In Pursuit Of Shelter: Chin Community of Burma
By Ravi Nitesh
08 April, 2014
An Interview with David, President Chin Refugee Community of Burma in India
Very few of us know much about the political situations in our neighboring countries and its effect over the people there. Also, when it comes to word ‘refugee' in India, we generally only think about Bangladeshis and Pakistani Hindus. When it comes to Burma (Myamnmar), some of us may know about the Rohingyas refugees. But there are other communities as well who have been forced to find refuge elsewhere. This is about another community from Burma called the Chin community that is struggling to live a life of dignity in India.
Here is an account of my meeting with some of them residing in Delhi. I conversed with Mr. David who is working as a democratic representative of approximately 8000 refugees of Chin community living here. He is the President of Chin Refugee Committee (CRC), an organisation that addresses the problems faced by the Chin refugees.
What were the reasons that forced you to leave Burma and seek asylum in India
We were living in Chin State and belong to Chin community. We practice Christianity as a religion but on ethnic identity, we belong to the minority group of Burma. In 1988, the Burmese army launched a massive suppression campaign for us. The Burmese army committed atrocities against us. We faced tortures, killings, rapes and other forms of violence. The Burmese army also tried to recruit people from our own community to suppress us. The level of violence and suffering was unbearable. Many people wanted to leave the region but few succeeded to flee from there. I, myself came here in the year 2007. We did not have right to profess our religion, we did not have basic rights that were granted to other communities.
What is your present status in India? I mean your refugee status.
Though we are living here, India has not granted refugee status to us. Somehow, through our struggle of survival, we have been recognized as refugee by UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and through this, we have received some sort of security.
How many people are living here as refugee? Are they all belong to Chin Community?
Approx 8000 people are refugees, in which roughly you can say that 95% are from Chin Community and 5% are from Kachin Community. Some Monks are also here who are fighting for democracy.
What are main sources of livelihood of you people here?
Basically, we are working here in the informal/unorganized sectors such as the factories, restaurants, hotels, shops etc. We do not have any access to formal or organized jobs. Approx 70% of us are illiterate.
What are the conditions of education and health available to you?
Due to UNHCR assistance, we are able to access education and health facilities in Indian schools and hospitals where we are authorized to go. But despite the access, our children could not continue their schooling in Delhi schools because of the discrimination that they faced in schools. The discrimination which was based on our looks would also get converted into fights.
How are you continuing their education then?
Chin community is a community of approx nine tribal groups. Every tribal group developed one of its house as a church wherein we run a community school to provide basic education for that tribal community children. We presently teach them basic English, basic maths and chin language.
What is the nature of support that UNHCR extending to you?
UNHCR visits us from time to time and in case of any difficulty, comes to help us. It also runs baby day care centers and basic computer course through its implementing partners.
What are the main problems here?
We face problems due to local people only. Our girls and women have been assaulted, molested while coming and going to job. Eve teasing is a common issue. Our look creates problem and they try to get benefit. Some men also reported of physical assault, snatching of wallet, phone etc.
How is the role of police and local administration you see?
Police and local administration do not create any problem, instead they support, probably due to UNHCR assistance to us. Police, infact some times arrested persons when we called them after molestation or assault cases.
Is there any demand or expectation that you have with the Government of India?
We do not have any demand with the Government of India. We do not have any expectation from the Government of India because the Indian Government is building ties with the oppressive military government of Burma. We think that India, being a democracy that it claims to be, should coordinate and help in establishing democracy in Burma, rather than supporting the military government. We see that India is investing huge capital through various projects of development there and is mum over establishing democracy.
What are your entertainment resources? What are the main festivals?
We enjoy songs and movies as anybody else, but mostly of English language. Our main festivals are limited to Christmas and New Year. We also celebrate Chin National Day on 20 th February every year.
How was this CRC formed? Is it registered anywhere?
CRC is formed to facilitate people of our community who have come as refugees here. We have nine tribal groups in Chin community and one representative from each tribal group came to form CRC. These representatives of tribal groups as well as President and other posts of CRC are being elected democratically by our community people through vote. For this voting system, we have a separate election commission as well. CRC is not registered with government or agencies, as legally it can not. But due to the democratic body and people's support, CRC is recognized by other agencies such as UNHCR. Any other agencies or groups contact to CRC only for any kind of work/meeting etc with our community people. The period of President, Vice President in CRC is of two years only. Also, to work or to visit the people, agencies or organizations need to get permission from CRC that in turn takes permission from the representative of that tribal community in CRC.
Who are the other tribal groups within Chin commun ity? Which group do you belong to?
Chin community has nine tribal groups. They all have their own stories and history. These groups are Hakha community, Falam community, Zomi community, Cho community, Matu community, Mara community, Khuami community and others.
I belong from Hakha tribal group.
What you expect from Aung San Suu Ki?
Aung San Suu Ki is demanding for democracy and so are we so we are hopeful that if she comes to power as the Prime Minister, she will help us. But as of now, we cannot expect much with her as well as she herself is fighting and it is very difficult for her to become the prime minister as it may need some constitutional amendments as well.
Will you go back to your country in case situation improves?
I can't say if our people will want to go back or not. Probably we will. We have suffered so much that we never think about it. We only pray for improvement in our situation.
What is your plan for future? Will you continue stay here in India?
As we are not getting refugee status by Government of India, we are just living here somehow. We are continuously trying to get refuge in other countries which will give us the refugee status. After all, we all want to live a life of dignity.
Had any other organization/agencies visited you?
Apart from UNHCR, no other organization visited us.
What help you are seeking for?
We feel that living here , away from our native land is difficult and painful for all of us. It is insecure as well. Insecurity in terms of physical, educational, sociological and even financial. In fact, we believe that all among us who are of good health must earn for their bread and butter and they survive their livelihood by their own work, however the problem comes for the most vulnerable like old people or ill people who are unable to work and earn. We see that they need some sort of help.
Ravi Nitesh is a Petroleum Engineer, Founder- Mission Bhartiyam, Core Member- Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign
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