In rural Myanmar determined farmers and villagers are risking the ire of authorities by standing up to big business in a litmus test of new rights unthinkable during decades of military rule.
Hundreds of people in the central town of Monywa, Sagaing division, have taken to the streets in recent months. They decried the confiscation of their land to make way for a Chinese-backed copper mine and expressed their fears over pollution in the area.
Four people were detained by police for rallying without permission but have since been released and locals have vowed to continue their fight.
"We have only dared to speak out about our suffering now because we heard that we can talk openly thanks to the change in government. We did not dare to complain... when they were soldiers," 38-year-old farmer Myat Thaung told AFP.
For decades public protest was the preserve of the brave or desperate as the country's junta did not flinch at meeting civilian demonstrations with army firepower.
But a new civilian regime, which came to power after the military officially loosened its grip on the country last year, has been keen to tout its reformist credentials, freeing veterans of past uprisings from prison and welcoming democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament.
President Thein Sein approved a bill allowing peaceful assembly in December last year, which was seen as a step in the right direction, although rights groups have criticised rules that mean demonstrators risk a year in jail if they do not seek permission five days in advance.
The Myanmar leader also suspended an unpopular Chinese-led mega-dam in September 2011 in a dramatic departure from the previous junta, which was notorious for backing projects that enriched generals and their cronies at the expense of local people.
In May hundreds of demonstrators flooded the streets of Yangon for several days in defiance of police to rally against the power cuts that beset the impoverished-but-resource-rich country.
Pockets of protest have erupted all over the country, from wage strikes at Yangon factories to land demonstrations in remote farmlands, as Myanmar's long-suppressed population tests the limits of its freedoms with increasing enthusiasm.
"The Monywa copper mine protests represent a growing confidence amongst Myanmar citizens that the reforms entitle them to organise, protest, and defend their rights," corporate advisory firm Vriens & Partners said this week in a report.
The copper mine, a joint venture between military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and China's Wanbao company, has led to 8,000 acres (3,200 hectares) of land being confiscated from local farmers without consultation and in some cases without compensation, according to local activists.
Myat Thaung said he received around $4,000 for the loss of seven acres of farmland, but has since spent all the money on looking after his family.
He is now unemployed in an area where households are almost universally reliant on farming.
"We did not sell our land -- why would we sell our children's birthrights? They are the ones who lied to us by confiscating our farmlands," said the father of four at his village near Monywa.
A few kilometres (miles) away in the village of Kankone Gyi, local residents are engaged in a separate fight against a sulphuric acid factory.
For five years the villagers bore the choking pollution in silence. Not anymore.
"Because of the smoke coming out of that factory, we cannot breath. Whenever it operates, we suffer," said 67-year-old Khin San, one of about a hundred villagers who had gathered recently on a main road in the hope of discussing their plight with a representative of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
Party MP Phyo Min Thein said he had received 86 official complaints from his constituency alone. A board of inquiry has been set up to look at the cases.
"I have to say that this is the first time since 1962 that there is a parliamentary investigation on behalf of farmers and the public," he said, referring to the year in which a military coup robbed Myanmar of democracy.
"We do not know what the result will be. But we have to try our best for the people."
Educating people about their rights is a major priority so that they are not persuaded to sign unfavourable contracts, he said.
The renowned Generation 88 movement, born during huge 1988 student-led demonstrations that were brutally crushed by the military, has become a key advocate for ordinary people in land and worker disputes.
"They kept their pain in their hearts for years. Now the first stage of transparency has arrived and they are starting to know how to defend their rights," said the group's Kyaw Min Yu, alias Jimmy, who had travelled to Monywa to negotiate the release of detained protesters.
"Both sides have to be careful not to threaten each other. Those with power need to be particularly restrained," he said.
It is not just citizens who need to learn how to operate in Myanmar's new order -- police, the armed forces and business are also faced with a major adjustment in the balance of power.
"Without the control of the rule of law, there could be anarchy," said Phyo Min Thein, raising the spectre that the long-feared army could use it as a pretext to seize power once again.
"We all have to be careful to defend our rights properly, democratically."