not have the same physical or symbolic gravity as large, planned memorials or even small, spontaneous shrines; yet, it is important not to ignore or underestimate that every time when people see the red colour, the massacre event in Rangoon and the monks who were killed will be remembered. Moreover, the bodyญalthough long treated as a “biological given” is now studied as an important site for representing and participating in the social world (Reischer and Koo 2004, 298). Red colour is recognized by the people of Burma as a way of dealing with trauma. Burmese pro-democracy activists suggest that wearing a red-colour becomes a way to understand and incorporate psychological loss while regaining some sense of control. They also assert that wearing red may be an especially appropriate way of marking tragic stories.
It is indicated that the monks have been taking active role in political activities that against the colonial authorities and the military government throughout Burma history. The military coup occurred after 14 years of Burma gained independent from British. Monks and students played important role in 1988 uprising and the people of Burma had been significantly impacted by physical and psychological trauma with the result of hundreds and thousands of monks, students and civilians have been killed and detained for long year imprisonment. The military government continues to rule Burma despite the National League for Democracy and other ethnic parties won the general election in 1990. Hundreds of thousands monks took the lead in Rangoon’s demonstration in September 2007. The military bloody crackdowns have significantly impacted on the people of Burma as well as the whole world, the traumatic emotions have caused to the people who see and hear about the situation in Burma. Rangoon as well as other part of Burma’s areas have been defined as the landscapes of trauma, the places of killing, torturing and imprisoning the innocent civilians. People around the world wear red-colour to pay tribute to monks and the people of Burma. The red-colour has become a significant symbol and identification of the monks in Burma. It is suggested that Burma has been psychologically distinguished as a place of the landscape of trauma where the memorial of bloody crackdown by the military government to the innocent monks and civilians will always be fresh to the world whenever they see the red-colour and hear the word ‘Burma’.
This research paper was written by Sai Awn Tai, a Shan, pro-democracy activist from Burma and journalism student at University of Technology, Sydney, Australia – Editor
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