September 2011 marks the 4th anniversary of the Saffron Rebellion in Burma. This Rebellion was set off by the unannounced removal of subsidies on gasoline by the Burmese government. An already stressed economy deterioration even more and caused extreme inflation. Bus prices raised. Food prices raised and the people suffered. In response to the mass hunger and oppression that was felt by the people, Burmese monks took to the streets and led peaceful protests requesting that the government pay attention to the well-being of the people. These monks marched through the cities of Burma chanting the Burmese phrase for ‘loving-kindness.’ Civilians joined the movements and the protests grew by the thousands.
The military/government responded brutally. Despite being Buddhists themselves, the soldiers raided monasteries, beat monks, imprisoned, and even killed them. On September 27th the government issued a warning that the protests were to be broken up within 10 minutes or extreme measures would be taken. Monks encouraged the people to remain, to sit where they were, and the monks declared their willingness to risk their lives for democracy as well as the betterment of the people.
The government fired into the crowds. Thousands of people were imprisoned and killed.
Since this day, those soldiers involved in the murders of innocent civilians and religious leaders have been granted amnesty and have not been held accountable for their actions.
On the fourth anniversary of the Saffron Rebellion, Burmese humanitarian groups and some who escaped the oppressive regime in Burma led a candle light vigil and rally in Chiang Mai. Today, many people are still imprisoned in Burma for their participation in the Rebellion. Organizers and attendees of the rally called on Burma to release these prisoners and to make real change – not just play public relation games. The International Community today may be under the impression that Burma is undergoing changes that will the lead the country to Democracy. Speakers pointed out that for several reasons this is merely cosmetic and not truly happening in the country.
There are still thousands of people imprisoned in Burma for their involvement in the Saffron Rebellion – about 220 monks and 2,000 prisoners. Ethnic minority groups are still being attacked by soldiers and forced to live in fear of the government. And human rights abuses are still committed regularly throughout the country. On top of those, individuals who are responsible for all of these infractions of Democracy are the among the leaders of the country. Thus, with these points (which are only a few of many) it can clearly be seen that Burma is not genuinely making change. The rally called for people to put pressure on their governments to see through the public relations maneuvers and actually push for real positive change in Burma.
It was an amazing event with probably around 200 attendees. The program was given in Thai, English, Burmese, and Shan and was presented by leaders of both the 1988 uprising in Burma (where thousands of people were killed) and monk leaders from the Saffron Rebellion. I was able to speak with a Burmese Buddhist monk, Issariya, and hear a bit about his experience with the rebellion, escaping from Burma, and living in a refugee camp in Thailand (Mae Sot). I am hoping to visit him and the library that he has established in Mae Sot called the Best Friend, where people can meet and discuss Burma-related issues freely. I met some really great people and this whole event was truly inspiring.