By Burma Link | June 1, 2016
Thazun is a courageous, beautiful and talented young Arakanese [Rakhine] woman who talks openly about her life and experiences. Despite being forced to spend her childhood separated from her politically active father, and being almost starved to death as a result of forced labour demands imposed on her mother, Thazun has never given up hope. Her determination for a better life has led Thazun to make brave choices that have given her a chance to study in one of the most prestigious schools on the Thailand-Burma border. Along the way, Thazun has had to challenge her world view and learn that women should be treated as equal members of the society, despite loud objections from not only men and elderly people in her community but sometimes women themselves. Thazun now knows that nothing is impossible when you put your mind and heart to it.
Thazun’s story is published in Burma Link’s book “Lives on the Line: Voices for Change from the Thailand-Burma Border.”
“As I was young I didn’t really know about hunger or that I should eat two meals per day”
When Thazun was about five years old, she was facing near starvation as a result of forced labour demands imposed on her mother. Thazun’s mother was among hundreds of others who were forced to work on a government bridge building project in Rambree Township, Arakan State. People from over 30 villages were forced to leave their families in order to search and collect stones for the bridge. Meanwhile, Thazun’s father was involved in politics and had no choice but to stay away from his family.
My mother had to work for forced labour in the road construction… it’s like connecting two islands with a road. They had to collect big stones and take them there. From each village 10 or 20 families had to work for the project.
My mother and father weren’t with us, and we had no friends’ parents to look after us. And my sister was the eldest in the family so she had to collect food and look after us. She was very young too, only 15 or 16 years old. Sometimes we had nothing to eat. Sometimes we ate only one meal per day. Just only rice with some salt. My mother lived away for more than two years. She was able to come back once or twice a month, because when there is high tide, you can’t collect sand and stones in the island.
My mother appealed to the authorities and they gave her one time, maybe after 10 months, and she came back. She was very upset because we were almost dying.
Yeah, my mother was very skinny [when she came back]… and maybe because she worked too hard, and her eyes were very… She said later it made her feel very sorry. I don’t know how to express that word because it’s something deep inside your heart. When you see your children dying of hunger and… No one really cared for them.
Then Thazun’s mother had to go back and leave her children again, this time for one year and 2 or 3 months.
I can’t remember exactly. She didn’t actually get a break, she fled. She couldn’t bear living there. All the waters were salty, the rivers, everything was salty. My mother said you couldn’t wear your shirt for more than two or three days because it tears from the salt. And you couldn’t get fresh water, there was no water, everything was salty. You could barely get drinking water, you also had to wash yourself in the salty water. So everyone was suffering from some diseases and some people died there.
My mother was afraid that if she died, all her four children would be left alone. When I was young I didn’t know all those things, but later she told me.
“Sometimes they came in the middle of the night to our house with guns, looking for my father”
When Thazun was still very young, authorities would come to their house and ask about her father. Sometimes they would interrogate her mother.
It was really a bad time. When they came to look for my father in the house they would sometimes take my mother to an interrogation center. You have to go there if you are charged with anything and explain. They ask lots of questions. My mother said she had to go there 5 or 6 times. Sometimes they came in the middle of the night to our house with guns, looking for my father. My mother was very afraid. At the time one of our grandmother was staying with us and she cried a lot.
My father fled to Bangladesh. He had to flee because there were posters on the walls searching for my father. He was one of the leading figures in the 88 democracy uprising. So he no longer could stay in the township or in our home country… he had to flee to Bangladesh. During the 88 uprising I was only about 3 or 4 months old.
After Thazun’s father went to Bangladesh the family moved away from Sittwe where Thazun was born. In 1999 Thazun got a chance to go to Bangladesh and meet her father.
For 10 years maybe I didn’t see my father. Since I was young I didn’t know my father. I was very surprised because before I met him I dreamt of him… When I went there one of my grandmas, said; ‘Listen your father is coming!’ And I recognised him because I already saw him in my dream. He was wearing one of these patterned shirts and even in my dream he was wearing the same shirt. I had the dream maybe two times. It was something like magic, because I had never seen my father and we don’t have photographs.
“When I learnt about that [women’s rights] I could see that we have been abused for a long time”