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Mizzima: Increasing number of Burme

Increasing number of Burmese migrant women for jobs in Mizoram State

Aizawl, April 13, 2000
Mizzima News Group

Soaring prices of basic commodities, religious persecution and forced
labor by the authorities have forced thousands of Burmese citizens to
leave the country and work in whatever jobs available in neighboring
countries. Mizoram, one of the "seven sisters" of India's northeastern
states, has been a shelter for thousands of Burmese immigrants for more
than a decade. According to local people, the number of Burmese women
working in various occupations in the state has steadily increased over
the last ten years as the economic and political situation in Burma has

"Before 1988 military take over in Burma, very few Burmese women came to
Mizoram and worked mostly in handloom weaving industry. Though the exact
number cannot be obtained, there are, at present, estimated five
thousand Burmese women working in Aizawl alone. Majority of them are
working as housemaids in the Mizo homes while others work in handloom
weaving, teashops, restaurants and trading in goods and cosmetics," said
Ms Zo Sang Puii, a resident of Aizawl, capital of Mizoram.

"We have no boys in our family and my father was not well. He got sick
very often, and we have to do forced labour all the time. I had to work
as a porter and stayed overnight several times. After my father died in
1997, we faced a lot of trouble. There were no jobs for us to survive,
only portering and forced labour all the time. Finally, I thought it
would be better to come to India to find job. I came with my elder
sister here. My mother is still back in our village," recalled her story
a 26-year old Chin woman from Kampa village, Tamu Township of Sagaing
Division. She arrived Aizawl in 1998 and she is now working in a
construction work in Mizoram.

She said that in her village, the authorities regularly ask the
villagers to contribute free labor for motor road and dam constructions.
Every household in her village had to send someone from the family for
these so-called development projects.

Daw Ohn Myint, 40-year old woman weaver from Mandalay said that she and
her family came to Mizoram because she could no longer support her
family in Burma. "As I have a big family, it was hard to survive in
Burma. Of course, we could survive if we would have more than 1,000
Kyats in daily income. The price of one Pyi of rice (I Pyi = 8 milk
cans) is 120 Kyats and 1/10 viss of cooking oil is about 60 kyats?
Usually, we eat only a sour vegetable soup and bean salad and that costs
300 to 400 Kyats per day. The other costs of children's snacks and
pocket money for their school are not counted yet," she said. This woman
and her family have been staying in Mizoram for more than twelve years
and working in a handloom house in Aizawl.

Another Burmese woman who is now a small-scale trader in Aizawl said: "I
was a government servant and I could not feed my family. I was a
schoolteacher and taught the children in a 9-mile village. I got 750
Kyats in salary but it was not even enough to buy a Htaminn (sarong)".

Most of these migrant women workers are from rural areas of Chin State
and Sagaing Division of Burma. There are also many others who come from
places like Monywa, Mandalay, Swhe Bo, Hseik Khun, Saung Nat and rural
areas of Upper Burma. They are scattered in Aizawl, Laung Thlaing and
Lone Li townships in Mizoram of India.

"People are pouring in from Chin State to Mizoram in family groups. Many
young women also came together with the families," said a Chin woman
from Harkha Township.

Crossing border from Burma to India is not easy. They had to pay to
Burmese security forces all along the route. "There were all together
nine gates on the way to come to the Burma border. From Monywa to Kalay,
we had to pass two gates but there was no problem. We did not need to
show National Identity cards but we had to pay more for the bus fare. If
the bus fare were 400 Kyats, we had to pay 450 Kyats and the driver of
the bus cleared with the authorities by himself. But when we started
leaving from Kalay to the border (Burma side), we had to pass seven
gates and at each gate each person was asked to show the National
Identity Card and to pay 50 Kyats. Whether one has ID card or not, one
has to pay 50 Kyats. When we reached at the river (of the border), the
immigration officer asked 500 Kyats for each person who will cross the
river to go to India," said a 53-year old man from Monywa Township of
Sagaing Division.

According to a local Mizo, majority of vegetable and meat sellers in
Aizawl Bazar are the people who comes from Burma and the number of
teashops, beauty parlors, tailoring shops and restaurants run by the
Burmese in the Capital are also increasing.

There are also a number of Burmese women who are trading between Burma
and India. They take medicines, steel utensils and cotton threads from
India to Burma. Then, they bring back Thailand-made and China-made
clothes, T-shirts, sweaters, cosmetics, blankets and shoes to Mizoram
State. Even traders from other northeastern states of India come to
Mizoram and buy these goods.

Nowadays, trading of ?Nwa Tho? (dried oxen's penises) is a profitable
business as rich Chinese in Yunan State and other places of China like
this meat. Indian traders from Delhi, Patna, Pune and Mumbai bring ?Nwa
Tho? to Mizoram. Burmese traders buy them in Mizoram and take to
Mandalay from where Chinese traders buy them in trucks. Many of these
Burmese women traders go up to Museh and Shweli in Burma-China border.

However, this trading business is not always smooth and profitable. Many
of them have lost their capital many times as they usually work on the
credit system and don't get the money back.

For those handloom weavers too, there is no more good fortune due to
increasing number of Burmese weavers coming to Mizoram State. Still, a
Burmese weaver could earn from 500 to 1,000 Rupees in a week and save
about 200 Rupees a week. As illegal exchange of the Indian Rupee and
Burmese Kyat is in favour of Rupees, they can even send the money back
to their relatives and parents in Burma. (At the border, 100 Rupees is
equal to 700 Kyats and US 1 $ is equal to 43.5 Rupees)

But, this business, too is not free from trouble. "Some women weavers
have been driven out of work by the owners. The problem is the
difference of the culture in working skills. Most of the women weavers
from Burma are skillful in weaving thick cloth. But the job owners like
the thin woven cloth. So it causes misunderstanding between the owners
and the weavers very often," said Daw Ohn Myint. "Also, a lot of women
who live in employer's houses were forced to have sex with the employers
and some women got pregnant and some had abortion by themselves," she

Over a period of decade, these women have got together themselves in
helping each other. Though not much have been done due to the lack of
financial and material assistance, their Women Groups have organized a
primary school for their children, a library in Aizawl and some training
and workshops for the Burmese women. "We try to motivate our Chin women
and to give them more confidence to survive and support themselves
independently. Otherwise, a lot of Chin women end up working as
housemaids in various places, and they are often exploited and harassed
by men. Sometimes, without intention or even aware of the situation,
they become involved in sex work," said Daw Naw Deen, a leader of the
Chin Women Organization.