It is 25 years since Burma’s nationwide uprisings also know as 8.8.88 or “four eight digits” were brutally suppressed by the merciless military regime with more than 3,000 lives sacrificed and Rangoon’s streets were flooded with blood.
Win Kyu, 61, who is the father of Win Maw Oo, one of the victims who died in the bloody crackdown in September 1988, has tried to forgive the unknown soldiers who gunned down his daughter. He, however, can’t forget the day he lost his daughter.
“At first, I was very angry and thought of revenging the army one day. But, when I get older and learned from experiences, I forgave them. I tried to cure the pain with “taya” [the Buddha’s philosophy of impermanence or to accept impermanence]. But, I can never forget it,” Win Kyu said softly.
Win Maw Oo was gunned down in the heart of Rangoon city on 19 September 1988. A picture of her, showing two doctors carried her blood-soaked body, wearing a school uniform in green and white, later became one of the most famous photographs that highlighted how brutally the government troops crushed the protesters. Win Maw Oo became a schoolgirl hero for her involvement and sacrifice in the protest in Rangoon. Her picture later became very popular as the icon of the regime’s brutality.
“I think her involvement and sacrifice was right. I am proud of her,” said Win Kyu.
He said he and his wife, Khin Htay Win gained more public attention from the media and international community after a leading Thailand-based Burmese magazine, The Irrawaddy, picked up his daughter’s story as a cover story of its monthly magazine.
He and his wife were called by media for interviews and were last week invited by the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Mr. Tom├бs Ojea Quintana at an UN office in Rangoon for more than one hour of discussion.
“Mr Quintana said he was very interested to meet us after he read the story of our daughter in Irrawaddy Magazine. He asked us many things during our talks. He would like to have further talks with us,” said Win Kyu.
Win Kyu and his wife said that they have been keeping a low-profile in the past and survived as ordinary people. No prominent politicians and figures except few like Min Ko Naing, a leader of Rangoon-based activist organization, the 88 Generation Peace & Open Society, paid visits to them. Life sometimes for him is forgotten.
“I have never imagined that I willed be invited to meet prominent people like Mr Quintana,” said Win Kyu, adding that he has to survive on the margins for years in the past.
But, he started to receive some support from sympathizers of his daughter abroad and a Burma’s well-known classic singer, Lashio Thein Aung, started to provided financial support to his family three years ago.
Win Kyu showed his note with questions he was asked by the UN envoy and said that he told Mr. Quintana that he doesn’t want to take legal action against the regime that killed his daughter, but instead made a request.
“I told Mr. Quintana that if possible, I want the government to have a memorial place to honor not only my daughter, but also all monks and students who sacrificed their lives for democracy,” said Win Kyu.
He and his wife Khin Htay Win recalled days when their daughter was alive and her last hours in the Rangoon General Hospital.
“She was very helpful. She helped us to sell fruit for our living. One day, when she saw protesters who marched on streets, she fed all the bananas that she was selling to them,” Khin Htay Win recalled.
“I asked her where have your bananas gone. She said gave them to the protesters as she wanted to support them. That was what I remember the most about her,” she added.
Win Kyu also said when seeing his daughter was preparing to go to school on the morning of 19 September, one day after the military took power through a coup, Win Kyu warned his daughter not to go to school as he worried about her.
“I told her that they [army] will shoot you guys today. Don’t go to the school,” Win Kyu recalled.
“After my words, she replied: Father, if they even dare to shoot, why don’t we dare to sacrifice our lives,” he added.
And what Win Kyu got at 2:30 p.m was a call from the hospital, telling him to come to the hospital as soon as possible if he wanted to see his daughter in her last hours.
The schoolgirl, Win Maw Oo was 16 when she was gunned down alongside with protesters in the downtown of Rangoon at the corner of Sule Pagoda and Trader roads near a traffic light where they marched peacefully to join democracy supporters on the streets.
Her body was sprayed by bullets fired by trigger-crazy soldiers. Win Maw Oo collapsed with her hands holding a picture of General Aung San, Burma’s hero who gained independencefor Burma from the British colonial rulers.
Win Kyu said, “When I and her uncle arrived at the room she was being treated, she raised her hands [in a way to apologize her father] and softly said: father…please forgive me.”
“I told her that why do I need to forgive you as you did nothing wrong. She replied as tears fell on her cheeks: I have done what I wanted to do. So, please, forgive me,” Win Kyu recalled.
A nurse who took care of Win Maw Oo showed her wounded body to her father. Bullets hit her right leg and left thigh. Another bullet hit her right arm, went through her chest and shred deda lung, according to Win Kyu.
Physician Dr. Nyunt Win Myint who did an operation for Win Maw Oo told him that even if his daughter was lucky and survived, she wouldn’t live long because one of her lungs was taken out.
During his conversation with the doctor, Win Maw Oo woke up from a sleep at 5:15 and asked her father for her last wish.
“She said she want to get a promise from me. When I asked her what promise she wanted to get from me, she said: can you promise that you don’t call my name to bestow merit upon my soul as long as Burma doesn’t enjoy democracy that we demanded,” said Win Kyu.
In Buddhist society, there is a traditional belief that a person’s soul can’t rest in peace until his or her name is called out by the family to share their merit with the deceased.
“After hearing her demand, I was very emotional and feel so sad. I told her you will be okay. She smiled at me and shook her head softly. I know that she knew her condition and wanted to hear a promise from me.”
“I told her: I gave the promise to you as you asked for not only for yourself, but also for all Burmese people. When she heard it, tears oozed out from her eyes and fell on her cheeks. Soon after that, she died at 5:35 p.m,” said Win Kyu.
This week is the silver jubilee anniversary of Win Maw Oo and other democracy supporters who sacrificed their lives during the protests that forced the government almost to step down. Win Kyu and his wife have plans to hold a memorial event for their daughter as they did every year in the past.
Win Kyi said that he until now he doesn’t think it is the right time to call her daughter’s name to bestow merit upon her soul.
“Democracy that I understand must be full of freedom, safety and freedom of expression. Until now, I don’t see the real democracy prevail. Peaceful protesters are secretly photographed and even get arrested and charged,” said Win Kyu.
“I don’t agree with the democracy they [government] are now talking about. So, I don’t call her [Win Maw Oo’s] name to bestow merit upon her soul as I don’t think the democracy that she demanded has yet prevailed,” added Win Kyu.