Burmese Days

Burmese Days The History of Burma Under British Rule

Burma, now Myanmar, was declared a province of India for administrative purposes when the British seized India in 1885. Rangoon was the capital of British Burma and was a significant port between Calcutta and Singapore. The British made fundamental changes to the region, separating church and state, creating a system of secular education, and abolishing the monarchy. The British Empire grew rich from the immense amount of rice cultivated in Burma, but small farmers resented being in thrall to Indian moneylenders and levied with high interest rates. Englishmen and Indians were stationed in most of the government positions, and it was this influx of Indians that also frustrated the Burmese as they tried to navigate this new colonial structure.

Burma was relatively peaceful until about 1919, when Gandhi’s nationalist protests or reforms in India brought local reforms to that country but not to Burma. Tensions also existed due to the abuses of Burmese culture by the British. Students and Buddhist monks, as well as others, began protesting the unfairness of the lack of reforms. A nationwide student strike also took place; once it was concluded, many students decided to go national schools, leaving their British-run schools.

Tensions in Burma escalated due to the Amritsar Massacre, also in 1919. British troops fired into a crowd of Indian protestors, killing 379 and wounding 1500. General Reginald Dyer, the British commander who ordered his troops to fire on the unarmed and peaceful protestors, was relieved of his command but returned home to a hero’s welcome in England. In the aftermath, British officials considered extending India’s reforms to Burma, but it was too late to turn back the tide of the protests.

Burma was made an independently administered colony in 1937. Ba Maw became the first Prime Minister and Premier of Burma; he was notable for his advocating of Burmese self-rule and his opposition to Burma’s participation in WWII. He eventually resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was arrested for sedition. In 1940 Aung San formed the Burma Independence Army in Japan.

During WWII Burma experienced heavy political and economic destruction. Its administration toppled and the Japanese formed a Burmese Executive administration and put Ba Maw in charge. Several battles were fought in Burma during the war, with the Japanese losing 150,000 men. Burmese citizens fought for both the Japanese and the British.

After the war ended, Aung San signed the Panglong Agreement with ethnic leaders to procure the independence of Burma. He became the Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government, in 1947; unfortunately, though, he was assassinated a few months later.

Burma became officially independent in 1948, but since 1962 it has languished as a veritable police state.