Students, Historical Role of

   Beginning in the early 20th century, university and high school students played an active and sometimes leading role in struggles against British colonial rule. Following independence in 1948, they organized opposition movements against the government in power, especially after Ne Win established the Revolutionary Council in 1962. The first important student movement, the boycott against the act that established Rangoon (Yangon) University, began on December 3, 1920 (celebrated as Burma's National Day). By the mid-1930s, the Rangoon University Students Union had become radicalized, and a second major student strike took place in February 1936 when two of its leaders, Thakins Aung San and Nu, were expelled from the university by the British authorities. Students also protested in December 1938 after some students were arrested for assisting the Oil Field Workers' Strike. Most students respected Prime Minister U Nu, a highly educated man. Despite the influence of the Communist Party of Burma on campuses, his government generally treated student demonstrators leniently. Under Ne Win, the government's attitude changed completely, as reflected in the July 7, 1962 Incident, in which a large number of students were shot dead by the Tatmadaw. Despite high casualties inflicted by the authorities and the imprisonment of thousands of students, their opposition persisted stubbornly throughout the 1962-1988 period, when Ne Win was in power, including the People's Peace Committee demonstrations (1963), the Southeast Asian Games demonstrations (1969), the U Thant Incident (1974), protests demanding the release of imprisoned students (1975), the movement commemorating the birth centenary of Thakin Kodaw Hmaing (1976), and student protest over the demonetization order of September 1987. The year 1988 saw the most massive expression of student militancy in the history of independent Burma, beginning with the demonstrations of March at the Rangoon (Yangon) Institute of Technology and Rangoon University and culminating in Democracy Summer.
   After the State Law and Order Restoration Council seized power in September 1988, many student oppositionists went to the border areas to fight the new military regime, their most important organization being the All Burma Students' Democratic Front. Some activists, such as Min Ko Naing, chose to work inside the country. By keeping the campuses closed during much of the period between 1988 and 2001, offering an increasing number of courses through distance education, intensifying Military Intelligence surveillance of students, and moving universities outside Rangoon's city center to remote locations, the authorities largely succeeded in curtailing student activism, although demonstrations broke out briefly in December 1996.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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