On 30 April, U Khin Yi, Minister of Immigration and Population, coinciding with the visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, signed a letter confirming commitment to conduct a nationwide census by 2014, adhering to global standards.
Mohamed Abdel-Ahad, country representative for UN Funding for Population Activities (UFPA) also disclosed that the world body would assist in training for survey and drafting survey documents during the two years leading up to the data-collection period.
According to www.gov.ai, plans must be, in the first place, drawn up what information is to be collected, how it is to be recorded and how the findings are to be presented. The country is then divided into small areas called Enumeration Districts (EDs) and interviewers assigned to each of them are trained how to collect data.
Looking back to previous census takings, I think the first thing to do is to convince the populace, to whom “counting people’s heads” (as census is known to most) by bitter experiences means making it easier for the government to collect soldiers and taxes, how it will benefit them in a new democratic union. Ignoring this warning will only lead to repetition of past mistakes.
I also think the following suggestions are worth considering:
- Deciding how many “national races” there are in the country
- Deciding what national race a citizen is
- Deciding whether there should be surnames
- Should there be “U” (Mister) and “Daw” (Miss/Mrs) for “Sai” (Mister) and “Nang” (Miss/Mrs) for Shans and “Saw” (Mister) and “Naw” (Miss/Mrs) for Karens?
- How non-Burman names should be spelt in English
There are a lot of things to say about the first question, because officially, there are 135 “national races” in the union and previous governments had taken pains to identify each of them to the outsiders to show that the country, without the military holding it together, would split into 135 independent states.
The result was the over-counting of each group. For example, the Shan group who are also known as Tais (Thais) have been divided into several national races:
Shan collective name for the group
Yon a sub-group
Khamti a sub-group
Kheun a sub-group
Shan Galay (Small Shan) another name for Taileng
Shan Gyi major sub-group
Tai Loi a sub-group
Taileng a sub-group
Tai Ner (Tai Ler) a sub-group
Mao Shan a sub-group
Other major ethnic groups especially Kachin and Chin are voicing the same complaint. “This is an overt act of Divide-and-Rule,” is the usual criticism one will hear from them.
Another cause for complaint is the arbitrary designation of a person’s national race. Recently, Kawli News had this interview with Khin Pyone Yi, Kachin State Minister for Shan Affairs:
“Tailengs are known variously as Shan Ni, Shan-Bamar, Shan Galay and Burmanized Shan. Shan Ni is a direct Burmese translation of Taileng. We are also called Shan Galay (Small Shan) because we are not Shans from Shan State. The reason for calling us Shan-Bamar is not because we are of mixed parentage, but because we don’t speak Shan anymore. That is why we are also called Burmanized Shan.
“The reason we became Bamar (Burmans) is because there are only slots for Shan and Bamar (Burman) in ID Form # 10. So even my own sister, who has been designated a Burman, was not allowed to vote for me.”
Another is the question of surnames or family names. Shans, like Chinese, Kachins and Chins, used to have family names, and some still do. Burmans/Bamars however don’t and it has been a long standing problem when someone talks about, say, Tin Oo. The immedicate response would be, “Which Tin Oo are you talking about? Glasses Tin Oo (former military intelligence chief), S-2 Tin Oo (Gen Tin Oo, late Secretary-2 of the ruling military council) or NLD Tin Oo?”
Yet another is the question of the prefix to ethnic names. We never address President Obama as U Mr Obama. So why should we call Sai Ta (Mr Ta) U Sai Ta? I think that is one question that needs to be answered.
Last but not least is the English spelling of ethnic names that the ordinary Burmans are unable to pronounce. But just because they cannot pronounce our names, does it mean we have to spell them in English the Burmese way? Should Nang Kham (Ms Kham) therefore become Nan Khan?
Of course, they may seem petty and narrow-minded to many a Burmese/Burman/Bamar leader. However if they don’t consider themselves conquerors who can impose anything they wish to the conquered but genuinely want to establish a long lasting union, these questions should be answered before the trainings for the 2014 census begin.