December 22, 2023

Defiant Voices: A young Doctor’s Journey Through Myanmar’s Civil Disobedience Movement

A note to readers:

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, seized control of the country, detaining key political leaders from the ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). This coup was staged in response to the general election held in November 2020, in which the NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, secured a landslide victory. The military disputed these results, claiming widespread electoral fraud, although independent observers found no substantial evidence to support these allegations.

The military takeover abruptly halted Myanmar’s decade of gradual progress towards democracy and away from the strictures of military dominion. Faced with a coup, a great many engaged in protests, joined civil disobedience movements and allied with various ethnic factions in the hinterlands to oppose the military’s grip. The military’s crackdown was severe, marked by numerous human rights abuses and a high toll of civilian deaths.

This blog presents the reflections and experiences of a young doctor in the public sector in Myanmar. We are not publishing his name for reasons of his own security but calling him “Dr. C.”

I had never fully realized how much a political event can change someone’s life so drastically. I learnt in history about several revolutions and subsequent changes in the political landscape. However, I never happened to think about how those people might feel, suffer or survive during such revolutions. As a Buddhist who believes in Karma, I simply thought that someone’s fate and life course almost solely depend on individual efforts and choices. Actually, I underestimated the role of society and collective efforts.

Life before

Three years ago, I was a middle-aged guy, a father and a doctor who was content with his life. My life was simple, enjoying the stability of my little society. I failed to see beyond that realm. Even at that time, there were ongoing conflicts and controlled wars and injustices in some parts of my country and around the world. I was too short-sighted or self-centered to fully understand them or to act on them.

The First of February 2021

The stone I was standing on shattered. I was shocked, and frustrated. Disbelief, anger and then there was a desperate desire to act for change. The civil disobedience movements started, and I joined in. It was not an easy decision. I understood the risks to myself, my professional career and my family. The worst is the risk to the community due to possible disruption of essential services. But I knew that even worse things are coming and we must brace ourselves.

Then, as everyone knew, we protested in various ways. We banged pots and pans. We came out onto the street. The outsiders praised those acts as bravery. But as for me, I was feared from my very core at every stage of movement.  

In the following days, the soldiers shot many young protesters in the head to death. It was heart breaking to see our fellows shot dead before our eyes for the act we all are doing, and we all feel is right. On one occasion, I was hiding as soldiers were shooting. I saw a young lady running forward holding fireworks stick as if it was a weapon. I was shocked, amazed and felt ashamed of myself. That scene and feeling will never leave my memory. Another young boy was shot dead on that occasion. I survived. Many more brutalities have unfolded since then. I am still surviving. Perhaps, I was smart at hiding. But my survival and safety were never guilt free.

We then learnt how to make improvised weapons from Molotov Cocktails to makeshift plastic shot guns. Many young fellows joined an armed rebellion and reached the ERO’s regions. I remained in civilian life. Until now, many young fellows are fighting for the same aspirations we all have. Many of them have sacrificed their lives, their limbs and their families. But I am still surviving and protecting my family in a relatively stable environment. It is embarrassing. Now I must share with the world about some hardships of this civilian life under the regime. Compared to many sacrifices at the front line and hardships of those people running away from torched home and villages, pain and suffering of parents whose children were lost due to aerial bombing of a school, what I am about to share is just nothing.

The Covid-19 Storm

Sometimes, nature is also as merciless as the dictators. The covid19 pandemic hit the country at the most vulnerable time. We were helpless. Helplessness was much worse than the disease itself. Severe forms of Covid-19 affected only a minority of the population. But helplessness, insecurity and despair affected all. The country was a Hell. It was like in an apocalyptic movie. If someone got serious illness, the whole family was overwhelmed. They had to care the seriously ill patient at home without personal protection. They tried to get professional advice through the phone. They tried to get scarce drugs passing long lines at drug stores. They had to queue a very long line at industrial oxygen plants to fill up their oxygen cylinders. Health care providers tried to help desperate patients in any possible way. But they themselves were under constant attack by the regime forces and they had to work under restrictions. I have never felt such worthlessness in my life before. I locked myself in my car and broke down into tears.

On one early morning, community leaders from my neighborhood came to my house and woke me up for help. The neighborhood had piled up a number of dead bodies which could not be sent to the cemetery due to the lack of a formal certification of death by a doctor. The health authority issues a death certificate only if a doctor sees the patient and certified the cause of death. They needed me to sign the paperwork for the bodies I had never seen. I will never sign it under normal circumstances. But I knew the situation was very special and I was ethically compelled to sign it. But they asked me not to put Covid19 as a cause of death and otherwise, the authority will intimidate and delay the process, requesting prove of the virus, which was not actually possible. I was speechless.

Lives under the regime

The pandemic gradually waned. I survived again. But I lost several of my colleagues. The catastrophe was not yet over. The people were stifled with many difficulties. The city looked like a battlefield. Barracks occupied with armed soldiers and machine guns pointed at public places appeared at every main junction of the city. Guerrilla attacks and bombing occurred here and there. Paradoxically, people looked joyous and applauded if they heard a bomb blast. But it was sad to hear news of arbitrary arrest and raiding by regime forces. Apparently, people were moving on with their daily lives as if nothing happened. Inside, we all knew we were not living a life, we were just surviving. At any point, we could be arrested, or shot dead for no reason. They are trying to spread fear by violence. But we become tolerant to fear and disgust to them was growing.

Health care workers were the most targeted victims. They tried to destroy the livelihood of those HCPs not complying with them. Medical licenses were revoked. Passports were blacklisted. Private hospitals and clinics were intimidated and told not to employ us. It was a kind of gradual torture for submission. Now I cannot practice what I love. It also greatly impacts other aspects of life, like financial stability. But I am not alone. Everyone is finding it hard to survive these days. The country economy is collapsing and employments are scarce. Public services like the power supply, public health and health care services, public transports were destroyed. Long queues of people have become the symbol of Yangon these days. People form long queues in front of banks to get back their own money. People form long lines to get small quota of cooking oil and rice. Vehicles line up in petrol station.

Silver Lining

Not everything is negative after coup. It also has a silver lining. Hope is gradually growing amidst many adversities. Many people are still losing their lives. Many are still being displaced. Many villages and towns are torched daily. But our determinations, aspirations and hope can no longer be destroyed by any kind of force. We feel that the revolution is advancing on every front. The regime will definitely collapse in near future. Most importantly, we all have a vision to build a future Democratic state, where justice, freedom and equality prevails. In the future, I will still have to struggle and worry for several things. But this time this will no longer be only for myself and my little society. It will also be to advance the common values of humanity. We must strive to leave to our children a world where no spot of injustice remains as a threat to humanity.

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