Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Colonial era (1886 – 1948)

The United Kingdom began conquering Burma in 1824. For a period of sixty-two years, Burma was under British control. By 1886, Britain had incorporated it into the British Raj. Burma was administered as a province of British India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony. To stimulate trade and facilitate changes, the British brought in Indians and Chinese, who quickly displaced the Burmese in urban areas. To this day Rangoon and Mandalay have large ethnic Indian populations. Railroads and schools were built, as well as a large number of prisons, including the infamous Insein Prison, then as now used for political prisoners. Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralyzed Yangon on occasion all the way until the 1930s.[31] Much of the discontent was caused by a perceived disrespect for Burmese culture and traditions, for example, what the British termed the Shoe Question: the colonizers' refusal to remove their shoes upon entering Buddhist temples or other holy places. In October 1919, Eindawya Pagoda in Mandalay was the scene of violence when tempers flared after scandalized Buddhist monks attempted to physically expel a group of shoe-wearing British visitors. The leader of the monks was later sentenced to life imprisonment for attempted murder. Such incidents inspired the Burmese resistance to use Buddhism as a rallying point for their cause. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement, and many died while protesting. One monk-turned-martyr was U Wisara, who died in prison after a 166-day hunger strike to protest a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.[32]

Eric Blair (George Orwell), served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma for five years; his experience yielded the novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essays "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936). An earlier writer with the same convoluted career path was Saki. During the colonial period, intermarriage between European male settlers and Burmese women, as well as between Anglo-Indians (who arrived with the British) and Burmese caused the birth of the Anglo-Burmese community. This influential community was to dominate the country during colonial rule and through the mid 1960's.

The Colonial Flag (1937 – 1948)

On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered territory, independent of the Indian administration. The vote for keeping Burma in India, or as a separate colony "khwe-yay-twe-yay" divided the populace, and laid the ground work for the insurgencies to come after independence. In the 1940s, the Thirty Comrades, commanded by Aung San, founded the Burma Independence Army. The Thirty Comrades received training in Japan.[33]

During World War II, Burma became a major frontline in the Southeast Asian Theatre. The British administration collapsed ahead of the advancing Japanese troops, jails and asylums were opened and Rangoon was deserted except for the many Anglo-Burmese and Indians who remained at their posts. A stream of some 300,000 refugees fled across the jungles into India; known as 'The Trek', all but 30,000 of those 300,000 arrived in India. Initially the Japanese-led Burma Campaign succeeded and the British were expelled from most of Burma, but the British counter-attacked using primarily troops of the British Indian Army. By July 1945, the British had retaken the country. Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese, some Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, also served in the British Burma Army. In 1943, the Chin Levies and Kachin Levies were formed in the border districts of Burma still under British administration. The Burma Rifles fought as part of the Chindits under General Orde Wingate from 1943-1945. Later in the war, the Americans created American-Kachin Rangers who also fought against the Japanese. Many others fought with the British Special Operations Executive. The Burma Independence Army under the command of Aung San and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942 – 1944, but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945.

In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members.


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