Burmese students persist with Myanmar protests instead of celebrating Thingyan

Many opponents of military rule in Myanmar chose to hold protests rather than traditional festivities on the Burmese New Year.

Many people around the world chose not to celebrate Thingyan this year in light of the current political and humanitarian crisis occurring in Myanmar.

Thingyan is the Burmese Water Festival that is traditionally celebrated in mid-April towards the end of the hot and dry season in Myanmar. Thingyan, which translates to “changing over,” is the celebration of Burma’s New Year.

This year, opponents of military rule in Myanmar cancelled traditional festivities and held small protests of defiance across the country instead. This was the second year of cancelled festivities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festival is usually observed as a Buddhist holiday period over three to five days. Traditions include musical stages, eating traditional Burmese desserts and water-throwing -- a symbol of washing away the previous year’s bad luck and sins.

“Instead of playing with water and having these festivals across the city, people have just been doing protests, but mainly at home because the military has cracked down on public protests,” said Phyo Pyae Nay Chi Win, a member of the USC Burmese Student Association (BURSA).

In great contrast from other years’ celebrations, the Spring Revolution has held silent night protests and strikes with candlelight during Thingyan.

“It’s more like a moment of silence out of respect for those who have been taken by the military. People don’t really want to celebrate, to honor the heroes who have been killed,” said Win.

According to CNA, several groups opposing the coup had already called for a boycott of Thingyan at the beginning of April. Leaflets were distributed in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, calling for citizens to cancel festivities as a sign of compassion towards the families of those who were killed in the months-long protests.

At least 738 protesters and bystanders have been killed by military or police forces as of Tuesday. Protests across the country continue this week in resistance to the dictatorship and activists were keen to keep their momentum against the junta throughout the holiday.

Towards the end of Thingyan on April 16, opponents of the coup announced the formation of a new National Unity Government. It aims to bring together opponents of military rule and marshal support for the restoration of democracy, according to The Diplomat.

In an Instagram post on April 18, BURSA wrote, “Every end marks a new beginning. May this new year restore Myanmar’s path to democracy and bring peace and prosperity to everyone!”