Sarong-like cloths strung out on lines might seem innocuous, but long-held superstitions around women’s clothes appear to have stopped security forces in their tracks as they move to quell an uprising against a coup by the junta in Myanmar.
The country has been in an uproar since the military ousted the civilian government and seized power on Feb. 1, triggering mass protests that the junta has sought to quash with increasingly lethal force.
They have used tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and sometimes live rounds against protesters, who are responding with imaginative tactics of their own.
The latest involves hanging women’s undergarments and long skirts — or longyis — on a clothesline across the street.
According to old Burmese traditions, women’s lower parts and the garments that cover them can sap men’s power, known as hpone.
“If they go under a women’s longyi, that means their hpone is destroyed,” pro-democracy advocate Thinzar Shunlei Yi said.
Some soldiers are unwilling to touch a women’s longyi for fear that it could hurt their chances on the front lines.
“When the community hangs the longyi above the rope, [police and soldiers] can’t go in the streets, they can’t cross it and they have to take it down,” Thinzar Shunlei Yi said.
Women are wielding the superstition as a defensive strategy.
Swooping clotheslines of longyis and knickers have suddenly decorated Yangon, from the buzzing San Chaung township to the city’s rural outskirts, where pictures shared on Facebook showed a soldier standing atop a truck to remove one.
Some of the longyis also have images of Burmese Army Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s face pasted on them, in a further superstitious ploy.
The junta leader features prominently on posters plastered onto the ground across Yangon — protesters believe that it could slow security forces reluctant to step on his portrait.
Yangon has completely transformed since the coup.
Massive makeshift barricades are commonplace, with communities stacking bricks, old tires, tables and barbed wire to prevent authorities from entering their districts.
Some neighborhoods descend into chaos daily as now-seasoned demonstrators take to the streets in defiance of truckloads of police and soldiers. Plastic bags full of water — to help diminish the sting of tear gas in the air — are distributed in hotspots of unrest.
Designated people also carry buckets of water full of soaked blankets, ready to wrap them around gas canisters, while others hold mirrors as shields to confuse their attackers.
As they flee security forces bearing down on them, they release plumes from fire extinguishers to gain precious time — scattering to prearranged escape routes.
Even with all their ingenuity — thanks to some tactics borrowed from Hong Kong and Thailand’s pro-democracy movements — the field remains unequal, Thinzar Shunlei Yi said.
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