Has India Abandoned Burma?

By Anil Raj, Myanmar (Burma) Country Specialist

Gandhi once said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching.” But in the decades since Gandhi and in an environment premised on India’s towering pursuits of economic development and regional security, I am beginning to wonder if India is doing more preaching than practice when it comes to promoting democracy and freedom – the very things that it fought so hard to win over from the British Raj.

Aung San Suu Kyi

India has traditionally been a key ally for Myanmar’s (Burma) democratic opposition, most prominent is sure to be none other than Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has remained under detention or house arrest for the last 15 of 21 years.  India has long provided safe haven for fleeing pro-democracy Burmese activists and has bestowed Suu Kyi with India’s highest civilian honors.

However, in the last two decades Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis Myanmar has made an about-face from its former ‘principled’ approach, and reached an unprecedented threshold when Myanmar head of State, Senior General Than Shwe, visited India for five days in July.  The visit ushered in a new strategic partnership between the two neighbors as part of India’s “Look East” policy aimed to enlarge India’s presence in the region and to keep China’s growing presence at bay.

But it wasn’t the panoply of high-level and expensive agreements that were reached, nor was it the fact that none of these agreements were contingent upon Myanmar’s willingness to release Aung San Suu Kyi or the 2,200 other political prisoners, or any push to ensure free and fair elections in Myanmar later this year – the first in 20 years.  What was shocking to me was that India allowed Than Shwe to pay homage to the burial site of Gandhi.

It was entirely unpalatable to me that India could allow one of the world’s most flagrant violators of human rights to stain the legacy of a man who led masses to peacefully overthrow a repressive colonial overlord not entirely different from that of the present-day Myanmar, or to symbolically forsake its support for Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a sort of “Burmese version” of Gandhi in her own right.

Of course matters of national interest will take front and center at certain junctures in any country, but when governments are willing shed their most quintessential creeds and replace them for short-term gains it should stir the collective consciousness of an entire people.  For instance, when the Americans debated passionately over what constituted a just interrogation policy in the “War on Terror”, U.S. Senator John McCain staunchly opposed the use of torture claiming that it disgraced the U.S. Constitution and very essence of what America stands for, arguing, “this is not about who they are [alleged terrorists], but who we are”.  In the short period of time that America did forsake these values, America learned that sacrificing the very creeds that became its genesis comes at a high cost and something that has taken precious time and resources to mitigate for.  India is currently on a similar trajectory of repeating this very mistake and leaves us to wonder just how much India will give up of itself to court men like Than Shwe – a virtually unsustainable effort if it seeks to gain full ascendance as a democratic, global power.

As India pioneers forward in its quest for expanding frontiers, this is an opportune time for Indians to carefully ponder over who they are and what they are about, lest they find themselves on the wrong side of history.  After all, the natural state of humankind decisively levitates towards freedom.  The only thing that stands between the people of Myanmar’s quest for freedom and its actualization is merely time, and Indians of all people should know that.

Anil Raj in the Myanmar (Burma) Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA.  He’s also a member of the Board of Directors for the organization.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

16 thoughts on “Has India Abandoned Burma?

  1. Just because you (Amnesty International) have a problem with the current Burmese government, should that mean that the rest of the world also should have problems with any government ??

    How can you say that India has abandoned Burma when India as you mentioned has welcomed it's current leader and started a relationship with the country ? I though the meaning of the word Abandoning was to ignore and let go… ??

    We all would love to see Ms. Suki free, but, sanctions and isolation from the rest of the world is not the way to make it happen – proper dialogues with governments (and I don't mean forceful interventions than productive talks) is the way forward and you need to listen to both sides of the story. What happens when you cage a lion – gets even more furious – this is what you and your supporting governments of the west do – you basically are idiots in that sense not to identify the human mind and how it works..

    Amnesty seems to have a tendency to bit their own tail most of the time…. As I have mentioned many times before in different forums, Amnesty needs to think from their brains as humans and not refer to or run to a book for all the solutions.

  2. Just because you (Amnesty International) have a problem with the current Burmese government, should that mean that the rest of the world also should have problems with any government ??

    How can you say that India has abandoned Burma when India as you mentioned has welcomed it’s current leader and started a relationship with the country ? I though the meaning of the word Abandoning was to ignore and let go… ??

    We all would love to see Ms. Suki free, but, sanctions and isolation from the rest of the world is not the way to make it happen – proper dialogues with governments (and I don’t mean forceful interventions than productive talks) is the way forward and you need to listen to both sides of the story. What happens when you cage a lion – gets even more furious – this is what you and your supporting governments of the west do – you basically are idiots in that sense not to identify the human mind and how it works..

    Amnesty seems to have a tendency to bit their own tail most of the time…. As I have mentioned many times before in different forums, Amnesty needs to think from their brains as humans and not refer to or run to a book for all the solutions.

  3. What Amnesty asks of india is the least india can do regarding the appalling rights situation in myanmar.

    All states practicing genocide on peoples within their borders need to be placed under sanctions til their policies are reversed.

    Myanmar has long engaged in genocidal wars upon indigenous nations.

    To reward her instead with expensive agreements as india has done is astounding but at the same time unsurprising considering her own record.

  4. What Amnesty asks of india is the least india can do regarding the appalling rights situation in myanmar.

    All states practicing genocide on peoples within their borders need to be placed under sanctions til their policies are reversed.

    Myanmar has long engaged in genocidal wars upon indigenous nations.

    To reward her instead with expensive agreements as india has done is astounding but at the same time unsurprising considering her own record.

  5. a.savage Says:
    September 29th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    a.s.

    I don't think I can quite agree with you in this regard apart from the fact of you mentioning that India could ask Myanmar government to do certain things for the betterment of the people of Myanmar. However, Myanmar is a legal entity of it's own and would have their own ways of ruling the country. I don't hear Amnesty calling on Saudi Arabia about certain laws they have due to the country being a strict Muslim Nation. Whether we like it or not, Myanmar has a Military kind of a government and they have their own means of rule – not that we need to support the rule, but, live with the fact only because it will help the people of Burma in the long run.

    All states practicing genocide on peoples within their borders need to be placed under sanctions til their policies are reversed.

    If you are talking of the term "Genocide" in the term of you using it to explain demolition of LTTE, then I would not take this argument. Meaning, there are many Tamils who are in the SL government but not LTTE. Sri Lanka demolished the LTTE and not Tamils. So, is Mrs. A.S. Suki a part of this Indigenous group you are talking of ?? Are there no people in the government from the same clan ? If so, we will take your argument.

    Myanmar has long engaged in genocidal wars upon indigenous nations. The same argument as above noh ??

    What I see is that Mrs. Suki has been kept under locked and key even after she was elected legally as the leader. However, by calling on other governments to have sanctions against Burma means you are depriving the little right the Burmese people have to live. We all know what happened in Iraq when USA had sanctions imposed on them right ?? Did Saddam die due to Sanctions ?? No – Did normal innocent people and kids die – Yes…. hundreds of thousands of them !!

  6. a.savage Says:
    September 29th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    a.s.

    I don’t think I can quite agree with you in this regard apart from the fact of you mentioning that India could ask Myanmar government to do certain things for the betterment of the people of Myanmar. However, Myanmar is a legal entity of it’s own and would have their own ways of ruling the country. I don’t hear Amnesty calling on Saudi Arabia about certain laws they have due to the country being a strict Muslim Nation. Whether we like it or not, Myanmar has a Military kind of a government and they have their own means of rule – not that we need to support the rule, but, live with the fact only because it will help the people of Burma in the long run.

    All states practicing genocide on peoples within their borders need to be placed under sanctions til their policies are reversed.

    If you are talking of the term “Genocide” in the term of you using it to explain demolition of LTTE, then I would not take this argument. Meaning, there are many Tamils who are in the SL government but not LTTE. Sri Lanka demolished the LTTE and not Tamils. So, is Mrs. A.S. Suki a part of this Indigenous group you are talking of ?? Are there no people in the government from the same clan ? If so, we will take your argument.

    Myanmar has long engaged in genocidal wars upon indigenous nations. The same argument as above noh ??

    What I see is that Mrs. Suki has been kept under locked and key even after she was elected legally as the leader. However, by calling on other governments to have sanctions against Burma means you are depriving the little right the Burmese people have to live. We all know what happened in Iraq when USA had sanctions imposed on them right ?? Did Saddam die due to Sanctions ?? No – Did normal innocent people and kids die – Yes…. hundreds of thousands of them !!

  7. It's when "legal entities" — genocidal governments ?? — violate their own as well as internatonal law that sanctions & other measures to isolate them become essential to correcting the worsening situation.

    Accomodating regimes when they just follow their own "means" of ruling helps the oppressed PEOPLES in the long run ??

    The native peoples are leaving their ancestral lands & running with what little they can carry across borders in the face of murderous army campaigns.

    Spiralling refugee crises are burdening the world …. & all the world is expected to do in response is accomodate ?

    Then why are international laws & conventions in place ?

    And if a genocidal regime has people from oppressed groups in government positions, what else can it mean but that the process of the genocide has become internalized ?

    That the oppressed now have the regime's own agents to combat apart from the forces of the regime itself ?

    In short, a classic colonial situation.

    As for sanctions, they can be modelled on those that brought down apartheid in South Africa & those crystalizing against apartheid in israel today…

    Aimed at blocking all forms of agreements & cooperation that enable the political, commercial, cultural & military systems of genocide & oppresion to survive & reproduce.

    As in the case of apartheid, sanctions against genocide, too, can strike at the right targets.

  8. It’s when “legal entities” — genocidal governments ?? — violate their own as well as internatonal law that sanctions & other measures to isolate them become essential to correcting the worsening situation.

    Accomodating regimes when they just follow their own “means” of ruling helps the oppressed PEOPLES in the long run ??

    The native peoples are leaving their ancestral lands & running with what little they can carry across borders in the face of murderous army campaigns.

    Spiralling refugee crises are burdening the world …. & all the world is expected to do in response is accomodate ?

    Then why are international laws & conventions in place ?

    And if a genocidal regime has people from oppressed groups in government positions, what else can it mean but that the process of the genocide has become internalized ?

    That the oppressed now have the regime’s own agents to combat apart from the forces of the regime itself ?

    In short, a classic colonial situation.

    As for sanctions, they can be modelled on those that brought down apartheid in South Africa & those crystalizing against apartheid in israel today…

    Aimed at blocking all forms of agreements & cooperation that enable the political, commercial, cultural & military systems of genocide & oppresion to survive & reproduce.

    As in the case of apartheid, sanctions against genocide, too, can strike at the right targets.

  9. Savage !

    When you mean "Genocidal Governments" I want you to be very clear as you even called the Anti Terrorist movement in Sri Lanka genocide against Tamils – This is why I mentioned in my previous post that I am not willing to take your definition of Genocide in the sense of the situation being similar to Sri Lanka. in Sri Lanka clearly the war was against the LTTE Terrorists and not the innocent Tamil people as we all know, hence, the government got support from many Tamil groups including the former LTTE members of Karuna and Pillayan. Now they have the support of KP and today I heard that a senior of the TGTE also pledged his support to the GOSL.

    Anyways, to be honest, I am not too conversant with the atrocities that the Burmese government is carrying out against a certain Ethnic Group and if so what the reasons for such behaviour are. However, what I wanted to point out was that Ms. Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the democratic leader is not from such Ethnic group, hence, require knowing what her stand is.

    Sanctions in whatever form directly effects the innocent people and not the rulers. Take North Korea for example, the people are a bunch of brainwashed sheep or a bunch of very scared humans (feel sorry for them) however, the leaders kids are educated in Switzerland and drives fancy cars (has a fancy car collection too)… What did Piribaharan do to his kids ? They had a luxurious life where as the innocent people suffered and paid illegal taxes to the LTTE. Let's take Iraq – Did Saddam feel the power of sanctions ?? No – Hundreds of thousands of Innocent civilians died due to economic sanctions.

    What I say is that institutions like AI just jump the gun and try to put down governments without looking at consequences that directly affect the innocent. You need to follow Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy if you need to control such governments. Also, in Pakistan, when gen. Musharaf ruled with the Blessings of the USA and the west, AI did not have any issues – now that was a illegal military government too right ?? But why cry out about Burma ?? Is it because America is not on their side ???? AI really need to streamline their acts so that the world outside clearly sees them as being unbiased – From what I see and as I mentioned in the above sentence, it surely doesn't look like that they are… hence, I say that they don't have the right to stand for humans – They need to be unbiased for them to pressure anyone and think + look beyond their nostrils to identify the real issue and then get the support of the others to eliminate the root causes of the issues.

    I just checked and they talk of many HR issues in Burma but not Genocide ??? Please explain this !

  10. Savage !

    When you mean “Genocidal Governments” I want you to be very clear as you even called the Anti Terrorist movement in Sri Lanka genocide against Tamils – This is why I mentioned in my previous post that I am not willing to take your definition of Genocide in the sense of the situation being similar to Sri Lanka. in Sri Lanka clearly the war was against the LTTE Terrorists and not the innocent Tamil people as we all know, hence, the government got support from many Tamil groups including the former LTTE members of Karuna and Pillayan. Now they have the support of KP and today I heard that a senior of the TGTE also pledged his support to the GOSL.

    Anyways, to be honest, I am not too conversant with the atrocities that the Burmese government is carrying out against a certain Ethnic Group and if so what the reasons for such behaviour are. However, what I wanted to point out was that Ms. Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the democratic leader is not from such Ethnic group, hence, require knowing what her stand is.

    Sanctions in whatever form directly effects the innocent people and not the rulers. Take North Korea for example, the people are a bunch of brainwashed sheep or a bunch of very scared humans (feel sorry for them) however, the leaders kids are educated in Switzerland and drives fancy cars (has a fancy car collection too)… What did Piribaharan do to his kids ? They had a luxurious life where as the innocent people suffered and paid illegal taxes to the LTTE. Let’s take Iraq – Did Saddam feel the power of sanctions ?? No – Hundreds of thousands of Innocent civilians died due to economic sanctions.

    What I say is that institutions like AI just jump the gun and try to put down governments without looking at consequences that directly affect the innocent. You need to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy if you need to control such governments. Also, in Pakistan, when gen. Musharaf ruled with the Blessings of the USA and the west, AI did not have any issues – now that was a illegal military government too right ?? But why cry out about Burma ?? Is it because America is not on their side ???? AI really need to streamline their acts so that the world outside clearly sees them as being unbiased – From what I see and as I mentioned in the above sentence, it surely doesn’t look like that they are… hence, I say that they don’t have the right to stand for humans – They need to be unbiased for them to pressure anyone and think + look beyond their nostrils to identify the real issue and then get the support of the others to eliminate the root causes of the issues.

    I just checked and they talk of many HR issues in Burma but not Genocide ??? Please explain this !

  11. Amnesty's cup runneth over with "human rights".

    To add "genocide" would displace even that brew.

  12. Amnesty’s cup runneth over with “human rights”.

    To add “genocide” would displace even that brew.

  13. It's horrible to imprison Aung San Suu Kyi for 20 years, when her crime is to "win" the election. I was born in Burma (now Myanmar), but I got a green card to come to USA in 1960, graduated from UC Berkeley, then went back to visit my relatives in 1966 in a mood to celebrate. I was given a visa for only 24 hours, which was the rule of the military govt for Burmese who had become foreign citizens. My relatives who were in business had been forced to give up their businesses, cars and homes to the military govt (military officers drove their cars and lived in their homes and took over the businesses). Most relatives left the country to live in India, USA, Australia etc. In 1982, I got lucky and was given a 2 weeks visa to visit my birthplace- I spent 3 happy days there. In 1996 I requested a visitor's visa which was denied. In December 1999 – I obtained a visitor's visa from Burmese embassy in Washington, DC and got an invitation from the Ministry of Tourism as well. From Bangkok, I flew to Burma on a Friday with my American born friend. Upon arrival at the Rangoon (Yangoon now) airport, despite my 2 documents – I was "refused" entry on the same grounds as in 1966 (Burma born but emigrated to USA). My American friend was told she could go ahead, but she refused and both of us stayed on the airport until the plane returned to Bangkok. In Bangkok, we had to wait till Monday for the Burmese embassy to open and to explain to us what all this meant. The visa officer said that the Rangoon Immigration officer had "made a mistake". But we didn't have the finances and vacation time left to undertake another trip. Due to the hardheaded suppression by this military government, I and many other Burma born individuals have (out of fear) stayed away from our birthplace of Burma.

  14. It’s horrible to imprison Aung San Suu Kyi for 20 years, when her crime is to “win” the election. I was born in Burma (now Myanmar), but I got a green card to come to USA in 1960, graduated from UC Berkeley, then went back to visit my relatives in 1966 in a mood to celebrate. I was given a visa for only 24 hours, which was the rule of the military govt for Burmese who had become foreign citizens. My relatives who were in business had been forced to give up their businesses, cars and homes to the military govt (military officers drove their cars and lived in their homes and took over the businesses). Most relatives left the country to live in India, USA, Australia etc. In 1982, I got lucky and was given a 2 weeks visa to visit my birthplace- I spent 3 happy days there. In 1996 I requested a visitor’s visa which was denied. In December 1999 – I obtained a visitor’s visa from Burmese embassy in Washington, DC and got an invitation from the Ministry of Tourism as well. From Bangkok, I flew to Burma on a Friday with my American born friend. Upon arrival at the Rangoon (Yangoon now) airport, despite my 2 documents – I was “refused” entry on the same grounds as in 1966 (Burma born but emigrated to USA). My American friend was told she could go ahead, but she refused and both of us stayed on the airport until the plane returned to Bangkok. In Bangkok, we had to wait till Monday for the Burmese embassy to open and to explain to us what all this meant. The visa officer said that the Rangoon Immigration officer had “made a mistake”. But we didn’t have the finances and vacation time left to undertake another trip. Due to the hardheaded suppression by this military government, I and many other Burma born individuals have (out of fear) stayed away from our birthplace of Burma.

  15. Vik – Do u work against the Burmese Government from the USA ?? They must be tracking you down – hence, not letting you enter !!

  16. Vik – Do u work against the Burmese Government from the USA ?? They must be tracking you down – hence, not letting you enter !!