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The Other Partition

By Issue 02 July 11, 2020 No Comments

Separation of Burma from India and its Impact

Albert Fytche, Shoreline of Bassein (now Pathein), Artist rendition by C. Kegan Paul & Co., London,1878. (Wikimedia Commons).

Exactly a decade earlier than the historic partition of India was produced along with its independence from two hundred years of colonial rule, another not so controverted partition took place in the Indian subcontinent. It was the partition of India and Burma through which Burma (which was united with India in 1886) was separated from India in 1937. It did not raise any hue and cry that the partition of 1947 created in India and Pakistan, as it was considered ‘normal.’ It was argued that Burma was never an integral part of India and it was an historical accident of British conquests that brought the two countries under the same administration. Therefore, its separation neither divided any habitat, people or created emotional turmoil. Indeed, Burma was never a part of India, but its annexation to the British Indian Empire was neither a ‘political accident’ nor an ‘accident of contiguity’. Burma had a long history of relations with India in terms of culture, religion, and trading activities, to cite a few examples. Early Burmese history had been largely influenced by Indian traditions. Therefore, it is not surprising that the British saw India and Burma together under one political umbrella in the nineteenth century.

A series of Anglo–Burmese Wars (1824, 1852, and 1885) brought the two countries together. In 1886, Burma became the Chief Commissioner’s province within the jurisdiction of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. Ten years later it was upgraded to become a separate province, and it finally became a governor’s province in 1937. This was an outcome of a sequence of colonial conquests and administrative developments. It cannot be considered a ‘political accident’ or a mere consequence of ‘geographical proximity.’ Such arguments betray the lack of geographical, historical and ethnographic knowledge of the region. The Indo–Burma borderlands are also a meeting point of two regions – South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is the frontier where India, Burma, China and Thailand meet. It is not just the territories of these countries that meet in these frontiers but also the people and ethnic groups who spill over the frontiers of each other’s territory. Hence it is the borderland which is impossible to demarcate ethnically and there are a number of ethnic and tribal communities whose ancestral habitat crisscross the frontier.

Squeezed between the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, ethnic minority peoples such as the Zo’s or Chins (Mizos/Zomis), Nagas, Kachins, Shans (Tais), Lahus and Karens, live in substantial numbers on both sides of the current borders and in many areas constitute the majority. In fact, Myanmar currently has 7 states and 7 regions. The states are officially known as ethnic minorities that like to refer to themselves as ethnic communities – the Shin, Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan. The term ‘ethnic community’ signifies the distinction between the Bamar who are nearly 69% of the population and the rest. The majority of the Bamar community live in the central and southern Myanmar and most ethnic communities are in the hill areas along the border with China, India, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand. Many of them are separated by the borders of two or more countries. The Shans for example live in China, Myanmar and Thailand; the Kachin in Myanmar and China and the Chin and Nagas in Myanmar and India. Even today ethnic Burman influence is minimal in most border regions.

The nominal surrender of the Burmese Army, 27 November 1885, at Ava. Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837–1912). (Wikimedia Commons).

Indeed, in the case of the Shan and Kachin States, the first Burman-majority towns lie several hundred miles away from the present international boundaries. Nonetheless, though there has been continuation of relatively free movement of migrants and traders across these remote frontiers, the final delimitation of Burma’s borders by the British in the late 19th Century (approximating the territorial claims of the Konbaung dynasty) has had serious implications for the development of virtually all the region’s minority people who now found themselves cut off on either side. With the twin motives of just security and profit, the mountain water-sheds and great rivers which the British preferred for their borders were to divide many communities and people – and often quite arbitrarily. The high mountain passes and rivers, such as the Salween, Mekong and Moei are rather the natural thoroughfares of the region. Neighbouring Tai (Shan), Lahu and Akha communities, for example, are presently divided between Burma, China, Laos and Thailand and have four very different political and economic systems. The Zos (Chins), too, were completely dissected between Burma and India by what the Zo historian Vumson describes as an “imaginary line” drawn by British administrators across the hills from the source of the Namsailung river.[1]

The British divisions were then further compounded by a second internal (but artificial) separation of several minorities within colonial Burma – between “Ministerial Burma” where the monarchy was abolished and a form of Western-style democracy gradually introduced, and the ethnic minority “Frontier Areas” which were mainly left under their traditional chieftains, headmen and rulers.[2] These, however, were not the only distortions to regional relationships and geography that have had long-running consequences still felt today. For example, once it became clear that no easy trade road would be found into China (which was the original target of British interest), the main focus of British concern always remained with colonial India. Indeed, Burma until 1937, was effectively administered as a province of the British Indian Empire. This integration of India and Burma was a massive boon for the transfrontier Naga, Chin, Zo, Kachin, Karen, Shan, Lahu and Rohingya people. It was effectively an official and political integration of their habitat. In other words, this Indo-frontier borderland which was the meeting place of South Asia and Southeast Asia was the undivided habitat of these numerous tribal and ethnic communities. This habitat was not controlled by any of these large states, and as James Scott says, these were the habitat of communities who were escaping from the control of large states like that of China, India, Burma or Thailand. It however does not mean they were stateless people. They had evolved their own states in the form of chieftainships.

Even when the British conquered Northeast India and Burma, large parts of these frontiers remained outside the reach of the colonialists. Realising the impossibility of reaching these regions and the futility of trying to control them, the British coined the concept of ‘Unadministered Tracts.’ Therefore, large tracts of this frontier remained unadministered by any modern state either of India or Burma. The tribes were free to live according to their own customs, politics, and economic systems amidst kinship groups. Modern commerce did touch them, but by and large it only supplemented their traditional economic exchanges. The only time a modern state made its intervention felt in this frontier was the partition. The separation of Burma from India and creation of an artificial border actually divided their habitat, impeded their cultural and economic exchanges, disturbed their political life and actually divided families and kinsmen.

Initially, the tribal did not realise the impact of this separation as the states were slow to actually implement partition and draw a border dividing the countries. But soon the ‘unadministered tracts’ began to be policed by border security forces of the respective countries, customs duty was imposed, and normal trades were branded as illegal and trans-frontier. When homes, families and kinship groups were divided between countries, migration halted, outlets shrunk and union of kinsmen were disrupted – this created emotional turmoil and dislocated traditional union and even matrimonial ties. In the frontiers, the partition had actually divided people, homes, families, habitats and even resulted in eviction and displacements very similar to those created by the partition of India and Pakistan. But in case of the latter, there was state support to rehabilitate the displaced, in these remote regions there were none. Tribals were left to themselves to cope with the massive calamity and their predicament unsung and uncared for.

There were other issues too that resulted from the separation. The unification of Burma and India had created a huge integrated economic zone. Taking advantage of western education and experience in the functioning of a colonial economy, a massive labouring population had migrated and settled in Burma. One result was a massive immigration of labour from India (the Indian population by 1931 had already passed the one million mark, out of a total population of 14,650,000) and this was a major factor behind the widespread Burmese national liberation movement of the 1920s and 1930s. The competition over scarce resources and employment between the indigenous Burmese and immigrant Indians was fierce. The Burmese disliked the competition from the advanced Indians and there was resistance to further migration of people from India. Violent anti-Indian riots, in which hundreds died, broke out several times in the 1930s. Eventually in World War II, an estimated 500,000 Indians were driven out of the country (unknown numbers were killed) by Aung San and the young nationalists of the Burma Independence Army.[3] Subsequently, another 300,000 Indians left Burma following Ne Win’s mass nationalisation programmes of the 1960s.

The Partition

The arrival of British forces in Mandalay on 28 November 1885 at the end of the Third Anglo-Burmese War. Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837–1912). (Wikimedia Commons).

The idea behind the movement for the ‘separation of Burma from India’ did not originate from the Burmans but was put forward by the British themselves. But this so-called ‘separation’ did not happen without any political undercurrents, and this needs to be examined. ‘[T]he earliest proposal for separation’, according to F. Burton Leach’s rather revealing remark, ‘came from the Rangoon Chamber of Commerce in 1884 seeking the Chief Commissioner in the financial and general interests of the country’.[4] Later on, Sir George Scott wrote in the introduction to Joseph Dautremer’s book (1913): ‘Burma ought never to have been joined on to the Indian Empire.’[5]

Arguments to justify the case for the ‘separation’ had also come from topmost colonial officials in Burma. Lieutenant Governor Harcourt Butler (1915–17; 1922–27) believed that ‘the Burmans differ radically from Indians,’[6]while Lieutenant Governor Reginald Craddock asserted that Burma’s incorporation with India was a ‘political accident.’[7] To add to this group of dissenters, S. V. Donnison thought that Burma’s inclusion in British India was ‘the accident of contiguity.’[8]All these statements undoubtedly revealed the ideological origins of the ‘separation’ as originating with the colonial rulers rather than the Burmans, with inputs largely from the business class. The view expressed by the British officers in Burma was clear: Burma had never been an integral part of India. The reason for such a stand was, as J. S. Furnivall explains, ‘chiefly because they expected to have greater influence under the Colonial Office than under the Indian Government.’[9] It is now clear that the control of Burma’s economy and politics was the driving force behind combined colonial-business interests in this ‘separation’.

But the paradox is that the British themselves wanted Burma separated from India and hardly bargained for that cause. No doubt the politics behind such a move, as explained above, were driven by vested interests in obtaining power to control the economy of Burma. The question is: why did the idea of ‘separation’ not originate from the Burmans but rather from the British? Does this have anything to do with Burman nationalism? In fact, when political reforms were looming in India in 1916, Lieutenant Harcourt Butler noted that the Burmans saw that ‘very little change was necessary’ in their country.[10] F. S. V. Donnison also agreed that ‘until this time there had been little or no interest in politics on the part of the Burmese.’[11] But when the Mont-Ford Reforms, also known as the Government of India Act 1919 was enacted, it excluded Burma on the ground that ‘Burma is not India’ and that ‘its problems are altogether different.’ [12]

The Reform elicited wide protests which suddenly arose in Burma and ‘took everybody by surprise.’[13] The people took to the streets because they did not want to be left out of the Reform. Sir Reginald Craddock remarked: ‘Never was a country and its people more untimely ripped from the womb of political future progress than Burma and the Burmese, when Mr. Montagu with his magic midwifery from across the Bay of Bengal started to disturb them from their placid contentment.’[14] J.S. Furnivall, in his study on the Annual Reports and Administration in Burma, indicated that some Burmans were aware of international events such as the Japanese victory over Russia in 1905, while others examined the Indian national movement led by the Congress as an example. The Burmans also participated in insurrections after each of the British Anglo–Burmese wars.[15]

Nevertheless, it is widely accepted that large-scale political awareness in Burma came only after the Montagu proposal had stirred them. The roots of political organisation in Burma may be traced to the formation of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) in 1906. The YMBA was initially concerned with religious issues only, but it soon became nationally widespread and organised. In 1917, it sent delegations to India to meet the British parliamentary envoys and requested them not to exclude Burma from the proposed constitutional reforms.[16] The YMBA also raised some 2000 pounds to dispatch three representatives to London for the same cause.[17] At a national convention held between 1919 and 1920, the YMBA merged with various organisations and formed the General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) at its annual conference in Prome.[18] For these reasons, Frank N. Trager aptly says, ‘Burmese nationalism did not spring up suddenly in 1919. What changed was the mode of expression.’[19] The Burman protest finally paid off, and with the passing of the Government of Burma Act 1921, Burma was brought in line with the other provinces of the Indian Empire.

The Burma Reforms Committee, headed by Sir Frederick Whyte, was set up to sort out matters related to ‘reserved’ and ‘transferred’ subjects.[20] In accordance with the Reforms Committee’s recommendation, the adoption of the constitutional reforms in Burma came into effect in January 1923. Accordingly, dyarchy was extended in principle to the province of Burma. However, the governor was to exercise direct control over the Shan, Karen, Kachin, Chin (Zo), and tribal hill areas, which constituted more than 40 per cent of Burma’s total area, and included between 10 to 15 percent of its population.[21] However, the Reforms ‘had covered up a multitude of sins,’ Reginald Craddock lamented,[22] and another observer was amazed that the Burmans were taught ‘all such vices of bribery, intimidation and personation’ in such a short period of time. The Simon Commission also noticed that Burma’s ‘interests diverge very considerably from those of India in terms economic, military, constitutional matters[…]’[23] It was based on this finding that the Simon Commission decided that ‘to postpone the separation would be so unpopular in Burma as to endanger the working of any reforms’ and ‘therefore, that Burma should be separated from India immediately.’[24]

A first day cover issued on 1 April 1937 by the Government of British-ruled Burma to commemorate the separation of Burma from the British Indian Empire. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Burman dilemma of ‘separation’ was, however, far from over. The rising political awareness and diverse perspectives on dyarchy resulted in the split of the GCBA. The GCBA was divided into a British-educated-led moderate group, who advocated for Council entry and believed in orderly step-by-step progress, and the monk-led wunthanus, who stood for ‘substantially all or nothing.’[25] With the breakup of the GCBA into two, a new political pattern emerged in Burma, which maintained political activity on two fronts: in the legislature as well as in the country outside. These political organizations further led to a triangular conflict between the British, the moderates, and the wunthanus. The wunthanus even labelled their movement ‘non-participation’ in line with Gandhi’s movement in India. One of Gandhi’s lieutenants was said to have come over to Burma and delivered speeches and private instructions, which supposedly added more fuel to the flames.[26] Paradoxically, the more the government pressed for separation, the more suspicion developed among sections of the Burman nationalists, who feared that if Burma were to be separated from India it would drop out of the stream of constitutional advancement.[27] The suspicion kept growing as the question of separation became an election issue in 1932. The Burman dilemma worsened because of the unanimity amongst the government of Burma, big business, and the European press in favour of the separation.[28]

On the other side, some of the Burman nationalists took this as an opportunity to form a new kind of relationship with the Indians. Furnivall aptly says, ‘Burmans dislike of Indians was replaced by their distrust of Europeans.’[29] The real test for the Burman nationalists came in the 1932 elections. It was a triangular fight between the anti-separationist league led by Ba Maw, the ‘21 Party’ who campaigned for the separationist policy, and pro-British minorities first known as the Progressive Party and later as the Independent Party, or popularly known as the Golden Valley Party. Strikingly enough, the election results came out in favour of the anti-separationist nationalists. This group actually wanted to defer separation until after Burma had derived maximum political advantages from India. At the end of the day, ‘all factions among the nationalists, however much they debated its merits would accept a new political arrangement that would take Burma out of the Indian Empire.’[30]

Sir Hugh Lansdowne Stephenson, Governor of Burma from 1932 to 1936, explained how his government took control of the Burman dilemma: ‘after the Burma Legislative Council had on three separate occasions refused to give a clear indication of their preference between the two alternatives offered to them, Parliament definitely decided on separation.’[31] The Government of India Act 1935 followed suit, which finally sealed Burma’s separation from India. On this Donnison remarks: ‘the separation was “forced” upon Burma and accepted with a sigh of relief: there was no audible criticism.’[32] Ripples of the so-called ‘separation of Burma from India’ were felt in other parts of the Indian subcontinent. In his four-page leaflet issued in July 1935, C. Rahmat Ali, who claimed to be the ‘founder of the Pakistan National Movement’, argued: ‘While Burma is being separated from Hindoostan, it remains a mystery to us why Pakistan […] is to be forced into the Indian Federation.’[33] In 1939, another eminent Muslim leader of the Punjab, Nawab Sir Muhammad Shah Nawaz, cited the case of Burma as a precedent in his proposal to divide India into five ‘countries’, all of which would be federations in themselves.[34]

The British ‘misadventure’ in Burma seems to have become a precedent for others in the Indian subcontinent, albeit inadvertently. The unfolding of these political developments did not affect the status of the ‘scheduled areas’ or ‘excluded areas.’But what seems like the imposition of the status quo was in reality a political surgery: behind the screen of the ‘separation of Burma from India’ lay the fragmentation of the indigenous hill territories in the Indo-Burma borderlands. Such implications seem to have never been imagined by the colonial rulers, but these fragmented territories were going to have a far-reaching impact even in the post-colonial period. To salvage the hill peoples from the impending political fallout, there was a proposal for the creation of a ‘Crown colony’ from concerned colonial officers. But to what extent this proposal was a viable alternative against the backdrop of World War II needs an in-depth analysis.

The Indian Statutory Commission, or the Simon Commission’s recommendation, which said, ‘Burma should be separated from India immediately.’[35] came into effect on 1st April, 1937 following the passing of the Acts of 1935[36] by the British parliament. As a result, British Burma and British India were separated. A new governor was to head the government of Burma; he was to be directly responsible to the Secretary of State for Burma in London. The 1600 km long borderline followed the existing ‘traditional’ line between the two states, or the administrative border delimited by the colonial rulers at the turn of the nineteenth century. This ‘traditional’ line of demarcation remained unaltered when Burma was separated from India on 1st April 1937; it was instead inherited by independent India and Burma. Post-colonial nation-states often inherit colonial boundaries. The Indo–Burma boundary was delimited through a bilateral treaty signed by both the countries on 10th March 1967.

The Impact on Kinship Groups

Manipuri astrologers and brahmins in Burma, 1904. (Wikimedia Commons).

The immediate impact of the partition was the separation of certain tribes from each other who now straddle the two countries of India and Myanmar. The tribes divided between Burma and India are the Konyak, Nocte, Thangsa and Wangcho of Arunachal Pradesh (India). In Myanmar they have been given different names. It is the Kuki (near Moreh), Paite (Churachandpur) Tangkhul (Ukhrul) of Manipur who are divided between the two countries. The Mizo, Paite, Chins (70,000 in number) of Mizoram and Manipur too are divided between the two countries whereas it is the Chakesang, Sangtam, Khyaniungam and Konyak of Nagaland who live in India but have their counterparts in Myanmar. Even the Konyak Chief’s house is divided between Nagaland and the Hukong valley. In fact, in four townships of Myanmar, these Naga tribes have a recognizable presence.[37] The Konyak, Tangkhul, Phom and Yimchunger Nagas live in the Burmese border of Manipur. Many major Naga tribes live in Burma, and the entire Somra district of Burma is inhabited by Naga people. The Naga tribes in Myanmar are Anal, Konyak, Htangan, Khiamnungam, Makury, Nokaw (or Noko), Para, Tangshang (or Tase), Lamkang, Leinong (or Lainong/Lainung) and Yimchunger.[38]

There are many more Naga tribes residing in Myanmar along the banks of the Chindwin River, the Satih/Nanteleik/Tizu River and the Nawin River. But they presently claim a different identity as Red Shans and Tamans though they themselves agree that they were once on the Hills with the Nagas after they left Inn Daw Gyi in Kachin State. This is weakening the Naga solidarity movement; the Nagas in Myanmar occupy a compact area of the northwest region between the Chin state on the south and the Kachin state on the north of Myanmar. Until recently, the Naga territory was under one district or one administrative zone i.e. the Khamti district of Saging division with a little part in Kachin state. But with the drafting of the 2008 constitution of Myanmar, the Naga territory was badly damaged and sliced into pieces.

The hill townships, Layshi, Lahe and Namyung were given as Naga Self-Administered Region, carving out Khamti, Homalin and Tamu under the Sagaing division. The Burmese Nagas had made repeated appeals to the international community to rescue them from the division and devastation of their land by the Burmese Junta regime. When Myanmar was given independence by the British, the emerging Myanmarese evolved a constitution where Nagas were given a ten years agreement after which they had the liberty to leave the state of Myanmar and form their own autonomous administration. In fact, Angami Zapu Phizo started his political career by fighting for the Burmese Naga rights in the newly independent Burmese state. He shifted his attention to the Indian Nagas after winning the rights of the Nagas of Burma.

The Sagaing region is situated in the northwest of Myanmar between the Chin state on the southwest and Kachin state on the northeast. It borders on India’s Nagaland and Manipur state, and it was a division till the 2008 constitution of Myanmar changed the Divisions into Regions. It has a Naga Self-Administered Zone. There is constant unofficial movement between the borders and also intermarriages between the tribes living in Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh – more in Changlang than in Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh. In practice there is an open border between Nagaland (in India) and Myanmar because villages from Mon in Nagaland to Monyakshu in Myanmar depend on the Indian border trade for supplies. The Hukong Valley to its east is far from Mandalay. It is easier to come from here to the Indian side of the border than to go to Mandalay. Most shops are on the Nagaland side of the border and people from Sagaing go there to buy goods.

Since then the border fencing between the two countries has started in which India is likely to turn 3,500 fertile acres into “No-Man’s Land” on its eastern border with Myanmar, and construction of a fence has started between the existing border pillars demarcating the two neighbouring nations. The fencing is going ahead despite an agitation by Naga villagers who said the move will affect their livelihood as the area has been used by them for years. The district administration, located in the border town of Noklak, has begun preparations to seal off farmers’ passage to the 3,500 acres of land, according to sources. Village Councils say the fencing between existing border pillars 139 and 146 will leave 10,000 villagers belonging to the Khiamniungans Naga tribe, living on both sides of the border, without a livelihood.[39] This would further divide the two kinsmen who were so far allowed the privilege of FMP (free movement passage) by the government of India under the pressure of the Naga nationalist Naga organizations.

The separation of Burma from India separated the Mizos living across these two countries after India’s independence. A number of Mizos wanted to join Burma and accordingly a political party advocating a merger with Burma – the UMFO was also formed. But with the independence of Burma a year later in 1948, a large number of Burmese Mizos migrated to Kale-Kabaw Valley and Tahan areas in the border. The Mizo people in Burma are concentrated in the Kale-Kabaw Mythia Valleys, lower-Burma in Arakan, the Somra Tracts and Hkamti district in the Chin state totalling about 6.5 lakhs (1971). The Mizo sub-tribes who are divided between the two countries are Chins, Khami, Masho, Asho, Ponguiu, Sawhan, Kayam and Hemi, Zou Tlan, Ralte, Pawi, Pang (Pualnam), Paite, Mara or Lakhar (in Burma they are called Shamtu Zo and Miram), Magh, Lugei, Singphos in Hualngo (Chak-Chwaka).

A survey among the divided people by a research institute showed that the first issue identified by both groups and individuals was the communication between relatives and family members that suffers because they are separated by the border. The second is the growing disintegration of families. Even when the tribe is separated by international borders, family relations remain of paramount importance. The women respondents were concerned about the new culture that makes it difficult for children of the new generation to relate to their counterparts across the border. The Chin and Naga villagers reported that their family members and relatives separated by the border find it difficult to meet each other not only due to this drawn line, but also due to distance. The current dispensation in both the countries allow people to visit families up to sixteen miles without visa formality and just by a permit, but many do not avail it as they were not aware of it. They often travel illegally and are caught and jailed by the border guards for illegal trespassing. The tribal villages also experience shortage of labour due to the partition, and they are mostly cultivators who require shifting of farming sites and huge manpower. But the partition has divided the people and space to such an extent that both have become scarce as mobility is restricted. Being located in remote regions in both the countries, respective governments also pay scant attention to their development. There is scarcity of resources, and limited access to water, land, market and modern facilities like schools, medical facilities and electricity. Many communities reported that the partition has destroyed the integrity of their tribes. Due to their distance, same tribes use different names for their identification which creates confusion about themselves and their identity. Some even feel that their counterparts on the Indian side try to dominate them as the tribals on the Indian side have experienced comparatively more development. However, it is only trade exchanges initiated recently by the respective governments that have established border markets and legalised traditional exchanges. Here dispersed kinsmen have an opportunity to meet and make cultural, matrimonial, economic and political exchanges.

The Political Ramification

Map of Burma, 1941. (Wikimedia Commons).

The Nagas have been fighting a secessionist war against the Indian state for half a century. In this war, they have always talked about their Naga kinsmen who remained in the State of Myanmar. Currently, they are in the process of negotiating with the Indian State about the possibility of integrating all the Nagas dispersed in different provinces of northeast India in one single political unit. But in these negotiations the question of Nagas living in Myanmar has ceased to figure. In fact, the Nagas of Myanmar are in a terrible condition and are subjected to untold oppression under the military regime there. The Myanmarese Nagas need the support of their ethnic counterparts in India more than anything else. But realizing that the inclusion of Myanmarese Nagas in their political agenda would be futile, the apex Naga organization – The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) seems to have decided to leave the former to their own fate. Therefore, the Naga unification under one Naga state movement has weakened and both the Naga groups are fighting their separate wars in their respective countries.

The Mizos had launched a Zo Reunification Movement in the 1970’s with the objective of unifying and integrating all Mizo people similarly dispersed in different territories in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar into one single province. The movement had gained immediate support and enthusiasm from all Mizos, so much so that though Myanmarese Mizos were as much a foreigner as an American in India, they were allowed to cross over and settle in the Mizoram province of India. It was illegal but the empathy of the Indian Mizos and the unofficial support of the Mizoram government allowed the settlement to continue. It was neither reported officially nor illegalized. But once Mizoram was granted the status of a separate statehood in 1987, a murmur began about the unabated migration of Myanmarese Mizos in this Indian state. This led to fears of the scarcity of land resources, shrinkage of employment opportunities, spurt in criminal activities, increase in drug and small arms peddling, spread of HIV and AIDS and intensification of anti-national movements in this border state. There was discussion to initiate some regulation over their unabated infiltration. The murmur developed into a chorus in the 1990s.

One example of such a campaign was against the Mizo migrants from Myanmar. The Myamarese Mizos trickled into Mizoram through the porous border from the 1970s. The Myanmarese are generally poverty stricken, uneducated, and victims of oppression and deprivation by the majority Myanmarese as well as the Government. They migrate to India to work as maid servants, wage labourers, small time vendors, shopkeepers and smugglers of contraband goods and items. In contrast, the Indian Mizos due their advancement in educational pursuits (Mizos have one of the highest literacy rates in India) and State Preferential Policy are relatively well off. By the turn of the century, there was an estimated number of one lakh Myanmarese Mizos in Mizoram. Once their number began to increase and they began to be visible in the socio-economic space, their presence began to be discussed. Despite the appropriation and exploitation of their cheap labour, they began to be targeted for their illegal migration, land-grabbing, inter marriage, pollution of culture, import of drugs and small arms and criminalizing the Mizo society. Even the Governor Lt. Gen (rtd) M.M. Lakhera, bowing to pressure from the state government, the Mizo social organizations and the churches, supported the holding of a census of Myanmarese nationals staying in Mizoram. It was estimated that 50,000 Myanmarese nationals were in Mizoram (unofficial estimates claimed 75,000). Furthermore, the Governor warned against the enrolment of Myanmarese migrants in the Census 2011. The partition of the country therefore permanently damaged the kinship of the communities and divided them into two hostile communities.

Notes and References
  1. Vumson, Zo History (Aizawl, Mizoram, 1986), p.107 cited in Martin Smith, ‘Burma’s Ethnic Minorities:A Central or peripheral problem in the regional context,’ in Kaladan News, 12 September 2007 downloaded from on 3rd August 2017.
  2. Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (Zed Books, London, 1991). pp.44-8 cited in ibid.
  3. Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (Zed Books, London, 1991). pp.43-44 cited in ibid.
  4. F. Burton Leach, The future of Burma (Rangoon: British Burma Press, 1936), p. 45.
  5. Joseph Dautremer, Burma under British Rule (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 10.
  6. 53 Quoted in Harcourt Butler, ‘Burma and its Problems’, Foreign Affairs Vol. 10, No. 4 (July 1932), p. 656.
  7. Sir Reginald Craddock, The Dilemma in India (London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1929), p. 126.
  8. F. S. V. Donnison, Public Administration in Burma: A study of Development during the British Connexion (NewYork: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1953), p. 72.
  9. J. S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), p. 166.
  10. Harcourt Butler, ‘Burma and its Problems’, Foreign Affairs vol. 10, no. 4 (July 1932), p. 655.
  11. F. S. V. Donnison, Public Administration in Burma: A Study of Development during the British Connexion (New York: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1953), p. 52.
  12. ISC, vol. XI, p. 565.
  13. D. G. E. Hall, A History of South-East Asia (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1955), p. 626.
  14. Sir Reginald Craddock, The Dilemma in India (London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1929), p. 109.
  15. J. S. Furnivall, Colonial policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), p. 140. Also see, Frank N. Trager, Burma from Kingdom to Republic: A Historical and Political Analysis (London: Pall Mall Press,1966), p. 42.
  16. John L. Christian, Modern Burma: A Survey of Political and Economic Development, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1942, p. 62.
  17. Sir Reginald Craddock, The Dilemma in India (London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1929), p. 116.
  18. Maung Htin Aung, A History of Burma (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), pp. 282-83. Also see, Maung Maung Pye, Burma in the Crucible (Rangoon: Khittaya Publishing House, 1951).
  19. Frank N. Trager, Burma from Kingdom to Republic: A Historical and Political Analysis (London: Pall Mall Press,1966), p. 47.
  20. John Leroy Christian, Modern Burma: A Survey of Political and Economic Development (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1942), pp. 62-63.
  21. Frank N. Trager, Burma from Kingdom to Republic: A Historical and Political Analysis (London: Pall Mall Press,1966), p. 48.
  22. Sir Reginald Craddock, The Dilemma in India (London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1929), p. 120.
  23. ISC, Vol. XI, p. 567.
  24. ISC, Vol. II, p. 188.
  25. Ba Maw, Breakthrough in Burma: Memoirs of a Revolution 1939-46 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), pp. 10 and 49.
  26. Sir Reginald Craddock, The Dilemma in India (London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1929), pp. 118-119.
  27. F. S. V. Donnison, Public Administration in Burma: A Study of Development during the British Connexion (New York: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1953), p. 73.
  28. J. S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), p. 166.
  29. J. S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), p. 167.
  30. Frank N. Trager, Burma from Kingdom to Republic: A Historical and Political Analysis (London: Pall Mall Press,1966), pp. 49-51.
  31. Sir Hugh Stephenson, ‘Some Problems of a Separated Burma’, Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, Vol.35, Issue 3(1938), p. 400.
  32. F. S. V. Donnison, Public Administration in Burma: A Study of Development during the British Connexion (New York: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1953), p. 73.
  33. R. Coupland, The Indian Problem: Report to the Constitutional Problem in India (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), p. 200.
  34. R. Coupland, The Indian Problem: Report to the Constitutional Problem in India (London: Oxford University Press, 1944, p. 203. Five countries include: 1. The Indus Regions, 2. Hindu India, a central block comprising all that is not covered by the other ‘countries’, 3. Rajastan, containing the States of Rajputana and Central India, 4. The Deccan States, mainly Hyderabad and Mysore, 5. Bengal, without its present Hindu districts but including parts of Assam and a number of disconnected States
  35. Indian Statutory Commission Report, (ISC), Vol. II, p. 188.
  36. The Government of India Act 1935 and the Government of Burma Act 1935.
  37. Walter Fernandes, Tiken Das, Zaw Goan, Than Naing Lin, Furzee Kashyap, Relations Across Borders: Communities Separated by the Indo-Myanmar Border, NESRC, Guwahati and Animation and Research Centre, Myanmar Yangon, Guwahati and Yangon, 2015, p. 25.
  38. S. R. Tohring, Violence and Identity in North-east India: Naga-Kuki conflict. Mittal Publications. Delhi, 2010, pp. xv–xvii.
  39. The Shillong Times, 3rd January 2017, p. 7.


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