On July 14, more than 300 students from all three BEHS in Hakha were forced to plant flowers from 6 a.m to 9:30 a.m, which is the time they normally attend Sunday school. The activity was reportedly part of School Environment Planting Day.
One of the students reported to CHRO, "We told our teacher we were willing to take part, but not at that time, when we normally go to Sunday school. The teacher told us we had to do the work at that time, as the order had come from above." According to CHRO, such orders are usually handed down by the Township Education Office.
"Our children cannot refuse this demand from their teachers and had to do this work on Sunday morning. So, our Chin Christians students who normally attend Sunday school were prevented from going to church," a community leader from Hakha told Chinland Guardian.
CHRO's Salai Za Uk Ling told Chinland Guardian, "This is a clear case of discrimination against Chin Christian students, resulting in forced labour. This incident is a double-standard by the local authorities. On the one hand, there is no respect for the Christian day of rest, and on the other, Uposatha [the Buddhist day of rest] has been imposed on Chin Christian families in the past. We will be monitoring the situation to see if that happens again this year."
Buddhist lent is starting in Burma, which falls from the the full moon of the Burmese month Waso, in July to the full moon of the Burmese month Thadingyut, around October. In recent years, when the Buddhist day of rest Uposatha falls on a week day during this period, schools in Chin State have closed on that day and re-opened on a Saturday. Chin Christian students have previously complained about this imposition of the Buddhist holiday and disruption to the school week. Students from rural areas usually travel back to their villages on Saturdays to visit their families and collect their rations for the coming week, but the disruption of the school week prevents them from doing so.
Late last year, a report "Threats to Our Existence": Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said Christians in Chin State face systematic religious discrimination and violations of their right to freedom of religion or belief under both the previous and new governments of Burma.
By Salai Ngyein Chan
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