Colonisation Saga: Rohingya Tragedy | 2017-10-04 |


Colonisation Saga: Rohingya Tragedy

Dr. Mir Obaidur Rahman

    4 October, 2017 12:00 AM printer

Colonisation Saga:
Rohingya Tragedy

Dr. Mir Obaidur Rahman

The colonisation process in its trail unleashes a lot of tragedies for the natives that the colonial rulers seldom tried to understand. Migration may be considered is one of the cruel consequences of colonisation that the ruler often failed to perceive. The colonisation process by Great Britain though started feebly by the East India Company in two phases, the third phase (1858-1947) constituted the de jure colonisation period. Fortunately or unfortunately the World War II brought an abrupt end to the colonisation legacy. After partition of India in 1947, people moved from Pakistan to India or from India to Pakistan. There were lot of pains and agonies in this transition and the migration episode is well documented in the Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapiere and Larry Collins. The independence to Burma, now Myanmar, was granted in January 4, 1948 by the same British Government under the Premiership of Clement R. Attlee. The independence of two colonies in short succession in a span of six months tells the harrowing tales of British impromptu (e.g., the status of princely states) in this exit strategy that caused immense sufferings in those days. The sufferings are also on the surface today.


In brief, Burma before British colonisation was a segmented territory ruled by several dynasties in succession. The Konbaung dynasty was the last dynasty to rule Burma from 1752 to 1865.  The entry point of British colonisation was in 1824 and indeed the British encountered the Konbaung dynasty to complete the colonisation process through three successive Anglo-Burmese Wars during the next sixty years. The whole country becomes a province of British India with the Indian Empire in 1886. From a prehistoric viewpoint, Burma is a Buddhist country. Among the 7 Union States of Burma, Rakhine or the Arakan is the immediate neighbour of the subcontinent. The Arakan state was renamed as Rakhine State by Ne Win who ruled Burma as a military dictator from 1962-1988.  


Free movement of people were allowed during the colonial rule as the territory belonged to a single sovereign entity or the ruler may facilitate or accelerate migration on certain plea to serve its own interest. It is important to understand that over the 80 years of the British administration in the Province of Burma, there might be migration from Chittagong or from other states of India to Arakan State. There may also be lot of migration during the sixty years that the British Administration required to complete the colonisation process; the First Anglo-Burmese war is a case in point. So if you consider these one hundred and forty years as a transition process and when sovereign state in this subcontinent was in an embryonic form, you cannot connote immigration as unlawful or illegal in any context.


The deliberation that lasted for over six hours on different issues interconnected to the Burma Independence Bill, (Vol. 443, cc 1836-961) in the House of Commons on November 5 with 402electorates[ Yes vote 288, No vote 114] both from Labour and Conservative party obliquely and explicitly explained many issues that the Burma in future might face. Various issues pertaining to the assets and liabilities, the rights of Anglo-Burman in the new state, the defence and security in the immediate future and the right of citizenship figured in the deliberation. “When, therefore, after due consideration the elected representatives of the people of Burma chose independence, it was, I believe, the duty of His Majesty’s Government to take the necessary steps to implement this decision.”


At the very outset, Prime Minister Clement R. Atlee expressed his concern over the rights of minorities through this statement, “We had the further duty of seeing to it that minorities for whom we had a special responsibility were given due position under the new Constitution and were safeguarded in their rights. This, as I shall show, has been done in the new Constitution.”


There was a historical anecdote on the grabbing and governing of this colony captured in the following statement, ‘Our earliest connections with Burma derive from the activities of the East India Company. Burma at that time was a kingdom, and a very disturbed and troubled country; and, except for a short period, our relations with the rulers of Burma were difficult. Eventually, as the House knows, the whole country was annexed in 1886. Effective British rule over the whole of Burma has lasted just over 60 years.’  However, the oddity in independence was expressed by the former Prime Minister, Winston S. Churchill, “What about the deaths of half a million people in India? Enjoying democratic freedom! Half a million killed, and who has done it?”


The current Rohingya crisis is a reverberation of the apprehensions that Burma might face as a nation was eloquently expressed through the following statements, “Like all these amateur politicians, as I call them, they look at things exclusively from their own national point of view. They have not had the experience of world politics. But the Burmese problem is a world problem.” This is a harsh reality. When there is a division on the platform of historical necessity or bindings, certain things sneaks on the process that constantly perturb the different interest groups and in the absence of reconciliation and appeasement, brings untold sufferings for the groups who are not in a position to voice their demands and thus face subjugation in the whole process of transformation.  The flash up of the Rohingya crisis after decades of inhuman torture and subjugation is the manifestation of this ordeal.


The writer is a Professor of Economics, United International University