As Life Normalizes, Mandalay Residents Try to Make Sense of the Riots

Mandalay riots

Buddhist monk U Wirathu speaks during a ceremony to form an interreligious committee to keep the peace, on Sunday in Mandalay. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

MANDALAY — Tensions remain high, but Mandalay is slowly returning to normal after several days of inter-communal violence.

Most shops in the city center, where rioting between Buddhists and Muslims first broke out, were reopening on Monday, though some Muslim-owned storefronts remained shuttered. Customers returned again to the city’s busiest market, Zegyo, while streets downtown were flooded with commuters in the afternoon.

But as the sun went down, shopping centers, restaurants and cinemas—normally crowded in the evening—were deserted, while shopkeepers closed their businesses quickly to rush home before the nighttime curfew.

When the clock strikes 9 pm, the city will go quiet. Police officers, on standby at barricades downtown, will watch to ensure that nobody wanders the streets until 5 am the next morning.

The government imposed the curfew last week on Thursday, after two people were killed in rioting. But since then, some people have refused to spend their nights indoors.

According to a divisional police office, about 200 people have already been arrested and detained for breaking curfew. Another 16 men have been charged with crimes ranging from arson to carrying illegal weapons, he said.

A committee comprising religious leaders and local residents was established on Sunday to maintain peace in the city. At a ceremony, several Buddhist monks and abbots spoke, including U Wirathu, a nationalist monk who leads an anti-Muslim campaign known as 969. The overall message of most speakers was the need for religious leaders to preach tolerance and kindness.

“Monk or layman, Buddhist or Muslim, we all need to unite and help each other,” said one of the monks, Galone Ni Sayardaw. “If someone tries to create unrest, you need to stop him, control him. Other religions also need to join hands, rather than viewing this as simply a problem between Buddhists and Muslims.

“Muslim or Buddhist, people also need to control themselves, behave themselves, to avoid chaos. You must not insult another person’s religion or race. If there’s a police case, let only those involved take care of it. We do not need to intervene and create a big problem.”

Fighting began last week on Tuesday following allegations that a Buddhist woman had been raped by her Muslim employers. In the following days, one Buddhist man and one Muslim man were killed, while at least 14 people were injured.

Mandalay was built by King Mindon in 1221 with several Buddhist pagodas and monasteries as well as churches, Hindu temples and mosques. Local residents say that since then, the city has seen smaller bouts of religious violence, especially under the former military regime, but never an outbreak of communal violence on such a big scale.

“There were some small religious clashes, but the monks and abbots could control it and the situation did not escalate. Now some monks have many different opinions about the other religion [Islam], and some people’s respect for the monks has declined,” Hsu Nhget, a famous writer in the city, told The Irrawaddy.

“On the other hand, with greater communication, people who want to create unrest use social media as a weapon to spread rumors, and the situation worsens,” he added.

He criticized authorities for failing to curb the recent violence.

“Just look at the funeral of Tun Tun,” he said, referring to a 36-year-old Buddhist man who was killed in the unrest. At the cemetery for the burial, “the crowd included young men who were shouting and holding rods and sticks, like a group of rebels entering the city. I wonder why the authorities allowed this? The police were understandably handling the situation cautiously because the crowd was large and there were not many security officials. But as a result, some angry men destroyed a Muslim section of the cemetery.”

The writer added, “No resident in Mandalay wants their city to experience unrest. Only a few people who wanted to destroy the city wanted to create the unrest.”

Local residents noted that the chaos followed rallies in the city by the country’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to campaign for a change to Article 436 of the Constitution, which allows the military to veto amendments.

“We think Mandalay became a victim in the reaction to stop the 436 campaigns. Now the campaign has been stopped visibly, especially in Mandalay,” said Thein Win Aung, vice chairman of the peace group formed on Sunday.

“If we do not understand these political tricks, if we do not control each other, if we allow ourselves to fall into the trap, then not only Mandalay, but the entire country, will be consumed in the flames of various chaos.”

5 Responses to As Life Normalizes, Mandalay Residents Try to Make Sense of the Riots

  1. It would be very interesting to find out what the large (and very rich) Chinese community in Mandalay thinks about these incidents. I don’ think they can be neutral about this. In China they even ban Ramadan in Sinkiang.

    • tocharian,

      Did you ever learn proper Burmese history? I have read most of your comments and your hatred toward Chinese Burmese peoples is appalling for rest of other Burmese ethnics.
      Ethnics on border of Burma and China are different from Burma-Bangladesh border. Many ethnics on Burma-China border are belonging to both sides and they speak Chinese language even though they have their own language because ignorance of generation of Burmese Government and zero development project in northern Burma. You can find school which teaches Chinese language instead of Burmese school in small villages in northern Burma. Only a few Government Schools were built in larger villages after Military coup in 1988 but Chinese language is still teaching in home. The logistic is easier to go to Town in China side than Burmese town for them. If they were good look after by Burmese Government and then their first language can be Burmese instead of Chinese.

      Kokang ethnic is Han Chinese ethnic and they are living there for hundreds of years before Burmese king and his Army. Kokang ethnic was one of sub-Shan ethnic and they were called Kokang Shan. Ne Win Government had split Kokang from Shan and now Khin Nyunt had split Wa from Shan state.
      Bhamo or Bamaw was once Shan capital and there was no Kachin state until British arrived and Shan Saopas ruled the upper Burma. Many Han Chinese are living in Bhamo and Bhamo is official trading town between China and Burma for hundreds of years. Han Chinese peoples are living in current Shan state and Kachin state for long time. They are not jumping Nam Moa (Shweli) river from China to Burma side yesterday.
      Burmese-Chinese ethnic peoples are rich because they work hard and they have business idea. Majority of Burmese-Chinese peoples are follower of Theravāda Buddhism.
      Your comment is like a Chinese ethnic in Mandalay was come from China under former Military regime. Some Chinese peoples moved to Wa autonomy State after Military regime peace treaty with Wa ethnic. They are not rich and they are working as laborer in Wa State.
      As 1947 and 1982 Citizenship law, Chinese ethnic can be recognized as one of minority Burmese ethnic because they are living in northern Burma before 1823.
      Han Chinese ethnic settled in northern Burma can be back to Mong Mao Kingdom era in 14th century.

  2. Thein win aung should teach psy wirathu how to avoid the tricks and traps from USDP. Thein win aung might be higher born, wiser and more educated than psy wirathu. Irrawaddy should mention about his background well for our respect. Buddhist monks are divided by USDP now. Psy wirathu must know 436 is more meaningful and crucial than 696, billion times. 696 is rubbish, psy, nonsense unnecessary from pseudo-Buddhism.

  3. Galone Sayardaw is real monk. He made the peaceful between two religions. I think fake monks would be angry for this situation. Fake monks don’t want peaceful because they are junta’s followers.

  4. Glone Sayardaw should know that as long as Wirathu is in the Interreligious Peace Committee, there will be no willingness to co-operation from other religions, especially Islam. In the same way, Ye Myint, Mandalay Div chief minister, should not call for co-operation from different religions if the government itself does not cooperate with existing peace committees to quell or prevent the crisis..

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