Friday, 1 February 2013

66th Anniversary of Shan State National Day

Public By Kor Kham

Shan National Day” or “Shan State Day”?

One problem facing Shans each year when 7 February draws near is whether the day marking the unity between ruling princes and their people against British suzereignty should be called “Shan National Day” as it used to be or “Shan State Day” as renamed by the military junta that came into power in a bloody coup in 1962.

Those in favor of the former name say we should stick to the historical label
Those against it say “Shan National” only means the day is only for Shans and not for non-Shans who together constitute 50% of the population, according to the pre-Independence census; as such “Shan State Day” is preferable to the historical name

So why did they agree to call it “Shan National Day” in the first place, when, out of the then 33 princely non-Shan princes and two of the leading non-Shan princes (Tawngpeng and Hsihseng) were highly educated and well-informed?

The answer lies in both the ambiguity of the term “Nation” and how rulers and people understand the word, then and now.

When you look into the dictionary, two simple distinct meanings are found:
All the people in a country
A tribe or race

At the time when the word “Shan National Day” was coined, it was quite obvious most of the ruling princes thought it applied to all the people in Shan State, then known as Federated Shan States. I remember when I was a kid, people, both Shan and non-Shan, joined together to observe the annually held event.

However, as I grew older, the interpretation began to change. People started saying, “Shan National Day means it is only for Shans, and not us (PaO, Palaung, Wa, Lahu, etc). We should call it Shan State Day, so that all of us are included.”

All those complainants then and now, appear to be unaware that the decision to name the day as “Shan National Day” in 1947 was signed by none other than Hkun Pan Sing, President of the Shan States Council and Palaung prince to boot.

By 1963, a year after the coup, it became clear unless it was called Shan State Day, one was certain to risk being called a rebel or a separatist. Among the resistance ranks, the situation was almost exactly the reverse. One could risk being accused as a junta follower by calling it Shan State Day.

To placate both camps, some have begun to call it “Shan State National Day” which in effect pleases few people.

One of my late uncles explained to me why the term National Day was opposed by the junta. “For many countries, a national day means the day you either declare independence or were granted independence,” he said. “The generals simply don’t want youths like you to get ideas about it.”

He may be right. I’m sure he was.

However, unless a new Shan State Council takes the matter into its hand and reaches a new resolution, I’m afraid we will still be arguing among ourselves how we should properly call the day, every time 7 February is in the offing.

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