Aung San Suu Kyi is an iconic world leader, an extraordinary living example of resilience and fearlessness. She was awarded Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy in Burma (Myanmar). She features in Forbes world’s 100 most powerful women. Suu Kyi epitomizes strength, peace, and hope for people far beyond Myanmar.
She was only 2 years old when her father, the commander of modern Burmese Army, who negotiated Burma’s freedom from British Empire, was assassinated. Today, she’s the chairperson of National League for Democracy (NLD), a political party founded by her and that is widely speculated to come to power in 2015 elections.
Suu Kyi has lived a life of selflessness, sacrifice, and enduring fight – spending 15 of last 21 years under house arrest – away from her family. At 67, her spirit is strong as ever.
She says that politics was her destiny that she had to follow. She did her early schooling in Burma and then in 1960, at the age of 15, she moved to New Delhi along with her mother who was then Burmese ambassador to India. In Delhi, after studying in Convent of Jesus and Mary School, she pursued her degree in politics from Lady Shri Ram College. Then she moved to England for her B.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University. She worked in various capacities in US, Japan, India, and Burma.
In 1971, she married Michael Aris, a British scholar and had two children. Life was going fine for Aung San Suu Kyi until 1988 when she had to suddenly rush back to her roots in Burma to tend to her mother who had suffered a massive stroke. While in Burma, Suu found herself in the midst of a brewing pro-democracy movement. She took the center stage in what’s known as 8888 Uprising and has never looked back.
Suu Kyi chose Burmese people over her family and personal happiness. Her husband died in 1999 while she was in house arrest. He was terminally ill and even her farewell letter didn’t make to him on time. In an interview with NDTV, Suu said that it would not have made any difference even if her letter had reached him. She didn’t appear to have any ill feeling towards the military dictators who denied Michael an entry into Burma. She only met her husband 5 times during the period she was under house arrest. Even her children were not allowed to meet her. She couldn’t travel to receive her Nobel Peace Prize either. Military junta gave her an option to visit her family in England but she knew that that would be a one way pass and therefore decided to stay put and to continue doing her duty.
In 1990 general elections in Burma, her NLD party won 80% of the parliament seats however the military junta refused to hand over the power and nullified the results. But continuous breaches of promises by authorities, frequent house arrests, and restrictions on her freedom haven’t dented her spirit.
She says, “For me real freedom is freedom from fear and unless you can live free from fear you cannot live a dignified human life. It’s not possible if you’re always having to think what will somebody do to me if I say this, what will somebody do to my family if I do that, that’s not the sort of life I want to live and that was not the sort of life I want my people to live. So yes it’s the idea of real freedom which comes from inside and once you’re free inside and once you feel that I can accept whatever happens to me so long as I’m working for something that is right, then I think you are free.”
For those who believe that power corrupts people, Suu Kyi has an answer – “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
For the past 25 years Suu Kyi has been fearlessly fighting for democracy in Burma. She has braved attacks on herself, brutal killing of her party members, multiple house arrests, and separation from family – just for one cause – democracy for her people.
It was only in November 2010 that Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. Now she’s free to travel, meet her children, and hold meetings with foreign dignitaries.
Whether, or not, 2015 becomes the year of change in Myanmar, a peaceful and fearless fighter’s fight for democracy continues.