BURMESE INDIANS: THE FORGOTTEN LIVES

 BURMESE INDIANS:

THE FORGOTTEN LIVES

Burma Issues February 2 0 0 5

INFORMATION FOR ACTION CAMPAIGNS FOR PEACE GRASSROOTS EDUCATION AND ORGANIZING

VOLUME 16 N U M B E R 2

BURMESE INDIANS: BY SAMART BUTKAEW

Burma Issues is a publication of the Peace Way Foundation and is distributed on a free-subscription basis to individuals and groups concerned with the state of affairs in Burma. Editor Z. Brake 1/11 Soi Piphat 2 Convent Rd, Silom Bangkok 10500, Thailand durham@mozart.inet.co.th http://www.burmaissues.org/

Kala Lumyo is the word the Burmese call the Indian who live in Burma. The word Kala is, in general, for those who have dark skin. They originated from India and they come from South Asia and the Western part of Asia in general, most notably form presentday India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The word kala literally means degrading, disgusting and to look down upon. The word “alien” is also used by Burmese people to describe the Indians.

However, the Burmese Indians see themselves as a part of the Burmese people. They have fought for Burma together with the Burmese and other ethnic people to be free from colony rule and independent.

In the midst of the struggle for human rights and democracy in Burma, the international community mostly focuses on the democracy movement lead by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League of Democracy or on the fighting for the independence by the ethnic groups. When looking to situation as a whole, the Burmese Indians are also in need of the same freedoms as all the other Burmese people.

In their struggle for freedom most people see them as outsiders. Approximately 2 per cent of the Burmese population is Burmese Indians. However this number is not dependable as there is no reliable information. In Burma, the majority of Burmese Indians are Muslim (Suni Set), others are Hindu, Sikhs and Buddhist.

Most of the Burmese Indian Muslim population lives in urban areas and big cities such as Rangoon and post British Hill towns such as Pyin U Lwin ( formerly Maymyo)

1. The first Burmese Indians migrated to Burma in the glorious Bagan period (A.D. 1044-1287) when Indian, Persian and Arabian merchants came to Burma. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Golden Age of the spices trade attracted more Indian merchants to Burma. This migration continued until the British invasion. When Burma became a part of India under the British colonial rule in 1824, a large number of Indian people moved to Burma. These included entrepreneurs, politicians and  overnment employees. In the following decades infrastructure initiatives of the British caused an unprecedented economical boom in Burma. From 1855 to 1930 the area of the Irrawaddy delta used for rice cultivation increases ten times to roughly 4 million hectares.

2. Coolies (Indian labourers) from southern India migrated continuously to Burma in search of work. In 1930 the number of Indians in Burma had grown considerably and in Rangoon 53 per cent of the whole population was Indian

3. Things were going smoothly for the Burmese Indian population even after British left and independence dawned Burma in 1948. There were even Indians in the Cabinet.

Things changed after the coup d’etat in 1962 led by General Ne Win and the introduction of Nationalism. Some Burmese Indians were forced out of the country as a result of the economy’s nationalization. Their wholesale and retail businesses were taken away without any compensation and they were all given 175 Kyat to return to India

4. The Cabinet was pushed out of the government. Although, many Indian had been living in Burma for generations and had integrated into Burmese society, they became a target for discrimination and oppression by the junta.

Today many Indians, particularly Hindus live in central Rangoon on the both side of the Su Lei Paya Road. Most are involved in either legal or illegal businesses, including restaurants, jewellery shops and money exchanges. It is not surprising that the Burmese people believe that these Indians have a better economic rank, than they do. It seems that there are no problems for the Burmese Indians because they are rich, but in fact this is not true. They have many personal issues. Although Burmese Indians have not been violently oppressed by the military government like vlrlrlr_a_a&; 3 jrefrfrmhaha&;&m other ethnic groups in Burma, their rights have been continuously restricted and they have faced different forms of oppression. If Burmese people’s rights are limited, the Burmese Indians’ rights will be doubly limited.

Religion is being used as a tool of oppression against the Burmese Indians by the military dictatorship. Burmese Muslim Indians and Burmese Hindu Indians are not allowed to grandly celebrate any of their religious ceremonies. These religious rights are prohibited. They can not run religious parades anywhere in Burma, like they do in other countries. In South East Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia the governments allow people to grandly celebrate their religions, but in Burma, the military just allows them to quietly celebrate behind closed doors or in the few temples.

The military dictatorship rejects or ignores their request when they want to build Mosque in the country or to go abroad for religious ceremonies

5. The military dictatorship never encourages or supports the Burmese Indians. However, the attitude of the Burmese people towards the Burmese Indian is worse. The Burmese Indians are looked down or mistreated because of their religion, the way they dress or the way they act. Burmese people believe that the “Kala Lumyo” will take over the country and rule Burma. They believe that if there are too many Indians this will happen. According to the religious beliefs, if you were marry someone who is a Muslim or a Hindu you have to change your original religion to their religion and your children will also automatically become Muslim or Hindu

6. Consequnetly, Burmese people do not want their children to marry Indians. Furthermore, the military dictatorship prohibits Burmese Indian from becoming involved or being employed as the government employees or working in any companies run by the State government.

While the military dictatorship is persuading ethnic minority groups to enter what they called the “legal fold” and participate in the drafting of a new constitution which includes sections on religion and political rights, Burmese Indians have not been invited by the military dictatorship to participate.

They will never be invited as they are not seen as important in the eyes of the military dictatorship. The international community does not see that the main issues facing the Burmese Indians are the State’s policies.

The military government always says to the international community that they have opened the opportunity for all religious and ethnic minority groups to live together peacefully.

It seems like the Burmese Indians should not have any problems. In reality, they do not receive any of these opportunities. The military government tries to block them getting in touch with the wider community and working together for a better society, human rights and other meaningful activities.

Like all people in Burma, the quality of health care depends on how much you can pay. Burmese Indians who can afford to pay for health care, receive reasonable care. However, Burmese Indians who cannot afford to pay, receive no health care. The government is suppose to provide free health care for all Burmese people, but this does not happen for most people in Burma, including the Burmese Indians.

Another issue is that the Burmese Indians who have good businesses will send their children to study abroad such as to the USA. Many of them are poor and can not manage to send their children to school. The government is not supporting the education system.

There are some private schools or schools owned by foreign companies from the Middle East who provide free education and basic knowledge on Islam to Indian Muslims. Furthermore, Burmese Indians are not allowed to use their native languages and the junta has banned literature in these languages. The government has even banned some Bollywood movies

7. The New Light of Myanmar is the trumpet of the government, but in this newspaper it never talks about the Burmese Indians. Living as the stranger in their own country Burmese Indians are not trying to make any problems for the society. There is an obvious image of the Burmese Indians “looking after their own”.

At the moment we can clearly see that the Burmese Indians are out of sight of the junta and are looked down upon by the Burmese people. The status of the Burmese Indians in terms of religion, culture and civil rights are the same as the other ethnic groups. The government has used religion to oppress the Burmese Indians.

What will happen to these people when transition comes? There are plenty of questions.

Will they treated equally like other Burmese people or will

they continue to be outsiders?

Endnotes:

1 Burmese Indians, http://www.answer.com/

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2 Myanmar History Colonial Times, http://

http://www.asiatour.com/Myanmar/e – 01land / em – lan43.htm

3 Ibid

4 Indian and Burma: working on their relationship, The

Irrawaddy (online) , March 1999

5 The outsider, The Irrawaddy vol. 14 No.1, January 2006

6 ibid.

7 How the Indians Government Stabbed Burmese Tamils

in the Back, http:// www. Geocities.com/ tamiltribune/ 02

0702. html?20065

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