Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kitchener man who fled Burma set to celebrate National Chin Day

KITCHENER — Victor Khambil was a law student when he joined a mass demonstration against the military dictatorship in Burma in 1996.
After his friends were arrested, he fled to Malaysia as a refugee. His journey ended when he was resettled to Canada by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
He came to Kitchener in 2004.
But Khambil, 37, has not forgotten his people — the Chin. Half a million Chin live in Burma, now called Myanmar. They’re one of the major ethnic nationalities in the country of 53 million people.
They live in western Burma on the border of India and Bangladesh. Khambil’s mother and one of his sisters, who is a Christian pastor, still live in Burma.
Most people in Burma are Buddhist, Khambil said. Because the Chin people are Christians, they suffered religious persecution, he said.
The military also tried to abolish Chin literature and language and replace it with Burmese, he said.
This weekend, Khambil will join about 200 Chin people in this area to celebrate National Chin Day.
It’s usually celebrated on Feb. 20, but because it falls on a Sunday this year, the local Chin community is getting together on Saturday, Feb. 19.
The public is invited to attend the event at King Edward Public School, on 709 King St. W., from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
It will feature cultural activities, such as music, dance and food. A statement will also be read about why the Chin people celebrate the day, and there will be political speeches.
The day commemorates a major decision the Chin people made in 1948 when they decided to abolish their traditional hereditary system of chieftainship in favour of a democratic system.
“They came into democracy in 1948 in Burma,’’ Khambil said.
However, their goals were never realized because the military took power and the Chin state came under Burmese rule.
Chin National Day marks a dawning of democracy for the Chin people who have struggled to achieve self determination.
“We have our own language, our own culture, our own land,’’ Khambil said. “We are recognized as native aboriginal people in Burma.’’
Khambil recently got a job in a local factory.
But he often returns to Malaysia to campaign for refugee rights there. There are still 40,000 Chin people in Malaysia, he said.
The government arrests the refugees and returns them to Burma, Khambil said. Government authorities won’t let them work in Malaysia.
“I’m working for my people. There are thousands of people still stuck there now,’’ he said.