Friday, August 18, 2017

Nationalists commemorate U Ottama

Rakhine nationalists in Yangon and Sittwe last week commemorated the 77th anniversary since the death of U Ottama, a former monk repeatedly jailed under British colonial rule.

Ethnic Rakhine in Yangon observe the 77th anniversary of U Ottama’s death on September 9. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesEthnic Rakhine in Yangon observe the 77th anniversary of U Ottama’s death on September 9. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

U Zaw Aye Maung, the Yangon Region Minister for Rakhine Ethnic Affairs, led a march through the newly renamed U Ottama Park in Dagon township on September 9. He urged Rakhine people to remain unified, and told Rakhine youth to marry within their ethnic group to continue to preserve the Rakhine identity.

Born in 1879, U Ottama was prominent among Buddhist monks agitating against British rule and was jailed for the first time in 1921 for sedition. His death in 1939 followed hunger strikes he staged during periods of incarceration.

His preachings were seen as radical for arguing that monks had a moral and religious duty to intervene in politics and improve the lot of ordinary people. Although inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of non-violence, U Ottama’s stance evolved into clashes between monks and successive military regimes in the decades to come.

In both Rakhine State and Yangon, devotees called on the government to make September 9 – the date of U Ottama’s passing – a national holiday.

Responding to the requests, U Nyi Pu, chief minister for Rakhine, said his state could not make its own national holiday.

“While I share the public’s desire, it is up to the Union government to define national holidays,” he said.