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Light the Lamp of Democracy
By Tiamerenla Monalisa Changkija
Special Contribution
Pagan Pagodas in Myanmar

It is with bated breath and great expectations that the entire world is looking at current events in Myanmar and Pakistan. And the expectations are for change and democracy in these two countries, both being close neighbours of India.

Now, because Myanmar and Pakistan are close neighbours of India, the world's largest democracy, and because Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent methods to overthrow the undemocratic colonial regimes have inspired countries in all continents in the post-World war period, India today shoulders the great responsibility to hold higher the lamp of democracy in this region. For the past nine days Buddhist Monks of Myanmar have launched a quiet and non-violent protest asking the military junta of that country to restore democracy and eradicate poverty.

As the media reports, the general public has also joined the monks, meanwhile President George Bush of the USA has announced sanctions against Myanmar's military junta. Several other countries have also pitched in, in support of the monk-led public protest. Australia has also already stated that violence would be unacceptable. Indubitably ASEAN countries are also very vigilant about events in Myanmar, mainly because any violent crushing of the pro-democratic movement and continuance of the military junta in that country would now have greater repercussions across the region, much more than it did in 1988.

The repercussions would be probably perceived from economic perspectives, what with East Asian countries forging closer economic and cultural ties which is a necessity in today's globalized context. However, the most important issue here is the fundamental human rights of the people of Myanmar. Once this is put in place, healthy economics would be a natural corollary — this obviously must be seen from the perspective of the military junta in Myanmar having had appropriated complete control over the country's political, social and economic activities, as well as its natural resources for over four decades.

People of Myanmar have been totally alienated and marginalized from ownership of their own country and India should not ignore its legacy of democracy, which Gandhi bequeathed to liberate India, and abdicate the responsibility of providing leadership in the sub-continent by helping the people of Myanmar light the lamp of democracy in their countries. China reportedly has advised 'restraint' to Myanmar's military junta, which isostensibly in China's own interest.

Myanmar is China's trading partner and in its pursuit to be the next Asian economic giant, it certainly doesn't want its economic apple cart to be upset by events in Myanmar. And then there is the Olympics 2008 at Beijing for which China has invested heavily and not just financially.

Myanmar is also India's supplier of gas and any move on its part to help usher in change and democracy in Myanmar would also upset a portion of India's own economic interests. But as reports of deaths and injury of Myanmarese protesters flow in we must acknowledge that the time has come to look beyond economic interests and economic means and methods to start helping people across the globe to live with dignity. In fact, not prioritizing economic interests and methods to light the lamp of democracy would enhance economic benefits.

In any case, economic sanctions have never overthrown dictatorial regimes and resorting to them is simply an eye-wash, which doesn't wash any eyes. But this is definitely NOT a covert suggestion for any military option. Of all nations, India cannot sit and watch a dictatorial military regime violently crush the people of Myanmar; if we do so, we lose the moral ground to call ourselves a democracy.

So our help must be non-violent and democratic. Citizens of India, particularly in Manipur and Nagaland, have family and friends across the Myanmarese borders as much as the people of Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab have family and friends in Pakistan. It would be in India's interest to also focus on the close emotional and cultural ties its citizens have with both the countries. If there is a time to build borders, there is also the time to destroy borders, the kind that deny and deprive people of dignity and fundamental rights, with dictatorship being the most iniquitous.

The people of Myanmar need us now — should we abuse the freedom and the strength, which democracy has empowered us with, by ignoring the plight of our neighbours? Of all countries, India must now shoulder the responsibility, nay the moral obligation, to avert a human tragedy and a human crisis in the sub-continent. Doing so would strengthen India's position as the tallest defender and deliverer of democracy.

Tiamerenla Monalisa Changkija






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