Happy Birthday, Aung San Suu Kyi!

Kamna Arora

On the nineteenth day of the sixth month in 1945, General Aung San and Khin Kyi welcomed the third child in their family. It was a baby girl for the couple who were earlier blessed with two sons. Soon, the girl was named Aung San Suu Kyi; "Aung San" for father, "Suu" for grandmother, and "Kyi" for mother. Her name meant “a bright collection of strange victories”; who knew that her name would prefigure events in her life.

Aung San Suu Kyi was just two years old when her adorable father was assassinated by the men hired by U Saw, the political leader who was envious of General Aung San. It was so dark that day some even thought skies were also mourning the death of the man Burma loved and trusted the most.

Suu Kyi was too young to have known her father. She only learnt about General Aung San in stories. What a life he lived! He was an inspiration to many when he was alive, but his death motivated his daughter to devote to the good of her country, even if it risked her life.

After losing her beloved father on the doomed July 19, 1947, Suu Kyi, along with her brothers, were taken care of by relatives and friends since her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, became a prominent public figure. She was appointed as director of social welfare in Burma’s independent government.

Suu Kyi soon turned out to be a well-behaved and polite girl with a good sense of Burmese values. She was broad-minded as far as religious and political views were concerned.

Suu Kyi’s mother always taught her daughter not to hate, not even the assassins of General Aung San. Khin Kyi’s ideals had a long-lasting impact on Suu Kyi’s personality.

She also learnt the art of maintaining self-control from her mother, who lost her husband at a young age and also her second oldest son. It was very hard for Suu Kyi to lose her favorite brother, Aung San Lin, in an accidental drowning while playing in Rangoon. But she moved on…

Suu Kyi was never shy of overcoming her fears. She fought her fear of the dark at the tender age of 12. She received education at English Catholic schools in Burma.

In 1960, Suu Kyi’s mother was appointed as the Burmese Ambassador to India and Nepal. It was the beginning of her tryst with India. The simple yet charismatic girl continued her high school education at the Convent of Jesus and Mary. She further studied politics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women in New Delhi. But in the midst of her studies, a major change took place back home. On March 02, 1962, Ne Win seized power in a coup d`état. Burma was not a democracy any more. Here in India, Suu Kyi strengthened her beliefs of achieving political motives with non-violence as she read more and more about the teachings and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1964, she left India. From 1964-67, she obtained a BA degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from Saint Hugh`s College, Oxford. There she met her future husband, Michael Aris.

After graduating, Suu Kyi went to New York for further studies. She started working at the UN Secretariat as Assistant Secretary, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.

She married Michael in 1972 and the following year, Suu Kyi gave birth to her first son, Alexander, in London. In 1977, she had her second child, Kim.

All these years, she had not visited Burma. But the tumultuous political situation in her homeland always disturbed the mother of two. In fact, in a book, she even wrote that some people thought the daughter of General Aung San had forgotten about Burma. But it was not the case. Suu Kyi was sure that she would go back to Burma to initiate a movement against Ne Win’s government.

And Suu Kyi returned. The reason, however, was her mother who had suffered a massive stroke. In the summer of 1988, her husband and sons joined her.

On July 23, General Ne Win announced his resignation, instilling hopes among those who were suffering the consequences of Burmese Way to Socialism. Ne Win’s ideology of the Socialist government had turned Burma into one of the world`s most impoverished countries.

But the worst was yet to come. On August 08, 1988 (popularly known as 8888 uprising), students, monks, young children, university students were out in the streets to demonstrate against the regime. The uprising took the ugliest turn when President Sein Lwin ordered troops to fire on hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Blood filled the Burmese streets and Suu Kyi wrote an open letter to the government, putting forward a proposal to form a committee for taking the nation towards multi-party elections.

The oppressed voices of Burma had got a new leader. Suu Kyi’s influence in the Burmese pro-democracy movement grew when on August 26, she gave her first public speech outside Shwedagon Pagoda in which she called for a democratic government.

On September 18, the ruling military established State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Martial law was declared. Undeterred by the government’s intentions, National League for Democracy (NLD) was formed on September 24, with Suu Kyi as its general-secretary. The lady bravely defied the ban imposed by the government and continued to address people across the country.

On December 27, Suu Kyi lost her mother. This is when Suu Kyi decided that she would serve the people of Burma, just like her parents did, unto her death.

In 1989, an event in Irrawaddy made Suu Kyi almost a heroine. She mirrored the heroism of her father on April 05, when she remained defiant and kept walking towards soldiers whose rifles were pointed at her.

The popularity of Suu Kyi made the military junta so nervous that they decided to make her a prisoner at her own home. She was left with two sons. Her husband flew to Rangoon after receiving the information of his wife’s house arrest. Michael, Alexander and Kim stayed with Suu Kyi for another six weeks. But they had to leave for England to get back to school.

But out-of-sight did not mean out-of-thoughts. In 1990, the military junta called for general elections, which Suu Kyi`s party won by securing 82 percent of the vote despite her being under house arrest for around a year. But the regime refused to hand over power. Its atrocities and suppression continued, while Suu Kyi, alone, wondered if she would be reunited with her family and friends. She was now a prisoner at her own home.

Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which was accepted by her sons on her behalf. She was now regarded as the "Nelson Mandela of South-East Asia".

She was released from house arrest after six years, i.e. in July 1995. The icon of the Burmese people knew that she would not be allowed to re-enter her country if she went to Britain to visit her family. In 1999, her husband died of prostate cancer. He had petitioned the Burmese authorities to allow him to visit Suu Kyi one last time, but all in vain.

The lady’s determination and pledge to fight for the democracy in the country stopped her from leaving Burma to see her husband for the last time. What a dedication to the cause!

Suu Kyi’s persistent efforts to meet her party supporters further pushed her under house arrest in September 2000. She was released in May 2002 reportedly following secret talks between the UN and the military regime. However, in May 2003, a government-sponsored mob attacked her supporters during a rally. She fled the scene, but was arrested and imprisoned at Insein Prison in Yangon. After receiving a hysterectomy in September 2003, she was again placed under house arrest in Yangon to be released only in 2010. While she was under house arrest, her country continued its jostle to remove the junta. Burma left the international community stunned in September 2007 when its security forces cruelly beat and slaughtered monks peacefully protesting on the streets.

The international community, meanwhile, continued to exert pressure on the brutal regime in Myanmar to free the icon of democracy. However, the regime continued to evade the scope of numerous economic sanctions with the help of some neighbours who just wanted to take advantage of trade and business. The plight of the millions of oppressed Myanmarese failed to reach those deaf ears.

Meanwhile, something very unusual happened. A country ruled for five decades by a repressive military junta suddenly decided to undertake reforms. Myanmar, formerly Burma, is today undergoing one of history’s most remarkable political transformations.

Known for her courageous stand for democracy and human rights, Suu Kyi was elected to Myanmar`s Parliament in by-elections on April 01, 2012, along with 42 other members of her party. She has now been transformed from imprisoned icon of the democratic struggle to a key player in the country’s political process.

It was great to see her leave the country for the first time in 24 years to travel first to Thailand and now to Europe. She is now on a mission to save her country’s future, whose leaders allegedly freed her to end its isolation. While qualifying her support for the government’s reform process, Suu Kyi cautions the world against blind faith in the country’s progress.

On June 16, 2012, she made her long-awaited Nobel peace prize acceptance speech in Oslo.

Her father saw a dream of an independent Burma, fought for it, but died before The Independent Union of Myanmar was established. Just like a dutiful daughter, Suu Kyi inherited her father’s resolve, determination, bravery, charisma, leadership, and mother’s self-control, peaceful nature and Buddhist values, to secure the Burma of his father’s dreams.

Suu Kyi turned 67 on Tuesday and which other place could be better than the UK to celebrate the occasion. She lived in Oxford as a student before marrying Michael. Hats off to the lady who sacrificed so much in order to work for a free Burma.

Your birthday is a special time to celebrate the gift of `you` to the world. Happy Birthday, Suu Kyi!