At times, Frontier Myanmar has been accused of giving too much attention to the country’s Muslim community, and even of taking sides in the communal and religious conflicts that have plagued Myanmar in recent years.

WE WHOLEHEARTEDLY reject these accusations. Our coverage is the product of several principles. We believe it is important to share knowledge about the many people who live in this diverse country. We believe it is important to give a voice to those who are excluded or silenced. And we believe it is important to report on the many hidden or untold stories in Myanmar.

In this edition and the previous, published on April 26, we have dedicated significant resources and space to covering two aspects of the Muslim community: the Burmese Muslims of Mandalay and the rise of the Tablighi Jamaat movement in Yangon. We believe both are important stories that raise fundamental questions about identity and belonging in modern Myanmar. Both present different ideas and concepts about faith and religion, and they should be read together.

Some may argue that it is dangerous or irresponsible to report on Tablighi Jamaat in the context of Myanmar’s recent communal tensions, because of the risk that it will draw attention to the movement and potentially make it an explicit target for Buddhists who fear the Islamisation of their country. There is also the danger of inadvertently blaming Muslims for the violence and discrimination they have suffered.

These are indeed risks. Yet we felt that it was a story that needed to be told, and we trusted ourselves to tell it in a responsible manner.

In case there is any confusion on our position, let’s make it explicit: Tablighis are simply exercising their fundamental rights. They must be allowed to dress and behave according to the guidelines of their religion so long as they do not threaten, harm or force their religion on others.

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You can debate the implications of Tablighi Jamaat’s popularity for transitioning Myanmar but we have found no indication that Tablighis were seeking to convert non-Buddhists or that they are involved in armed movements – two common accusations levelled against Myanmar’s Muslims by some Buddhists. In fact, we found precisely the opposite: doing so would violate the principles, the six pillars, that Tablighis have committed themselves to. Fundamentalism is not the same as extremism or radicalism.

And this is precisely why the story of Tablighi Jamaat needs to be told: to improve understanding of Islam and its principles among non-Muslims. A Muslim man wearing a kurta or a woman wearing a burqa must not be seen as a threat. Frontier believes they should be seen as citizens who are expressing their faith in the manner of their choosing, in line with the rights explicitly given to them under the 2008 constitution.

But as we have seen many times in Myanmar, the text of a law – even the constitution – is no guarantee that rights will be upheld or respected. The most effective way to fight fear and extremism is through dialogue, education and understanding.

When communities are divided and separated, mistruths and misunderstandings can fester, creating the tinder for conflict that can ignite at the smallest spark, the slightest provocation. When communities understand each other, when there is mutual trust and conflict can more easily be avoided. Religious leaders of all religions and beliefs have a responsibility to preach tolerance and inclusivity.

But they have a further responsibility. For Myanmar to achieve an inclusive future, it is also incumbent on all sides to engage, including Tablighi Jamaat leaders and followers. At the same time, space must be made for everyone to participate in society without being forced to compromise on their beliefs.

Isolation from the mainstream is not the answer. It risks creating or reinforcing the “plural society” that the colonial administrator JS Furnivall conceptualised, where people “mix but do not combine”.

Religious beliefs can create division, but they can also be a source of strength. It is a strength that Myanmar needs to draw upon in this challenging period of its transition.

This editorial first appeared in the May 10 edition of Frontier.

The Yangon Region government hopes a new tap system will help solve water shortages in the underdeveloped township of Dala, but residents would prefer authorities focus on improving more than 100 ponds where supplies are quickly diminishing. 

By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER
Photos STEVE TICKNER

THE RESIDENTS of Dala Township live beside the Yangon River but potable water is so scarce that many say it’s worth more than gold.

A chronic water shortage in the township, which is located just over the river from the downtown area of the country’s biggest city, was even the source of a nasty community dispute that cost a 20-year-old man his life three years ago.

The dispute was over access to a drinking-water pond at the entrance of Kanaung Danake Taw village, a 20-minute motorbike ride from central Dala.

The man lived in the house nearest to the pond and in April 2015, when it was running dry before the monsoon arrived, he verbally abused two women who had come to collect water, local residents who witnessed the incident told Frontier.

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Feelings were running high over the issue because the village relied on the pond for its water supply. The man’s outburst led to a melee involving more than 20 people that ultimately caused his death.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Subsequently one person received a 20-year prison sentence for murder, the residents said. Another four people received 10-year sentences for their role in the killing, and 16 others received sentences of between two and seven years for charges related to assault and trespassing.

“We were all depending on that pond; we don’t have other sources of water,” said U Zaw Win, a resident of Kanaung Danake Taw. “And the house [of the man killed] wanted to control all parts of the pond, and didn’t allow us to take water.”

Zaw Win was charged with trespassing in relation to the 2015 melee but was found not guilty.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Myanmar’s Thingyan New Year Festival was celebrated across the country earlier this month, much of which involved revelers spending four days drenching each other with water. But for Dala’s residents, the water shortage meant those celebrations were muted, and much of the water that was thrown was of a murky brown colour, they said.

“In central Dala, we used water from the river but those in rural areas [of Dala] couldn’t throw water because there was none available,” said U Tin Myo Latt, a local resident. 

According to the 2014 census, Dala has a population of 172,857 people living in 37,912 households. The township’s residents rely on 134 water storage ponds, but their supplies are quickly depleting, said Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Dala U Sein Mya Aye (National League for Democracy).

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

As a contingency, many residents spend the monsoon months filling up buckets of water that they hope will last the roughly seven months between the end of one rainy season ending and the start of the next – but it’s rare for the supplies to last that long.

One local organisation trying to alleviate the water shortage issue in Dala and other parts of Yangon is the Shin Yae Charity Association. Founded in 2015 the organisation plans to donate 40,000 gallons of water a day in Dala between the last week of March and the end of July.

The Yangon City Development Committee provides water to Dala from a water storage unit in Pauk village, Twante Township.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

“Nobody drinks that municipal water,” said Tin Myo Latt, one of the residents. “Not for drinking, and not even for washing,” he said.

The Yangon Region government has initiated some plans to deal with the issue, but the impact so far has been minimal.

In June 2016, just months after the NLD’s U Phyo Min Thein became Yangon chief minister, the regional parliament announced two projects that would have the capacity to provide 100 million gallons of water daily across Yangon Region.

According to an article in Eleven Media, a project at the Kokkowa Reservoir in Hlaing Tharyar would provide 60 million gallons daily to 15 Yangon townships, mainly around the downtown area. Meanwhile, Dala would be one of three areas that would receive 30 million gallons daily from a project that takes water from the Toe River, which runs between Ayeyarwady and Yangon regions (the other two areas are Seikgyikanaungto Township and the Thilawa Special Economic Zone).

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

On March 5, Phyo Min Thein attended the opening ceremony of a water purification factory at Sar Par Chaung ward in Dala. At that event, Phyo Min Thein promised that Dala residents would have tap water “within six months”.

But local residents are skeptical, and say the tap system will only benefit those living in urban parts of the township. They have called on the government to first maintain the ponds that are already in Dala, and which are a crucial source of water for people in both urban and rural parts of the township.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

“We welcome [the tap water], but that will affect very few people in Dala,” said U Tun Tun Oo, chairman of the Shin Yae Charity Association. “So I suggest to the government to provide more ponds as a long term plan for those living in rural areas,” he said, adding that the water shortage is an added financial issue for many people who are already poor and living in rural parts of the township.

Sein Mya Aye, the local MP, called for residents to be patient. He added that the government has a limited budget for dealing with water shortages and residents should cooperate to resolve the problem. 

“The government will do it, but we don’t know how exactly,” said Sein Mya Aye. “The Yangon chief minister has promised [it will happen], so we need to cooperate and take time to watch it. We hope it will be successful.”

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

But locals do not appear satisfied. One resident, Tun Tun Oo, said that even though Dala is located very close to downtown Yangon, its lack of infrastructure means “it is like a rural area”.

Because so many of the township’s residents are poor, the tap water project is not suitable, he said.

“Please do more practical work to dig new ponds in Dala for the rural and urban sides. It will have more impact for the people of Dala,” he said.

TOP PHOTO: A young man carries buckets of water from a pond to his home in Yangon’s Dala Township. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)

By OLIVER SLOW | FRONTIER

YANGON – English Championship club Leeds United opened their two-match tour to Myanmar with a defeat in Yangon on Wednesday night, as they went down 2-1 to a Myanmar National League Stars team at Thuwunna Stadium.

Since the tour was announced in April, the British club has faced considerable criticism, which comes as Myanmar’s military and its government stand accused of the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

Following a military crackdown last August an estimated 700,000 people – overwhelmingly Rohingya – have fled over the border into Bangladesh. The military has largely denied any wrongdoing.

Leeds chairman Mr Andrea Radrizzani acknowledged the controversy in a statement published shortly after the tour was announced.

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“I believe this tour will have a positive impact on the local community in parts of the country we intend to visit,” the statement said. “This was a carefully considered decision and we knew it would be controversial, but this is about people not governments.”

Leeds fans attending the game also dismissed much of the criticism.

“Ok there’s a problem that the government needs to sort out, but as football fans, I think the game brings a lot of pleasure,” said Mr John Brannon, who had travelled from Yorkshire for the game. “We came here to enjoy it, and we can see that the people are genuine and warm.”

Myanmar National League Stars player Joseph Mpande celebrates. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)

Myanmar National League Stars player Joseph Mpande celebrates. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)

Despite the criticism, there was a lively atmosphere as an estimated 15,000 people, overwhelmingly Myanmar, but with a few dozen diehards who had made the journey from the UK, packed into the stadium for the game.

The MNL side, made up of Myanmar players and those from abroad playing for local clubs, started the brightest and was ahead on 22 minutes, when Hanthawaddy United’s Joseph Mpande headed the ball past Leeds goalkeeper Andrew Lonergan.

Although Leeds started slowly – no doubt slowed by the 33 degree Celsius heat – the goal sparked them into life, and they were level on 26 minutes when Samuel Saiz converted from the penalty spot.

Both sides had their fair share of chances to take the lead before half time, but the scores were level at the break. Leeds and MNL made significant changes after the break – the former changing nine players on the 60 minute mark – but MNL continued to dominate.

The winner was scored by Christopher Chizoba, who converted the second penalty of the night, blasting home into the top left-hand corner.

Leeds pushed for a late equalizer, but were undone by their own poor finishing and some inspired saves by Myanmar stopper Naing Zayar Tun.

Chair of the Myanmar Football Federation U Zaw Zaw meets Leeds United players before the match. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)

Chair of the Myanmar Football Federation U Zaw Zaw meets Leeds United players before the match. (Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe | Frontier)

The Leeds fans were not too despondent after the final whistle.

“I’m not too worried about the result to be honest, I just really enjoyed the night,” said Leeds fan Mr Steve Burchill who had travelled from Thailand with his son, Joshua, to watch the game. “It’s all about this isn’t it?” he said as the crowd cheered both sides coming off the pitch.

The Myanmar fans also appeared to enjoy the evening.

“It was great that a team from England came here, and that we won,” said Ko Khin Hlaing Win, who said he was an Arsenal fan before the game. “But I’ll definitely be following Leeds closer now.”

In the post-match interview, Leeds manager Mr Paul Heckingbottom refused to be drawn on the controversy surrounding the tour, and said his team was just here “for the football”.

Leeds will next travel to Mandalay, where they will face the Myanmar national team on Friday night, for the final match of their tour.

The Yangon Region government hopes a new tap system will help solve water shortages in the underdeveloped township of Dala, but residents would prefer authorities focus on improving more than 100 ponds where supplies are quickly diminishing.

By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER
Photos STEVE TICKNER

THE RESIDENTS of Dala Township live beside the Yangon River but potable water is so scarce that many say it’s worth more than gold.

A chronic water shortage in the township, which is located just over the river from the downtown area of the country’s biggest city, was even the source of a nasty community dispute that cost a 20-year-old man his life three years ago.

The dispute was over access to a drinking-water pond at the entrance of Kanaung Danake Taw village, a 20-minute motorbike ride from central Dala.

The man lived in the house nearest to the pond and in April 2015, when it was running dry before the monsoon arrived, he verbally abused two women who had come to collect water, local residents who witnessed the incident told Frontier.

Feelings were running high over the issue because the village relied on the pond for its water supply. The man’s outburst led to a melee involving more than 20 people that ultimately caused his death.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Subsequently one person received a 20-year prison sentence for murder, the residents said. Another four people received 10-year sentences for their role in the killing, and 16 others received sentences of between two and seven years for charges related to assault and trespassing.

“We were all depending on that pond; we don’t have other sources of water,” said U Zaw Win, a resident of Kanaung Danake Taw. “And the house [of the man killed] wanted to control all parts of the pond, and didn’t allow us to take water.”

Zaw Win was charged with trespassing in relation to the 2015 melee but was found not guilty.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Myanmar’s Thingyan New Year Festival was celebrated across the country earlier this month, much of which involved revelers spending four days drenching each other with water. But for Dala’s residents, the water shortage meant those celebrations were muted, and much of the water that was thrown was of a murky brown colour, they said.

“In central Dala, we used water from the river but those in rural areas [of Dala] couldn’t throw water because there was none available,” said U Tin Myo Latt, a local resident.

According to the 2014 census, Dala has a population of 172,857 people living in 37,912 households. The township’s residents rely on 134 water storage ponds, but their supplies are quickly depleting, said Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Dala U Sein Mya Aye (National League for Democracy).

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

As a contingency, many residents spend the monsoon months filling up buckets of water that they hope will last the roughly seven months between the end of one rainy season ending and the start of the next – but it’s rare for the supplies to last that long.

One local organisation trying to alleviate the water shortage issue in Dala and other parts of Yangon is the Shin Yae Charity Association. Founded in 2015 the organisation plans to donate 40,000 gallons of water a day in Dala between the last week of March and the end of July.

The Yangon City Development Committee provides water to Dala from a water storage unit in Pauk village, Twante Township.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

“Nobody drinks that municipal water,” said Tin Myo Latt, one of the residents. “Not for drinking, and not even for washing,” he said.

The Yangon Region government has initiated some plans to deal with the issue, but the impact so far has been minimal.

In June 2016, just months after the NLD’s U Phyo Min Thein became Yangon chief minister, the regional parliament announced two projects that would have the capacity to provide 100 million gallons of water daily across Yangon Region.

According to an article in Eleven Media, a project at the Kokkowa Reservoir in Hlaing Tharyar would provide 60 million gallons daily to 15 Yangon townships, mainly around the downtown area. Meanwhile, Dala would be one of three areas that would receive 30 million gallons daily from a project that takes water from the Toe River, which runs between Ayeyarwady and Yangon regions (the other two areas are Seikgyikanaungto Township and the Thilawa Special Economic Zone).

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

On March 5, Phyo Min Thein attended the opening ceremony of a water purification factory at Sar Par Chaung ward in Dala. At that event, Phyo Min Thein promised that Dala residents would have tap water “within six months”.

But local residents are skeptical, and say the tap system will only benefit those living in urban parts of the township. They have called on the government to first maintain the ponds that are already in Dala, and which are a crucial source of water for people in both urban and rural parts of the township.

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

“We welcome [the tap water], but that will affect very few people in Dala,” said U Tun Tun Oo, chairman of the Shin Yae Charity Association. “So I suggest to the government to provide more ponds as a long term plan for those living in rural areas,” he said, adding that the water shortage is an added financial issue for many people who are already poor and living in rural parts of the township.

Sein Mya Aye, the local MP, called for residents to be patient. He added that the government has a limited budget for dealing with water shortages and residents should cooperate to resolve the problem.

“The government will do it, but we don’t know how exactly,” said Sein Mya Aye. “The Yangon chief minister has promised [it will happen], so we need to cooperate and take time to watch it. We hope it will be successful.”

Steve Tickner | Frontier

Steve Tickner | Frontier

But locals do not appear satisfied. One resident, Tun Tun Oo, said that even though Dala is located very close to downtown Yangon, its lack of infrastructure means “it is like a rural area”.

Because so many of the township’s residents are poor, the tap water project is not suitable, he said.

“Please do more practical work to dig new ponds in Dala for the rural and urban sides. It will have more impact for the people of Dala,” he said.

TOP PHOTO: A young man carries buckets of water from a pond to his home in Yangon’s Dala Township. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)