The sight of watching so many women pass through the doors of Insein Prison only to die is a thought that clearly leaves Ma Khine distressed. The women, she says, are not political activists and have no desire other than to make enough money to live from selling vegetables on the streets at night.
“These women are called night birds,” she says. “They are poor provincial girls, all under 20 years of age. Police officers wait at the port for their arrival by boat and abduct them. They cannot afford to bribe the officers and are accused of being prostitutes.”
Police officers rape the women before throwing them into prison. The night birds are issued with harsh sentences of up to 40 years imprisonment, and in the process, contract HIV/AIDS and eventually die.
The most tragic part about the fate of these women, Ma Khine says, is that the junta-controlled media release their propaganda, declaring that now less drug dealers roam the streets of Rangoon and that their tough zero tolerance policy has resulted in the eradication of more opium poppy fields that the women “cultivate”. They are, in reality, farms that the families of night birds are forcibly removed from.
There is no end to the admiration and affinity that Ma Khine has for Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to remain in Burma to be with her people. “Aung San Suu Kyi has dedicated herself to represent all people living in Burma. She is destined to be leader because everybody loves her. Locking up this wonderful woman is a waste of life,” she says.
To defeat the junta, Ma Khine believes only a show of strength and unity will work. “There is a great truth to the song line, ‘we are one/but we are many’” (from “I Am Australian”).
While she believes that the junta is vulnerable based on the fact that nothing is permanent, Ma Khine cannot help but express her anger at the regime for crushing the dreams of a civilian democracy in 1988, 1990 and 2007, moments that Ma Khine refers to as the denial of our time. “David, look at the 2010 election. It will not be general,” she warns. “The dictators running Burma will force everybody to vote one way – their way.”
Ma Khine has promised to share her full story about life in Insein Prison one day, but is adamant that regime change must come first. For her, such personal details can only ever be made public in Burma under a civilian democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
When it comes to the question of Burma, it is time to finally make good on the promise never again, or the words of German pastor Martin Niemöller will return to haunt us all:
“…Then they came from me, and by that time no one was left to speak up…” (First They Came, circa 1946).
The price of failure in this mission to save Burma’s people will be the never-ending cry of more than 54 million souls that we could have saved.