Since the brutal suppression of the people’s revolt in Burma in 1988 and as a result of the Burmese junta’s continued vicious military rule, over the past many years, hundreds of thousands of Burmese had fled their home country, seeking asylum in many countries.
In India, there are about 100,000 Burmese Refugees. Of these around 6,500 live in New Delhi, while the others live in the North-Eastern States like Mizoram and Manipur. In Delhi, the women constitute about 40% of the total population.
Burmese Refugees in India face many difficulties in terms of security, survival and other problems. Linguistic issues are crucial, as many Burmese can speak neither English nor Hindi. This makes communication and employment difficult. Even those who are lucky enough to be employed receive meager wages, but the vast majority of Burmese in Delhi do not even have a regular source of income. The Burmese tend to live in small cramped rooms with many people staying in each room. Those who do not have official Refugee Status hide out in these rooms during the day and only come out at night, for fear of the authorities. Many families cannot afford to send their young children to school, and even have to scavenge for vegetables left behind by vendors late at night.
Meanwhile, the Burmese community’s conspicuous difference from their local population, as well as their inability to speak the local languages, makes them prime targets for harassment and hostility by the local house owners, shopkeepers, employers and neighbours. Women in all these contexts are among the most vulnerable of the Burmese Refugee community. There have been many cases of violence against women in the past many months from the Indian community as well as within the Burmese community.
Many Indian groups are not fully aware either of the dire situation in Burma, or of the existence of the Burmese Refugee community here in India.
Burmese Women Delhi (BWD)
Burmese Women Delhi (BWD) is a common platform of the different Burmese women organizations based in Delhi. BWD is an outcome of the interactive programme of the Burmese women based in Delhi with the Indian women held on 28th March 2006. It was an initiative to forge linkage with the Indian women’s groups with the aim to promote general awareness / consciousness on the situation of Burma, to highlight the plight of Women in Burma and India, survival and legal protection specially in Delhi and also seeking their support towards Burma cause as Indian state has a crucial and powerful role to play in the Burmese issue.
Since then, there has been no looking back. The name, BWD was accepted by 25 women representing 21 Burmese Womens’ Organization / Groups in a meeting held at BCRC Hall on 9 June 2006. Under the banner, a delegation of Burmese Women attended the ‘National Conference of Women’s Movements’ held in Kolkata from 9-12 Sept 2006 where more than 2,000 women participated.
As the year progressed and as the needs and priority of the groups slightly changes from time to time, slowly the structure of BWD is also changing. It was felt the need to be made into a community based group for the work to be more broad based.. On 7 November 2009, a mass meeting was held and it was decided to make it community based forum by having an Advisory Body with representations from all the different groups based in Delhi.
There are 14 Advisory members. They are:
1.Nu Dim (Hakha Community)
2.Van Hnem (Hakha Community)
3.Sui Hoi (Falam Community)
4.Mami (Falam Community)
5.Vung Kok (Tidim Community)
6.Nem (Tidim Community)
7.Hkawn Lum (Kachin Community)
8.Ngun Sang (Matu Community)
9.Siami (Matu Community)
10.Rosy (Zotung Community)
11.Chong Chong (Kuki Community)
12.Ma Engi (Lushai Community)
13.Moe Tu Zar (Burman Community)
14.Aye Tha Zin (Arakhan Community)
Now, BWD functions with a working group consisting of two coordinator and four interns. The advisor would meet in the first week of every month for discussion and evaluation of the activities/programme. Their term is for one year after which the women from each community will again send in their own representative.