Burmese military’s war against women: From Outrage to Catharsis

The author Joseph Conrad once wrote: “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.”(Under Western Eyes) The rape and murder of the two Kachin women volunteer teachers affirms Conrad’s indictment of men’s ability to commit mindless, savagery and wanton cruelty that is unspeakable and incomprehensible to many. The two Kachin women,  Maran Lu Ra (Age 20) and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin (age 21), were raped, tortured and murdered at their own home around 1:00 AM of January 20th, 2015 in Kawng Hka village. They were serving as volunteer school teachers commissioned by the Kachin Baptist Convention at the village.

The Kachin public was dumfounded as such heinous crime was committed against these two innocent and altruistic young women at the prime of their lives. The numbing response to the tragedy is followed by public outrage and outcry as the remains of the teachers are being transported from the Northern Shan State to Myitkyina, Kachin State, which is their home town and final resting destination.

Public at large, news media and organizations, including Kachin Baptist Convention, name Burmese military as the perpetrator of the crime. Such accusation has not come out of vacuum. Rather, not only the arrival of the 503rd Light Infantry Regiment to the village on the 19th of January, but also a continued brutal Burmese Army’s practice of rape against minority ethnic women unmistakably points to the arrogant and shielded culprits . Such state-sponsored, gendered-based violence against ethnic women has been repeatedly and periodically documented and reported to the military government, and international communities and organizations. (E.g. Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) published Licence to Rape, which documents 625 cases of rape committed by the military in eastern Burma between 1996 and 2001. Moreover, the Thailand based Kachin Women Association of Thailand (KWAT) has documented over 60 cases of rape solely perpetrated on Kachin women). These reports, however, also noted that nobody had been prosecuted. Over and over again, such staggering number of evidences and reports produce only reluctant and inefficient responses at the hands of unable and unwilling responsible authorities and institutions.

As usual, it is predictable that the military would, if they choose to do so, launch their own “investigation,” and rejects any credible and sensible evidences that point to the Burmese soldiers as perpetrators of this heinous crime.  At the backdrop of such unjust and perverted system which provides no justice to the victims, the atrocity in Kawng Hka village left the Kachin public with outrage, frustration and pessimism. Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson the General Secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, resonated such pubic concern in his speech during the funeral service of the two teachers. He said, “there is none that will stand for us. If we live in a society that governs by the rule of law, the perpetrators can be swiftly brought to justice.”

It may well be that the two school teachers were casual victims of Burmese military’s brutality against ethnic minority. Or the rape and murder of these two teachers maybe a symbolic and actual assault on the Kachin people as a whole.  However, such savagery and wanton brutality of the attack shocked the country to its core. It is an attack on humanity. Many ethnic organizations, political parties, social services and charities, and religious organizations have shown their outright condemnation of such bestial act through their statements, rallies, memorial ceremonies and many other venues.  The country is rightfully united to reject such inhuman act and demand swift justice for these two young women.

Such current public outrage and mobilization reminds us of the recent mighty leap forward for justice by Indian society, particularly by the Indian women, after numerous brutal rape cases that became notorious worldwide. The Indian women, and men, are united from the highest rungs to the grassroots in saying no to such heinous crime against human dignity in radical, innovative and transformative ways. In doing so, they discuss rape as burning social issues in media coverage, name names in public, politicize the issues, and amend and propose new laws that provides as weapons against brutal rapes.

Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet has rightly put it, “violence against women is…a threat to democracy, a barrier to lasting peace, a burden on national economies, and an appalling human-rights violation.” It is the time to lift the veil of silence that shrouds violence against women in Burma. The Kachin people, and many others, are leading toward such cathartic direction as they rally behind these two young Kachin women.

Neither the people of Burma nor the international community can afford to stand by idly. Such use and abuse of power waging war against female body is deplorable and simply inadmissible in a civilized society. The UN Security Council must raise the issue. The ASEAN must demand the accountability from the military junta. Maran Lu Ra, Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin, and all ethnic women and girls deserve security and need the world’s solidarity and support.  It is the time to effectively address the military’s use of rape and murder in the conflict in Burma.