Bawk Ja (also spelt Bauk Gyar and Bauk Ja), who is running for the National Democratic Force (NDF) in Kachin state during the upcoming by-election received the prize at a February 17 Washington DC ceremony organized by the Mid-Atlantic Kachin Christian Fellowship, the group behind the inaugural “Myusha Gintawng” (literally civil outstanding) award.
Bawk Ja, current Kachin State chairperson for the NDF, first rose to national prominence three years ago as a leading member of a group of 150 farming families who sued the Yuzana corporation and its notorious chairman for expropriating their land in the fertile Hugawng Valley (also spelled Hukawng or Hukaung).
Ultimately Bawk Ja and her fellow farmers court action failed. Bawk Ja briefly went underground in January 2011 after Northern Regional Command, Brig-Gen Zeyar Aung issued an arrest warrant against her in an apparent attempt to stymie her efforts to seek redress for her fellow farmers. The bravery she showed in repeatedly standing up to Burma's central government despite repeated intimidation has won Bawk Ja many fans across the country and around the world.
Bawm Ying, a member of the Myusha Gintawng prize committee told the Kachin News Group that they chose Bawk Ja because “her strong stance on the side of Kachin public and internally displaced persons in war-torn Kachin State”.
“I’m very grateful for their recognition, kindness and belief,” Bawk Ja told the KNG after receiving her award. “I’ll now dedicate myself more than before to the Kachin national issue,” she added.
Bawk Ja, leading NLD member Daw Khin Than Myint and comedian Zaganar traveled to the US earlier this month at the invitation of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). On February 8 all three activists met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to update her and her staff on the current situation in Burma.
Bawk Ja used her trip to the US to raise awareness about the ongoing human rights abuses committed by the Burmese army during its offensive in Kachin and northern Shan State. Speaking at a panel organized by the NED in Washington DC on February 2 Bawk Ja condemned the Burmese army's actions during the conflict, “everyone has suffered abuses”, she said. “And after they persecute these people, they kill them" she added.
Though Bawk Ja is indeed very popular in Kachin state, victory in the upcoming by election is not assured. While many people expected her to win a seat during the November 2010 election, Bawk Ja lost to a candidate from the military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) after 13,255 votes were controversially declared invalid.
Bawk Ja, initially challenged the final vote count in the Hpakant consistency, which gave the USDP candidate Ohn Myint 29,426 vote to her total of 21,633. In June 2011, Bawk Ja dropped her challenge after Ohn Myint resigned his lower house seat to become the federal Minister for Cooperatives.
Ohn Myint, who once served as Northern Regional Commander in the Burmese army, did not step down from his seat because of widespread reports that major voting irregularities helped him win, but due to a provision in Burma's pro-military constitution that no cabinet ministers are allowed to serve as sitting members of parliament.