Interview | Naw A---, (Female, 54), B--- village, Htantabin Township, Toungoo District (November 2015)
The following Interview was conducted by a community member trained by KHRG to monitor local human rights conditions. It was conducted in Toungoo District on November 15th 2015 and is presented below translated exactly as it was received, save for minor edits for clarity and security. This interview was received along with other information from Toungoo District, including four other interviews, 172 photographs and 12 video clips.
Marital Status: Married
Aunt what is your name?
My name is Naw A---.
How old are you?
54 years old.
What is your ethnicity?
What about your religion?
Do you take any [have a position of] responsibility in your village?
I do not take any [have a position of] responsibility.
What do you do for a living?
I am working on a hill farm.
How many standards are taught in the school [in the village]?
In C--- [village], three standards were taught in the school. After [C---] village was relocated to B--- [village] the school has been upgraded to eight standards.
Are there any hospitals here?
There is no hospital, only a clinic was built here.
Have any development projects taken place here?
I have never thought about development projects, therefore I do not know.
Did you go to vote?
No I did not. My husband and my children went to vote.
Did your name appear on the voter list?
Yes the people told me that my name was on voter list but I did not go to vote.
Is there any land confiscation happening in your village?
The companies confiscated land in 2009; they destroyed banana trees and cashew nut trees along with one plot of my farm. In 2013, they gave some compensation [to the owners]. They also said that the land [owners] who do not take compensation are allowed to work on their lands. I told them that the main priority for us is to hold the handle of machetes [to farm]. We were not holding money because we are not educated. Tha [researcher], my land is located in the place you came across on your way [here]. We tried to maintain our land, which is located next to the land that I am currently working on. We planted banana trees on our land. When I worked on that land a security guard asked me, “A mo why were you working on the land?”
Do you know the security guard’s name?
Aung Naing Win is the security guard in charge. He told me that those lands have already become company land. I replied to him, “Even if they are owned by companies, I have not taken any compensation [from companies].” He again told me, “Whether you took [compensation] or not, you were not allowed to work on your land. You can grow short term plantations: peanut; corn and paddy, but you were not allowed to plant long term plantations, such as rubber and banana trees”.
I told him that, however, “A mo [interviewee] will go to plant [long or short term plantations] because I have not accepted the compensation [the company offered]”. We did not pay attention to him and we planted them on the land. They [the company] always order us to meet them so they can sue us. In the first month of 2015, he [Aung Naing Win] told us that, “It will be the last day for you [interviewee] to meet me. If you do not come as I ordered I will go to take action on you, A mo]”.
I went to meet him and he told me that, “We can only depend on you [to follow this order] because those lands were owned by companies already. The contract that we signed included the land where the company planned to build an industry, therefore the land that you are working on right now was included on the contract list to build an industry”. He told me, “You were strictly prohibited from planting long term plants.”
I told him that I have not accepted compensation yet, thus, I can go to plant on my land. We planted the banana trees on the land and he again asked me to meet him. When I went to meet him [the second time] he told me that, “I attempted to tell you many times and prohibited you [from planting long term plantations]. Why did you plant in the period when I prohibited you?” He told me that, “I will help you to read out the letter after I [am] done writing it. So [after I read out the letter] please sign your name below on the letter”. After he told me he started writing the letter.
On the letter he wrote [interviewee reads out the letter]:
The hill cultivators [farmers] named Saw E--- and Naw A--- were cultivating the land and planted 350 bananas and 150 drumstick trees. He or she must leave [stop working] on the land when that group or party or company reaches [comes to build their industry] there in sometime or in some years.
I told him that “I am so sorry, A mo [interviewee] definitely could not accept to sign this letter.” He said, “Why?” [Naw A--- replied] “Why? Because I have not received any compensation, so I definitely do not want to sign it.” He told me that, “You should go back to think about it carefully, what will happen in the next one or two years. Do you want me to sue you in the court or would you leave your bananas [plantation] instead? A mo, please think about the ways [options] that I made you choose [from].”
I went to discuss that with my uncle, Thara F---. I told my uncle that, “Uncle, I could leave the banana plantation after we finish the harvest [this year] because I still have enough time”. He [security guard] told me [to decide] in August. When he saw me on the way, he asked me who would go to sign the letter. I told him that no one wants to sign the letter. He said, “What should we do?” I told him, “You do not need to do anything”. If I finish the harvest, I will leave the banana plantation but I will still not sign the letter. We thought it best to cultivate the rest of the land that we have not yet cultivated, but he [Aung Naing Win] did not allow us to cultivate it to plant more bananas. He told me, “I stopped you from planting, but you still plant the [long term plantations] and you were the one who exerted yourself to work on the land”. I told him that, “Exertion is not something new for the farmers.” [He told me], “The time when I did not allow you to plant banana trees on the land you still went to plant them, so everything [responsibility] will be on my head”. I asked, “Why?”
He said, “Because the farmers can work freely [on their own land]. “For us [security guards] we have already used [taken] the company’s money and we have to do what they [the company] ordered. If they travelled around here and saw bananas trees, they would say to us [security guards], ‘You told us [you would do] this and that and we gave you salary, why didn’t you prohibit farmers [from planting on the land]? And why didn’t you [repeatedly] forbid them until they stopped working [on the land]?’ As we [security guards] are company staff there is no freedom for us. A mo, you can work freely as the farmer”.
We argued with each other and I told him, “Tha [security guard], it is not the right time to talk about freedom here. Because in the past C--- villagers lived like fish in the river and went around freely but now we have to do what we are told, so there is no more freedom for us”. He said, “A mo, you should not talk to me like that”, and I replied to him, “A mo [interviewee] also did not want to talk to you like that. You were talking about freedom and I explained to you [and asked] ‘what does real freedom mean to you?’”. We have not met each other again since this time.
Did he ever come after that [when you talked to him]?
He has never come since I told him that I will leave the banana plantation [after the harvest].
Are you still working on your land?
Yes, we have not finished harvesting. Four owners who own land besides my land also have not taken compensation. For me, I still have 20 acres of land that my parents worked on when I was a child.
When did he [Aung Naing Win] come?
He first came when we were cultivating the land in the first month of 2015. Later my younger siblings went to plant banana trees. After five months [May 2015], he came again. Finally, he came again, which was when we argued with each other, in September of 2015.
Are they [security guards from] Asia World Company?
Yes they are [from] Asia World Company.
So is he in charge of something?
Yes, he is a security guard. U Wan Maung is in charge of company management but he didn’t say anything to us. He [Aung Naing Win] is in charge of stopping villagers from working on their land.
[Villager 2:] We need our land back; if they do not give back our land we do not have any land to earn a living on so we need your [KHRG researcher’s] help.
Tha [researcher], I will tell you that there are many problems faced by C--- villagers. We moved [relocated] here in 1997. The village head then told us that we could go back to live in our own village, and we stayed there for 7 years. But later we moved again from our village, in 2006. After we moved from there we had to go back and work [on our land] along with a daily work permit. We went to work and came back on the same day [villagers during this time were prohibited from staying on their farms overnight]. One of the militia groups is based there and they were very bad. If they saw you, they would check whether they knew you or not. If they knew you they would not beat you, but if they did not know you they [would] beat you. They constructed the road and asked villagers to work for them. They were LID [Light Infantry Division] #20. They asked villagers to follow them and work for them. The villagers who came to work for them had to come along with a permission letter. We had to pay 300 kyat [US $0.21] per letter. If one family came along with five family members they had to make five permission letters. All letters had their own number, like one, two, three and four. Later when we went to work there we also planted peanuts on our land, therefore we had to pay 500 kyat [US $0.36] per letter [to work for ourselves]. They did not allow us to sleep over night therefore we had to come back the same day.
Later on, the company came to operate in our area and we came to work along with the company. We thought that after the company came here we would be able to cultivate and work freely on our lands and we were so happy. But it did not turn out the way that I expected. After they came here it [the situation] was worse than before. [Many companies came] to operate in our area, including Kaung Myanmar Aung Company and Shwe Swan In Company. Then we had no land [available] for cultivating, so when they were offering daily labour work we had to work for them. We cleared the trees on the mountain side [to make a hill farm]. If they needed firewood we collected the firewood to sell to them. At the present time, all the villagers in C--- village earn a living as daily labour workers. We also face food problems because almost all of the households have to buy rice every month [as they no longer have the land to grow it on]. Mothers and children have no time to meet with each other and can only meet twice a week, when they [stay home because they] are feeling sick. If we do not have enough rice we borrow from each other [in the village]. We do not use the rice that we receive from charity [by donation], instead we feed chickens and pigs [with it]. But now we cannot feed our livestock.
Do you have to buy rice every month?
Yes, because the new paddies that we planted could not produce rice; the rice died immediately. For the good quality rice we have to pay 27,000 kyat [US $19.58] [per basket of rice]. If we buy the rice which is not so good we have to pay 5000 to 7000 kyat [US $3.62 to US $5.08] [per basket of rice]. If we cannot pay the shopkeepers straight away, we have to pay 3000 kyat [US $2.17] as interest per basket of rice each month. All the villagers are doing their living in this way and we can [only] go through year-by-year with the grace of God.
In the end, do you want to add anything?
I want to say that the farmers want to work freely for a living. The rest of the land which has not been confiscated yet, we want to use it to work on, so we need help from the leaders to arrange something for us.
Yes, thank you.