Indians in Burma


Indians in Burma
   During the British colonial era, the Indian population of Burma ("Indian" in this context refers to South Asians, persons from what are now India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan) increased rapidly because to British encouragement of immigration to provide cheap labor for the modern colonial economy and Indians' perception that the country was a land of opportunity, where they could escape the crushing poverty of home. Even after the Government of Burma Act was implemented in 1937, separating Burma from India, there were no effective curbs on Indian immigration until the eve of World War II. According to the 1931 census, Indians numbered more than one million, mostly in Lower Burma, and comprised 7 percent of the country's total population. Rangoon (Yangon) was primarily a South Asian city: 54.9 percent of its people came from the Subcontinent, outnumbering Chinese and Europeans, not to mention indigenous Burmese (33.1 percent).
   Known as kala to the Burmese, a word with negative connotations, Burma's Indian population reflected the diversity of the Subcontinent: among them were impoverished Tamil and Oriya laborers, who worked on farms and factories, as coolies on the dockyards and sweepers in the city streets; Bengalis, many of whom were lowerlevel civil servants or professionals; Chittagongians, who came over to Arakan (Rakhine) from what is now Bangladesh; Sikhs and Gurkhas (the latter from Nepal), who served as soldiers or policemen; and South Indian Chettiars, a wealthy money-lending class who provided Burmese farmers with credit. Relations between Burmese and Indians were generally hostile, not only because of the latter's large numbers and cultural and religious differences (most Indians were Hindu or Muslim), but also because poor Burmese competed with Indians for jobs during the 1930s. The Chettiars were intensely disliked, especially after bad economic conditions led to foreclosures of family farms and they became major absentee landowners. Burmese nationalists feared that the unrestricted flow of Indian immigrants would result in the extinction of their race, and opposed marriages between Burmese women and Hindu or Muslim men more vehemently than those with Chinese or Europeans. Bloody anti-Indian riots broke out in Rangoon in 1930 and 1938. When the Japanese invaded and occupied Burma in 1941-1942, as many as 600,000 Indians escaped overland and by sea to British territory, apparently fearing massacres at the hands of the Burmese; of these, 80,000 are estimated to have died, including those who attempted to reach Bengal or Assam State by way of the Arakan (Rakhine) Yoma or the mountain ranges separating Burma from northeastern India. After Ne Win established the Revolutionary Council, he enacted socialist policies that targeted businesspeople of South Asian origin, forcing the repatriation of as many as 300,000 of them to India and Pakistan between 1963 and 1967. By 1983, when the last official census was held, the South Asian population was much diminished: Indians, Chinese, and other persons of nonindigenous ancestry altogether comprised only 7.4 percent of Rangoon's population. Despite Burmese-Indian antagonisms, some Indians, such as U Raschid, played an important role in the nationalist movement, and many nationalists were influenced by the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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