The British messed up Burma as much as they did Malaya when they invaded the sovereign nation (First Anglo-Burmese War 1824 – 26).
You will be amazed at how much the history of the Rohingya has in common with the communists in Malaya, and the similar role played by the British in both countries.
So who are the Rohingya?
Short answer: They are descendants of the Bengalis of Chittagong.
Why did the Brits favour having the Bengalis stay in Burma? Well, it was the economy. A colonial record from the late 19th century says: “Bengalis are a frugal race, who can pay without difficulty a tax that would press very heavily on the Arakanese.”
The East India Company (EIC) ruled from Calcutta and were in control of Bengal, the homeland of the Bengalis, when they extended the British colonial administration to neighbouring Arakan (today Rakhine) in 1828. Since the EIC was a trading “company” motivated by profit, they did not impose a boundary between India and Burma and thus allowing – even encouraging – transient workers to move freely across the blurred borders.
And that’s how the Muslim Bengalis ended up in Buddhist Burma … not much different from how Chinese communists ended up in Islamic Malaya because the British did not curb these free movements of peoples.
By the way, a British government charter in 1813 included a clause that required EIC to open up India to Christian missionaries!
Not only did the British mess with the ethnic demography everywhere (transporting Indian labour to Fiji, the Caribbean, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa & many other receiving countries of the Commonwealth) under their colonial empire, they had to parachute drop their evangelistas to preach and convert the natives too.
The EIC was formally dissolved by an Act of Parliament in 1874 and thereafter the Crown exerted her direct imperial rule of India through the British Raj.
In the British colonial records, the Rohingya were called “Chittagonians”. The Myanmar government today does not recognize Rohingya and is categorically adamant that they are Bengali.
But unlike the DAP whose ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ race construct failed to take off (see more details bottom of this page), the Rohingya were more successful in shedding their Chittagong label than the Cina DAP have been in shedding their Tongsan label.
What Rohingya and the DAP share is the strong support provided by international media and international organizations to perpetuate their self-constructed identity narrative. Only one side of the story is allowed to be disseminated to the public. Even local media like Malaysiakini imposes a brownout on articles critical of the Rohingya.
According to scholar Dr Aye Chan, it was “in the early 1950s that a few Bengali Muslim intellectuals of the northwestern part of Arakan began to use the term ‘Rohingya’ to call themselves. They were indeed the direct descendants of immigrants from the Chittagong District of East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh), who had migrated into Arakan after the province was ceded to British India under the terms of the Treaty of Yandabo, an event that concluded the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824 – 1826). Most of these migrants settled down in the Mayu Frontier Area, near what is now Burma’s border with modern Bangladesh“.
“The term ‘Rohingya’ came into use in the 1950s by the educated Bengali residents from the Mayu Frontier Area,” claimed Dr Aye Chan. Nevertheless ‘Ro-khoing-tha’ was mentioned in writing by Arthur Phayre, a British colonial administrator who was stationed 1836 in Arakan.
The Muslims did not all go to Burma in the same migration wave just like Chinese did not all come to Malaya in the same wave. Descendents of the Muslims from the Buddhist kingdom period (1430 – 1784) of king Mrauk-U, for example, have been in Burma more than half a millennia. This old wave of Bengali is akin to the Baba Nyonya who have been in this country equally a long time — ever since the Malacca sultanate (1403 – 1511). Just like the micro mini-sized Cina Baba community, the old-time Burmese Muslims were small in number as well.
A separate Muslim group, the Kaman people, are citizens of Myanmar and not stateless like the Rohingya.
In 1988 when the Burmese military junta allowed for political parties to be registered, the Bengali Muslims in Arakan asked to be recognized under the name ’Rohingya’ but were rejected.
Following the Burmese government’s refusal, the Rohingya changed tack and formed the National Democratic Party for Human Rights that later won four seats in the country’s 1990 election.
Bangladesh, the Bengali homeland
For 20-plus years from 1947 onwards, East Pakistan and West Pakistan were one discontiguous country post Independence from the British. In 1971, Pakistan‘s eastern half seceded to become an independent Bengali nation, Bangladesh.
When the two halves of Pakistan fought their civil war, most Rohingya sided with East Pakistan that were Bengali speakers rather than with West Pakistan that were Urdu speakers.
Initially the Rohingya were in favor of Arakan joining East Pakistan which was carved out of Bengal during the Partition of the Indian subcontinent. This tilt means the Rohingya repudiated Burmese sovereignty over Arakan. When the move didn’t work out, they agitated for an autonomous region for themselves instead.
Some of the Muslims in Arakan did not want to be called “Chittagonian Bengali” notwithstanding, and they began to insist firmly on their rebooted identity as Rohingya. Their insistence on being given equal political and cultural rights in Myanmar made the majority Buddhist Burmese in Rakhine feel threatened.
Rohingya viewed as “the Sudeten Muslims”
”Here it is again noticeable that in the charter these peoples are mentioned as the Muslims of Arakan. The word ‘Rohingya’ was first pronounced by the Mr Abdul Gaffar, an MP from Buthidaung, in his article ‘The Sudeten Muslims’, published in the Guardian Daily on 20 August 1951,” wrote Dr Aye Chan.
Backgrounder on the ‘Sudeten’ terminology:
— In October 1938, Hitler marched into Sudetenland (a part of Czechoslovakia) to ‘liberate’ the ethnic Germans living there from Czechoslovak rule and alleged mistreatment. The arrival of the Nazis were greeted with cheers by the Sudeten Germans who were about a quarter of Czechoslovakia’s population.
After the end of World War Two and following Germany’s loss in the war, reprisals against the German ethnic minority began. Some 700,000 to 800,000 Germans had to leave or were driven out of Sudetenland by the time of the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 that agreed to the expulsions of German populations from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
The Potsdam Agreement contained the repatriation terms imposed on Germany by the victors of WWII.
”Czechoslovak public opinion supported the expulsions.” In August 1945, Czechoslovakia stripped its German speakers of their Czechoslovak citizenship (read HERE).
We can see that Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law which rendered the Rohingya stateless has recent historical precedent.
“In the end, approximately three million Germans were expelled and their property expropriated by the Czech and Slovak states.
Below are excerpts from an academic paper written by DR AYE CHAN published in the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, Autumn 2005, ISSN 1479- 8484.
The title of Aye Chan’s paper is ‘The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)‘.
Passages abstracted from the paper are reproduced here verbatim within quotes marks. Details on Chin Peng and the communists in Malaya juxtaposed in parallel as well as other additional explanatory notes are written by this blogger and placed within square brackets.
A few of Aye Chan’s academic citations have been omitted for smoother reading.
Colonial era and the British running ‘Ubah’ interference
Rohingya in Arakan
After their conquest of Burma in 1824, “the British policy was to encourage the Bengali inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into fertile valleys in Arakan as agriculturalists”. [In the same year 1824, the British acquired Malacca from the Dutch following a treaty signed between Britain and Holland; in 1826, Malacca together with Penang and Singapore were established as the Straits Settlements.]
“At first most of them [Bengalis] came to Arakan as seasonal agricultural laborers and went home after the harvest was done. R. B. Smart estimated the number at about twenty-five thousand during the crop-reaping season alone. He added that about the same number came to assist in plowing operations, to work at the mills and in the carrying trades. A total of fifty thousand immigrants coming annually were probably not far from the mark.”
”The colonial administration of India regarded the Bengalis as amenable subjects while finding the indigenous Arakanese too defiant, rising in rebellion twice in 1830s.” [Likewise the Chinese immigrants in Malaya were amenable British subjects whereas the indigenous Malay were too defiant such as the rebels Mat Kilau, Tok Gajah, Dato Bahaman, Penghulu Dol Said, Tok Janggut and Datuk Maharajalela.]
“The flow of Chittagonian labor provided the main impetus to the economic development in Arakan within a few decades along with the opening of regular commercial shipping lines between Chittagong and Akyab (Sittwe). The arable land expanded to four and a half times between 1830 and 1852 and Akyab became one of the major rice exporting cities in the world.” [Over here rubber was planted, tin exhaustively mined and Malaya became the world’s biggest exporter of both these commodities.]
“Indeed, during a century of colonial rule, the Chittagonian immigrants became the numerically dominant ethnic group in the Mayu Frontier.” [The number of immigrants from Chittagong exploded in Burma just like the number of immigrants from Tongsan exploded in Malaya. Chinese immigrants too became the numerically dominant ethnic group in several of the Malayan states.]
‘It should be noted that all the Chittagonians and all the Muslims are categorized as Mohamedan in the census reports. There was an increase of 206.67 percent in Mahomedan population in the Akyab District and it was clear that only a few numbers of the transient agricultural laborers went home after the plowing and harvesting seasons and most of them remained in Arakan, making their homes. The heyday of the migration was in the second half of the nineteenth century after opening of the Suez Canal, for the British colonialists needed more labor to produce rice which was in growing demand in the international market. In the 1921 Census, many Muslims in Arakan were listed as Indians.”
Citing Moshe Yegar, Aye Chan suggests that during the colonial period, the anti-Indian riots broke out in Burma because of the resentment against unhindered Indian settlements particularly in Arakan, Tenasserim and Lower Burma.
Arakan Bengalis were Wahhabi fighting for creation of Islamic state
The Bengalis had their own schools in their own language and also sekolah madrasah. They were ideologically oriented to their Muslim homeland, not to Yangon (Rangoon). The Chinese immigrants in Malaya were similarly oriented to their motherland.
“In the period of the independence movement in Burma in 1920s and 1930s the Muslims from the Mayu Frontier were more concerned with the progress of Muslim League in India, although some prominent Burmese Muslims such as M.A. Rashid and U Razak played an important role in the leadership of the Burmese nationalist movement.” [In Malaya, the Chinese immigrants were more concerned with the progress of Sun Yat Sen and later Chiang Kai Shek in China, although some prominent Chinese such as MCA’s Tan Cheng Lok and H.S.Lee played an important role in the leadership of the Malayan nationalist movement.]
“However, the ethnic violence between Arakanese Buddhists and those Muslim Chittagonians brought a great deal of bloodshed to Arakan during the World War II and after 1948, in the opening decade of independent Burma. Some people of the Mayu Frontier in their early seventies and eighties have still not forgotten the atrocities they suffered in 1942 and 1943 during the short period of anarchy between the British evacuation and the Japanese occupation of the area. In this vacuum there was an outburst of the tension of ethnic and religious cleavage that had been simmering for a century.“
[Malaya suffered an asymmetrical bloody interregnum when the Japanese suddenly evacuated leaving a power vacuum before the British returned. During the short period in 1945 from Aug 14 to Sept 3, there was an outburst of violent atrocities following the ethnic tension and religious cleavage simmering for a half century between the Chinese (communists) and Malay villagers.]
“Most of the Bengali immigrants were influenced by the Fara-i-di movement in Bengal that propagated the ideology of the Wahhabis of Arabia.” [Most of the Chinese immigrants were influenced by the communist movement in China that propagated the ideology of Mao Zedong.]
Reflecting the British decision to arm Chin Peng
“The administration by martial law began in Akyab District on 13 April 1942 and with this racial tension burst to the surface, giving way to the public disorder,” wrote Dr Aye Chan citing Frank Owen’s ‘The Campaigns in Burma’. [The Communist Emergency was declared in Malaya in 1948.]
“For all the bloody communal violence experienced by the Arakanese Buddhists in the Western frontier,” Dr Aye Chan wrote, “I feel strongly that it is reasonable to blame the British colonial administration for arming the Chittagonians in the Mayu Frontier as the Volunteer Force. The V Force, as it is called by the British Army, was formed in 1942 soon after the Japanese operations threatened the British position in India. Its principal role was to undertake guerrilla operations against Japanese, to collect information of the enemy’s movements and to act as interpreters.”
[In Malaya, the British colonial administration armed the communists in the jungle as the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army. The MPAJA was formed in 1942 before the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. Its principal role was to undertake guerrilla operations against Japanese and to collect information of the enemy’s movements.]
”The [Bengali] volunteers, instead of fighting the Japanese, destroyed Buddhist monasteries and Pagodas and burnt down the houses in the Arakanese villages. They first killed U Kyaw Khine, the deputy commissioner of Akyab District, left behind by the British government to maintain law and order in the frontier area; they then massacred thousands of Arakanese civilians in the towns and villages. A record of the Secretary of British governor of Burma in exile dated 4 February 1943 reads: I have been told harrowing tales of cruelty and suffering inflicted on the Arakanese villages in the Ratheedaung area. Most of the villages on the West bank of the Mayu River have been burnt and destroyed by the Chittagonian V forces…. The enemy never came to these villages. They had the misfortune of being in the way of our advancing patrols. Hundreds of villagers are said to be hiding in the hills… It will be the Arakanese who will be ousted from their ancestral land and if they cannot be won over in time, then there can be no hope of their salvation (British Library, London, India Office Records R/8/9GS. 4243).“
[Chin Peng’s communists attacked Malay villages and sowed fear.]
“For most of the Chittagonians it was a religious issue that would necessarily lead to the creation of a Dah-rul-Islam, or at least to being united with their brethren in the west. It also aimed at the extirpation of the Arakanese or being forced them to migrate to the south where there were overwhelming majority of Arakanese Buddhists.”
[For most of the communists it was an ideological issue that would necessarily lead to the creation of a socialist utopia republic, or at least to being united with their brethren in the Chinese mainland.]
”The events during the war contributed the Chittagonians’ fervent sense of alienation from the heterogeneous community of the Arakan. Anthony Irwin called the whole area a “No Man’s Land” during the three years of Japanese occupation. Irwin explained how the ethnic violence divided the Arakan State between Arakanese and Chittagonians.”
[Events during WWII contributed to the ethnic divide between the Malays and communists.]
”During the early post-war years both Arakanese and Bengali Muslims in the Mayu Frontier looked at each other with distrust. As the British Labor Government promised independence for Burma, some Muslims were haunted by the specter of their future living under the infidel rule in the place where the baneful Arakanese are also living.”
[Likewise during the early post-war years, both Malays and communists in the peninsula looked at each other with distrust. As the British promised independence for Malaya, some Chinese were haunted by the spectre of their future living under Malay rule in a newly independent country when they themselves prefered the continuance of British overlordship. Some even petitioned for Penang to secede from Malaya.]
“In the wake of independence most of the educated Muslims felt an overwhelming sense of collective identity based on Islam as their religion and the cultural and ethnic difference of their community from the Burmese and Arakanese Buddhists. At the same time the Arakanese became more and more concerned with their racial security and ethnic survival in view of the increasingly predominant Muslim population in their frontier.”
“The ethnic conflict in the rural areas of the Mayu frontier revived soon after Burma celebrated independence on 4 January 1948. Rising in the guise of Jihad, many Muslim clerics (Moulovis) playing a leading role, in the countryside and remote areas gave way to banditary, arson and rapes. Moshe Yeagar wrote that one of the major reasons of Mujahid rebellion was that the Muslims who fled Japanese occupation were not allowed to resettle in their villages.”
[Just replace the Mujahid Party in Arakan with the Communist Party in Malaya and the parallel conflict is perfectly described. In fact, the demands made by the Mujahid Party listed below is no different from the demands made by the Communist Party.]
List of Demands: “The Mujahid Party must be granted a legal status as a political organization. The Urdu Language must be acknowledged as the national language of the Muslims in Arakan and be taught in the schools in the Muslim areas. The refugees from the Kyauktaw and Myohaung (Mrauk-U) Townships must be resettled in their villages at the expense of the state. The Muslims under detention by the Emergency Security Act must be unconditionally released. A general amnesty must be granted for the members of the Mujahid Party.“
“Calling themselves ‘the Muslims of Arakan’ and [requiring] ’the Urdu’ as their national language indicated their [the Rohingya’s] inclination towards the sense of collective identity that the Muslims of Indian sub-continent showed.” [Similarly Chin Peng’s communist guerrillas never showed any sense of a collective identity that was discernibly Malayan but instead they turned their loyalty to Beijing.]
“However, the new democracy in the independent Burma induced some Muslim leaders to remain loyal to the state.” [The MCA, unlike the communists, were loyal to the Malay state.]
”[In 1960] the Muslim members of parliament from Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships denounced the plan [for the formation of an Arakan state] and called for the establishment of a Rohingya State.”
”General Ne Win took power in a coup d’etat in 1962, and almost all the Rohingya movement went underground.“
“some 100,000 Indians and some twelve thousand Pakistanis left Burma for their homeland [in the years 1964-66 following Burma’s policy of nationalizing private enterprises, i.e. the state acquiring private assets owned by Indians]”.
“a proposal to the Constitution Commission for the creation of separate Muslim state or at least a division for them … was again turned down” in 1973.
Rohingya “remained in the frontier areas till the Citizenship Law of 1982 was enforced in 1987“.
“By this  law those Muslims had been treated as aliens in the land they have inhabited for more than a century.”
“According to the 1983 census report all Muslims in Arakan constituted 24.3 percent and they all were categorized as Bangladeshi, while the Arakanese Buddhists formed 67.8 percent of the population of the Arakan (Rakhine) State.”
DAP’s ineffectual ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ is merely self-serving
Similar to the DAP finagling for their ‘Anak Bangsa Malaysia’ to be included by our National Registration Department as a distinct race, likewise the Rohingya are actually Bengali Muslims but they at the very least were more successful than the DAP in gaining recognition.
Recall Hannah Yeoh’s fight with the NRD in June 2011 to register that newly coined term of “Anak Malaysia“ as the official ethnicity of her newborn baby (see Hannah’s application for her child’s birth cert, below).
BELOW: In her borang permohonan JPN, Hannah applied to record her baby’s keturunan as “Anak Malaysia”; the clerk canceled the meaningless coined phrase and replaced the entry with “Cina” … err, or shouldn’t it be ‘India’ ikut keturunan bapa?
Cina DAP are so bossy! Even their women must wear the pants.
A fortnight after Hannah’s failed attempt, another DAP politician, this time Yang Berhormat Komtar Ng Wei Aik also tried to register his baby daughter Ng Caryn as keturunan “Anak Malaysia” (see below). These DAP polytikus so muka tebal!