A young mom and an infant in a refugee camp in Kachin State.
Last month I went to the north of Burma. I went to a state where the Kachin live. They one of the beautiful people of Burma, brave, hospitable and friendly. For three years the Burma Army has brutally attacked their homes, their villages and their land. Their land is full of natural resources. I suspect that is why, although they would never admit it themselves.
The 100,000 Kachin who have lost their homes and everything that is dear to them receive hardly no help at all. This is one of the stories I heard. Read it with tissue paper close by.
Maru (not his real name) will never forget that Sunday. The sky was heavy with rain, and the fields all around the village was bursting with color. The monsoon season brought new life to the thirsty pastures.
Sundays were days of rest and fellowship. His dad had been to the men’s service early in the morning. Now the women had their own service before they would all gather for one last family service at 11. He heard the sound of his dad’s motorbike approaching. Quickly he got up, got on his sandals and walked over to where his dad was waiting. “Let’s go, “ hid dad smiled. Maru felt happy. It was a good day. After church they would be eating together, his mom, dad, sister and him. Then he could spend the rest of the day playing with his friends. He just hoped the soldiers would not come and bother any of them.
When they got to the church building on the top of the hill they realized they were early. The women were still singing their hymns inside, and they knew it would be a few minutes before they got out. Maru’s dad did not like to wait idly and looked at his son: “I will just go down and check on the fields,” he said and got back on the moped. Maru smiled and nodded. He knew that the fields did not really need to be attended to, but he also knew his dad. He cared for his fields with the same devotion he shoved his family. Hardly a day passed when he was not attending to them. He looked at his dad’s back as he rode proudly on the family’s most priced possession—their blue motorbike. He did not know that it would be the last time he saw his father.
Twenty minutes later his dad was not back for the service. Maru did not want to miss it and went inside anyway. But he thought it was odd that his dad had not come back. He never missed the church services. Maru was sure he had his reasons and soon forgot about it.
He walked home alone. His dad was still not back. “Strange,” thought Maru. Then he figured that his dad may have just gone straight back to their house when he realized he would be too late for the service. He carried his dad’s bag with the worn hymnal and Bible inside.
The Sunday afternoon did not turn out to be what he had envisioned. As soon as he came home he heard the guns. It wasn’t like he hadn’t heard it before. Since the war started more than two years ago, the government troops had been attacking the area frequently. Their goal was to defeat the resistance. Their goal, it seemed to Maru, was to take over their land and make him and his people landless, and —it appeared—freedomless. Several times a month there was fighting. Almost daily soldiers would march through their village. Often they would steal their belongings, kill their animals and even harass the villagers. Regularly the villagers would have to run away and hide during the fighting. It was dangerous for them to be in the area, running the risk of getting killed or captured by the enemy. Maru wished the war would end so they could go back to having school regularly.
When his dad had not come back that night, the family started to worry. Where could he have gone? They did not want to admit it, but they all felt the same nagging fear: Had the worst happened to him?
As the fighting all around them continued, Maru and his sister were forced to stay inside. Their mother kept looking outside for signs of her husband, and for signs of an end to the shooting. But nothing changed. The next morning she could not stand it anymore and walked over to the neighbors and told them her husband was missing. Soon the whole village knew. They all feared the worst, but kept hoping their fears would amount to nothing. When they felt they could do so, some of the village leaders took Maru’s mom to see the army officer. The man was wearing his uniform and it was tight around his waist. Maru’s mom immediately felt fearful upon seeing him. She knew the power he had. With her eyes downcast she told him her husband was missing, and asked if he had seen him.
The officer told them he knew that Maru’s father had been stopped and checked by his battalion, but his soldiers had let him go. It was hard to trust him, but she wanted to. Still, if they had let him go, then where was he now?
The village leaders looked like they had the same thought.
The next morning Maru looked outside when he heard the familiar sound. The sound of his father’s moped. He knew that sound from afar. He associated it with the person he loved the most and who he had longed for the last 48 hours. Could it be that his dad was coming home?
It was his dad’s moped. But his dad was not on it. Instead it was ridden by two of the soldiers. Why were they riding on the moped Maru’s dad used to take him and his sister to school? Maru did not want to think about the answer.
That afternoon the whole village decided to go looking for the man they all knew as a neighbor, friend, relative, community leader and church member. They divided into two groups and walked through the fields. They found his body in the sugarcane field. He was partially buried. When they found the body it was wrapped in plastic. His purple jacket covered his face. He had been dressed in a uniform belonging to the Kachin resistance. His body was covered with bruises, and his leg was broken. When they took his uniform off, the saw a bullet hole on his chest.
The army officer had told them they had let him go. But here was the evidence that he had lied. They had beaten him, tortured him, killed him and dressed him, a simple farmer, in the uniform of the resistance. They had left him to decompose without letting his family or his village know what they had done. Now they had left, and it seemed like their cruel deed was forgotten.
Maru’s father was buried in the village. They never got his moped back. Since July, when this happened, they have had to flee many times. Every time they hide in the jungle. Every time they come back to their village to see possessions stolen or destroyed. Every time they flee their school gets interrupted. Every time they flee they are afraid that what happened to Maru’s dad might happen to them.
Nobody was charged with the crime, and Maru’s people are still not free.