Day-to-day survival is getting more difficult for people in military-ruled Myanmar, and residents of the country’s commercial hub Yangon are no exception. Four people from different townships in the city shared their experiences with The Irrawaddy, describing how the regime has become a threat to their existence as their lives become more miserable due to the increasing daily hardships and they feel more vulnerable due to mounting anarchy.
Living in darkness and fear
By Thandar Aung
Living under military rule drives me crazy day by day amid the general discomfort, dissatisfaction and anxiety. As soon as I wake up early in the morning, the first thing that comes to my mind is what time the power will go out today. If I don’t think ahead about this, there will be many obstacles in my day because we only get power for four-hour stretches.
Electricity was available 24 hours a day under the ousted National League for Democracy government, although there were occasional short power outages. However, since the coup, the regime only provides electricity at scheduled times and prolonged blackouts have surged again.
Therefore, we Yangon residents have to do such daily tasks as cooking, water pumping and charging phones in haste before the power cuts out. If there is a blackout at 9 a.m., I won’t be able to do my job until the power comes back at 1 p.m. However, the electricity supply after 1 p.m. leaves me angry because there are frequent blackouts. The power cut out three times while I was writing the above sentence between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
The regime’s mismanagement extends beyond the power sector. I can never neglect my security whether at home or outside, because crime has surged under the junta; the rule of law has crumbled in the past two years. I can’t ride the bus comfortably listening to music or dozing like before the coup, because pickpockets and robberies happen daily on the buses.
Furthermore, pedestrians feel threatened whenever they see police vehicles around the city, as the soldiers inside point their guns at people. It is very disheartening for me to see rifle barrels emerging from the windows of army guardhouses in Yangon.
I have been forced to cut back on daily expenses amid skyrocketing commodity prices. Since the coup, along with the unrest in the country and the regime’s mismanagement, the steep depreciation of the Myanmar kyat and the rapid rise in inflation have led to soaring prices for food and fuel.
Amid such a general crisis, I must always be aware of security at night, faced with the threat not only of thieves but also of soldiers conducting overnight guest registration checks in order to hunt for pro-democracy activists.
I always peek out the window when I hear the sound of a car passing by on my street late at night.
The sound of a car is especially frightening after the power is cut at midnight. As the sound gradually recedes, I go back to bed but nightmares welcome me. In my dreams, I run from soldiers or hide when they come to my house. I have had dreams in which I am near a battlefield, hiding fearfully in the bushes at the sight of angry, cruel soldiers and the sound of guns. Since the military coup, I am constantly having nightmares of the kind that I never had before. Under the military junta my day ends with nightmares and I wake up with a churning mind, facing a hopeless tomorrow.
‘I need to leave here’
By Kuu Kuu Han
Yangon is not safe for someone like me, who participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). Every day I wake up with fear and stress to start my day. To be honest, I am still trying to deal with this gut-wrenching trauma triggered by the military coup. I lost my dream, my career, my future and everything because of the military coup. I wonder how many people have suffered the same fate. Whenever I encounter police and soldiers, I can’t hide my expression of fear and disgust.
In fact, I have not been able to maintain a stable life in Yangon. Like many other people who took part in the CDM, I have found it hard to get a job. Last year, COVID-19 struck my family. Luckily, all of us recovered but it cost a fortune to cover the medical bills. So, my family’s financial situation has worsened due to the surging prices and lack of income.
I need to support my family somehow. One option I pursued was finding work in a foreign country as a laborer. However, this plan was also thwarted by the regime. The regime has a watchlist containing detailed data of civil servants who took part in the CDM, and prevents them from leaving the country. The employment agencies in Myanmar do not accept workers who have ties to the CDM.
So, I have no choice but to try and cope with the injustice and oppression under the regime. But the regime’s persecution has led me to be involved in the revolution in order to restore democracy in my country. At the moment, I am volunteering to do what I can to fill the education gap for students who refuse to take part in the regime’s education system.
While I do not have a high profile, it is still not safe for me to live in Yangon. At some point, I need to leave here. I feel a sense of guilt at the thought of leaving my beloved Yangon. But there is no other choice; I am aboard a sinking ship. Some people have already departed Yangon, with or without saying goodbye to their loved ones. I believe, one day, there will be a rainbow after the hurricane.
Preyed upon by ‘security officials’
By Khaing Min
Things have been deteriorating in Yangon, the commercial capital and the largest city in Myanmar, since the 2021 coup. As for security in Yangon, the city is completely devoid of it.
Crime has become a part of daily life for Yangonites over the past two years. I am a victim myself. My two bicycles went missing in broad daylight one after another, though they were locked. And I have seen at least two cases of mugging, in which the perpetrators grabbed a necklace or purse and ran away.
But it is not a good idea to file a complaint with the ward administration office or police about such minor crimes. Firstly, they live in fear that they will be attacked by urban resistance guerrilla fighters. Such attacks are not rare in Yangon. So, there is a fair chance of getting shot in case of an attack. Police stations are normally guarded by armed soldiers and police. So, it is better not to get too close to them, in order to avoid stray bullets. Better safe than sorry.
Secondly, it is an open secret that under the rule of the previous military dictator Than Shwe, ward administrators, thugs and police worked together to squeeze money out of civilians. Since the coup, they have got a new partner—junta soldiers that come to town and extort money with unabashed greed.
Last week, I heard noises from the street around midnight, so I sneaked a look from my bedroom. As I expected, junta security personnel and ward administration officials were knocking on doors to look for overnight guests. My heart was pounding with fear and I prayed that they would not come to my apartment.
Though they are “security officials” according to their job description, it is totally unsafe to engage with them. If they search my house and find something such as a picture of jailed State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a piece of paper with an anti-regime slogan, or a statement from the civilian National Unity Government, my life will be ruined. It goes without saying what would happen if they discovered anti-regime activists.
They need money, and to get money out of people, they need cases. So, security has been basically non-existent since the coup.
To make matters worse, guns have spread through the city with the regime and resistance forces murdering each other. So, Yangon residents dice with danger living in the city.
In my township this month, urban resistance guerrilla fighters shot dead an infamous thug and also killed three police in an attack near the police station. A thug who associates with junta soldiers and administrators shot dead two civilians who had taken part in anti-coup protests, in a crime reminiscent of a Hollywood gangster movie. He came out of a vehicle, shot the two, got back in the car and drove off untroubled.
While outside, there is a danger of getting caught up in shootings and explosions. You might mistakenly get shot.
To make a long story short, our daily life has been plagued since the coup, all thanks to Min Aung Hlaing.
While the innocent are arrested, criminals given free rein
By Thant Zin
Public safety has declined significantly over the past two years in Yangon. In our daily lives, we civilians have at least two concerns.
The first threat comes from the Myanmar military and the second comes for muggers, who have become more daring.
There has been a steady increase in crimes committed blatantly in public. It appears that the military and police only care to arrest and kill anti-regime activists and People’s Defense Force members, and turn a blind eye to crime. They don’t take action against crimes. That’s why criminals have become more daring.
A few weeks ago, a young woman was kidnapped while driving her own vehicle in North Okkalapa Township, her family members wrote on Facebook. In another case, kidnappers demanded a ransom of 10 million kyats, and the victim was released after 7 million kyats was paid, family members wrote on Facebook.
Earlier this week, a taxi driver was killed and his car stolen. In another case, a taxi driver killed his customer and stole his money in Bahan. Such crimes have become common in Yangon. So, I dare not hail cabs whose drivers are strangers. I only hire taxis driven by people I know.
It has also become unsafe to take buses. Previously, we only needed to be aware of pickpockets on buses. But since the coup, muggers have been working in groups, and rob all the passengers on the bus at knifepoint. Recently, my cousin was robbed of his cellphone on a bus by a gang of thieves.
In another case, thieves stabbed a delivery man to death and stole his phone in Shwelinpan Industrial Zone in Hlaing Tharyar Township. Three dead bodies were found on a truck in the same industrial zone. The perpetrators could not be identified. I often have to go to those places for business.
We also have to be afraid of the military. We live in constant fear that we might get arrested or shot while outside, or that our houses might be checked for overnight guests. We are at risk of arrest if they find a safety helmet in our houses, because people wore those helmets at anti-coup protests [to protect themselves from beatings and rubber bullets]. If you wear a black T-shirt outside, junta soldiers will stop and check you and tell you off. The Myanmar military is allergic to black as the color has been used as a symbol of opposition to the coup.
And you can also get arrested for using Facebook, because the Myanmar military has banned it. So, if they can’t find fault with you any other way, if you use Facebook, they can use this as an excuse to arrest you.
I only dare to use Facebook to read news. I dare not post or share anything. You can get arrested for leaving remarks on anti-junta posts. The military and military supporters monitor it. The military and police don’t arrest those who blatantly commit crimes, but they are capable of arresting those who write or share posts critical of the regime, and leave critical remarks. A young woman who wrote a Facebook post complaining that she can’t make trips because of the coup was arrested and prosecuted.
We are also concerned that we might get shot while outside. Military trucks patrol every night, and soldiers are deployed in bunkers at intersections. Urban guerrilla fighters often attack them. Whenever they are attacked, junta soldiers fire back indiscriminately at anyone or anything they see on the road, from pedestrians and vehicles to motorbikes. I tremble whenever I hear the sounds of vehicles or motorbikes stopping outside my house, thinking that they might be soldiers or police.