Bio: "Khaipi" (real name withheld) is a peace studies professor in Thailand and a Chin religious freedom activist who served as researcher for the Chin Human Rights Organization's 2012 report detailing abuses against ethnic and religious minorities in Burma.
1. What is at the root of the persecution of Christians in Burma?
There is an unwritten policy called “Burmanization,” which means that to be Burmese you have to be a Buddhist and you have to speak Burmese. The Chin people are not allowed to practice Christianity, and we are not allowed to study our own ethnic languages. But it’s not all about religion: They are attacking our ethnic identity because Christianity has become our identity.
Before Christianity came to the Chin people, they practiced an indigenous religion. In this religion, they believed in an Almighty One who created the world. In 1899, the very first American Baptist missionaries came to Chin state, and when they talked about the Christian God, our forefathers could adopt it very easily because it was very close to that indigenous belief. Today, when the Burmese military junta persecutes us, they say, “Okay, we want to take out this kind of Western religion.” But for us, once we believed in God, it became our religion, not a Western religion anymore.
Na Ta La schools are monastic schools, formed by the minster of religious affairs with the purpose of forcibly converting Chin Christian children into Buddhists. The schools get all their resources from the government. The government says the schools are for better education, but if it is for education, they should be under the ministry of education, not under the ministry of religious affairs.
3. Does the Chin Human Rights Organization work with other persecuted minorities, such as Muslims?
We are not carrying the message only for Christians. We are carrying the message also for all our ethnic brothers and sisters, from the Kachin to the Muslims. If the Buddhists are persecuted, I will also speak for the Buddhists. If it’s the Muslims, I will speak for the Muslims. Whoever they are, wherever they are, their religion should be respected.
4. What would you like to see change in Burma? Do you think it will happen?
My father is a pastor. In Chin tradition, if a father is a pastor, at least one son should be a pastor. But my father always tells me, “When Jesus Christ carried the cross, he didn’t carry it on the pulpit.” My mom taught me Ephesians 5:10, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” When I do this [human rights] research, I think it is pleasing to God because I’m doing something for my people and for the persecuted Christians.
Political democrats in Burma, because they are ethnic Burmese, do not understand too much about minorities. They talk about democracy but not human rights. They talk about “rule of law.” We hope the international community can push the Myanmar government to focus on religious freedom. We want the resources from the Na Ta La schools reallocated to the mainstream education program. We want to learn our language and practice our religion, whether we are Buddhist or Christian.
—Interview by Dawn Araujo