On Je suis Rohingya [#4], History and Operation King Dragon

Dr. Abid Bahar, who is one of the unfailing supporters of Rohingya cause, has a lot to complain about the "Burman nationalism". He criticizes my understanding about Burmese history as being influenced by certain political agenda. The 'truth' he said, has escaped through the backdoor.

He may have a point the Burmese history lessons we've learnt at our schools which had quite a few omissions and some exclusions. But, these lessons were straight forward enough to explain about a difference between a foreign "invasion" and "contact". The period of British colonization for Burma wasn't a brief encounter, it lasted for over a century.


Myself have learnt basic and compulsory history lessons only up until secondary school, i.e year 8. Through our public school system, which is the only available option for students, the history lessons were tought in order to foster young people of patriotism and engender unity among our indigenous ethnic groups. Necessary omissions were found to have made, but seems never being tought of untruths. Our basic history lessons did cover the topics on British colonization and Burma's struggle for independence.

To make this note with some personal connection, I was born 1960s in Henzada District in Irrawaddy Delta. I was grown up in a Burman peasant village and attended a local school in nearby Karen village. In our history lessons, we've learnt the way British colonial era Chettyar money-lenders had brought the Burmese peasants much hardships and dispossession. Then came was the peasants' rebellion of 1930s led by Galon Saya San, which was put down by British government. Saya San was sentenced to death and was hanged by the British at Henzada goal.

That much of historical outline was being tought within our school lessons about the patriot Saya San. Later becoming young adults, we've learnt in other Burmese literature about the way British Government had put down that peasants' rebellion. British government deployed the Indian troops to fight against Burmese peasant rebels. The rebel captured were then beheaded. The servered heads of Burmese rebels were being displayed in Henzada town for public viewing. Such cruel practice of beheadings, nowadays, is used only by the lawless Islamic State death-cults and in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Of course, such a gruesome details of historical facts were being omitted, thankfully, from our history lessons.


The other omission of history lessons, which I could established only recently, was the British government's deployment of Karen troops to suppress the Burmese peasants' rebellion. Notes would says, without any elaboration, the British 'divide and rule' our country. Not only in school history notes, but also in any other Burmese writings, I've never found out anything about the deployment of Karen troops against Burmese peasants' rebellion. In any case, I am very thankful about this omission too, since most of my classmates and teachers were found to be the Karen people.

Surely out of frustrations, our friend Dr. Abid Bahar lashed out on the Burmese history lessons as to 'sowed the seeds of fascism in Burmese psychee'. On a closer look, our basic history lessons were designed to inspire young people of patriotism, to foster ethnic cohesion and to guard against imperialism. Nothing of the context that we would have found to generate hatred against foreigners such as British nor Indians. Some detail facts, which potentially can cause damages to the young people's mind, were found to be carefully omitted but the backbone of Burmese history can certainly be delivered with academic decency.


Something we could never find as students in our history lessons, though, is about the life and work of Sayagyi Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thakin_Kodaw_Hmaing). The work of Aung San and Thirty comrades were prominently featured in these lessons, but say nothing about the role of Sayagyi Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing. Looking back, this exclusion may indicate the Ne Win regime's tendency to discourage social activism.

In sum, no Burmese would take any offence whatsoever about Dr Abid Bahar making reference to the Burmese kings as 'despotic' and 'medieval'. Nor shall we find him any problem describing General Ne Win's military leadership as 'narrow nationalist' equating to become the Hitler's fascist regime.

However, Burmese will take a great offence of him characterizing Sayagyi Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing as 'oldtimer nationalist/fascist'. This indicates the level of ignorance he has of Burma's independence movement. It is a deliberate attempt to insult entire Burmese people as an un-civilized racist menace only being worthy of 'his' condemnation. Evidently, his posting is out of topics with an attempt to provoke angry reaction. The posting does not contribute anything to solve current Rohingya/Bengali problem. A word of advise to all our friend activists: when you ever see postings such this of Dr. Abid Bahar, which only trying to waste your precious time -- do not respond. Just ignore.


Martin Smith, a well known expert on Burma's minority groups, said in his 1995 lecture in Netherlands (www.netipr.org/policy/downloads/19951211-Rohingyas-of-Burma-by-Martin-Sm...):

"... the date of 1824-25 and British colonisation have become embedded in the Burmese government's mind with regards the Muslim question and the historic rights of Muslims to residency in Arakan. That there were Muslim inhabitants in Arakan before 1824 is not in dispute; the argument is over their ethnicity and numbers --- "

Main dispute in here, I think, is the level of labor migration of Bengali people aftermath of British annexation of Arakan in 1824, and the ratio of Rakhine-natives vs. Bengali-slaves. While the Rohingya campaigners are ever denying any Bengali/Chattagonian migration existed during British colonization 1824-1948, and claiming the ratio as 3 to 1 by quoting Commissioner Charles Paton. Only recently, we can established this ratio 8 to 1 by consulting the Revd. Comstock's report on Arakan (www.netipr.org/policy/downloads/18470101-JSTOR-notes-on-arakan.pdf).

My humble approach regarding dispute on historical facts such as this has been to find some cross references and also to make use of one's own common sense. For example, the Commissioner Paton compiled report after a brief visit to Arakan whilst Revd. Comstock had stayed on in Arakan for quite a few years. Derek Tonkin has already made valuable comments on this previous occasions and will not be repeated here. But in any case, a critical reading of Revd. Comstock's report alone has convinced me that the population estimate provided in there is more reliable. In any case, like in any scientific theory, these two differing ratios have to be contested and established.

There is still uncertainty about the total number of Bengali migrants just before 1942 Japanese Occupation. We now know that in 1954 census, whilst the Mujahid rebellion was in full swing in Arakan, Buthidaung and Maungdaw areas had 'foreigner-residents' about 60% and 45% respectively. I suggest that this is the most likely source of Bengali/Rohingya, who were being excluded from the 1982 Citizenship Laws.


The detailed British Embassy reports on Operation King Dragon in 1978 are now at the following downloadable links. These reports are by far giving us most valuable insights into the evolvement of the crisis. Most interesting, and even somewhat baffling, is the way in which that refugee crisis had ended. General Ne Win, afterall, was said to have voluntarily taking back those Bengali/Rohingya who have any proof of residence in Arakan -- according to British Ambassador Charles Booth (see #1). With the beneifit of hindsight, the Operation King Dragon was the Burmese government's attempt to drive out 100,000 Bengladeshi who displaced as a result of 1971 War of Liberation. The Burmese government, undoubtedly, had succeeded in its objective re: Operation King Dragon.

Given General Ne Win was making political punishment later on 1982 to the above mentioned 'foreigner-resident' group, one still has to wonder why he had voluntarily taking back this group. Was Gen. Ne Win acting out of compassion or just "do the right thing" about this group? The British Foreign Office described it as "unsuspected side of Ne Win's character". Truth is always stranger than the fiction; And, human nature, an act of mercy and kindness would rarely be recognized but the intolerance and prejudice surely will. Our friend Rohingya campaigners, such as Dr Abid Bahar, and Burmese democracy activists for that matter, certainly will not have any kind words about the Late General Ne Win. However, the history might have been kinder to General Ne Win, so to speak.

In Solidarity,
U Ne Oo, Australia.

#1. Report of Ambassador Charls Booth to Lord Carrington, 3-July-1979 (www.netipr.org/policy/downloads/19790703_uk-embassy.pdf)

#2. Bangladesh Foreign Minister visit on Burma (6-2-1979) and details of refugee repatriation (3-10-1979) (www.netipr.org/policy/downloads/19790206_uk-embassy-ohn.pdf)

#3. British foreign ministry reply on refugee repatriation and Gen. Ne Win's intervention. (www.netipr.org/policy/downloads/19790806_uk-embassy.pdf)

#4. "Je suis Rohingya" ( I am Rohingya) is an article written by the retired British diplomat Derek Tonkin -- which current thread of discussion being drown. (http://www.networkmyanmar.org/index.php/commentary)

From: Dr. Abid Bahar.


Surely we know that there is a difference between history and politics. History should be left to scholars and politics to the politicians. If history is understood using politics as a guide, then, naturally truth escapes through the backdoor. Unfortunately, Burmese history is understood with its Burman nationalist sentiment.

Historically speaking, Burma briefly came in contact with the British discontinuing its medieval despotic kingship. However, the brief British-Burmn encounter, with the former's " divide and rule" policy led to the awakening of the nationalist Burman-Buddhist sentiment. This ethno-religious nationalist sentiment at first was seen as being legitimate and normal but it was not normal; quickly it began to deny the minorities of their right to existance as being the equal citizens of Burma. Like in many countries of Europe and Asia, in Burma the demon of this narrow nationalist sentiment emerged in full force led by the military ruler Ne Win. Over half a centuries of propaganda by Ne Win and his devotees about Burma defined parochially sowed the seeds of fascism in the inner recesses of Burmese psychee. Like many other ethnic groups of Burma, Ne Win also defined the Rohingya as being the intruders in Burma and in 1982 changed the constitution to deny the Rohingya citizenship rights. The propaganda campaign continues till our times.

Contrary to the propaganda, Rohingya existance in Arakan has been documented by many including the Portugugage, the British scholars such as Buchanan in 1799 and in many other sources. History shows that Rohingya lived in Burma before the Burman occupation of Arakan in 1784. Which means the Burman arrived in Arakan after the Rohingya. But the Burmese -Bhddhist political understanding of Burmese citizenship denies these facts of history.

As he observes, U Ne Oo, from Australia adds: "You have blamed General Ne Win, Dr. Aye Kyaw etc for setting up of the year 1823 as qualifying date for indigenous-ness. Actually, they are not responsible. Their decision is just a manifestation of Burma's anti-imperialist struggle, started with We Burman Association (1930s) and Sayagyi Thakin Ko Daw Hmaing. Present day nationalistic political thinking of Burmese people are guided by those philosophy of Thakhin Ko Daw Hmaing." The point is, if history was understood by Ne Win from the philosophy of an old timer nationalist/ fascist, we have problems here. Imagine, how German history was understood by Hitler and what were its consequences in the shedding of German minority blood!

Tragically, General Ne Win and his followers understood and interpreted Burmese history using politics which simply nullyfies it as being any history. In this path, Aye Kyaw, Aye Chan etc logically becomes the nonhistorians; for they find comfort particularly in the political-racial understanding of Rohingya origin in Burma in the "outsider" "insider" dichotomy. Thus, in this typology, the year 1823 becomes the benchmark for determining the indigeousness of the Rohingya, in which racially different Rohingya are categorized as being the "foreigners" in Burma.

Mr Tonkin refers Rev Comstock's estimates in 1842 which was not a census. Tonkin also failed to trace the Rohingya movement from Arakan to Chittagong due to the Burmese invasion of Arakan the communal violence in 1942. .

Abid Bahar

From: Derek Tonkin to Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Dear Habib,

If you read the Rev Comstock’s report, you will see that the estimates of population which he provides are not his, but are taken from the 1842 British Census. These show some 250,000 for Arakan generally (page 224), with detail in the four Districts amounting to 257,053 (page 249), while on page 255 he concludes that this is probably a low estimate because the native enumerators “were very lax and careless” in counting the old, the young and the infirm, and suggests that the population might be nearer the 300,000 mark. Sounds reasonable.

The 1826 (hand-written) count given by Sub-Commissioner Charles Paton was a hasty affair, given in a single sentence, and clearly reflects what he and his colleague Robertson guessed the population to be at the end of the war – Rakhine, Muslim and Burmese only. Arakan would then have been in a state of some chaos. The land area is almost twice the size of Wales, and they clearly could not have completed anything as detailed and precise as the 1842 Census. Later estimates of the 1826 population by respected authorities like Charney and Furnivall quote a much lower percentage of ‘Indians’ than Paton – Charney 20%, Furnivall closer to Comstock’s 8 to 1.

So what you say is, with respect, not all that persuasive.

Keep smiling!

From: Dr. Habib Siddiqui to Derek Tonkin

Subject: Re: Tonkin's ludicrous attempts

Mr. Tonkin's approach to history has been problematic because of his business interest with Burma and no one should take his take on such important matters seriously. As an obsessed anti-Muslim Brit, who smells jihad everywhere, he would quote views that try to undermine Muslim influence in Arakan before the British arrived in the scene. As I have noted in my book on demography of Muslims in Arakan, the entire census process during the British period was a flawed one by any measure. It is that flawed census that said that just after British colonized Arakan there were 2:1 Magh:Muslim ratio. And now Tonkin quotes another missionary where it is 8:1 ratio.

Did it every come to his mind: how authentic these latest numbers are? Did Comstock do a real survey by counting 250,000 heads and categorizing them? Or did he meet a few folks based on which he thought that by extrapolation it could be that ratio or that overall population? No demographic researcher would take such numbers seriously. As one who makes a living out of teaching statistical tests I won't pay two cents for Comstock's unrepresentative sample collection and the flawed inferences he made.

Tonkin is making a fool of himself and becoming a senile rep for the marauding Buddhists. It is simply shameful and disgraceful!

Habib Siddiqui