The Death of a Poet

MONYWA // Sitting on the banks of the Chindwin River in Upper Burma, the bustling town is the center of the government of Sagaing Region. In front of the statue of General Aung San, the father of ASSK, who is considered as the founder of the Burmese nation, the Monywa Township People’s Strike Steering Committee, formed by a dozen civil society organizations, student unions and members of the NLD, took one oath: take to the streets every day to express their opposition to the military council and ‘eradicate the fascist army’.

On March 3rd, nine people, including the poet K Za Win, were shot dead when soldiers opened fire on Pagoda Road. Rohingya activist Yasmin Ullah posted one of his poems, translated by Ko Ko Thett, which he wrote to his father from jail: ‘Your son was set up for demanding the so-called police not to harm ordinary citizens. Someday your son, who is not a thief nor a thug, will become employable, good as your dah that clears weed. For now, Father, keep gazing at the plantation you’d ploughed with your naked shoulders. Keep singing the anthem of The Peasant Union.’

In 2015, he was imprisoned for 13 months for having taken part in a protest march for education reform from Mandalay to Yangon. Here is another excerpt from ‘My Reply to Ramond’, his most famous collection of texts: ‘A thief is unarmed. A thug is armed to the teeth. If thieves are ungovernable, if thugs are ungovernable, what’s the point of government?’

In Monywa, dozens of people have been killed in violent crackdowns since, but residents kept their promise to organize near-daily demonstrations against the regime. Because their protest movement has endured in the face of extreme violence, young resistance leaders proudly refer to their town as ‘sauk kyaw tin Monywa’ (f***ing stubborn Monywa).