Jewel Philemon

“As my father’s daughter, I felt I had duty to get involved in this struggle,” said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi  when she made up her mind to give up her idyllic life at Oxford University and rededicate it to a non-violent movement to bring democracy to the Burmese people.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?  I hardly knew her and would have not known the woman, her life and those that have inspired her, as well as those that she has inspired, if not for the “Free Aung San Suu Kyi” event organised by MARUAH and held at the Speakers’ Corner in June.  Why had over 400 people (both Singaporeans and Burmese) turned up to urge the government of Singapore to mediate with the Burmese junta for the release of this woman? I had to find out!

Except for the fact that she was born as the third child of national leader Bogyoke Aung San and for Daw Khin Kyi, she led pretty much an ordinary life, up until 1988.  What happened in 1988? What or who could inspire a 43 year old woman to leave the relative comfort of London and Oxford to move to Rangoon? Forsaking the security of her family to live a life of sacrifice for the freedom of her people?

As I read and re-read her biography, I realised that her transformation was not sudden but gradual.  The inspiration for Aung San Suu Kyi’s transformation to be the leader of Burma happened way back in 1977, when she started the research to write the biography of her father while raising her children in Oxford.

Justin Wintle writes in his biography, “Perfect Hostage”, “Suu Kyi doesn’t remember Aung San well, but does recall him picking her up every day when he came home from work. Her most treasured possession was a doll he brought back from London for her in 1947, following his talks with the British government. After his death, her mother made sure that his children had a moral image of him as an example to follow. Suu Kyi’s first ambition was to become a soldier. “Everyone referred to my father as bogyoke, which means ‘general’,” she wrote, “so I wanted to be a general too because I thought this was the best way to serve one’s country, just like my father had done.””

But the research on her father, which culminated in the publication of the biography of her father, Aung San, made her realise the hero her father was.  And his life compelled her to be her father’s daughter, follow in his foot-steps and rise up to be the servant-leader that her people trust and revere. She only knew her father almost four decades after her birth.

Just like Aung San Suu Kyi, my father is my inspiration.  I thought how privileged I was that I did not have to wait 40 years to know my father.  I have seen my him reaching out and touching the lives of many people.  I had often wondered, “What is his motivation?”  He has always been fearless in speaking out for the disadvantaged, and yet being so full of love, faith and hope.  I have always known him to be ‘cool’ even in the most trying of situations.  He is truly my hero, my inspiration.

Just as Aung San Suu Kyi became the inspiration for the pro-democracy movement in Burma, which started on 8.8.88, by giving a speech at  Shwe Dagon Pagoda and staked her claim as her father’s daughter to bring freedom to Burma, she has also further inspired me, a sixteen-year-old, to be my “father’s daughter”.


Jewel’s father is social activist, Ravi Philemon.


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