Buddhist Monks: A Powerful Force in Burmese Life

By The Irrawaddy

Burmese Buddhist monks have always played an influential role in politics and social change in Burma. Historically, monks were involved in early outbreaks of resistance against British colonization.

Two well-known monks U Wisara and U Ottama spent many years in prison for their nonviolent resistance.

In the recent pro-democracy demonstrations, monks took center stage in the central city of Pakokku, when several hundred monks joined demonstrations against fuel price hikes and were violently dispersed by troops, security officials and pro-junta thugs. At least three monks were injured.

In response, anonymous authors, describing themselves as “The Alliance of All Burma Buddhist Monks,” have distributed a leaflet demanding the military government apologize for the violence against monks by September 17. Otherwise, they warn they will “hold patam nikkujjana kamma”—or a boycott of alms offered by members of the military regime, thus denying merit to the donor.

The boycott campaign is believed to be supported by many monks, and has raised increased security concerns among authorities who fear demonstrations by monks could arouse the public to support widespread protests.

A "state of emergency" was declared on September 6, and police have been ordered to report all incidents of demonstrations and anti-government actions to their superiors.

“The authorities have increased their security everywhere, monitoring monasteries, schools, universities and markets," say sources in Burma's major cities.

Meanwhile, in the monasteries the monks sit in silence. But for how long, no one knows for sure.

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