‘Learning’ old dogs new tricks: How one can become more than a Shan

My late American friend used to tell me: It’s hard to ‘learn’ old dogs new tricks.

What he said is still true today. But it doesn’t mean old people like us should give up learning. We may be slow but the fact is that nothing can get in the way of persistence.

I found that out during the 3-days I was with young people attending a workshop on federalism last week.

Asked what my expectations were, I told the workshop I was looking for an answer to my ever recurring bee in the bonnet:

In a federal country, I’ve been informed that a person has at least two identities: his/her born ethnicity and being part of the whole union. For example, a friend I know who’s born of Chinese parents in the United States feels, looks and acts Chinese in several ways but at the same time his general outlook and spirit are American, as he himself unabashedly admits. Moreover, he feels comfortable living a twin existence.

On the contrary, we in Burma don’t have that kind of dual identity. If one is Shan, he/she is just that, no less no more. The same goes for Karen, Mon, Chin and others.

Burmans (Bamars or Burmese) may think they have it. However, instilled with the notion that this country is a Union of the Burmans, whoever feels differently, to them, is disloyal to both the Burmans and the Union.

So how do we do to become more than being Shans, Karens, Burmans etc? Tireless indoctrinations that our common identity is Myanmar obviously doesn’t work. Because to all non-Burmans, Bamar and Myanmar are synonymous, like calling an Indian “Babuji” and a Chinese “Paukhpaw”.

What I found out at the workshop was like light from a lighthouse during a dark and stormy night. It grabbed at what had been in the back of my mind by the collars and put it on the table for all to see.

Of course, the resource persons used fancy words like “accommodating” non-Burmans’ aspirations but also “celebrating” them. But the well-phrased dictum “Self rule, Shared rule” was enough for me.

To live a twin existence in Burma, non-Burmans should not be satisfied with “self rule”. They must also call for and work for “shared rule”.

The Burmans must also be ready to allow the non-Burmans to take a share in the rule of the country. As long as there are only Burmans in the driving seat, they cannot expect their Three Main National Causes to become more than just slogans.

What is more, the principle of “self rule” and “shared rule” should be taught in schools, both primary and higher learning. It goes without saying that the present education system that enshrines Burman supremacy should be overhauled, that is, if they really want the Three Main Causes to come into life.

I take this opportunity to thank the resource persons and the facilitators who say they are happy to just remain out of the limelight for the time being. Rest assured we’ll remember you when we reach the shore.


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