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56Re: [justpeaceinasia] Stories of Others

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  • Goldy George
    Nov 26, 2004
      okey sir

      max ediger <maxediger@...> wrote:
      Goldy:  It would be no problem.  Lek is happy to let us use her writings.

      Goldy George <dalitstudycircle@...> wrote:
      Dear Max:
      Can we pick up some of the portion of this paper of Lek for our book. I will give you specifics in a couples of days once I come back and re-read it completely
      Warm regards

      max <maxediger@...> wrote:

      Friends:  Ms Ngamsuk (Lek) participated in the Justpeace workshop two
      years ago in Penang.  She has worked for some years with Burma Issues
      and has recently completed her Masters Degree.  Below is a paper she
      prepared for a consultation in Thailand.......max

      Stories of others

      Prepared by Ngamsuk Ruttanasatian (Impact of Globalization,
      Regionalism and Nationalism on Minority Peoples in Southeast Asia 17
      November 2004, Chaing Mai, Thailand)

      This paper I have developed from my thesis. The title of this paper
      came to me after the incident on the 25th of October at Tak Bai in
      Narathiwat province, Southern of Thailand.  When I saw a video about
      the incident I began to wonder why the military and the police killed
      and mistreated the protestors on the 25th.  I believe that the
      military and police saw those protesters as the "other," so they do
      not feel that they have to treat these people well.  If they thought
      of these people as their relatives they would have responded to them
      differently.  Max Ediger, a coordinator at Center for Justpeace in
      Asia has said whatever the reason, the act of killing must surely
      first require the dehumanization of the "other."  If the other is my
      friend, my sister, my relative, then I cannot easily see them as a
      worthless object, or pull a trigger just because it is my duty. 
      Dehumanizing the other person is to remove them from my definition of
      humanity or to conclude that they are not a part of God's great

      The inspiration for my thesis research came from my 10 years
      experience with Burma Issues, a human rights and education
      organization based in Thailand.  I have observed that most reports on
      Burma tend to focus on the conflict at the national level between the
      Burmese military and the ethnic groups, which has been going on for
      many decades.  The most obvious and common solution to the conflict
      in Burma is the use of violence.  Many people there are already used
      to dealing with conflict by violence.  However, during my work at
      Burma Issues I also heard many positive stories from villagers in
      different places in Burma about the peoples' tactics to overcome
      oppression.  Unfortunately these tactics and the people who practice
      them are rarely recognized.    

      As I only found information about Burma's conflict at the national
      level I often wondered what kind of conflict exists at the community
      level, what the ethnic people in Burma face and how they deal with
      the conflict in their communities.  Therefore, I started this project
      on conflict in the refugee communities of Karen people from
      Tenasserim Division of Burma. These people had to abandon their
      landing Burma because of military operations and the activities of
      transnational corporations.      

      I started my field research in Tham Hin Refugee camp in Suan Phueng,
      Rachaburi province in Western Thailand in January 2004.  I spent 2
      months in the camp conducting interviews. I had been in this camp
      several times in my work with Burma Issues and to help the Thai
      academics in their research. 
      There are several reasons why I selected this camp.  First, the
      policies of the Thai government in managing this camp have been
      extremely strict ever since people first arrived in 1997.  Second,
      the people there have faced increased pressure from authorities over
      the last few years.  Third, these people have been forced to leave
      their land because of development projects inside Burma, including a
      gas pipeline, deep seaport, highway and railway, all projects where
      foreign companies cooperate with the Burmese military. 

      Tenasserim division became an economic focus for the Burmese military
      government and foreign companies after 1988, when Burma changed to an
      open market economy.  After gas pipeline construction began in 1991,
      villages in the region of the pipeline were relocated to make way for
      the pipeline project and to make the area secure.  Due to the
      pipeline and other infrastructure projects in the area, the Burmese
      Army strength in the district built up steadily from four battalions
      in mid-1991 to 29 by 1997.  The result of the military operations in
      this division has been an increase in human rights violation
      including forced displacement, and the mass exodus of displaced
      people.  Many of the villagers in Tenasserim division fled to
      Thailand after the military offensive in 1997.  From that time until
      the present, they have sought refuge on Thai soil. 

      These people have faced new conditions in their lives since they
      crossed the border and moved to the refugee camps.  They have
      different lifestyles in terms of economy, culture, education, etc.,
      compared with their original homes.  They must also deal with severe
      limitations in the camp. Thai policies regulating the Burmese refugee
      camps place strong restrictions on house building and freedom of
      movement.  Most of the people I spoke with raised the issue of space
      limitations in their conversations.  Some people said they wanted a
      small piece of land to plant vegetables and flowers around their
      house, but they could not do it.  These limitations have caused
      tension and stress for people in the camp, which often translate into
      interpersonal and social conflict. 

      The different living conditions in the camp cause acute stress and
      alienation among people who have been traumatized by violence,
      uprooted from their homes, separated from their families and denied
      access to adequate social services and gainful employment.  All of
      these factors shape the interpersonal conflicts in Tham Hin camp. 
      Thai policies and social interactions in the camp between the Thai
      authorities and the refugees have intensified the conflicts that
      exist in the camp.

      For example, in the past the Karen people had strong morals but in
      the camp they have already lost this.  One English teacher said that
      young people in the camp could not maintain their morals any more in
      this new environment, which has changed people's lifestyles.  The
      young people who have gone to work on fishing boats in Thailand have
      learned new behavior from Thai people.  They have been to brothels
      and also intimate the negative behavior they see on television.  Some
      of the young men have contracted HIV while working on the fishing
      boats.  From life experiences and from movies, new behavior is
      learned and adopted by these young men who, when they come back to
      the camp to visit, carry with them their new practices and experience
      which they, of course, share with their colleagues.

      One high school student told me about the Thai Volunteer Militia
      (OrSor) who punished several people in the camp by ordering them walk
      around the camp without clothes and while shouting that they will not
      make such mistakes in the future. This humiliated them.  The Camp
      Committee members also said they did not like the fact that the Thai
      militia punished them in a way that is humiliating in Karen culture. 
      But people in the camp feel they cannot do anything with the
      militia.  Some of them have said that people in the camp will never
      forget for this event.  They have lost their dignity, value, culture
      and customs.  Children who were born in the camp do not have the
      skills for farming, weaving, raising animals and so on.  One parent
      said their children do not know elephants.  When children saw a
      buffalo they thought it was an elephant.  These children will face
      difficulty when they return to their villages in the future. 

      I think that many young people growing up in the camp with limited
      possibilities for dealing with problems may choose to deal with
      problems in a negative way.  Many men turn to alcohol when they do
      not see a solution for this problem.  Domestic violence has been
      increasing in the camp.  The story about the boy who says he wants to
      kill his mother when he grows up is one example of this problem.  I
      was told this story by a Burmese Muslim.  His mother left him and his
      siblings in the camp after his father went to work in Thailand.  She
      found a new husband in the camp and moved with him to live outside
      the camp.  When his father came back he got angry with his wife but
      he could not do anything because she was already gone, so he turned
      his anger towards his children.  He told his children that he wanted
      to kill them, but an elder from nearby came to intervene.  He calmed
      down after he listened the instructions from the older man, but his
      elder son now says when he grows up he will kill his mother and his
      stepfather.  He is just ten years old. 

      The Karen in the camps often talked about life in the refugee camps
      in a similar way to Meas Nee, a former Cambodia refugee in
      Thailand: "Eat if you are fed, stop if you are told to stop, move if
      you are told to move, do not move out one small allocated area".  For
      the refugees, this life also has a high price: loss of dignity, of
      identity, of value and power.  People do not know what to do for
      their future and their children's future, because they have to
      struggle day by day to survive in the camp.  The Karen people
      struggle with boredom.  They used to be in places that had a good
      environment: fresh air, water and food, and they had jobs and could
      move around their villages.  They explained the situation before the
      SPDC arrived in their villages was very peaceful and they did not
      have to worry about their basic needs.  Their life styles were so
      simple that they were self-reliant.  They could remain independent in
      their villages.

      The interpersonal and social conflicts that occur in the camp, like
      quarrels over animal raising, humiliation, arranged marriages to Thai
      officials against the daughter's will, conflicts over money, land
      use, adultery, space constraints, etc. might seem small-scale, but if
      one looks at them deeply and carefully, these conflicts are deep
      rooted among the refugees.  It is as if the refugees are stepping
      over landmines, waiting for the explosion that will occur any day.

      The civil war and life in tightly controlled camps affects people
      psychologically, especially children and youth. Children and youth
      who are constantly looked down upon, or face humiliation from
      soldiers and camp guards have developed feelings of inferiority which
      result in depression or even anger and hatred.  This will affect the
      way they grow up and how they live their lives.  These psychological
      problems will also determine how they deal with conflicts in the
      future.  It makes violent solutions to conflicts more acceptable to
      them as they grow up surrounded with so much humiliation and

      Even though most of the people do not yet resort to violence, the
      situation has the potential to become more violent in the future as
      long as people do not have appropriate tools to use in their
      community, and also if conflict at the community level is not

      When I was in the Tham Hin refugee camp during my field study people
      there often asked me to help them with the issues that concerned
      them.  I explained that I was in the camp as a student who wanted to
      learn about their stories.  Though I did not think that I could help
      them to deal with their problems, I told them that my paper could be
      a voice for them, and that it will be helpful for outsiders to
      understand more about their situation.  I also wish that the stories
      from the people in the camp that I have tell you will inspire some of
      you to learn more.  Max Ediger says, "when somebody has lost
      everything - family, home, land, worldly possessions, faith, and
      identity, the only thing left that nobody can take away is a story. 
      And the telling of these stories can be a healing experience for
      people.  The act of telling the story is an act of peacemaking. 
      Peacemakers are the recipients and the tellers these stories.  Yet to
      receive a story is not the end.  There is a call to act on the

      I think it is important for researchers to learn how others think and
      feel.  As Max Ediger says, "when we truly learn to listen to others,
      especially those most marginalized, exploited, angry and frustrated,
      we can begin to know how to build new economic, political and social
      systems that respect justice, freedom and human rights".

      If I look back to the situation of the ethnic people in Burma and the
      relationship between the Thai authorities and the refugees in the
      camps, I see people who are often viewed as "others," as "worthless
      objects" in the view of majority people or the state because of
      differences in culture, languages, beliefs, customs and so on.
      According to my observation of the situation in Burma, the Burmese
      military see the ethnic people in their country as worthless objects
      and this may be why human rights violations there are not taken
      seriously. I think this quotation is a good example of how "the
      other" thinks and feels in response:

      "We feel that the Burmese Army treats us as their enemy�May be this
      is because we are Karen, one of the ethnic nationalities in this
      country which is different from the Burmans." (by Saw Paw Mai from Pa
      Saw Oot village, Tenessarim division)

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      "We kill at every step, not only in wars, riots, and executions. We kill when we close our eyes to poverty, suffering, and shame. In the same way all disrespect for life, all hard-heartedness, all indifference, all contempt is nothing else than killing. With just a little witty skepticism we can kill a good deal of the future in a young person. Life is waiting everywhere, the future is flowering everywhere, but we only see a small part of it and step on much of it with our feet." - Hermann Hesse, German poet and novelist.

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