December 7, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Victims of genocide or victims of history: 10 facts you did not know about the Rohingya crisis and the roasting of Aung Sang Suu Kyi

4 min read

A profoundly ignorant chorus of denunciation has descended upon Aung Sang Suu Kyi over the treatment of the Rohingyas — while ignoring the historical baggage of colonial policies that created this tragic conundrum. And critics ignore the role of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which mounted coordinated attacks on police stations, army posts and civilian targets in November 2016 and August 2017. Here are some facts for your to consider:

1. It all goes back to the 1932 election in Burma (then part of British India); the Brits wanted to separate Burmese from India, and propped up the Separatist League, but the Anti-Separatists (led by Ba Maw) won. They wanted to remain loosely federated with India. Nonetheless Burma was separated from India in 1935. When Ba Maw won the next election too in 1937, the British policies of Divide and Rule were stepped up — and led to anti-Indian rioting in 1938 in Rangoon (after the Brits imprisoned Ba Maw for seeking Japanese support for his campaign of full independence from the Brits).

2. When Japan liberated Burma in March 1942, Ba Maw was restored to power (formally becoming Prime Minister or Adipati in August 1943), with Aung San as his DPM and Defence minister. The British had ensured that the British Burma Army contained no Burmese (instead comprising Karen, Kachins, Shans and Chins) while the bureaucracy contained mainly Anglo-Burmans and Indians. The majority Bamars only got opportunities in the military and bureaucracy in alliance with the Japanese. 

3. Post-war, Aung San (whose army had defected from the Japanese to the British side in March 1945) soon emerged as the natural leader of Burma, and won a landslide electoral victory in June 1946 despite British attempts at thwarting him. Aung San put together a rainbow coalition of the ethnicities, bringing key Karen, Shan and Muslim leaders into his cabinet. But Burma’s chances of consolidating its new nationhood were dealt a fatal blow six weeks later, when Aung San and his six key cabinet colleagues were assassinated at the behest of Churchill’s Tory allies, one of whom (Capt Vivian) became one of the leaders of the Karen insurgency.

4. The ethnic civil wars that began then have continued to this day. The Arakan Rohingya leadership appealed to Jinnah to demand that northern Arakan/Rakhine be merged into Pakistan; when he ignored them, the Rohingya began an insurgency against Burma in 1948. That is the genesis of the Rohingyas’ stateless status: the Myanmar army is fighting other ethnic insurgencies, but only the Rohingya leadership attempted to join another country (but were rejected by it).

5. Ironically, Nehru allowed Burma to expel over a million Indians in 1962, despite the fact that they had lived in Burma for 3-5 generations and had minimal links to India; similarly a million Tamils were expelled from Sri Lanka between 1948 and 1965, and resettled in parts of Tamil Nadu that they had few roots in.

6. The Myanmar army is obviously hoping that Bangaldesh’s Sheikh Hasina (or perhaps Pakistan’s Abbasi) will be as gullible as Nehru in 1962; instead, this is likely to become a humanitarian crisis that the world has to cope with. Britain’s historical culpability will always be ignored by the world!

7. “Neighboring Bangladesh, a Muslim country, doesn’t accept them either. It is a huge and indescribable human tragedy. But those who are giving a religious color to the Rohingya situation are doing harm to an oppressed community.”

8. “It is not a fight between Buddhism and Islam. The fact is that Western governments, their institutions and rights groups have been raising their voice for Rohingya since the outbreak of violence in Rakhine in 2012.”

9. The conflict in Rakhine “is an economic and political issue that has plagued the region for decades. The jihadi element, however, has been injected into the conflict, and the Rohingya are already paying the price for a militant transformation of their human predicament.”

10. “The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which attacked Myanmar’s security forces on August 25, has jihadi links. There are reports that Rohingya militants have links to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan also. Since the start of the latest conflict, jihadi groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan have started collecting funds to aid militants in Myanmar. Indonesia’s Islamists are also getting increasingly involved in the conflict. Many of these groups have ties with al-Qaida and even the so-called “Islamic State” (IS). The Myanmar government says it is only responding to the jihadi threat. It is partly true but also a justification to suppress the Rohingya even more.”


“The victims of this Islamization of the Rakhine dispute are the Rohingya people. Instead of resolving the issue through diplomatic means and human rights interventions, Islamic countries have chosen to strengthen the jihadi narrative in Myanmar. This doesn’t augur well for the stateless Rohingya, who have already suffered a lot at the hands of Myanmar authorities. The Muslim hypocrisy and the introduction of jihad in Rakhine will only make things worse for them.”

(based on contributions and notes by P K Basu, the author of Asia Reborn, and DW’s Shamil Shams)

About Author

Leave a Reply