"The crackdown is more severe than before. I was 20 and leading a wild college life when the 1988 repression changed it all. I fled to India through Mizoram with a group of students, leaving my family behind," recalled Thin Thin Aung, now an activist of Women’s League of Burma in India.
Aung was at a refugee camp in Mizoram for two years before she moved to Delhi in 1990. "Enthused by our leader Aung San Suu Kyi, we were demanding a multi-party system when the military cracked down. I saw my friends being shot on the streets and decided to plunge myself in the movement," she said.
Another refugee, Ukhiang Maung, said the principles of Buddha, Gandhi and democracy were under severe attack in Myanmar. "India has a special role to play because all three originated here. Unarmed people and mediapersons are being killed," he said.
Aung said life for them in India was not easy and some refugees managed part-time work with difficulty. "Through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), I managed to secure admission in Delhi University for an MBA.
“It requires a no-objection certificate from the junta’s embassy. Now they are not granting NOCs and, instead, ensuring that children of the military elite study in India," she added.
Esther, a 25-year-old Kuki Christian, has more recent memories of the situation back home as she fled to India in 2004. "The military survives on intelligence and so it keeps track of all activities in the rural areas. Most villages do not have proper schools. We are not allowed to start our own business," she said.
Esther said the soldiers and officers targeted women in particular. "It is not sexual exploitation but a more cruel way to change our ethnicity. Very often, the soldiers rape women and ensure that they give birth to babies. In some cases, they even marry the women in villages but the idea is to alter our identity. Traditional names of villages are being changed and they are being named after senior members of the junta or other military officers," she said.
Asked how the soldiers shot their own people, Aung said, "Most of them are uneducated and jobless. They are caught young and brainwashed to see an enemy in anyone who talks of democracy. Our leader, for whom India was like another home, said she expected a lot more from New Delhi. We hope the mandarins in MEA and MHA rise to the occasion," she said.
The activists are in touch with members of the government-in-exile, spread out in Australia, US, Thailand and India. "Our New York office is trying hard to bring about a new resolution from the United Nations on the issue. We are for a peaceful solution but the junta is not ready to relent," said Aung.