- Myanmar is not a War Zone. War means at least all parties are having weapons. But now, we, the People of Myanmar, do not have any weapon and we are fighting
- It’s destiny now lies not solely with its own people. Caught in the crosswinds of global politics with the liberal democracies on one side and more autocratic ones on the other, it sways while imploding
- Blocks came in much more systematically. For the last 51 days, the internet has been cut for eight hours daily, from 1.00 am. For the last three weeks mobile internet has been cut
For the third month running now the streets of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have been battlegrounds. Blood has spilled, the blood of the innocent and the young. As this week began over 560 had died while trying to dislodge a military government that took over power on February 1. Among the dead are over 40 children.
In a part of the world where Sri Lanka shares more affinities than with others, there is no sign of let up, from either side. Looking into Myanmar from far out is like staring into a virtual reality screen. You see and sense what is going on, the brutality of it all, but you can’t interact beyond the digital.
What effect is a tweet, an FB post or an insta post have on the lives of thousands braving teargas, bullets and reportedly RPGs on the streets.
“Myanmar is not a War Zone. War means at least all parties are having weapons. But now, we, the People of Myanmar, do not have any weapon and we are fighting.” I got this from a friend I have known there for over two decades.
Every message invariably ends with the lines ‘Pray for Myanmar’. I pray and I fear.
In the larger scheme of things, does what happens in Myanmar, matter? Before it opened up after 2010, most of us knew it as a country by name. In the last few years it has become an exotic pilgrimage location for some Sri Lankans.
It’s destiny now lies not solely with its own people. Caught in the crosswinds of global politics with the liberal democracies on one side and more autocratic ones on the other, it sways while imploding.
Even during the civil uprisings in the past, especially in 2008, the internet played a big role.
Then it was smuggled video footage. Now the impact is far more pronounced on the ground.
When Myanmar opened up its telecommunications sector, people who had never had access to clunky desktops with floppy-drives and dial-up internet, suddenly had Facebook on their mobile phones. Very often the data for the Facebook usage was free. In Myanmar Facebook is the internet.
Initially following the coup, it was not hard to get in touch with those in the country. But soon afterwards, colleagues and friends started complaining that the speeds were dropping.
Then the blocks came in much more systematically. For the last 51 days, the internet has been cut for eight hours daily, from 1.00 am. For the last three weeks mobile internet has been cut.
The public’s ability to connect with each other and with the outside world has been severely restricted. One friend told me that it took him nine minutes (he did count!) to send a one-line reply to my mail.
However, despite the restrictions faced by ordinary citizens, around 18% to 20% of the web connectivity remains active even during the blocks.
Netblocks which monitors internet disruptions and shutdowns says that that section of the net that remains active in Myanmar through the nightly throttling efforts are those used by the military and allied organisations.
There have been attempts to use the blackout hours to flood the net with fakes and disinformation. There was an amateurish attempt at a deep-fake to smear detained National League for Democracy leader Aung Sung Suu Kyi.
The digital battleground is only part of the equation. The real deal is still on the streets of Myanmar where those who hold the weapons and are not loath train them on the civilian population still feel they are in control.
The swarming bees of the Myanmar street protests this time around have been the youth, Gen. Y millennial.
If this script of throttling the net at night and shooting at day continues, they are unlikely to stand by and just be shot without a fight.
The writer is a journalism researcher and a writer. He can be contacted on email@example.com