Dawt (pseudonym) explains how her life and the experiences she went through changed before and after the military coup.
I am always curious. I have always thought about how a blind person portrays the world she has never seen—how can she be strong enough to move forward on a path that she cannot envision? How does she nurture strength in the darkness and trudge ahead without giving up her life?
Imagine the life of a fresh graduate, a youth active enough to reach her goals and to make her dreams a reality. Her life was bright with rays of hope, abundant with plans for the future. Has anyone ever imagined how one feels when the road to the future disappears in uncertainty, unexpectedly swept away by a catastrophe? Is it the wish of a blind person to see the actual light? Is it the prayer of a youth from a corner of the room to see a flicker of hope while living in the darkness of her life?
I graduated from university in December 2019. I was excited, full of vigor and ready to enter society as a youth—to find the meaning of life from my environment, to explore the nature of life independently, and to make my own path to the future. Preparations were underway to leave for Israel where I would find a job relevant to my qualifications. Regrettably, Covid-19 derailed my plan and Israel cancelled my arrangements. However, I did not give up the idea of pursuing my dreams and kept on trying. By chance, I saw an opening at a government department and appeared for the exam. Subsequently, I became a young officer who was dutiful in carrying out my responsibilities while helping the community and making new plans to achieve my dream goals. My motto is such, “live happily while you have a rare chance of being a human.” I was busy living a youth’s life going through many ups and downs, tears, and laughter, sometimes full of excitement but sometimes, with a broken heart.
Is life better or worse because one cannot foresee it? I have not had any thoughts, even by accident, that I would be at a loss when all the lights from our lives disappeared from 1st February, 2021 onwards. Not knowing that the dawn would bring only the disconnection of communication lines and the darkness and incarceration to our lives, we happily played PUBG (a battle game) with our friends late into the night. I was sure nobody would have any idea then that people would be running around with real guns in the days that followed.
When I woke up on the morning of 1st February, 2021, I found that my phone had lost its connection. Assuming it was the phone’s fault, I restarted the phone twice in vain. So, I just prepared myself to get up and go to the office. When I reached the office, I learned from MRTV that the military council had staged a coup. I was devastated, thinking that my world would collapse. My mind was filled with uncertainty, and I did not want to go back to the darkened and restricted life that I had endured as a child, but I was unable to think of what to do next.
Aimlessly, time passed with a useless phone for three days. After a week, I took to the streets to express my desire peacefully, revolting against the military council that locked down our lives into total darkness. I marched under the scorching sun on the revolutionary road as a CDMer, shouting slogans such as “Join the CDM to win the revolution!” Together with the people, I shouted my heart out on the streets. However, because of the power mongers, peaceful protesters were arrested and killed by the soldiers and police. When we could not protest on the streets during the day, we gathered at night at a place and posted banners and animations on the streets later in the night. We expressed our wishes in our own way. We did not stop protesting even after banging tin pots, holding prayer service at the churches, or staging flash strikes. Sadly, our protests and CDM did not bring peace to our country. Gradually, upon realizing the certitude that protests alone could not achieve anything, some of my friends started armed revolution in the jungle, sacrificing their lives and their present status. A letter of discharge from my office reached me, followed by another letter ordering me to move out of the staff quarters. I had to leave the staff quarters for good and returned to my parents’ house as a jobless daughter.
Although I applied for several jobs at companies and NGOs, it was difficult to get a new job because of scarce job opportunities and the political situation. I also learnt that some workplaces did not want to recruit CDMers. Life became more difficult because myself and my mother were both CDMers. We did not have enough financial investment to start a business nor was the country was in a favourable circumstance. I thought of going abroad and finding a job, but it was not appropriate to leave my mother who suffered from heart problems. My younger sister left us to join the armed revolution in the jungle, and I was left to bear the family responsibilities on my own.
As time passed, the military council made more inspections of overnight guests, detained and tortured the CDMers and youths. It became difficult to fall asleep when I heard the gun shots and rounds of heavy artillery shots. When will they shoot? Are we going to be shot by those heavy machine guns? Who else will get hurt? Consecutive nights of anxiety only brought sleeplessness to my mother whose heart condition worsened. Therefore, we gathered what we could, we sold off everything we had, and we left for Mizoram, India, with my mother, sister and brother.
Even after staying in Mizoram for 3 to 4 months, I suffered from shock and trauma whenever I heard a loud noise. There was an especially perplexing event I remember. One evening, together with other IDPs, I and my sister went grocery shopping and saw some Indian police in an arms-training ceremony. When the children heard gunshots, they were terrified and crouched on the ground. Some passers-by made mocking remarks about the incident and laughed, some were curious and stared on.
I had to console the children and brought them home, saying it was nothing serious but just a routine training. Whenever I thought of that incident, my grievances against the military council grew.
Life in Mizoram was much more challenging than I had expected. I tried to work at the restaurants and clothing shops, but I could not do so due to the language barrier. As I strolled out one evening after dinner, I met a local elderly woman who asked me,” Are you an IDP?”. I said, “Yes”. She asked me again, “Are you going to school?”. I answered,” No, I am already a graduate”. She said,” Then what are you doing now?” “I attended some online courses from home but nothing else,“ was my answer. I felt angry and I tears welled up when she told me that she was looking for a housemaid for her relative’s house in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram. Many thoughts came to my mind, asking whether the diplomas or degrees from Myanmar lacked the credibility, or whether it was being someone from Myanmar that was a disqualification.
I was not in despair, but I continued to seek job opportunities every day. I continued to engage in challenging work, such as collecting and sharing the list of CDMers, reaching out to the National Unity Government (NUG) for funding as the responsible contact for my previous government post—these were my voluntary contributions while at home. In collaboration with other colleagues from different states and regions, funding supports were given to CDMers who had lost their house due to fire and CDMers who became new mothers. I was happy to be able to help others, although it was not for my self-interest. While doing so, I got a job at one of the Chin organizations helping IDPs in Mizoram. I handed over administrative matters to one senior colleague to devote myself to helping the IDPs. I had to visit one IDP camp after another in Mizoram state, collect data, and record images of their requirements to submit to the donors. It was my contribution, metaphorically described as a ‘piece of brick’ or ‘a crystal of sand,’ in fulfilling the needs of IDPs.
While visiting the IDP camps, I happened to be at a camp where CDMers lived. During the conversation, I inquired what they had been doing or how they struggled to survive. I felt sorry for them when I heard that they had been working as hard labourers, such as cutting wood in the forest or loading and unloading goods, wood logging, domestic work, or servers at the restaurants. Some fell sick from working difficult and painstaking jobs, which resulted in more medical expenses than their earned wages. I asked myself if there was any white-collar job worthy of our qualifications, such as office work or other work for a company.
Reading through the news on Facebook, I found an announcement inviting Research Fellows from the Institute of Chin Affairs (ICA). I applied for it thinking that it could be the potential I had been looking for. Purely by chance, I am a Research Fellow at the ICA while continuing to search for an answer to my ardent question. To accomplish a valuable thesis researching the job opportunities of CDMers became one of my goals.
Life seemed to be smooth sailing, before the coup, but when my expectations and dreams are not met, I suffered from depression. My mother once uttered her wish that she craved to hear people calling her daughter with a prefix “Dr.” Therefore, pursuing higher education automatically became a goal for me. In addition to other requirements, I prepared as far as I could to attend the graduate school while working and to study the language for the scholarship application. Anyhow, I had never thought that the 1st of February, 2021, would totally change my life.
Being a CDMer, I could not apply for a passport and so was just stranded in Mizoram as a displaced person. Sometimes I would tell myself that I had no feelings about seeing images of my friends attending the universities with a scholarship or attending exchange programme in foreign countries or working overseas on social media. Nevertheless, I regained some energy and felt better when I thought of my contributions to help other people within my limited capacity.
We appreciate the benefit of light when it is dark. It is a lesson learnt at the expense of my life to appreciate the value of luminosity when 2021 February took away the light of my life. I have a very vivid experience of what “Home sweet home” meant while staying in another country as a displaced person. I learnt to love my home and to protect it, and I respect the value of my home.
As the saying goes, “The sun will always shine again after the storm.” I believe that good will come after the bad times have passed. We might lose sight of our path in the darkness and there will be times when we fall down, but I believe that we can get back on our feet. I believe that we will be able to break through the darkness and bring back the dazzling light. Although 2021 February has devasted my whole life, I believe that I will somehow invert the situation. I shall defeat the darkness. We will win. The revolution will win.
Dawt (pseudonym) is currently a displaced person in Mizoram and a research fellow at the ICA.