This year, families around Myanmar celebrated the October Harvest Moon Festival on Wednesday with heavier hearts following the military's February takeover, which resulted in deadly crackdowns, arrests, and detentions.
According to Buddhist tradition, the Thadingyut Festival is when people pay their respects and offer financial help to their parents and older relatives. Despite the ongoing threat of the coronavirus epidemic, more people than ever went out to the country's significant pagodas to see related religious events this year.
However, for the first festival under military rule, attendance was markedly low, with many families grieving the loss of a loved one who is on the run, in custody, or even death as a result of the junta's actions. Colorful lights and lanterns, as well as bustling neighborhood fairs where the family might promenade together while eating sweets and buying toys, were few.
According to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, security forces have killed 1,181 civilians and imprisoned at least 7,086, primarily during crackdowns on anti-junta protesters, over nine months following the military's February 1 coup.
The junta claims it deposed the NLD administration because it used widespread voter fraud to win a landslide victory in Myanmar's November 2020 election. It has failed to prove its assertions, and public discontent is at an all-time high.
The junta released 5,636 political prisoners on Monday, according to observers, to relieve pressure from ASEAN and the world community—claims it denies. Hundreds remain imprisoned, and many of those released say they were tortured by their captors, who used torture to extort false confessions during interrogation sessions.
On Wednesday, Htay Win of Kyonkhamon village, Zalun township, Ayeyarwady region, told RFA's Myanmar Service about his 33-year-old son, Raza Min. The latter was shot dead by security forces on March 3 during an anti-junta protest in Yangon's North Okkalapa township.
According to Htay Win, Raza Min came home from Yangon every year for Thadingyut, and the event would never be the same without him.
"I miss him every day," he added, adding that in his old age, he had been relying on his son's offerings for financial support.
"When I pray to God every night, I give him an equal share of my merits." "I can't stop thinking about him."
Thin Thin, whose husband, 30-year-old laborer Tin Htut Hein, was murdered by a soldier's gunshot on February 21 while monitoring a security checkpoint in Yangon's Shwepyithar township, echoed Htay Win's grief.
She told RFA that explaining to her five-year-old kid why his father was away on Thadingyut was tough.
"We usually visit both sides of our parents for Thadingyut, but this year is different because he isn't here," Thin Thin explained.
"In our neighborhood, there are a thousand lanterns and a thousand flowers celebrations, and we would always go there to eat snacks and buy toys." Because there was no coronavirus at the time, families could go around freely. We don't feel like going anywhere now that he's gone," she explained.
"My son frequently inquires about him. He believes his father will return."
Detained or on the run
Others informed RFA that their family rituals had been disrupted due to family members being detained or imprisoned for anti-junta actions.
Shwe Ngar, Khaing Myeh, Soe Pyi Aung, and Aung Myo Lin, San San Aye's four sons, were arrested in April on murder charges and condemned to death in September before being transferred to prisons in Mandalay, Taungoo, Myingyan, and Kyaikmaraw.
Her boys pay their homage to their grandma every Thadingyut, she told RFA, and this year they wrote letters to her from prison, unaware that she had died three months before.
San San Aye explained, "Every year at Thadingyut, my sons would pay homage to their grandmother and parents with their savings."
"They said they wouldn't be able to come in person to her this year and sent their condolences from afar in their letters," she explained, adding that she hadn't told them about her mother's death because she didn't want to disturb them.
"Of course, I'd like to see all of my kids at Thadingyut," says the mother. I was hoping to see them, and now I'm devastated."
RFA also spoke with poet Maung Moe Pwint, who has been in hiding since police issued an arrest order for him on "defamation" accusations.
He stated he typically visits with his siblings for Thadingyut but couldn't this year because he's on the run and couldn't even attend his sister's recent funeral.
"Every year at Thadingyut, I would exchange gifts with my sister, and even if we couldn't see each other, we would send the gifts," he explained.
"Now that she's gone, all I feel is sadness." Since hearing the news of her death, I haven't been able to eat."
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 1,989 persons were separated from their families after arrest warrants were issued to participate in anti-junta activities.
'Thinking about revolution.'
While it is sad to be away from their families during Thadingyut, some of the younger people RFA spoke with in towns such as Yangon and Mandalay said it is more vital to display united opposition to the junta work toward ousting the military from power.
On the condition of anonymity, a Mandalay high school student who has been in hiding told RFA that he hoped to be reunited with his family for the festival in 2022."This year, I paid my respects to my parents over the phone because I couldn't see them in person" he explained. "If the dictatorship ends this year, I'll be with my family next year, and we'll be able to enjoy each other's company once more But for the time being, my thoughts are focused on the revolution. Even during Thadingyut, there is a revolution to be fought wherever I am and whatever I'm doing."