Burma: Life in Insein Prison

Burmese politician Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint represents Pa-An township in the country's parliament. She was one of three female university students jailed for their part in student political activism around 1975. She became a well-known political prisoner while serving her sentence in Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison, a period she still remembers with pain.

Two women ride bicycles past Myoma Market in Burma's new administrative capital, Naypyidaw on March 28, 2008. Photo: AFP/Khin Maung Win
Now she has dedicated her political life to Burma's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party. She spoke recently to RFA's Burmese service about the hard times, and about her hopes for Burmese women in politics:

I’ve encountered many difficulties. When I was a student, I started to be become interested in politics without fully understanding what was involved. The difficulty I had then was that in a family, when a son goes to prison, the family says, ‘Oh, he’s a son. He can take it.’ However, when a young daughter goes to prison, the parents think, ‘Oh, my young daughter must be suffering a lot. She must be experiencing hardship,’ and the parents themselves have to suffer. That was a problem for our family.

When I was actually in prison, the difference between male and female political prisoners was this: When I was in Moulmein prison there wasn’t any place for female political prisoners. There was a separate place for male political prisoners. There were many male political prisoners. In Moulmein prison, for example, there were about 54 male political prisoners. I was the only female political prisoner. Since there wasn’t a separate place for me, I was kept next to the criminals. When I had to live with all kinds of people, I started to suffer. There is companionship if you are with people who are at the same level with you and with whom you can have a conversation. But I had no one.

We should not be too scared to speak up when we see injustice. For the future of our children, we have to speak up, object, and demand things bravely and clearly.

Daw Nan Khin Htwe Myint
They didn’t understand these things. I was all by myself and so I became lonely. My life was really empty. I was alone. I was there for years. As I lived by myself for longer and longer, I started to talk to myself. I wanted to talk. Then I started to enjoy talking to myself. I started asking myself questions, and would answer myself a lot. I was winning in these conversations. I became mentally weak. I lasted this long only because I had a great conviction and a strong belief in religion. An ordinary person can go crazy in this situation—after being alone for a long time. So male and female political prisoners go through the same thing, suffer the same thing. Both go to prison for six years each, but these six years that women go through are harsher than the men’s.

Sacrifices for the future

My husband understands my participation in politics. But we don’t have any children. I feel that if we have a child, what if I have to go to prison while I’m pregnant? I won’t feel good at all. There’s no way I’m going to take my child to prison. If I’ve already given birth and have to leave my child outside while I’m in prison—since I would be a very loving mother, there’s no way I can leave my child outside and go to prison.

So the two of us always have this problem of whether to have a child or not. He wants children. I would also like to have our own child very much. This is quite a big problem for the two of us. When women participate in politics, we have to risk a lot and sacrifice a lot. I would love to see a peaceful child, a child in my bosom, a child nursing, but I can’t enjoy this. I have to make a sacrifice. This is a problem in my family.

I feel that now I’m suffering all by myself, but there’ll be many children for the future, and we will have to sacrifice and do these things for them. We can do these things only when there’s no attachment. So I’ll have to stop my attachments. Only when I do this will I be able to continue. No one can work with these attachments. For the good of the people, I decided to let go of these things for myself.

Kitchen, politics 'related'

There are many women in Burma. Even though people are saying that we don’t have much political knowledge, actually, the kitchen and politics are directly related. We should participate in politics and be active. We, the women and the mothers should bravely go to the referendum and vote ‘No’ [to the military junta’s draft constitution enshrining its continuing rule] for the future of our kids and watch when they count the votes.

We should not be too scared to speak up when we see injustice. For the future of our children, we have to speak up, object, and demand things bravely and clearly.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.