Saturday, September 29, 2007

Myanmar – Burma



Myanmar image courtsey:

A sorry figure!

Myanmar was once a part of the Indian Union until it got separated by the ruling British (1937). With an area of 678500 sq miles and a population of 43 million Myanmar is the biggest nation in South-East Asia. It is bordered by China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, the Andaman-Sea (at the south) and Bay of Bengal (at south-west). Though Myanmar got its ‘independence’ in 4th January 1948 from the British, the sun of true independence is yet to shine upon this unfortunate piece of land. As a nation that is still trying to wriggle out from the vice-grip of the military junta since 1962 Myanmar cuts a sorry figure in 21st century when all other nations worth its name have embraced democracy. The present leader of the junta is General Than Shwe who is engaged in a bitter struggle against the Buddhist Monks who are out to see him thrown out.

Virulent and strong!


Myanmar burma image courtsey:

It was in 1989 the word ‘Myanmar’ was coined by the Military (Myan = virulent and ma = powerful) to replace the old name Burma (along with the change of the nation’s name; names of several places were changed; as capital Rangoon was renamed as Yangon), this name change by the junta is still not accepted by many nations like US and UK. Since 6th November, 2005 the capital of Burma has been shifted to Pynmana about 320 KM away from Yangon and it is said that the change of capital has only partially affected so far, as official matters are held secret it is hearsay alone can be depended in case of Burmese affairs.


Burma is predominantly an agricultural country Ayeyerwady and Thanlwin are the main rivers which have made this land utmost fertile. Ayeyerwady the longest river in Burma (2170 KM in length which falls in to the Andaman Sea) and its water is the life source of Ayeyerwady delta where most of the people live. Agriculture contributes about 54% of the Burmese economy; main outputs are rice, timber, sugarcane, pulses etc. Burmese teak wood is a very much sought after commodity and is widely exported to different parts of the world.

A rich history.

myanmar map

Myanmar burma map courtsey:

There are evidences that Burma had human inhabitation since 11,000 years back, but historical evidences exist only from 300 BC with the ‘Mon’ culture which got interacted with Buddhism came from India during that period. Yet another tribe which got settled in Burma was ‘Pyu’ which established Kingdoms like Binnaka, Mongamo, Shreeksetra, Tanomyo etc these kingdoms were peace-loving and belonged to the Theravada Buddha trait. These kingdoms were composed of numerous city settlements and were loose-knit as a nation. The Konbong Dynasty under Aloungpa (1551 – 81) who made Rangoon its capital made the empire strong and annexed parts from neighboring countries like Thailand India and China.

A Burmese Napoleon.

King Bagidav (1819-24) of the Konbong dynasty raised the might of Burma to new highs; his aggressive strategies resulted in annexing many parts from neighboring nations. Alas his attack on the British India forces turned out to be his Waterloo. The Burmese army led by its fearsome chief Maha Bandhula was confronted by the British (the first Burmese war) in which Britain had to seek the help of Thailand to fight Burma (1824 -26), the British won the war and annexed several areas as a result (Manipur, Arakan etc). The British annexed Pegu in the Second Burmese war (1852) which lasted about three months. The whole Burma came under the British with the third Anglo Burmese war (1885). In 1886 Britain made Burma a part of British India and facilitated trade of goods (Burma was famous for its good quality rice) from Burma to distant parts of the globe.

Seeds of Independence.

The history behind the Independence of Myanmar is dotted with many events in which many nations like India, China, Japan as well as Britain had some roles. Under the British rule Burmese youth had occasions to gain modern education in Britain and they returned with the expectation of seeing their own land independent and it was these educated youth who led the independence movements (quite akin to the events in India as well as most of the former British colonies.

India’s role!

The Positions occupied by Indians in Burma had been provocative to nationalists. Indians had upper hand as members of British colony which they used for the exploitation of innocent Burmese inviting wrath from the local population. Indians alone where admitted in the British- Burma army moreover Indian money lenders exploited poor Burmese peasants. These all factors could be liberally utilized by the champions of freedom movement thus attracting sympathy of local people and turning them against the British.

Japan and China.

The advent of Japan as a world power gave the Burmese nationalists a shot in their arm and they rose as a force to reckon with Japanese help. The British in turn reacted with separating Burma from Indian Union (in 1937) and making it a colony with its own constitution, its first Prime Minister was Ba Maw, Mr. U Saw who preceded him was later arrested for reason of colluding with the Japanese. By this time Aung San skipped to China to evade arrest and the Chinese helped him in getting Japanese help for fighting the British.

Aung San and his ‘rule’.

Japan has always meddled with the Burmese affairs; this time Japan succeeded in capturing Burma (during the Second World War) they gave training to Aung San and 29 of his followers (leaders of Doy Boamer movement) were given training and this movement declared the complete independence of Burma. They organized an army by name ‘Burma Independence Army’ (constituted mainly of criminals and anti-socials and later it was disbanded by Japanese –their actual boss). This army (with the undercover help of the Japanese) could defeat the British forces and establish a government under Ba Maw.

Dream turned nightmare!

Later by its defeat in the Second World War, Japan was driven away from Burma and British gained control, in an election that followed ‘Anti-fascist People’s Freedom League’ came to power, it turned out to be nightmare when several ministers of the council (including Aung San) were assassinated by a plot hatched by none other than the Prime Minister U Saw. This was only a beginning and Burma (Myanmar) has become a nation of rebellions as people combined in to several groups and engaged in attacking each other. Marxists of several hues, Muslims of Arkanas area, Military, all participated in the internecine guerilla as well as open warfares. Prime Minster U Nu had to invite Gen. Ne Vin to the chair, who could bring temporary peace and that too broke down after the election.

Under the military boots.

myanmar crisis

Burma is being ruled by the military junta in the name ‘State Peace and Development Council’ under its chairman Than Shwe; who is the man to post the Prime Minister and the council, all the ministers are military officers hand picked by Than Shwe! There is no Judiciary in Burma and disputes are settled arbitrarily by the military. Population of Burma also is a guess as there is no scientific censes taken place there and it lags much behind in human development index, health care is nominal and child mortality rate is exorbitantly high. There exist many repressions against people of ethnic Indian and Chinese origins by the military rule against which no one dares to complain. Most of the nations have imposed financial sanctions against Burma against all these human rights violations.

Different ethnic groups.

There are more than 135 ethnic groups in Burma but only 8 groups have been approved by the government. The culture of Myanmar is a mixture of different civilizations yet the Bemer civilization is the dominant one which is much influenced by of Indian, Chinese and Thai. Their food, music, language, dress all are telling examples of Bemer culture. But the Burmese script was formed from Mon scripts – the Mon script was formed from the ancient Dravidian scripts.

Burmese Socialism!

Burma has essentially an agriculture based economy even though it is rich in mineral resources like oil, tin, zinc, copper, coal etc. The military has imposed a ‘Burmese Socialism’ policy which has no clear cut financial strategies and economy is run by arbitrary policies which are immersed in corruption and lethargy. The United Nations have grouped Burma in a ‘most undeveloped nation’ category due its backwardness. But its backwardness has arisen as a blessing in disguise as its rich forests (49% of Burma is covered by forests) are remaining un-encroached due lack of development, but of late Burma has started lumbering as a big business to find money and it has liberalized economy to that extent so that lumbering is permitted!

Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel laureate) daughter of Aung San has risen to the status of an icon in the recent history of Burma. When Burma is in utter darkness the world looks at her as a candle flame amidst the gloom that encircles Burma at present. She bears the torch from the front when her brainchild National League for Democracy is in the field to gain independence that has been long lost to this part of land. The military was compelled to conduct an election in 1990 in which the ‘National League’ under Suu Kyi gained clear majority; yet the military junta refused to hand over power to the elected representatives. At present she is under house arrest and many of her followers languish in Burmese prisons.

Kerala articles wish Suu Kyi’s mission all success and Burmese people their long cherished birthright that is freedom from tyrranny.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. So much good information.

I have posted a slide show of images of Burma, 1989, only months after the 8888 Uprising.

Burma (Myanmar), 1989

Best regards for the people of Burma.

Bill Drenttel