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India’s complicity in the Myanmar military’s crimes

Guest contributor

By Shalini Perumal

As the conflict in Myanmar escalates, resistance groups have inflicted significant setbacks on the military, which ousted the elected government in 2021 and installed a regime. Despite widespread international condemnation, New Delhi has maintained a relationship with Naypyidaw, raising concerns about its stance on the unfolding crisis.

On Feb. 1, the grim anniversary of Myanmar’s 2021 military coup passed with little international attention and more inaction. 

The nation of 54 million has been plunged into turmoil since the military attempted to seize power from the people. It’s been three years since the military dissolved the parliament, and detained political leaders, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. 

India’s government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintains formal engagement solely with Naypyidaw, raising questions about its stance on democracy and human rights with its neighbour.

Resistance groups in Myanmar have fiercely opposed the military regime in Naypyidaw led by Min Aung Hlaing. In a historic act of defiance, both ethnic minority groups and the Bamar majority group are united against him.

However, India’s government has continued to engage with the generals in Naypyidaw, completely overlooking its longtime solidarity with pro-democratic forces such as Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which was ousted from government by the 2021 coup. 

New Delhi has had informal discussions with pro-democratic forces, but it has not translated into significant policy change at the highest levels of the Indian government.

A U.N. report in March 2023 exposed New Delhi’s involvement in supplying arms and materials to Naypyidaw, totalling over $51 million USD. 

State-owned entities such as Bharat Dynamics and Bharat Electronics, along with private companies like Sandeep Metalcraft and Larsen & Toubro, were identified in the report as being among the biggest suppliers. 

The supplies include artillery and surveillance equipment, which has been used by Naypyidaw to allegedly suppress dissent and commit human rights violations.

Subsequent investigations by Justice for Myanmar revealed further complicity, with Indian Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) providing military goods and infrastructure to the regime. 

The Indian Air Force’s shipment of items for automatic weather stations to its counterparts in Myanmar in January 2024 highlights New Delhi’s continued support despite the egregious human rights abuses.

India’s alignment with Myanmar has had dire consequences, exacerbating tensions along the border and contributing to the displacement of refugees into India’s northeastern Mizoram and Manipur states. 

The illicit trade routes that have emerged and the constant state of fear among communities along the India-Myanmar border highlight the detrimental impact of India’s pro-regime stance on regional stability.

The persistent provision of supplies reaffirms India’s complicity in the military’s atrocities and persistent human rights violations. 

The military relies on its air force to carry out indiscriminate airstrikes, resulting in the deaths of civilians, including children, and the destruction of homes, livelihoods, schools, and hospitals across Myanmar.

As India grapples with the repercussions of its alliance with Myanmar’s military regime, the question arises: What prevents New Delhi from formally engaging with pro-democracy forces in its neighbouring country? India must reassess its approach to the crisis. 

Continuing to support Min Aung Hlaing not only undermines India’s commitment to democracy but it also jeopardizes its own security interests.

It is imperative for the Modi government in New Delhi to prioritize solidarity with the people of Myanmar and to align its policies with international efforts to restore civilian government. First by releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from prison, and second by engaging with pro-democratic forces rather than the regime.

Shalini Perumal is a creative international development professional who has worked previously in Mae Sot, Thailand at Mae Tao Clinic. She is currently a freelance journalist as well as Communications Officer at ActionAid India in New Delhi. The views expressed in the article are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation. 

DVB publishes a diversity of opinions that does not reflect DVB editorial policy. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our stories: [email protected]

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