Yay Khal

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Yay Khal. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1. https://ijbs.online/?page_id=3475

My name is Maung Yay Khal. I’m a single Bama Buddhist. I joined the army straight after matriculation in 2016 and went into the Defense Services Technological Academy for three years before deploying to some technical departments, then to Mandalay Palace. I finally left the military to stand with the public on 12 September 2021. I had been trying to leave since April, when four people in my family died: my mother, grandmother, grandfather and uncle. If the coup had never happened, I think they would still be alive. This personal tragedy made me think hard about what I was doing.

My mother was the first one to die. I remember her so well. I used to help her in the gold mines in Yamethin Township when I was young, in an area we call Moe Hti Moe Mi. My mother and I spent a lot of time there looking for and finding some gold. At first it was good, but once the Myanmar military got wind of the gold, they started swooping in to tax us gold collectors. They were very demanding, and if you didn’t pay, they would burn down your hut. We used to run after digging trenches to hide our stuff and removing the roof of our hut so it wouldn’t be targeted. You could say it was like removing a hat to show respect, except for the opposite reason.

After my mom and I stopped prospecting, the locals in Yamethin were forced to work at a crony-owned company, the “National Prosperity Company”. They were extorted there and made to work double the hours for half the pay. But the locals we knew had no choice. Then after a while, the army just confiscated the whole area and kicked the locals out. All the cronies and army people then came to compete for the gold there, even Thura Shwe Mann. In 2011-2012 there was a marching protest from Shwe Taw to Yamethin, but no one knew about it in the wider country. At that time as a kid, I thought these bad soldiers were not the real deal. I thought that if I were a soldier, I would not make trouble for the people and steal gold.

My mother always cared for me. She was hospitalized in December 2019 with liver cancer. She had successful surgery and was discharged. She was put on medication on three-month prescriptions. Her health was going well, but after the breakout of COVID-19, my family stopped sending her to the hospital. They called a doctor to the home as much as they could. Then after the February 2021 coup, when all the doctors joined the Civil Disobedience Movement, it became harder to get treatment for her. I don’t blame the doctors for that, though.

I was stationed at Mandalay Palace at this time, and my family home is also in Mandalay. My mother desperately wanted to see me and was worried about the ramifications of the coup. I managed to sneak out and see my mom for an hour. She was so happy to see me. Her health rebounded, she started eating and recovering. Even our neighbor said that my visit was like a “deity coming down to cure her”. Because of this I decided to request official leave from the army.

We are allowed forty-five days of leave per year. I asked for ten days and showed my mother’s medical record as proof. The clerk refused my application. I begged him to let me go to my mother. I told them I needed to take care of her. But they did not allow me. I was shattered, but I tried to rationalize it: I chose to be a soldier. I do not own my life. When my mother’s health started deteriorating again and I was in anguish.

Soon after having my leave rejected, I was on duty outside in the city at night after the curfew had started. Late that night, a major in a military car passed by our checkpoint and explained he was going to Yangon because his mother was ill. He got permission to go all the way to Yangon for his mother, while I was not allowed to take a trip of ten minutes across the city to see my own mother on her death bed. I was so angry and bitter. This was simple discrimination. Two weeks later my mother died. If I had been given leave and could go to stay beside her, her health may have improved, she might still be alive.

After my mother died, my grandmother died of old age. Then, my grandfather died very quickly after. He was on medication, but suddenly stopped taking them. I think they both died of heartbreak because they loved their daughter, my mother, very much. Just like that my cherished mother and grandparents were gone. Then at the same time, across town, my uncle contracted COVID-19. He required oxygen and intensive care but it was difficult to get him treatment. Just like that, he died.

People had said to me when I was 17, before I joined the army and started my career, that “there is a life guarantee in the military”. But the people I love are no longer alive, at least in part because of the military, and there is no home for me to ever return to. It’s true that I had savings from the military, but I could not even access these to pay for my mother’s funeral. You need to get the approval of four different clerks to withdraw any savings. I asked for three lakhs, but they wouldn’t let me.

The fact that my own family suffered this much got me thinking about how much the whole country has been suffering. Our family was relatively OK compared to some poor families. What did the coup do to them? What is military rule doing to them? I know how bad the system is. I became disgusted with my soldier’s life, with myself. Had I contributed to my mother’s death? I was filled with the urge to leave the military.

The country is greatly dependent on soldiers. If most soldiers turn to the side of the public, there is no need for the revolution to shed any blood. There will be a flawless victory of the people. The reason people join the military is for the country, and for the people. Now is the time when the country needs its people the most. The right thing for soldiers to do now is to stop wearing the uniform and side with the public; this comes from the same sense of duty to protect the people as joining the military in the first place.

I set a date to leave in September and planned it out with the help of a revolutionary organization. I went into the city from the base a few times in the weeks leading up to my escape, pretending to do laundry. By going out and coming back, I set a precedent for the relevant soldiers to trust me. When I finally left I went straight to the shops and bought the things I would need: a SIM card, power bank, and so on. Then I went to the Mandalay bus stop. I immediately recognized a military guy, a soldier from one of the Border Guard Forces, boarding on my bus to Yangon. At that time, I was dressed well. I had to rethink my plan.

I went into the toilets and got changed. I put on a worn-out longyi and an old singlet. I took off my shoes too. I got on the bus. Even after changing, when the soldier encountered me he looked at me carefully. After two hours on the bus he asked me directly if I was a soldier leaving for the Civil Disobedience Movement. I had to tell so many lies to persuade him otherwise. I tried to make him take pity on me. He later cleared his doubts about me, treated me to a meal at a rest stop and bought me slippers. With the soldier on the bus, we didn’t even have to stop at all the checkpoints on the expressway. This deception helped me a lot.

After reaching Yangon it took two more days to get to a liberated area. The whole time I was petrified I would run into someone I knew. Many of my old colleagues in the military know what they are doing is wrong, but they can’t manage to escape. Some feel indebted to the institution that feeds them. Everyone is kept in the dark about what is really happening in the country and just believe what the State Administration Council spokesperson Zaw Min Tun says.

I stay in contact with many people still in the army. After several protesters were murdered in cold blood by the military at one particular massacre in Yangon in December, I checked with them. None of my soldier colleagues admitted to knowing anything about it. They only found out about it through me.

Soldiers must reconsider their priorities. Did they join the army to protect the people? If so, they must leave the army, join the people and be warmly welcomed. And be quick about it. Open your eyes and ears.