East Himalaya

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Indo-Burma/Myanmar relations

It is any day; the new Government will take over the reins, a change which Myanmar will be witnessing after 25 years. It is time when the enlightened Buddhist Monks will have to help the Government in building a just and empowered society, not divided by class, creed and religion. The military, which will continue to look after Home, Defence and Borders will need to show more efficiency and dedication in their work to serve the cause of making the democracy of Myanmar meaningful.
Many of us may not realize that Myanmar tops the list in WGI (World Giving Index) among the 145 nations based on the criteria of the percentage of people donating for charity, volunteering their time and those helping strangers. Hence, we must understand, it is not about how resource rich you are, it is all about how much you are deep rooted in your tradition through compassion.
 Siliguri. 12th of November, 2015: Today, the day after Diwali, when we should have cleaned our souls and through the festival of light have enlightened the world, it is also time to look to our neighbours. Only a month before was Durga Puja or Dusshera, a major festival where people celebrate to victory of good over the evil. This year I decided to be in Myanmar the Durga Pujas. Only the Myanmar Indians and Gorkhas were involved in Durga Puja, the rest of Myanmar was busy discussing the legendary November 8th elections and now results of the National Elections at Myanmar has been declared, which is the second major step towards expectations for an almost complete democracy. It is the entire world looking forward to the political developments in this Land of Gold. With India and her ACT East Policy, how much are we concerned with the developments in Myanmar? The Bihar Election results have been declared quite some days ago and we are still discussing the engagement of our western neighbour, Pakistan in it, in all media, local, regional, National or Chai (Tea). How much are we concerned about the long Indo-Nepal border along Bihar and the latest happenings there?
We share more than 1600kms with Myanmar. Along with East Himalaya, Indo-Burma is another Biodiversity Hotspot, the least explored among the 08 Biodiversity Hotspots of the World. The forests on both sides of the border are also the hotspots for anti-National groups for both countries, India and Myanmar, whose presence have caused irreparable damage to wildlife and nature resources in the region. While trying to create a proposal of Mishmi Community Conservation Reserve and Tangsa Community Conservation Reserve in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh, I have experienced that the natural resource of the Indian side, which continues to the Myanmar side are probably the last frontiers of primary habitat in the world. Someone needs to address this common issue and why not “ACT East”.
It was during the Dihing-Patkai Festival several years ago, the first engagement with the Stilwell Road started, after which there was no looking back. The Ledo Road through Jairampur and Nampong, leads to Pangsau Pass and further to ‘Lake of No Return’ (Nawng Yang) via Pangsaung village in Myanmar. Maturing from the Dihing-Patkai Festival, I became an active part in organizing the Pangsau Pass Winter Festival on behalf of Help Tourism. The initial years it was more of pushing cars on the red muddy roads, but now it is black topped National Highway. This is a historical and mythological route which was used for ages by many Tai communities who reached through this route to settle and make what is India’s Northeast today. Not long back, during the Japanese occupation of Myanmar during World War II, thousands and millions of Indians, Anglo-Indians, Indo-Burmese and Europeans in then Burma, now Myanmar, escaped to India through this route. Several of their family members and friends died in the journey. The sacrifice of lives by Indians, Chinese, Africans, Elephants, Horses/Mules while building this road can only be remembered when we chance upon a cemetery ground lost in the forests in this route. The dream of Northeast India to drive this road from Dibrugarh-Ledo to Kunming via Myitkyina continues.
During my recent trip to Myitkyina from Mandalay, I was quite astonished to see the elaborate Hindu Temple beside the Ayeyarawady (Irrawaddy) river. I doubt, I have seen such a temple in India. It was Durga Puja time and the whole community of Indian origin seemed to be there, celebrating the festival. The Gorkha people of Nepali origin also seemed to participate in large numbers. From several online sites, I got an idea that there are more than 9,00,000 Myanmarese Indians and 5,00,000 Myanmarese Gorkhas. Most of them are decedents of people who served British India in Myanmar or who fought for India’s Independence as INA (Indian National Army). The people of Indian origin in Myanmar owe their roots to almost all states of India and for people from India’s Northeast, it is almost a cross-border continuity. It is time when all of us in India and Nepal must try and look into Myanmar and connect to the people, who are part of the family.
Buddhism has tied us together for more than 2500 years: Myanmar, Nepal and India. Every step that you take in Myanmar has some or the other relation to Buddha. Kings, traders and people in general has nurtured this relation for thousands of years, which cannot be wiped off all of a sudden. Even till recently, Dr.Shayama Prashad Mookherjee, during his tenure in the first Independent India Government and as the President of the Mahabodhi Society kept close relations with Myanmar.
INA’s Burma Campaign, the development of the armed revolution for an Independent India saw the tri-colour flag of Independent India in Moirang, Manipur as early as in 1944 under the leadership of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. A leader, who was often referred to as ‘the light of Asia’, was a close part of Burma, now Myanmar. Along with the Burmese National Army, he has worked on many frontiers against the British and Allied Army. The INA (Indian National Army) battalions which fought with their headquarters in what is now Yangon, and battles like the “longest opposed river crossing of World War II as described by Field Marshall Slim” near Bagan and the hill retreat of Netaji at May Myo, now Pyin Oo Lwin, the Bungalow of the Bombay-Burma Teak (Timber?) Company are still to be recognized through a Indo-Myanmar relation.
In this century of Asia, it is India’s Northeast which will lead the way, Myanmar will be our next home and India will be the second home for the people of Myanmar. It has been a continuous endeavour for our organization, Indo-Myanmar Fraternal Alliance, based at Imphal in Manipur to run missionary road trips from Manipur to different places of Myanmar to confirm better understanding between the people of Myanmar and India.