A Land of Beauty and Misery
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Monday, December 10, 2018


A Land of Beauty and Misery



The breathtaking vistas of Chin State contrast starkly with the hardships of life in this often-ignored corner of Burma 

The Chin people I met during my visit to this northwestern part of Burma take great pride in the natural attractions of their land—a place of dense forests and deep gorges, where exotic flowers cover steep mountains, which often lie enveloped in cool, refreshing mists.

Children in Chin State are the most vulnerable to disease and malnutrition. (Photo: KO YUYA)

But the natural beauty belies the hardships of life in this isolated highland, where ordinary people face privations that are severe even by the standards of a country ranked among the world’s most impoverished.

Much of the suffering here is not, however, merely a matter of poverty. Besides the struggle to find food and earn a living, many must also contend with various human rights abuses committed by the Burmese junta.

Like many other parts of this military-ruled country, Chin State—which is home to about half a million inhabitants—is woefully lacking in infrastructure. Transportation is difficult, communication systems are unreliable and health care facilities fall far short of local needs.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), some 70 percent of the state’s population live below the poverty line and 40 percent are without adequate sources of food. The lack of infrastructure, natural resources and economic opportunities, compounded by government policies and pervasive human rights violations, induces and exacerbates poverty in Chin State, HRW says.

When I asked a Chin woman in her early 30s to describe life in the state, she said simply, “Our lives are ignored and our hardships are untold.”

A chin girl pounds a meager amount of maize in an area suffering severe food shortages. (Photo: KO YUYA)

Burma’s military government has been tireless in its efforts to root out armed ethnic groups in this untamed region that borders India, but has expended almost no effort on trying to develop it. Instead of helping local people, soldiers extort what little money they have and commit countless human rights violations against them.

Villagers say that they face the risk of being taken away to work as porters for the Burmese army almost every day. Some complain that they don’t have enough time to work in their own fields because they’re always being forced to work for the army bases in the region.

“Whatever they demand, we have to do. Otherwise, they will accuse us of having contact with the CNA [Chin National Army] and then torture and imprison us,” said a villager from Kanpetlet, one of Chin State’s nine townships.

Villagers in Chin State routinely report incidents of torture and detention by government troops and intimidation by the CNA, which has fought against the Burmese regime for more than two decades. In some cases, according to local people, victims of torture do not survive their ordeal.

Many Chin say they don’t know which side—the CNA or the Burmese army—they should support, because neither does anything to help them secure their livelihoods.

“We are struggling just to find food to feed ourselves. Neither the CNA nor the Burmese army will come and feed us,” said the villager in Kampetlet.

In recent years, the struggle for bare subsistence has become even more acute. Since 2006, there has been an explosion in the rat population due to the flowering of bamboo blossoms, which occurs just twice a century. The blossoms have vanished, but the rats remain, destroying farmers’ harvests. Experts say that the effects of the bamboo flowering are expected to last for at least another two to three years.

According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, 20 percent of the total Chin population is “gripped by extreme food shortages.” Observers say the government has done nothing to prevent the disaster from happening.

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