Petition to Restrict Interfaith Marriage Garners 2.5 Million Signatures in Burma

A signature campaign in Mandalay aims to raise support for a restrictive bill on interfaith marriage between Buddhists and Muslims. (Photo: U Wirathu / Facebook)

RANGOON — Nearly 2.5 million people have signed a petition in support of a proposed law that would restrict marriage in Burma between Buddhists and Muslims, according to an ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk leading the campaign.

U Wirathu, a monk who has risen to prominence by spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric in Buddhist-majority Burma, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the signatures would be sent to Parliament along with the proposed law, which aims to restrict interfaith marriages between Buddhist women and men of other religions.

Rights activists have opposed the proposal, which emerged last month at a major conference of Buddhist monks in Rangoon. If passed, the law would force Buddhist women to get permission from their parents and local government officials before marrying a man from any other faith. A non-Buddhist man wishing to marry a Buddhist woman would be required to convert to Buddhism.

The nationwide signature campaign began in Burma’s second-biggest city, Mandalay, earlier this month, with advocates distributing copies of the proposal to pedestrians. The campaign closed in Mandalay on Monday, U Wirathu said, but was continuing in other areas.

Asked if he was pleased with collecting nearly 2.5 million signatures—in a country of about 60 million people—the monk said he was satisfied.

“If the government supported us by holding a referendum [on the proposal], we would see even more support,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The proposed marriage law has been promoted as a way to improve inter-communal relations in Burma and protect Buddhist women, who supporters say could face abuse or forced religious conversion in interfaith marriages.

However, it seems that not everyone who joined the signature campaign was familiar with the proposal’s details.

“I don’t know about the law,” Ma Htay Htay, a woman signing her name at a campaign booth in Mandalay, told The Irrawaddy earlier this month. “I heard songs playing [from the booth] about protecting Burmese women, so I came here to sign.

“Burmese women cannot go out alone at night because there are many men who might insult us, abuse us or rape us. We women are weak. I think this law will protect us from these abuses.”

Another Mandalay resident, Ma Myint Lwin, also joined the campaign. “I was urged to sign if I’m Buddhist,” she said. “I’ve heard songs from this booth as well, encouraging me to protect Burmese women, so I came here to sign. I haven’t read the draft law yet but will read it later.”

A campaign official at one of the booths explained why he supported the bill.

“I’ve seen video footage showing true stories of Buddhist women who married Muslim men and are suffering now, with no right to believe in Buddhism,” he said. “If this law is passed, our Buddhist women will have protection from interfaith marriage, and this will prevent suffering.”

U Wirathu said that as of this week, campaigners had collected about 950,000 signatures of support from Upper Burma and more than 1.5 million signatures from Lower Burma. He said the signatures had been sent to the head monk at a monastery in Rangoon, who would submit them to Parliament at a later date.

The proposed marriage law comes amid growing unrest in Burma between Buddhists and Muslims, who are estimated to make up some 5 percent of the country’s population. Hundreds of people have been killed and more than 150,000 people—mostly Muslims—have been displaced in communal violence and anti-Muslim riots since June last year. A nationalist Buddhist campaign, led by U Wirathu and known as the 969 movement, has also gained momentum by calling on Buddhists to shun Muslim businesses.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has opposed the marriage bill as discriminatory and a violation of human rights—criticisms that other women’s rights activists have also highlighted.

“It’s based on extreme nationalism and religious extremism,” said Zin Mar Aung, a prominent Burmese activist who last year received the annual International Women of Courage Award from former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “It interferes with the individual liberty of Buddhist women and is an insult to their rationality.”

Last month, the proposed law was condemned in a joint statement by eight Rangoon-based women’s rights groups, including Zin Mar Aung’s Rainfall Gender Study Group. Members of several women’s groups also convened earlier this month in Rangoon to discuss the proposal.

Among those at the meeting on July 7 was 41-year-old Ma Htar Htar, an activist who last year helped launch the “Whistle for Help” campaign in Rangoon to raise awareness of sexual harassment. She said the group agreed that the draft law violated women’s rights but decided they would not launch a formal protest against it at this time.

“We decided this is not something we should respect or focus our efforts on,” she said. “Even if it is submitted, we don’t think our government will accept it or pass it. It doesn’t look like a proper law—a law should be really specific.

“We will be monitoring it, but we don’t think we need to respond.”

She said other proposed legislation, such as a bill to protect women from violence, were more worthy of attention and support. She added that the proposed marriage law could be a ploy by figures in power to distract the public from other issues as the country transitions from nearly half a century of military rule.

“I think this is a trick to make us shift our attention,” she said. “They are trying to create conflict among monks and women—even monks are disagreeing with each other.”

Some critics say the proposed marriage law highlights broader gender inequality in the country, while others say it is inappropriate for monks to mix with politics.

“I’m against the bill because it was drafted by monks. According to the Buddha, monks are solely responsible for guiding laymen to Nirvana,” said Aye Thiri Sein, 33, a journalist at the True News Weekly Journal in Rangoon. “I simply can’t accept the idea of clergymen’s involvement in social and marital affairs.

“The most powerful organization in Burma is the army, and the Buddhist clergy are in second place,” she added. “The drafting of the interfaith marriage law, led by U Wirathu, is, in my opinion, just testing their influence.”

22 Responses to Petition to Restrict Interfaith Marriage Garners 2.5 Million Signatures in Burma

  1. I am so unimpressed by anyone who could support such a petition and I am especially unimpressed by anyone calling themselves “Buddhist” who would sign such a petition. Certainly, they must have been born into the faith and know precious little of the Buddha’s teachings or certainly don’t contemplate them.

    • You got it right, Brian. To most of these people, as long as a person in Burma is not a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew or a Hindu, that person is categorized as a Buddhist even if he/she knows squat about Buddhism.

  2. The Myanmar women, with righteous indignation will dissent collectively , and continuously struggle against the machination of a section of the Burmese Buddhist Sangha. Myanmar is not a sacral but a secular state and nation where every one irrespective of race-tribe, religion , sex-gender, age and faith-belief can exist as human beings and persons with dignity. Fifty plus years of autocratic military class rule would never be substituted by the ordinary working people of Myanmar by another theocratic religious class. The Myanmar people with reason and life experiences , especially the youth who are presently the major force for political and economic change will see to it that this “bogus marriage bill” will never see the light of day in Myanmar in coming years.

  3. Only those niaves signed for the [edited] proposal. Wirathu is a thug.

  4. The regime’s policies have engendered a sharp divide between Muslims and Buddhists, in spite of the fact that generations of Muslims and Buddhists had lived together peacefully in the past.

    The generals have figured out that they will lose the next election and the regime is utilizing this divide to create a perception that without them in power, Burma would break out into sectarian warfare.

    I would suggest that the USDP has a hand in this petition.

  5. Than Shwe, the eccentric former psychological-warfare specialist, is playing mind games to keep the military in power.

  6. 1. Don’t believe the figures
    2. Some people will sign anything.

  7. If the men from other religion can not easily marriage the buddhist women,
    living together system will come up and buddist women will lost their rights.

  8. Yes, I agree. It is testing their influence. According to Myanmar constitution 362 monks should not be allowed to dictate the laws, orders and expression of political and insulting minority religion. The Government is only able to decide what the country’s important and priorities. If the Parliament is allowing expremist monks to dectitate them, the country will be more at risk. Sooner or later another proposals will be in the hidden agenda. The Extremist monks are now making laws although they are not qualified to do so. People who signed the petition do not know inside of the proposal in details too. They are urged to come and sign. It doesn’t necessary mean that everyone who signs this prosopal will know actual pros and cons of this interfaih law made by extremist monks. This is against the Human Rights too. So let’s see who is fair or not fair?

  9. Yes, Ma Htar Htar was right in putting it as:

    ” the proposed marriage law could be a ploy by figures in power (sic Gen Than Shwe and Co) to distract the public from other issues as the country’s transition from half a century of military rule and said it could be a trick to shift people’s attention and trying to create conflicts among monks and women and among monks themselves”

    Well, U Wirathu to note where he stands now !

    And this controversial law will create arguments as:

    Can a Myanmar marry a Japanese or a Korean or a Taiwanese or a German (all non-Muslim) !

    Where is a line drawn that Buddha had given us a guide on this issue !

    What are the Code of Conduct which Buddhist monks, to strictly follow, as guided by Buddha !

    To put it plain in language:

    U Wirathu had betrayed Buddha’s teachings as he was being made used in this dirty game of Burmese politics; and indirectly causing the deaths in Meikhtila and elsewhere (NB: Killing is the worst crime in Buddhism)

    Here is something for U Wirathu to read carefully:

    [Ref: “You guys (MI personnel sic Gen Kyaw Win), don’t you argue with me again– On who did it ! I did it ! So, what?” – Gen Than Shwe(on De-Pe-Yinn massacre) ]

  10. The Title is misleading and scare-mongering. There is NO proposal for Restriction of marriages between people of different faiths. The proposal is just to protect the rights of women to have no restriction imposed on them after marriage to someone with different religion.

  11. We have problem in Burma. Although restrictions are made for clergymen’s involvement with politics and violation in social matters but it is still happening by breaching the rule of constitution law. This could be the weakness of the government and SMNC ( Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee ).

  12. You can get signitures up to 60 millions but these are not genuine votes…you are getting signitures because of influence and pressure. IN myanmar people have two feelings..inside and outside expression are different. with my survey, it is a sham.

  13. The global is watching what is going on Union Of Republic of Myanmar. Western eased some sactions and foreign countries giving loans and supports in every corner with the hope that Burma is going to be a Democratic country definately by putting their trust on the declaration by the Government. But the Government is taking no appropriate action on clergymen behaving against Buddha guidance. To be truthful, the law has to be made by the government law makers, Judges and law associations based on court cases. Why laymen are making the law in their own hands? That will be submitted Parliament to prove the proposal. U.s, UK, Japan, France and other top countries are helping Nay Pyi Taw for their extensive reforms to push forward to achieve Democracy process. Clergymen are distracting this. Due to these happening people might get fed up with Burma and block their trades again to reinstate the SACTIONS. We have to be very careful and we must think wisely. The rule of law should apply to all people including clergymen. Why government is so weak?

  14. It is just a shame to call themselves as Buddhist whom are loving, kindness people. Does anyone think that all Buddhist men are good husbands? I doubt that. Some people are using religion to coverup their sin and not knowing true meaning of religion. In fact, leave religion alone and just learn to live together in harmony. Religion itself is good; just some people are not ready to exercise/follow any kind of religion because they can’t distinguish right and wrong.

  15. Absolutely right Fairlady. I agreed with you. People who got married can only think of husband and wife marriage life. People who never been married will never think of what marraige men feel or what married women feel. This is the time that we all need global unity for all religions. What sort of anxiety and bad thinking to destroy the unity whilst making their selve to be influence on the public. We will not achieve Democracy with this sort of attitude and course of action. Not only that clergymen don’t work and they may not feel the poverty life of the people in Burma. Because rich people are surrounded by them and they could ask for what they want from rich people. Value for work and taking pain for survival have not been taken into account either.

  16. Exactly Ko Peter Shwe.. it also is funny that some clergymen who have never been to be husbands are talking about marriage life. How much do they know about marriage and even dare to talk about who to marry. Why don’t they quit being clergymen living on DONATIONS and work like us and try to support BURMESE women so they don’t need to marry other man who are not BUDDHIST…

  17. I am debating on Interfaith Marriage Law ( draft law ) and a full expanation can be viewed on if you are interested Fairlady. You can find the topic from the list of article names. Article name is what the country’s requirement is ” Counseling Services not Interfaith marraige law”. Have a try. You will agree to this definitely. Thank you.

  18. I think its a good idea and all Buddhists should give their supports. Hopefully this rules would also be implemented by Sri Lanka, Thailand, Taiwan and other Buddhist nations. There is no reason why Buddhists must convert to others religion by force – it must be stopped.

  19. Well, question is why a Buddhist girl marrying a Muslim man cannot remain a Buddhist? May be, Muslims should start changing their mentality as well? There is a similar law in a Muslim Malaysia and nobody speaks about it. It is not that I like such laws, just pointing out to the reality.

  20. a person in SAUDI ARAB was sentenced to 7 years in prison for converting to christianity, can you believe this,
    anyone who converts to islam is punishable to death if he converts back to another religion,
    why are you people poking in Myanmar`s internal matters? If buddhists decided to give their women more powers than the women of saudi arab, or Iran, Pakistan, then I completely support it

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