Mon State — The Dawei Nationalities Party (DNP) has asked Dawei Township authorities in Tenasserim Region to lift a new ban on using their language to fashion signs for this week’s full moon festival.
In a statement on Monday, the DNP said it was a tradition during the religious festival for ethnic Dawei to prepare signs bearing the name of their township quarter in the Dawei language. The signs are placed on carts each quarter prepares and uses to wheel a Buddha statue around the town.
The statement came in reacting to a latter Dawei Township authorities sent the quarters and their villages last month instructing them to use Burmese only.
“For Dawei people this action is similar to banning our literature and culture; it is intended to oppress all ethnic Dawei,” the statement said.
It also accused the National League for Democracy of breaking the promises it made during the 2015 election campaign to protect and promote the rights of ethnic minorities.
“The name of our quarter written in our [Dawei] language is different from its name in Burmese. Our people are very happy when they see their language in writing,” said DNP Chairman U Aye Min. “But they don’t let us write it this year.”
He said the Dawei had more freedom to use their language under military dictatorship and that it was disappointing to see a mostly democratically elected government rolling their rights back, raising fears that it was trying to wipe out their culture and literate altogether.
“This should not happen when the country is using democracy,” said Hein Htet, an ethnic Dawei and joint secretary of the Myanmar Youth Affairs Committee.
“We were oppressed for many years. We feel we are being oppressed again,” he said.
On Tuesday, however, local news outlet Dawei Watch reported that Tenasserim Region Government Director U Moe Zaw Latt said the language ban was imposed so that all visitors could understand the signs, apologized for the order, and said it would be reversed.
“They are free to write in their language. Our government will issue one more statement soon to abolish the first order,” he was quoted as saying at a press conference on Tuesday.
The Irrawaddy could not reach local authorities for confirmation or comment.