Yin Le Le Htun

ယခုဆောင်းပါးကို မြန်မာဘာသာဖြင့် ဖတ်ရှုရန် ဤနေရာတွင် နှိပ်ပါ

Cite as: 
The Memoir of Yin Le Le Htun. (2022). Independent Journal of Burmese Scholarship, 1. https://ijbs.online/?page_id=3497

I’m Yin Le Le Tun, 24 years old, Buddhist, and recently married. I joined the military in 2016 when I was just 18. I had already lost my parents by that time. My grandfather and two of my uncles are soldiers. You could say I joined up because I am from a military family, not because I really wanted to. I resisted for a while, but when the army was recruiting for clerks who would receive a diploma in computing as part of their training, I acquiesced.

My grandmother was very happy with my decision. She thought that it would be better for me if I was in the military when she finally died, given I was an orphan and she was getting old. But if I didn’t sign up, I think it would have also been fine working in a factory and going to university. I like figures and accounting, so I would have followed that career path if I went to university as a civilian.

What can I say? Life had other plans for me.

I met my future husband when we were working in the same office at the Yangon Division headquarters at Mayangone Township, near 8 Mile, two years ago. He was in the air force and I was in the army. I worked as a sergeant clerk in the records department at the time, taking care of human resources-related things like staff and soldier educational qualifications and military personnel numbers.

Life as a woman working for the army is a mixed bag. We have some unique opportunities and perks compared to men, but some things are harder, for example, it is more difficult for women to receive leave to go outside the base. Then again, on the other hand, we never have to go to the frontline and actually kill people. This means many of the women in the service think that what’s happening outside of the base is none of their business; they just focus on their daily lives within the walls.

As female military personnel we are not allowed to have short hair. We are not allowed to wear shorts. We are prevented from playing music at the barracks. Sometimes when a senior female soldier gives an order to a subordinate male soldier, they simply ignore it. We are oppressed in general, but we also suffer discrimination in the formal military hierarchy. We can only be promoted to the level of captain, and no higher, unless you are a medic, when you can reach colonel.

Sometimes there are schemes that make it look like women can apply for officer training school, but if you apply you will never be selected. I was told directly by a male officer: “We recruited you because we needed clerks in particular. Why should we then turn a valuable clerk into an officer?” Clerks are also discriminated against and bullied by soldiers in general. Soldiers fear us because we are often educated and intelligent compared to them. They are afraid that if clerks become officers, they will outperform them, and make them look bad.

After the 1 February 2021 coup, my future husband and I talked a lot about what was happening with the military. At the beginning when people started changing their Facebook profile pictures to express disapproval of the coup, two of my junior clerks and I decided to change ours too. The internet was on and off at the time. What happened was, they changed their own profile pictures while I was asleep, before I had a chance to follow. They were chastised severely. Multiple people reprimanded them. It was nasty.

Then, after a pregnant teacher was shot by the army in Yangon, one of my pregnant colleagues slipped away to join the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM); her sorrow was too much to bear, although she did not know the shot woman personally. She left very secretly and laid low. In those early days after the coup, I myself was unsure about leaving or staying; I was conflicted. I was worried about my family, there was only my grandmother and my two younger sisters at the family home. But after the atrocities started gaining momentum, when Mya Thwe Thwe Khine and Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing were slaughtered, I knew I did not want to be in the military anymore and had to leave no matter what.

At the same time, my future husband was also becoming more resolved. One day he turned to me and said directly: “This is it. I am going to join the CDM. Will you come?” Of course, I said yes, and we planned and finally made our escape on 3 April 2021. Then we got married.

Those weeks of being on the military base while the military was shooting protesters were difficult. When Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing was shot near Hledan junction, I showed the news to a colleague and friend. She said simply, “So be it—they were told not to go onto the street”. Since then, I kept everything to myself and confided only in my future husband. Soldiers were becoming pariahs and there were social punishment campaigns online. I felt sick being associated with the military and was afraid of being judged by association and even socially punished.

We were restricted to the base during that whole time, supposedly because of COVID-19. Once my future husband and I made the commitment to flee the military, I considered the possibilities constantly. We decided to leave separately. He would make his move while on overnight watch duty. As for me, I came up with several ideas, and if all else failed, well, I would just climb the fence and run.

The stress of planning our escapes was intense and I lost a lot of sleep. At one point I even passed out. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise—I asked for a day off because of my new ‘illness’ and was given a half-day. On days off, and as a woman, there were a few particular ways to leave the base for short periods of time, if you were lucky. That morning I walked up to the base gate confidently and said to the guard, “I am going to have my make-up done”. The beauty salon was in sight of the gate, but even so, the sergeant on duty did not allow me to leave. On the name register of approved excursions, three others were going to have their make-up done later in the morning, so I waited for them and joined their group; no worries. I went along with them to do my ‘make-up’—as soon as we got to the salon, I made an excuse and slipped away. I was free.

I darted through Mayangone to the rendezvous point where my future husband would meet me when he could. I was so scared for him, but he managed to give the guards the slip and we were united, for the first time, as civilians. We made our way to a safe place and along the way had to contend with several checkpoints, but luckily, we were in a private car with a monk, so the military did not check the vehicle thoroughly. The monk saved us. We heard of others caught trying to leave the military being sentenced harshly—seven years in prison. If we were both caught, my husband would be blamed for my actions also. The officers would say, “It’s because of you that she left”.

After I made it out my dormitory roommates, some other colleagues, and my whole intake group were reprimanded by their superiors. The military also tried to smear me once I left: they spread word across the system that I was pregnant, that I was a drug addict, and they posted my personal information online, including my home address. But they have not succeeded in destroying my reputation and I am still in contact with soldiers. I joined the People’s Soldiers and People’s Embrace organizations and am advocating for people to leave the military.

It’s tough to convince people to leave, especially women in a central Yangon base like ours, as they have a secure job, income and comfortable life; they only come to me online and open up if they face a problem. Those still working for the military need to understand that their pleasant life is only temporary. In fact, they will be recognized as criminals in the eyes of history. They must stop believing the military’s propaganda and fake news. They need to recognize and feel the suffering of the country’s people.

My husband and I look forward to some kind of better future for Myanmar.

We do not want to hold guns. We will open a little shop and start our lives again, from the beginning, together.