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Workers’ International News, September 1938


Than Tun

Race Riots in Burma


From Workers’ International News, Vol.1 No.9, September 1938, p.8-10.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


This pen-picture of last month’s events in Burma by on eyewitness demonstrates once again the imperialist stratagem of diverting into the channel of race riots the growing exasperation of colonial workers whose burdens daily increase. The strike of oilworkers in the Burma Oil Co.’s fields a few weeks ago is symptomatic of the rising tide of discontent which is welding Burmese workers together in common defence of their class interests. The struggles of the colonial workers must be linked with those of the British workers in a united front against the common enemy, British Imperialism, which throws white against coloured, Moslem against Hindu, Arab against Jew, to preserve its own domination – ED.

Communalism, the imperialist reaction to the rising tempo of the masses, is in fact the barometer of class-consciousness.

Imperialism gives birth to its own antithesis, the movement for national liberation among the colonial countries and the social revolutionary movement of the working-class. Unable to find a solution of its own contradictions, it adopts the policy of divide et impera in the colonies, accompanied by brutal repression.

Communalism is a phenomenon hitherto unknown to Burma. Burmans are known abroad as hospitable people and as such, they are friendly to foreigners, especially to Indians to whose country Burma owes her cultural heritage. Racial hatred against Indians was a thing unheard of in Burma. Prior to 1930, Indians had even taken part in the movement for political independence. The Burmans on their part, also had demonstrated their solidarity with the Indian struggle for freedom.

In 1930, the dock workers, all South Indians, went on strike in connection with wages. There was a shortage of hands and the stevedores took in Burmans. Incited by interested parties, the strikers assaulted the Burmese and a fracas took place. The trouble soon assumed the form of communal riots, which spread all over the city. When normal conditions were restored, social relations between the two communities were strained.

Since then, Dhobama Asi-Ayone, a nationalist organisation with socialist tendencies, the vanguard of the anti-imperialist struggle in Burma, have made various attempts to bring the two communities together.

Now Dhobama Asi-Ayone has widened its scope by including the Indian masses. In all the workers’ struggles under the leadership of Dhobama Asi-Ayone, the Indian workers are fighting side by side with their Burmese comrades.

Can Imperialism tolerate the growing solidarity of the Indians and the Burmans?

The answer is found in the communal riots which took place in the last week of July in Rangoon and which soon spread to all parts of the country, with military excesses such as indiscriminate firing and the ruthless suppression of the Burmese newspapers.

In 1936, a book written by a Burmese Moslem was published. In it, scathing attacks were made on Buddhism and Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was furiously denounced. But the book was privately circulated amongst the Moslems and it escaped the notice of the Buddhists.

Early in July this year, someone found the book and sent extracts to the Burmese Press. The extracts roused the indignation of the Buddhists to boiling-point and there was a nation-wide protest against the book.

Yet the imperialist Government which has been jailing many anti-imperialists for making alleged seditious speeches, for making speeches alleged to create hatred among different classes of His Majesty’s subjects, this government which warned New Burma, a nationalist paper published in English, for writing an ‘inflammatory Editorial’ entitled Warning to the Capitalists connived at the mischief already done and allowed it to grow.

On 26th July, a meeting was held at Shwedagon Pagoda. More than ten thousand Buddhists attended the meeting. Resolutions condemning the author and asking the Government to take immediate action were passed. The meeting then decided to stage a demonstration in the Sooratee Burmah Bazaar, where there are Moslems.

The imperialist government, which had banned various demonstrations and which had applied section 144 of Cr.P.C. in the Oilfields, did not do anything to avert the impending clash.

Nearing the bazaar, the demonstrators shouted fiery slogans. A stone was thrown into their midst and the demonstrators retaliated by throwing stones at the Indian shops.

Without trying to find out the mischief-mongers, the European Sergeants began to give lathis blows to the phongyis (Buddhist priests) who were doing their best to pacify the already infuriated mob.

The indignation of the people was now directed against the police force. Policemen found isolated were assaulted or killed.

On the next lay, the police excesses were reported in the press and the whole Burmese press condemned the action of the police.

Only then did the Government decide to prosecute the author and issue a Burma Gazette Extraordinary proscribing the book and relevant pamphlets. It even promised to institute an enquiry into the police excesses.

There were street fights, stray assaults, looting and hooliganism all round. Schools, shops, bazaars, offices, and courthouses were closed down. Buses, trains and rickshaws stopped running and there was no traffic for four or five days. There was no delivery of. letters or telegrams. All forms of communications were paralysed. The whole city was panic-stricken.

The rioters distributed their gains fairly and squarely among their comrades. All the spoils of the ‘Civil War’ were carried away in carts, gharries and lorries in broad daylight, right in the presence of the authorities.

It seems the riot had lost its religious or communal character. Although the riot was still wearing the cloak of communalism, stark want and poverty, growing economic discontent and appalling unemployment, appeared in their nakedness behind this hooliganism.

Military forces had to be called in. Martial law was proclaimed and any group of five persons would be fired upon and any person found assaulting another or looting would be shot dead. After the promulgation of Martial law, crowds were fired upon and many were killed.

Official figures stated there were more than three hundred injured and sixty killed. But it is believed that there were more casualties than stated by official figures.

The military forces exceeded their duty. Indiscriminate firing followed. In some places, people were fired upon without warning. Children going to buy tea from tea-shops were shot.

In order to hide its own inefficiency to cope with the disturbances and to cover up the excesses of the police and the military forces, the imperialist government put the whole blame on the Burmese Press and began to lay its heavy hand on the Burmese dailies.

The District Magistrate issued an order on the 28th prohibiting the publication of articles and news in connection with the present disturbances likely in any way to cause feelings of enmity between different sections or classes or any photograph without the permission given in writing by the Home Department of Government.

The Sun and the New Light of Burma stopped publication for two days as a protest against the dictatorial order of the District Magistrate.

On the 31st newspapers appeared on the scene again. When the news spread to the districts, the trouble got aggravated, although the situation at Rangoon appeared to be normal.

Meetings were prohibited in the districts. Assaults, looting and burnings went on. Many suspected of inciting the mob were arrested. Section 144 of Cr.P.C. was applied and Martial Law was proclaimed in many districts.

The District Magistrate banned the publication of the Sun on 2nd August and of Progress on the 3rd. At the same time, the Home Department of the Government demanded Rs. 3000/- as security from each. The New Light of Burma was given a final warning. All the mofussil editions of the Burmese dailies were confiscated by the police.

Yet, the disturbances do not show any sign of abating.

The Government, which connived at the trouble from the beginning and took military measures only when the trouble was at its height is responsible for this state of affairs. It is responsible for causing feelings of enmity between different classes of His Majesty’s subjects. It is responsible for the growing economic discontent of the masses expressed in hooliganism. It is responsible for the excesses of the police and military forces.

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