By Dr. Saw Mra Aung
The Yangon University Students’ Union (YUSU) was the association which brought about the welfare of the students and protected their rights. It is said that it was modelled on those of Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. But its one distinction is that it produced many patriotic Myanmar students who were involved in the anti-colonialist movements which led to the regaining of Myanmar independence. So it can be said to be one of the politically historic associations which brewed on the premises of Yangon University.
The building of the YUSU was situated in a large stretch of land at the corner of University Avenue and Adhipadi Road( Chancellor Road), adjacent to the main gate into the university. It was constructed with 170,000 rupees funded by the Wealthy Man U Nyo. The foundation stone was laid down by Governor Sir Harcourt Butler. The building started to be constructed in 1929 and was completed in the middle of 1930. The opening ceremony was held in November 1930. It was a two-storeyed cream-coloured cement building. The upper floor housed a meeting hall and a library and the ground-floor , a canteen, a bookshop and a barber’s . There was also a wide room where students could play billiard, ping-pong and weight-lifts. Debates, meetings, fun-fairs and gatherings were frequently held in the meeting-hall upstairs.
It is learnt that, although the first constitution of the RUSU was drawn by U May Aung in 1923, the Students’ Union could not be formed at that time. Only on 12 September 1930, student representatives Ko Kyaw Khin, Ko Tint Swe and Ko Ba Gyan met with university authorities and were granted permission to draw a new constitution for the YUSU. In this way, the Committee of Drawing the Yangon University Students’ Union Constitution was formed in the 1931-32 academic year. It comprised 12 members chaired by Ko Kyaw Khin. On 9 January 1931, students held the third meeting and founded the YUSU in accordance with the newly-drawn constitution. Chairman was Ko Kyaw Khin and Treasurer, Ko Rashid.
The members who held important positions in the YUSU between the 1931-32 academic year and the 1935-36 academic year were the ones groomed by Principal D.J. Sloss and university authorities. As those students also aimed at securing jobs in the Indian Civil Service and B.O.C Company after they had graduated, they curried favour with high-ranking officials of the university. So they never brought about any benefit to the students nor were involved in anti-colonialist movements. In this way, the YUSU was on the side of the university authorities and meant nothing to the students.
Only when it came to the 1935-36 academic year, a group of patriotic students were in a vantage position, for they could take up key positions in the YUSU. Ko Nu was elected Chairman, Ko Rashid, Vice-Chairman, Ko Thi Han, Secretary and Ko Aung San, Ko Ohn, Ko Tun Ohn, Ko Tha Hla, Ko Tin Tun and Ko Ba Satt, executive members respectively. Thenceforth, the YUSU started to protect students’ rights and criticized the university authorities bluntly. On 31 January 1931, Ko Nu gave a speech to the students in the meeting -hall of the YUSU. During his speech, he happened to say that, as Principal D.J.Sloss was repressive towards the students, he should be punished for that. The following day, the Rangoon Gazette Daily in its editorial said that the student who damaged the prestige of the university authorities should not be forgiven. At that, the university authorities expelled Ko Nu from the university. That provoked anti-colonialist spirit in the minds of the students.
Soon, Thein Tin, under the pen name of Nyo Mya, contributed an article titled, ‘The Hell Hound at large ‘(ငရဲခွေးကြီးလွတ်နေပြီ)’ to the Oway Magazine published by the YUSU, ridiculing the university authorities . Editor Ko Aung San was asked to identify the writer on pain of expulsion from the university. But, he, on the grounds of the editorial and journalistic etiquette, rejected the ultimatum of the university authorities. So Ko Aung San was also expelled from the university. The anger of the students ran high and was fanned by the expulsion of Ko Nu and Ko Aung San from the university.
So the YUSU called urgently for a meeting of students and decided to go out on strike against the university authorities for their unjust actions. Thus the Second Yangon University Boycott broke out by the end of February 1936. The students encamped for some days at the Mawlamyein Rest-House near the Southern Stair-way of the Shwedagon Pagoda, picketing the university authorities. The university boycott came to an end after four months. And Ko Nu and Ko Aung San entered the Doe-bamar-asei-ayone. The former acted as Treasurer of the organization and the latter, as Secretary-General.
When Ko Nu and Ko Aung San were no longer on the YUSU, Ko Ba Hein was made Chairman of the YUSU and Ko Ba Swe, Secretary. The students became more interested in politics, with the number of student activists increasing. By the beginning of December 1938, the workers from the Chauk Oil Field marched en masse towards Yangon to demand their rights from the government. But, when they came to Magway, they were blocked by the police. So Ko Ba Hein and Ko Ba Swe rushed to Magway, and the former delivered a fiery speech to the workers by saying ‘ If police horses stamp their hoofs once, blazes of fire must flare up,’ (မြင်းခွာတစ်ချက်ပေါက်ရင် မီးဟုန်းဟုန်းတောက်စေရမည်). At that, the two student leaders were arrested and incarcerated at the order of the Magway District Police Officer. When the news of their detention spread to the students in Yangon, they took to the streets on strike in downtown areas and besieged the Secretariat Office to release the leaders. But military polices on horse-backs cracked violently down on the students and Ko Aung Kyaw, a student leader from Judson College, was bludgeoned to death. During his funeral ceremony at the Kyan-taw Cemetery, Ko Hla Shwe gave a seditious speech to the audience. Due to his speech, anti-colonialist spirit surged up in the minds of the student and they kept on protesting against the government.
When the student boycott was in full strength, Yangon University and all the schools throughout the country had to be closed down. The Coalition Government headed by Dr Ba Maw was overthrown and the New Government led by Thar-yar-wady U Pu was installed. As the New Government acceded to the demands of the students, the Third Yangon University Student Boycott came to a conclusion. The student leaders engaged actively in driving the Japanese out of Myanmar during the Second World War. When it also came to the Parliamentary Democratic Period, the YUSU hosted political talks and debates. To our chagrin, by the time the July Seven Uprising occurred in the university campus, the Revolutionary Government dynamited the building of the YUSU on 8 July 1962, thus bringing the YUSU to a complete end.
In conclusion, it is found that the student leaders produced by the YUSU took a leading role in independence struggles and that they also held important positions in the Government of the New Union of Myanmar during the Post-independence Period. Therefore, the writer thinks that the YUSU was a politically important association not only in the history of Myanmar but also in that of Yangon University.
-Takatho Khin Maung Zaw, Takkathila Mya-gyun-thar, Khit-pya-taik Publication House , Yangon, 2014
-Tint Khaing, Hlwan-swat-phway-yar Takkatho, Ngwe-ein-si Sarpay, Yangon, 2020