U Wirathu Holds Groundbreaking Ceremony for Unauthorized School

By De Hlaing Winn 28 January 2019

MANDALAY—Firebrand nationalist monk U Wirathu held a groundbreaking ceremony for a school building on Saturday morning in Patheingyi Township, Mandalay Region, despite the regional government’s refusal to give permission for the project.

The monk who is infamous for his racial and religious hate speeches said he applied to the regional government for permission to build a permanent school in June 2017, but the regional government has yet to reply.

There are over 150 students attending tenth and eleventh grades at the school, and the monk wishes to build a four-story school building to replace the current makeshift classrooms.

U Wirathu talks to the audience at the groundbreaking ceremony. / De Hlaing Winn / The Irrawaddy

“It is time [Mandalay Region Chief Minister] U Zaw Myint Maung makes a black-and-white decision. If [the planned school] is against the law, he should make an official announcement by stating clearly which law it violates,” said U Wirathu, who is a staunch opponent of the ruling National League for Democracy.

“If it is in line with the law, he should announce officially when exactly it would be allowed, and how long we have to wait,” said the monk, calling the ban an “authoritarian act and abuse of power.”

U Wirathu, Buddhist monks, and members of the committee to establish the school named “Mahawthada National Private High School” attended the groundbreaking ceremony. The school will be built on an 8-acre plot of land in the village of Kyauk Chaw in Patheingyi Township.

The district general administration department sent a warning notice on Friday afternoon, and officials came in person on Friday evening and asked the monk not to continue with his school project.

Monks put stakes into the ground at the groundbreaking ceremony. / De Hlaing Winn / The Irrawaddy

The site for the planned school, according to the general administration department, is under the management of the government.

“We requested the monk not to do unlawful things. We sent a letter and also met him in person and asked him not to continue. He can do nothing before the [regional] government grants permission. We have barred him on behalf of the government,” said district administrator U Aung Mon Latt.

The school compound has been walled, the gate has been built, and an artesian has been dug, according to the monk.

The school will only teach the official curriculum designed by the government, and will not teach politics or religion, said U Wirathu.

“The school is totally free from politics and nationalism. It is purely a philanthropic school. We absolutely guarantee that,” U Wirathu told The Irrawaddy.

The gate of the Mahawthada National Private High School. / De Hlaing Winn / The Irrawaddy

However, he admitted that those on the school organizing committee are members of various political parties and agencies.

The monk believes that the government has banned the school because of the involvement of political parties in the school organizing committee and also because the school will be built under his backing.

“I am very happy to go to prison if I am arrested under 505 (b) [of the Penal Code which is a law against defamation of the State] for building a school,” said U Wirathu.