By Zing Cung
Chin National Day was the result of our forefathers’ collaborated effort in order for our Chin people to have freedom, liberty, equality, and management of our own affairs without outside interference. On February 20, 2005, we will be celebrating the 57th anniversary of that united effort of our Chin people. The date February 20 was designated for the Chin National Day at the Chin Special Division General Conference held on February 19-20, 1948. At the first celebration of the Chin National Day held on February 20, 1951, the then Prime Minister of the Union of Burma U Nu himself attended, and the Government of the Union of Burma recognized February 20 as the National Holiday. Chin National Day shows that we the Chins are a distinct people in the Union of Burma.
The Independence of Burma and the beginning of National Turmoil
Before the British imperialization of Burma the Chins always managed their own affairs. They were never ruled by any outside power. The Chins themselves were the sole authority in the internal matters of the Chins. Only after the British conquered the Chins, Chin Hills was ruled by the British government. Even then, the British ruled Chin hills under a separate administration called “1896 Chin Hills Regulation Act”, different from that of the Burma proper.
At the end of the Second World War when Burma was going to gain independence from Britain, the Chins met with other ethnic groups of contemporary Burma such as Kachin, Shan, and Burman, and agreed that all the ethnic nationalities of Burma must have equal opportunity, equal right, and democratically shared power in the independent Union of Burma. This means that when the Chin agreed to join the Burman, Shan, Kachin, etc. to get independence from the British, they joined only after the Burmans and all other agreed that the Chin will have self-government of their territory and the right of cessation from the Union if they so desire. After that historic Agreement (aka Panglong Agreement) the Union of Burma began to appear in the countries-map of the world.
However,essence of Panglong Agreement as well as the visions and intents of the signatories of Panglong Agreement were not honor by the rulers of Burma. As a result, serious disagreements followed by armed conflicts between the rulers of Burma and other ethnic groups began to appear by 1949, and national turmoil continues until today.
Chin National Day was annulled
Chin National Day is the symbolic confirmation of the Chin national identity. Because of that there had been many attempts to annul the Chin National Day even when Burma had the governmental system of Parliament Democracy. During the administration of Revolutionary Council of Burma, the rulers of Burma continued to try to change it into Chin Special Division Day. After that the Burma Socialist Program Party attempted again to change it into Chin State Day. Eventually when the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) (renamed as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997) took over the State power, the Chin National Day was changed into Chin State Day by force.
We the Chins gained Statehood in the Union of Burma on January 3, 1974. Instead of naming that date as Chin State Day, the rulers of Burma changed the Chin National Day (February 20) into Chin State Day. This indicates that those rulers want to destroy the Chin National Day which is the hallmark of the Chin National identity. Now the only recognized National Day in Burma is December 6 (Burmese Calendar Tasawng mung lahpih kyaw se yeh). This implies that there is only one recognized nationality in Burma, namely Burman. Therefore the annulment of Chin National Day, changing it into Chin State Day is a symbolic non-recognition of other ethnic nationalities in the Union of Burma.
At present the calendars produced in Burma only mark one National Day, namely the Burman National Day, as mentioned above. Other ethnic National Days had been completely rescinded in Burma. This act of non-recognition clearly showed the intention of the rulers of Burma to eradicate other ethnic nationalities and/or assimilate them into one ethnic national identity, namely Burman. Ever since Burma gained independence the rulers of Burma have been proclaiming a slogan of ‘unity among all the ethnic nationalities’. However, their actions of non-recognition of other ethnic nationalities in Burma point to the fact that they never intend to have ‘unity in diversity’ where every ethnic group is recognized as a distinct national but ‘unity in uniformity’ where all distinct ethnic nationals eventually will be assimilated into the Burman national.
Prohibition of non-Burman languages in schools
The survival of a people’s identity depends on the survival of their language. If the language extincts so does the identity of the people. For that reason people who want to maintain their national identity always make sure that their language does not come to extinction. Since 1948 State Constitution had been drawn twice in Burma. In both constitutions the Burmese language was declared as the official language of the country at the exclusion of other national languages in the Union of Burma. In the 104 basic principles of the military junta’s National Convention, it is stated again that the official language of Burma shall be the Burmese language. This means that other ethnic languages in Burma shall not be allowed to use as an alternative official language even where the majority of occupants in that State may not be speakers of the Burmese language. This also means that non-Burman ethnic nationals of Burma will not be allowed to learn their native language in schools of their own States. During the past 50 years we have witnessed the reduction and marginalization of our own language in Chin State by the ruling Burman authority. At the present time no Chin language is taught in the schools of Chin State. Many Chin elders told us that we have lost a good percentage of our native language to the Burman language. Restriction on the learning of Chin has already taken its toll on the Chin youth. A high percentage of Chin teenagers are not literate in their own language, and some Chin children have developed negative attitudes towards their native language. If we lose our language we will also lose our national identity.
Attempts to wedge our national unity
Burma has eight different major ethnic groups: Arakan, Burman, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan. Except the rulers of Burma, these ethnic groups have been trying to achieve the system of Federal Union where every ethnic group would enjoy self-determination in their own State. However, The “racist” rulers of Burma who have the ‘’great Burman Mentality’’ always
oppose the system of Federal Union where all the ethnic groups in Burma will have equal opportunity, equal right, and shared power in the Federal government as well as their own State government. In opposition to the Federal Union system the military junta claimed that there are 135 ethnic groups in Burma. Therefore a small country like Burma cannot have 135 States for each ethnic group.
As simple as it is, the junta’s claim is a very dangerous wedge that can divide our people. Its main purpose is to create discords among our people, and then to hold our people apart so that we could not have unity among us. Our disunity then will allow the outside power to rule us very easily.
In order to avoid such trap of “divide and rule” in the guise of “diversity” by the military junta, we always need to be aware of the continual assaults on our unity which can potentially come from within ourselves as well as from outside. If we fall into the trap of the “racist” rulers of Burma we will be exterminated or assimilated into Burman ethnicity, and eventually lose our national identity.
When the Chin joined other ethnic groups to form the Union of Burma, we joined them as a distinct people who had its own national identity and self-determination. Our Chin forefathers did not join the Union with the idea that the Chins and the Burmans are the same, or the Chins will become Burmans. In addition, we have never conceded to the idea that the Burman ethnic group should have more ruling right than others, just because it had more population than other ethnic groups. We joined the Union of Burma as an equal partner in all matters, and with that understanding we co-founded the Union of Burma together.
Burma is not (and has never been) a place where only one ethnic group lives. It is a place where multi-ethnic groups live together. Therefore every ethnic group should be able to manage their own affairs in their own State while sharing power in the Federal Union. Our native language should be the official language, and we should have the right to celebrate our National Day with great joy and festivities in our own State. If we are denied those rights of language and national identity, it means that the rulers of Burma are trying to assimilate us into their own ethnicity.
World history taught us that there had been so many small ethnic groups which were assimilated by the greater ones. As a relatively a small ethnic group we are in great danger from being absorbed by the bigger Burman group. There had been distinct ethnic groups of people in Burma such as Pyo, Thet, and Kanyan. But today they are nowhere to be found because they had been assimilated by the Burmans.
I believe that we do not want the name of our people “Chin” to be found only in history. Then we need to protect ourselves from being assimilated, and give our collaborated effort to maintain our national identity. We need to emphasize our affinities and minimize our differences. In the offices of government, in the schools, in the media, and in all matters of daily life, we need to use the local Chin language as the official language in all over Chin State. Finally, the Chin people must be the sole authority to manage the Chin affairs in our own State. Only then our Chin national identity will live and we will be able to celebrate the Chin National Day meaningfully.
May God bless and protect our Chin people.