Colonial apologists are unlikely to agree but in looking deeper to understand the dynamics that continue to rip continents, regions and nations apart, it is the policies adopted by the British in all of the nations they conquered and ruled that are to be blamed. Myanmar is no exception. Its land was demarcated to the advantage of the British, it flooded Burma with foreign labor giving rise to the question of citizenship and controversy surrounds deaths of Burma’s leader Gen. Aung Sun (father of Aun Sui ki) as in the case of Congo’s martyr Patrice Lumumba and UN chief Dag Hammerskjold and probably many more foreign leaders. Now using media at its disposal and organizations that work to uphold the interest of the West, the entire agenda revolves round in blaming nations for the troubles the British created and the demands to re-enter these countries to create the second-phase of troubles. In all cases since Britain has escaped accountability for its crimes against humanity an International Truth Commission must be established to bring to light these sordid truths.
Scenario faced by Third World
The ancient bastions are falling, countries are being broken up or separated, people are coerced into treating friends as foes and arms are generously supplied to ensure a handful profit, cultures and ancient religions are being dehumanized all in pursuit of the re-entry of those that inflicted barbaric rule under colonial presence. The neo-colonials are returning to haunt the nations they plundered – Burma is the next stop and Buddhists of the world cannot remain silent to Burma’s plight. The Buddhist world must rally round Burma unequivocally.
Burma’s history goes back to the 2nd century B.C. with the earliest inhabitants – the Pyu who were all followers of Buddhism. The Burmese resisted efforts by British, Dutch and Portuguese traders to establish posts along the Bay of Bengal since 1612 resulting in 3 Anglo-Burmese wars first of which was in 1824.
Burma was annexed to India in 1886 creating a separate colony in 1937 with the Burma Act. In separating India from Burma the British did as they have done in all of its other territories – creating administrative boundaries that would “create” future troubles.
Burma’s case was no different.
Thus the Chin, Kachins and Naga tribes were divided between the two nations of India and Burma (Chin Hills Regulation). This was made clear when in 1941, Sir Robert Reid declared “they (the Chin, Kachin and Naga) are not Indian in any sense of the word, neither in origin nor in outlook, and it is a historical accident that they have been taken into an Indian province”. Nevertheless, dividing of these people has created political tensions between Indian and Burmese Governments. Even at Independence the British did not define India’s and Burma’s boundary and the 872mile boundary was only marked on 10 March 1967.
Then there is the 220km dividing Burma and Bangladesh. The Chittagong Hill Tracts (hereafter CHT), an area of 13,295 square kilometers, is the south eastern part of Bangladesh, bordering the Arakan and Chin States of Burma, and Tripura and Mizoram States of India – originally this was no so. The British annexed the CHT area in 1860 and created an autonomous administrative district known as “The Chittagong Hill Tracts” within the undivided British Bengal. British enacted the Regulation 1 of the 1900 Act in order to protect the Jumma people from economic exploitation of non indigenous people. The majority of Jummas in the CHT are Buddhists. When the independent state of Bangladesh was created in 1971 the Mukti Bahini (Bangladesh liberation) force began to attack the Jummas. In the late 1970s President Zia sponsored migration of Muslim Bangladeshi settlers into the CHT. This programme was not made public but sponsored migration is now acknowledged resulting in Bangladeshi Muslims making up 1/3 of the CHT population.
Al-Rabita, a Saudi government funded NGO, is the main Islamic missionary organisation rooted in Wahhbism which is active in the region, backed by the military, it is entrusted with the Islamisation of the region. In 1986, within a period of eight months 54 Buddhist temples have been destroyed and 22 Hindu temples were burnt down by the Bangladesh military. Since 1980s through 1990s there have been 13 major massacres all targeting Jummas. That is because the Chittagong Hill Tracts were once under Burma’s topography until Britain decided to change that to its advantage under calculated annexations. Fears have foundations.
Similar historical “accidents” created by the British are many.
It was the British that brought Muslims as labor from India (Bangladesh) to Burma and it was on this ground that the Burmese deny citizenship to Rohingyas who cannot show ancestry before 1823 as there were no reference to Rohingyas in the census. The Rohingyas are linguistically related to the Indo-Aryan peoples of India and Bangladesh (as opposed to the mainly Sino-Tibetan languages of Burma).
Moreover, the term Rohingyas cannot be found in any historical source in any language before the 1950s. The 500,000 Muslims in Burma in 1921 more than half were Indian Muslims. The Indian incursions to Burma were all encouraged by Britain with the purpose intent of creating discord. Riots did result in 1930 because British firms were employing Indians in Burma. Then in 1938 still under British rule was the anti-Muslim riots because of the favoritism which led to a campaign called Burma for Burmese Only. Now the argument is – if the British brought these Rohingyas into Burma to create dissent it is Britain that must provide citizenship to all these Rohingyas in Britain for making their life hell as well as for Burma too. It is time Britain owned up to all its dirty tricks through centuries of manipulations. Why do the mainstream media and international human rights organizations refrain from making these realities known?
A hallmark of British rule throughout its colonies was selective economic prosperity that has inculcated a breed of colonial servants ever ready to function as sepoys (servants of a foreign occupier working against indigenous people). There are many citizens of post-independent colonies particularly in the Indian sub – continent who mentally prefer to live under white rule still and explains why they are directly and indirectly involved in destabilizing operations promoted and funded by the West, and publicly advocate re- colonization efforts by the latter.
It comes as no surprise that both Western nations and USA based Christian evangelical organizations continue to supply funds and arms to various ethnic groups e.g. Karen tribes and Middle Eastern oil rich nations e.g. Saudi Arabia, support Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State in a variety of ways making these nations virtually ungovernable. Just like how CIA funds the American Society for a Free Asia that gives arms, military training, financial assistance and even air support to Tibet dissidents and training in the US. Can we blame China’s caution when declassified US documents reveal that millions of US public funds have been given to Dalai Lama personally through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Similarly, Burma’s opposition is supported through the US embassy in Yangon and assistance given through the Centre for Applied Non-Violence Action and Strategies that prides itself in overthrowing popular independent governments of non – aligned states.
Burma can pride itself as the only nation that refused to be subservient and servile to its colonial master when it refused to become a member of the British Commonwealth in 1947 as well as refuse economic handouts by World Bank – the response to this was to use the international media to subject Burma to a dirty game of denigration, shaming and demonizing the country’s leaders and depicting nothing but brutality and the marketing of the slogan “democracy” – we saw the democracy that the West gave Iraq, Libya, Kosovo and Egypt! The angst against Aung San Suu Kyi is her proximity and close relations with the British and other former colonial countries, including USA, and her image as an embodiment of unashamed subservience to foreign corporate commands when Burma has been battling to be the master of its own country. When President Obama made his first overseas trip to Burma and called Aung San Suu Kyi his “personal hero” there is little left for others to imagine where Burma will head and in which direction, and it is unlikely to be any different to India under Sonia Gandhi, the uncrowned (Italian born) empress of India.
It is amidst these controversies that speculation has been raised by the BBC investigation itself as to the complicity of Britain in the murder of Gen. Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi in view of the close links between the convicted assassins, the chief Conspirator U Saw (leading Burmese politician and protégé of British colonial authorities), and British officials who engineered a raid on the Burmese Army Ordnance Depot in Rangoon, and then handed over the weapons stolen i.e. Sten Guns and ammunition, to the would be assassins. This has been established by research conducted by BBC on declassified information released by the British Government. How many other conspiracy theories are there involving the West in the deaths of Third World leaders – this means the killers are still at large or have died without being held to account for their crimes and an International Tribunal on Truth and Justice must be established to unearth the evidence and reveal the truth.
It is distressing to note of the role of the international news media i.e. Western news agencies and press, and their unabashed agents in the local media scene, being engaged in deliberate distortion, fabrication and slanting of news stories and incidents taking place in third world countries with a view to advancing the interests of Western imperial agendas. This gives a totally wrong picture to the readers and creates further tensions amongst communities.
Not many people are actually aware that Rohingyas are originally from Bangladesh and it is the Bangladeshi Government that must take responsibility of them. However, the manner in which the British purposely carried Muslim labor into Burma to change the demographics of the country requires that Britain take sole responsibility. If Rohingyas are unhappy in Burma in view of the Burmese not wishing to accept them as indigenous people, then it is up to the British Government to admit their wrongs, apologise to the Burmese Govt. and people, and then offer Rohingiyas scope for immigration to the UK.
Far above all these remedies what is long overdue is the need for an International Truth Commission that would bring to light all of the dirty tricks and calculated manipulations committed in British colonies by the British East India Company and later by the British Colonial authorities and to finally award redress and compensation including an apology for the atrocities that resulted and continue to take place as a result.
In the current context, Sri Lanka as a fellow Theravada Buddhist nation needs to stand by Burma together hand in hand in its hour of need and must give leadership to rally all other Buddhist nations and Buddhist communities to offer their support for a nation that is soon targeted for either regime change or balkanization in view of Burma’s border links to China. The collapse of Buddhist Burma may trigger a domino effect in what is left of the remaining Buddhist nations in Asia.
In times of trouble not long ago, Sri Lanka was in need of friends and we knew the difficulties that friends had to come to our aid – we should not cower any longer.
About the author: Shenali Waduge
Shenali Waduge is a Sri Lankan civil society writer concerned about fair play in all matters that concern citizens of her country as well as the world at large.
She strongly advocates the belief that all the countries of the world can live in peace if they only learn to respect the space of others.