Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, what was British Burma then, on 19 June 1945. Aung San Suu Kyi, like any other Burmese name, doesn’t comprise a surname. It is only a personal name, in her case, derived from, three of her relatives name that is: “Aung San” father, “Suu” paternal grandmother, and “Kyi” out of her mother—Khin Chi Kyi. For writing convenience let me refer her as Suu Kyi. She is a Burmese politician, diplomat, author and a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She happens to be the first State Counsellor a position equivalent to the Prime Minister of Myanmar. She is also the leader of the National League for Democracy and played a vital role in the state’s transition from the military junta to partial democracy.

    Suu Kyi is the youngest daughter of Aung San, the father of the nation of modern-day Myanmar, who founded the modern Burmese Army that liberated the country from Japanese occupation during World War II and his wife Khin Kyi. Khin Kyi, was a Burmese politician and a diplomat, best known for her marriage to the country’s leader, Aung San, with whom she had four children, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon, British Burma, the capital of Yangon region and the largest city of Myanmar. British Burma was under British rule that lasted from 1824 to 1948.

    After graduating from the University of Delhi in 1964 and University of Oxford in 1968, Suu Kyi worked at the United Nations for three years. There, she married Michael Aris in 1972, with whom she had two children. Suu Kyi rose to prominence in the 1988 Uprisings, and became the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), which she had newly formed with the help of several retired army officials who had criticized the military junta. In the 1990 elections, NLD won 81% of the seats in Parliament, but the results were nullified, as the military refused to hand over power to the Parliament, resulting in an international outcry. She had already been detained under house arrest before the elections. She remained under a long house arrest for almost 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010, becoming one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners. In 1999, Time Magazine named her as one of the “Children of Gandhi” and a keen follower of nonviolence.

    Her party boycotted the 2010 elections, resulting in a decisive victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Suu Kyi became a Pyithu Hluttaw MP, the lower house of the bicameral legislature of Myanmar (Burma), while her party won 43 of the 45 vacant seats in the 2012 by-elections. In the 2015 elections, her party won a landslide victory taking 86% of the seats in the Assembly of the Union – well more than the 67% supermajority needed to ensure, that its preferred candidates, were elected President and Vice President in the Presidential Electoral College. Although she was prohibited from becoming the President due to an inconvenient clause in the constitution– that her late husband and children are foreign citizens, she assumed the newly created role of the State Counsellor, a role, akin to the Prime Minister or the head of the government.

    Since acquiring the role of the State Counsellor, Suu Kyi has drawn criticism from several countries, organisations and figures over her alleged inaction in response to the genocide of the Rohingya people in the Rakhine State and her refusal to accept that Myanmar’s military has committed massacres. Under her leadership, Myanmar has also drawn criticism for prosecutions of journalists. In 2019, Suu Kyi appeared in the International Court of Justice where she defended the Burmese military against allegations of genocide against the Rohingyas.

        When Suu Kyi was two years old, her father, who headed the shadow Burmese Government under the British rule, was assassinated by a political rival. Her mother, Khin Kyi, was later appointed Burmese ambassador to India.

    In 1962, democratic rule in Burma ended with a military coup headed by General Ne Win. For the next 26 years, the military enforced the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ which led to the establishment of one party rule under the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) in 1974.

    In 1988, Suu Kyi, after delivering her two sons returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. This coincided with a bloody military response, to some peaceful student demonstrations, against one party rule and the resignation of General Ne Win as head of the BSPP.

    On 26th August, in Rangoon, Suu Kyi stood under a large poster of her slain father and addressed a large gathering of democratic supporters and proposed the establishment of a People’s Consultative Committee to help resolve the crisis.

    In October, the democratic movement was brutally crushed by another military coup headed by General Saw Maung when Burma’s second struggle for independence began.

    Although Suu Kyi had lived overseas for most of her life, she could not ‘remain indifferent’ to Burma’s long struggle. She became the leader of the National League of Democracy and was first placed under house arrest in Rangoon in July 1989. Under martial law, this meant that she could be detained for three years without trial. Her husband and sons visited her for what would be, the last time, as a family in September 1989. The following year, the military government attempted to cut her contact with the outside world.

    Separated from her family and denied her personal liberty and freedom of speech, Suu Kyi continued to speak out against Burma’s military rule. A stance that saw her win the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (awarded by the European Parliament), in the year 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and the 1992 Nehru Peace Prize.

    Although, she was released from house detention in 1995 and was briefly reunited with her husband, she refused to leave Burma because she knew she would not be allowed to re-enter her own country. As a result, all of Suu Kyi’s famous speeches were delivered by third parties, either by video or in essay form.

    The commencement address at the American University, Washington DC, on 26 January, 1997, was delivered on her behalf by her husband, Dr. Michael Aris, upon her receiving an Honorary Doctor in law. Although Michael Aris was sick with prostate cancer, the Burmese government which was renamed the Union of Myanmar by the military government in 1989 did not allow him to visit his wife.

    When her husband Michael Aris passed away in 1999, Suu Kyi confessed the separation as ‘one of the sacrifices she had had to make in order to work for a free Burma.’ Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest again in September 2000, but was freed after nineteen months. She was later held under ‘secret detention’ for three months before being returned to house arrest.

    Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010. She led the National league for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years in November 2015. Her official title is State Counsellor.

    Suu Kyi is often called ‘Daw’ Aung San Suu Kyi in her homeland, which is a title for affection meaning a favourite aunt.

By Kamlesh Tripathi



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