Letter from Burma: Keepers of Conscience
Aung San Suu Kyi sits below a portrait of her father at her home in Yangon, Myanmar, on Dec. 30, 2010. (Mainichi)
Is the story of Pinocchio still popular with children? It is when such questions arise in my mind that I am made acutely aware of the peculiar gaps in my contact with the outside world. Had I been in constant touch with my grandchildren or even with other people’s grandchildren over the years, I would have known the answers. Fortunately a few days after Pinocchio had floated into my head, I had a meeting with the children of the United States Embassy staff in Rangoon. The oldest was around twenty while the youngest was a three month old Japanese-American baby boy whose sleeping face had a pout of concentration that made him resemble a Sumo wrestler planning his next mountain shaking move. Among the in-betweens were a fair number who were acquainted with Pinocchio through the Walt Disney Film. Most of them thought Jiminy Cricket was the most interesting character in the story. This pleased me as the main reason for my sudden recall of the Pinocchio story was the top-hatted, umbrella-toting cricket rather than the puppet brat.
Looking back across years of politically shaped thought and action, the children’s story appears as a simple illustration of the fact that without a conscience, human beings are no more than mere puppets manipulated by their fears, their desires, their ignorance, and by those whom they have chosen to be their masters. It thus becomes most appropriate that thinking beings who have chosen to give up their physical liberty that they might be better able to defend the universal right to freedom of belief and expression should be designated prisoners of conscience. These men and women who have submitted their bodies to a comfortless, sometimes cruel, confinement over long years that they and their fellow citizens might exist in honour and dignity are also the keepers of our collective conscience.
There remain in the jails of Burma over two thousand two hundred political prisoners of whom barely twenty are known by name to the world at large. The more than two thousand who remain anonymous are our unknown soldiers, the unsung heroes and heroines who have worked quietly to keep the movement for democracy strong and vital. On 4 January 2011, the Sixty Third Anniversary of Burma’s Independence from colonialism, the National Leagues for Democracy arranged a random draw of the names of political prisoners by those who were willing to take the responsibility of supporting them materially or morally as far as circumstances allowed. The young man who fell to my lot was one of the unknown soldiers. He had been arrested in 2007 for attempting to pray for the release of political prisoners at the Shwedagon Pagoda. Many of the young people who had all been involved in the prayer movement were now scattered in prisons across Burma but he was relatively fortunate as he was at Insein Jail, not too far away from his home. Preparing the food parcel to be sent to him was a reminder of the abstemious conditions under which our comrades in jail have to pass their days. Continue reading “Daw Aung San Suu-Keepers of Conscience by Mainichi”