Not only Rohingyas, Myanmar has a history of deporting thousands of Indians too


Maninder Dabas
While Indian government is adamant on deporting 40,000-odd Rohingya refugees despite the problem descending into the deep crisis in Myanmar, there were times when Indians living in Myanmar back on the 1930s and 1940s were subjected to similar treatment and were thrown out of the Burmese soil.

Like the Rohingyas today, Indians in Burma were also the target of racial discrimination and were referred as Kala Admi, the very term, Burmese refer Rohingyas with. Therefore, Rohingyas are just an anecdote in the whole episode of religious and racial grappling going on in Myanmar for over one and half-century now. The extent of racial discrimination and Burmese superiority can be fathomed by the written work of Henry Yule, a British servant who went to then Burma in 1855 after parts of Burma came under British rule after Anglo-Burma war.

Yule wrote in his travels in the South-East Asian country about the racial superiority the Burmese felt with respect to their dark-skinned western neighbours. “By a curious self-delusion, the Burmans would seem to claim that in theory at least they are white people. And what is still more curious, the Bengalees appear indirectly to admit the claim; for our servants in speaking of themselves and their countrymen, as distinguished from the Burmans, constantly made use of the term ‘kala admi’ – black man, as the representative of the Burmese Kola, a foreigner.”

Yule’s accounts take us into something which could be the genesis of the issue between the local Burmese and first the Indians and now the Rohingyas. However, most Indians wouldn’t believe it since they have been fed with stories about how Rohingyas are a threat to the national security of India.

Therefore here is the story of how Indians were being subjected the similar treatment as that of Rohingyas by Burmese majority.

It started in 1826: It all started in 1826 when the first Anglo-Burmese war ended in British victory and the Raj got control over Burmese territories which today form North-East India. As a result, Indians started pouring in Burma for work and by 1885, the whole of Burma came under the British rule.

Indian occupied the key sectors: Since most of the people who migrated India were from the trader communities such as Marwaris, Chettiars and Gujarati etc, soon Indians had a significant hold on the commerce sector in Burma.

A large number of Indians migrated to Burma to do menial labour jobs as well which once again affected the livelihood of local Burmese as it happens in case of any area where migration from other places is rampant. It became the third largest group where Indians worked as coolies, servants and masons.

By 1931 Indians were 7% of Burmese population and paid 55 % tax: By 1931, Indians formed 7 per cent of Burma’s population and the level of the prosperity of a handful of them can be fathomed by this simple fact that during the 1930s, Indians paid 55 percent of the municipal taxes in Rangoon- the capital of British Burma. The local Burmese, on the other hand, paid only 11%.

Rohingyas are also said the part of this migration: Local Burmese have always treated Rohingyas outsiders because their forefathers had migrated to Burma generations back from Bengal’s eastern-most district, Chittagong. Though currently, this fact is used politically by the administration to paint Rohingyas as Bengali which shows that their citizenship laws are based on race and not birth.

And then it started: The tension between Indian and Burmese started in 1930 when Telugu and Burmese dockworkers clashed in Rangoon which led widespread violence against Indians. Things remained tense in the coming years as frequent clashes increased. But things went from bad to worse when in 1938 after Burma was separated from British India yet still remained under British rule. The tip-off point was a book written by an Indian Muslim was said to be critical about Buddha. The racial violence spread like a wildfire and Indians were targeted.

WW-II made Indians more vulnerable:
The Japanese attack on Burma in 1941 made Indians vulnerable than ever before as now even the British Indian army wasn’t there to help the Indians. As a result, major exodus took place from Burma and the records say that thousands of Indians died on their way to India because they had to cross the tropical forest on the way. Rohingyas are dying in a similar way apart from being killed by the military.

Racism as official policy: In 1949, Burma got freedom from the British and situation become even more difficult for the Indians. Before the world war, there is around 10 lakh Burmese Indians in Burma, but that number got dropped to seven lakh till the mid-1950s. If we speak about state-sponsored discrimination, Between 1949 and 1961, out of 1,50,000 applications for Burmese citizenship by persons of Indian origin, less than a fifth were accepted.
Military take over further tightened to screws on Indians: In 1962, Burma saw a military takeover of its government. The dictator Ne Win followed an aggressive racial policy which affected every minority group. Since all properties were nationalised, the rich Indians have affected a lot and white collar Indians were expelled from the country. Between 1962 and 1964, more than three lakh Indians were forced out of Burma.

In 1982 came the citizenship law: In 1982, Burma passed a new citizenship law that created a strict racial definition for citizenship. This law rendered people of many origins stateless including Rohingyas. While the plight of Rohingyas have been lately seen by the world after them being subjected to persecution for years, people of Indian origin are still discriminated against in Myanmar and that without getting noticed by the media. (Courtesy:

Source: The Sangai Express



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