The Lady visitsNoble laureate and democratic icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar will be in Nepal on a four-day state visit from June 13 to 16.
Nepal is almost a second home for Suu Kyi, who has a deep affection for this country and its people. The first time Suu Kyi visited Nepal was in 1962, at the age of 17, together with her mother Daw Khin Kyi—then Burma’s Ambassador to India and Nepal based in Delhi. She visited Nepal for the second time in 1973 with her husband Michael Aris and son Alexander Kyi Aris and lived in Kirtipur (see photo).
During that period, Suu Kyi learnt Nepali and Newari and taught English to
students of the Dharmakriti Vihar run by Bhikkhuni Dhammawati, who had studied Buddhism and become a nun in Burma. She also wrote a book entitled Nepal (Let’s visit series) in which she illustrated the geography, politics and culture of Nepal. Unfortunately, that book is no longer available (perhaps destroyed by the Burmese military junta).
As she mentioned to a Nepali diplomat in Yangon, Nepal is close to her heart and she is indebted to the Nepali people. This is because Gurkha soldiers fought for Burma’s independence twice. During World War II, Gurkhas fought against Japanese occupiers and liberated Burma. The second time, they fought together with the Burmese National Army against the Karen National Liberation Army and helped Burma retain its unity and independence.
Over the years, Aung San Suu Kyi has become a symbol of democracy, human rights and freedom. She was imprisoned by the military junta for 22 years because of her long struggle for freedom and democracy in Myanmar. In recognition of her struggle, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Noble Peace Prize in 1991. Since then, she has been honoured with many other honours, including the Jawaharlal Nehru International Peace Prize. This week, the Government of Nepal will honour her with the Dilli Raman Regmi Peace Award.
As Suu Kyi herself has indicated, Mahatma Gandhi and her father General Aung San were sources of inspiration for her struggle against the military dictatorship. She followed Gandhi’s principle of non-violent struggle for freedom and democracy. While Gen Aung San, the father of Myanmar, fought for independence and to maintain unity among ethnic groups, Suu Kyi struggled to meet the primary objective of attaining people’s freedom and human rights.
Suu Kyi led the democratic movement against the military junta in Myanmar in 1988. The wave of that movement spread to many parts of the world. The People Power Revolution started in the Philippines against Marcos’ dictatorial rule, led by Cory Aquino. In 1989, the first Janaandolan, which began in Nepal for the restoration of democracy, was led by ‘Iron man’ Ganesh Man Singh. Another movement followed in Pakistan under the leadership of Benazir Bhutto to oust military ruler General Zia ul Haq. The flame of that movement spread to the Soviet Union too, collapsing the communist regime in that strong and large country.
Reconciling for freedom
There are very few living political statespeople in the world today and Suu Kyi tops the list. In modern day politics, Suu Kyi is often compared with another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Nelson Mandela, who spent 28 years in prison during his long struggle for freedom and justice. Like Mandela, Suu Kyi believed that without forgiveness, there can be no peace and reconciliation. For the sake of national interest, she compromised with the military junta and agreed for reconciliation in order to bring back democracy, freedom and justice to her countrypeople. Mandela too compromised with the white government in South Africa’s interest.
It may be recalled that BP Koirala, leader of the Nepali Congress and Nepal’s first elected prime minister, too compromised with then king Mahendra to bring back democracy and freedom to the Nepali people through national reconciliation. For the sake of national interest, he took a risk and returned to Nepal in December 1979 from exile in India.
When I worked as Country Representative of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) from 2003 to 2006, Suu Kyi was under house arrest and there was no possibility to meet her. However, I managed to meet with her three uncles, senior leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD), for consultation while preparing the WFP’s annual programme. The meeting was organised secretly without permission from the government since any meeting with the NLD leaders was restricted. Through them, I heard about her courage and strong determination to work for the national interest, Myanmar’s stability and the good of all people.
In her speech on Myanmar’s National Day on December 3, 1988, Suu Kyi said, “We have all entered this struggle for democracy because I believe we can win in our fight for democracy. I should say honestly, Yes, we can win.”
Udas is the Founder of the Non-Residential Nepali Movement