Origin of Burmese Indians
The “Hindi” are the people who speak Hindi language which is an Indo-Aryan language. There are conflicts between the Urdu speakers (mostly Muslims) and the Hindi speakers (mostly Hindus). The Hindi speakers are divided into a number of ethnic and social groups.
The Hindus, who constitute the largest group, are divided into four main social groups called “castes”, a hierarchical order based on the principles of “purity and pollution”,as below_
- Brahmans, the priests and scholars
- Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors
- Vaisyas, the merchants and professionals
- Sudras, the laborers and servants
These four castes have many sub-castes, which are further divided into circles. Castes are culture groups, based not only on occupations, but also on customs, manners, and habits. The majority of the Hindi speakers are Hindus, which is considered more a lifestyle than a religion. Hindus worship a pantheon of gods. They believe that sacrifices and offerings must be made to the gods regularly to appease them and avoid calamity. Hinduism teaches that the soul never dies. When the body dies, the soul is reborn or “reincarnated.” The soul may be reborn as an animal or as a human. They worship some gods in the form of animals. Cows are considered sacred, but other animals are also revered. The law of “karma” states that every action influences how the soul will be born in the next reincarnation. If a person lives a good life, the soul will be born into a higher state. If a person leads an evil life, the soul will be born into a lower state.
The Muslim Hindi-speaking women still follow the tradition of purdah, which is the covering of their entire bodies, especially their eyes, as a sense of seclusion. However, purdah is practiced to varying degrees depending on the extent of westernization and urbanization.
Brahmans are known as Ponnas in Burmese. They are priests and scholars of the highest ranking group or most purified among the cast system in India. Ancient Burmese Kings up to the present Military Rulers and most of the Myanmar Citizens used to rely them for advise as they are famous in Astrology and Palmistry. Burmese Kings used the service of the “White Ponna” and “Dark Ponna” as consultants for any advise in daily events up to the administration of the country e.g. for the Royal customs, rules and regulations. Sometimes they were given the post of the Royal Ministers. In Burmese folk tales and religious stories, they were usually portrayed as villains.
The Buddhist kings of Indo-China had borrowed from Hinduism much of their court ceremonial. In Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Champa, and in a host of smaller states, Brahman astrologers and soothsayers were masters of the ceremonies. As interpreters of the omens and repositories of ancient tradition their influence was great.(BURMA, D. G . E. HALL, M.A., D.LIT., F.R.HIST.S. Professor Emeritus of the University of London and formerly Professor of History in the University of Rangoon, Burma. Third edition 1960. Page 41)
The Bengali came from Bengal region, that is Bangladesh and West Bengal, a state in India. Their native language is Bengali. Their culture remains diversified e.g. from various castes, such as the Brahman, Kayastha, Vaidya, Namasudra, Gandha Banik, Saadgop, Napit, Mahisya, Kanaani, and Subarnabanik. Their occupations and religions had created other cultural distinctions as well. The majority of Bengalis are Muslims (60%), while the rest are Hindu or Hinduized animists. The Bengali of Bangladesh are the largest group and are 99.9% Mulsims.
Bengali Hindu worship many gods. Cows, monkeys, snakes, and many other animals are sacred. They teach and practice yoga and believed in reincarnation (a continual cycle of death and rebirth). The law of karma states that every action influences how the soul will be born in the next life. The cycle continues until spiritual perfection is achieved. Then the soul enters moksha, a new level of existence, from which it never returns.
Some of them are staying near the Myanmar- Bangladesh border and Mawlamyaing City, Mon State.
Bengalis from Chittagong are famous as sailors and took over river shipping in Burma. (“The Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 30 paragraph 4, line 9, 10)
Gujarati and Soorti
The Gujarati came from the state of Gujarat, western India. Their language is Gujarati. They are a complex group, speaking various dialects and having many cultural distinctions. Some of these differences are based on region, while others are based on their “caste”. They are often involved in trade or in operating small businesses.
The Hindus, who make up the largest group, are divided into a number of castes or jatis. They practice purdah i.e. the women are required to wear veils and remain isolated.
Approximately 30% of them are Muslims and those Gujarati Muslims are called Soorti. There are a lot of Soorti in Burma/Myanmar. Most of them are well to do merchants (“The Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar,Page 30, paragraph 4, line 8) and entrepreneurs and industrialists.
Orisi or Oriya
While there are 25 million Orisi in India, some of them migrated to Bangladesh and Burma. The Orisi speak an Indo-Aryan language called Oriya and also known as Oriya. United Nations ex-Secretary General U Thant’s father is an Oriya.
Almost all the Oriya are Hindu. They used to pray to the deities, the “disease spirits,” and the village gods. Gunias (magicians) practice witchcraft and sorcery. Extensive rituals and festivals are celebrated throughout the land. The Orisi believe that sickness is placed on people by evil spirits and witches. They also sustain the belief that planets and stars in the zodiac are responsible for an individual’s physical and mental condition. They look to herbal folk medicines, exorcisms, and the gunias for cures from these and other illnesses. The Orisi believe that death is simply a passing from one life into the next. They believe that this cycle of death and rebirth will continue until the spirit merges with the person’s “absolute soul.” They believe that Yama, the god of justice, sends the soul to heaven or hell.
Tens of thousands of Tamil people from Tamil Nadu came to work in Burma during the British colonial rule. Telugu and Hindi speaking workers also migrated at that time. Burmese Tamils, Telugu and Hindi speakers had their own language magazines, schools and movie theaters for screening movies imported from India in their own mother tongue. The “immigrant population”, although many had been living there for generations and have integrated with the Burmese society, became a target for discrimination and oppression by the new government formed after the military coup in 1962. The Myanmar Military Government closed down the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi magazines, schools, except for schools that were operated from temples and houses. ( Thanjai Nalankilli, TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 2002 (ID.2002-07-02))
“A report dated March 1966 from Burma states:
- Tamil population 200,000
- Telegu population 50,000
- Malayalee population 5,000
About 50 primary schools are conducted by Tamils. The Rasika Ranjani and Thondan, two Tamil dailies have been banned since January 1966. There are over 40 Hindu temples founded and administered by Tamils in Burma, and two Tamil Catholic parishes. The Nattukkotai Chettiars administer Thendayuthapani temples in 32 towns.” ” Our Tamilians along with other Indians are leaving Burma for good.” (From Tamil Studies Abroad, A Symposium edited by Xavier S.Thaninayagam, published by the International Association of Tamil Research, 1968: AND Tamil Nation)
There are many South Indian Temples all over Rangoon or Yangoon, but like all buildings, they are not well maintained. Even today South Indian restaurants in Burma are called Chetty Restaurants because Chettiar are also Tamils . Food is plentiful and very cheap. Burma is the only place in the world where Tamil writings and language is a kind of banned! The remaining Tamils, around 500,000 have adapted themselves, embraced Buddhist ways in addition to Hinduism, speak Burmese and dress in Burmese style. Indians are also needed to adopt Burmese names to avoid blatant outright discriminations. (Ananthan @ siva.for.uidaho.edu on: Fri Aug 23 03:24:50)
Tamil muslims are called Chulias. Some of them come from Madaras and called Madarasi. They are metal-tool merchants. (Moshe Yegar, Muslims of Burma, page 30, paragraph 4, line 8)
Gurkha, also spelt as Gorkha, are people from Nepal who take their name from the eighth century Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath. His disciple Bappa Rawal later moved further east to found the house of Gorkha, which in turn founded the Kingdom of Nepal.Many Gurkhas or Nepalese migrated out of Nepal and settled in various parts of northern India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. They speak Khas Kura language. Like other Hindu, the Nepalese belong to a “caste” structure which has only two categories: upper class landowners and lower class servants. Most of the Nepalese in Myanmar are farmers and most of them own the lands. They grew wet rice, dry rice, maize, millet, wheat and vegetable. Most of the farmers raise buffalo and goats for meat and cows for milk. Nepalese villages consist of loosely grouped homes surrounded by farm land. Some of them are staying in larger towns where the temples or monasteries are located.
Almost all of the Nepalese in Myanmar are Hindus, worshipping many gods. They believe in ghosts and demons. Many Gurkha or Nepalese arrived Burma with the British India Army. Gurkhas are best known for their history of bravery and strength in the British Army Brigade of Gurkhas and the Indian Army. They were designated by the British as a Martial Race. Martial Race is a designation created by officials of British India to describe “races” (peoples) that were thought to be naturally warlike and aggressive in battle, and to possess qualities like courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, hard working, fighting tenacity and military strategy. The British recruited heavily from these Martial Races for service in the colonial army.
Gurkhas Regiments served in the Second World War, most notably in Malaya and Burma where the Allies suffered the intense attacks from the Japanese. They had a heavy fighting in 1944 in the Arakan and during the Japanese offensive from March to June 1944 against north-east India at Kohima and Imphal. Imphal was besieged by the Japanese until the Allies achieved a decisive victory at Kohima in June and the Japanese fled back into Burma. The Regiment continued with the successful Allied offensive into Burma and on the 3 May the Burmese capital Rangoon was liberated. Gurkha soldiers have won 13 Victoria Crosses. Ethnically, Gurkhas who are presently serving in the British armed forces are Indo-Tibeto-Mongolians. Gurkhas serving in the Indian Armed Forces are of both groups, Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian and ethnic Rajput. Gurkhas of Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian origin mostly belong to the Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Khasa and Kiranti origin, many of whom are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism and Shamanism. (Nepal – From The Anglo-Nepalese War To World War II)
All Gurkhas, regardless of ethnic origin, speak Nepali, an Indo-Aryan language. They are also famous for their large knife called the khukuri.
Chettiars are also known as Chetti, Chetty, Chety, Shetty or Setti. The first Chettiars arrived Burma during the British rule – in 1826 accompanying Indian troops and labourers during the British campaign in Tenasserim in the first Aglo-Burmese war. (Furnivall 1956:120)
Their activities, however, were petty and remained so even after the first formal Chettiar ‘office’ was established in Moulmein in 1850. (Cooper 1959:30)
It was, however, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the passing of the Burma Land Act brought about the mass entry of Chettiars into Burma. By 1880 the Chettiars had fanned out throughout Burma and by the end of the century they had become by far the ‘the most important factor in the agricultural credit structure of Lower Burma’. (Cooper 1959:30)
By 1905 there were about 30 Chettiar offices in Burma. According to the Burma Provincial Banking Enquiry Report (BPBE), the most dependable source on the extent of Chettiar operations, this number had increased to 1,650 by 1930. (BPBE 1930a:203)
Conveying more graphically the ubiquity of Chettiar offices, the BPBE concluded (1930a:203) that in ‘nearly every well-populated part of Lower Burma there is a Chettiar within a day’s journey of every cultivator’.
A community of moneylenders indigenous to Chettinad, Tamil Nadu,the Chettiars operated throughout the Southeast Asian territories of the British Empire. They played a particularly prominent role in Burma where, they were typically demonised as rapacious usurers, responsible for all manner of vices concomitant with the colonial economy. Not least of these was the chronic land alienation of the Burmese cultivator. Their role was crucial in the dramatic growth in Burma’s agricultural output during the colonial era. Success of the Chettiars in Burma lay less in the high interest rates they charged, than it did to patterns of internal organisation that provided solutions to the inherent problems faced by financial intermediaries. A proper functioning financial system could have provided better solutions perhaps for Burma’s long-term development, but Burma did not have such a system, then. Tersely and pointedly speaking, Chettiar banks are fiery dragons that parch every land that has the misfortune of coming under their wicked creeping. (Testimony of a Karen witness to the Burma Provincial Banking Enquiry, 1929.)
Without the assistance of the Chettiar banking system Burma would never have achieved the wonderful advance of the last 25 to 30 years…The Burman today is a much wealthier man than he was 25 years ago; and for this state of affairs the Chettiar deserves his thanks. (Sir Harcourt Butler, Governor of Burma, 1927.)
The Chettiars were the crucial providers of the capital that turned Burma into the ‘rice-bowl’ of the British Empire. But they were seen as the moneylenders, vilified as predatory usurors whose purpose was to seize the land of the Burmese cultivator. The truth was that the Chettiars were the primary providers of capital to Burmese cultivators through much of the colonial period, but the combination of the collapse of paddy prices in the Great Depression, the Chettiar insistence of land as collateral, and the imposition of British land-title laws, did bring about a substantial transfer of Burma’s cultivatable land into their hands. The Chettiars did not charge especially high interest rates and, indeed, their rates were much lower than indigenous moneylenders. In the end the Chettiars were expelled from Burma, in the process losing the land they had acquired and much of their capital.
Chettiars had the role in the reclamation of the Irrawaddy Delta for rice growing. Burma’s emergence as the ‘rice-bowl’ of the British Empire came as a result of what J S Furnivall (1956:116) memorably lauded as the ‘epic bravery and endurance’ of the country’s cultivators in reclaiming the swamps and jungles of the Irrawaddy Delta. An epic motivated by Burma’s entry into the commercial imperatives of the British Empire, the conversion of the Delta into rich paddy-producing land initially required little capital. Britain’s great ‘exchange banks’ took care of shipping, milling and other export-finance needs, and up until the middle of the nineteenth century the amount of capital required ‘on the ground’ in land preparation was slight. As Adas (1974b:389)noted, ( Adas 1974b:389) in the early years of British rule in ‘Lower Burma’ the growth in rice exports was founded on cheap and surplus labour within cultivator families, and upon abundant land that required little more than clearing. (Parching the Land?: The Chettiars in Burma by Sean Turnell Economics Department Macquarie University.firstname.lastname@example.org)
The majority of the Punjabi live in India and Pakistan; but they can also be found in nearly thirty other countries. Punjabi is an Indo-European language that is divided into six main dialects. It is primarily spoken in the major regions of India and Pakistan. Those who speak Punjabi language or those who inhabit the Punjab region are called Punjabi.
It is commonly said among the Punjabi that “land, women, and water are the sources of all conflicts.” This simply means that they deem it necessary to control the means by which one perpetuates his family and property. The Diaspora Punjabi reflect the three major religions of their homeland: Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism. Most of the Diaspora Punjabi speakers are Sikhs, except for those in Myanmar, who are mostly atheists. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that was founded in northern India during the sixteenth century. Its teachings have combined the elements of both Hinduism and Islam in an attempt to find one god who transcends all religious distinctions. (Joshua Project)
In March 1944, the Japanese 31st Division moved northwestward in Burma’s Naga hills and invaded Imphal and Kohima in India. Finally, after 64 days, amid terrible losses on both sides, the Japanese were beaten back. The determination and gallantry shown by allied troops in the Kohima siege was quick to become the subject of poem, song, and legend.Today in the Kohima cemetery, among the 1,378 grave markers, is the famous Kohima Memorial with its historic inscription:
“When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For your tomorrow
We gave our today”
The Burma Star Association was founded in 1951 by Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten, Field Marshal the Viscount Slim and other British Veterans of the Burma Campaigns. Admiral Mountbatten had been CinC of the Allied Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) with the late General Joseph C. “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell as Deputy CinC. Stillwell was also the Commander of the U.S. China-Burma-India Theater of Operations and Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-sheck for all Chinese forces in the CBI. Then General William Slim Commanded the British XIV Army in India and Burma. Following the total defeat of Japanese Imperial forces in Southeast Asia General Slim is said to have told his troops: “When you go home don’t worry about what to tell your loved ones and friends about service in Asia. No one will know where you were, or where it is if you do. You are, and will remain ‘The Forgotten Army.’”
Reunions were held by various units (UK) in England and the China-Burma-India Veterans Association was formed in the U.S. In 1950 only, Admiral Montbatten started the Burma Star Organization. Admiral Mountbatten became the first patron, an honor held until his death by assassination in 1979. Current Royal Patron is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The first president was Field Marshal the Viscount Slim upon whose death was succeeded by his son, Colonel the Viscount Slim.
“I have never met a despondent Sikh in the front line. In a hospital in the rear he will moan dreadfully over a small wound, but in a fight he will go on to his last breath, and die laughing at the thought of Paradise, with the battle-cry of Khalsa ji ki jai as he falls.
“This very cry, a friend told me, came over a field telephone in the Arakan when a Sikh signal-havildar had been cut off beyond hope of rescue. The line remained alive. The havildar described to my friend how the Japanese were creeping up. A pause, then he came back to say that he had killed a skirmisher, but that now his ammunition was exhausted. “There’s not much time, Sahib. I’ll break the telephone before they get me. Victory to the Holy Brotherhood!” They found him dead beside an enemy he had brained with the butt of his Sten.
“A remarkable people, the Sikhs, with their Ten Prophets, five distinguishing marks, and their baptismal rite of water stirred with steel; a people who have made history, and will make it again.”
“Every man in this magnificent battalion of the Indian State Forces [1st Patiala Regiment] stands 5 foot 11 inches, or over: they are the finest lot of Sikhs I have ever seen, and that is saying much. Every officer in the Lieutenant-Colonel Balwant Singh’s battalion is a Sikh. In discipline, turn-out, and fighting efficiency the 1st Patialas have earned the unstinting admiration of all their comrades in the division.” (Martial India, F. Yeats-Brown, 1945. AND The Sikh Regiment In The Second World War, Colonel F.T.Birdwood OBE)
“Finally, we that live on can never forget those comrades who in giving their lives gave so much that is good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice, may they rest in peace. In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.”
Pathans or Pashtuns (Pashto/Urdu/Paštūn or پختون Paxtūn. Also Pushtuns, Pakhtuns, Pukhtuns) (also Pathans (Urdu: پٹھان, Hindi: पठान Paṭhān) or ethnic Afghans (Afğān AND Banuazizi, Ali and Myron Weiner (eds.). 1994. The Politics of Social Transformation in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East), Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-2608-8 ) are an ethno-linguistic group with populations primarily in eastern and southern Afghanistan and in the North-West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan. The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their Pashto language, adherence to Pashtunwali (a pre-Islamic indigenous religious code of honor and culture) (Kakar, Palwasha. Harvard University – School of Law – Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority) and Islam. Pashtun martial prowess has been renowned since Alexander the Great’s invasion in the third century BCE. (Caroe, Olaf. 1984. The Pathans: 500 B.C.-A.D. 1957, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195772210) Their modern past began with the rise of the Durrani Empire in 1747. The Pashtuns were also one of the few groups that managed to impede British imperialism during the 19th century. (Anglo-Afghan Wars, Iranica.com) The Pashtuns are the world’s largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage tribal group. (Ethnic, Cultural and Linguistic Denominations in Pakhtunkhwa, Khyberwatch.com) The total population of the group is estimated to be at least 40 million. Pashtun regions have seen invasions and migrations including Aryan tribes (Iranian peoples, Indo-Aryans, Medes, and Persians), Scythians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols.
The patrilineal definition is based on an important orthodox law of Pashtunwali. Its main requirement is that anyone claiming to be a Pashtun must have a Pashtun father. Under this definition, in order to be an ethnic Pashtun, there is less regard as to what language one speaks (Pashto, Persian, Urdu, English, etc.), while more emphasis is placed upon one’s father. Thus, the Pathans in Myanmar, for example, who have lost both the language and presumably many of the ways of their putative ancestors, can, by being able to trace their fathers’ ethnic heritage back to the Pashtun tribes. Recently some research persons found out that about three thousand Afghanis were settled around Mandalay, during the Burmese kings. They served in various places in Burmese kings’ army and were brought back to the capital from Arakan. And some of the Afghanis helped the Kamans in Arakan State of Burma to rebel against Arakan Myauk U and cause the end of that era. (‘The Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar, 1972, Otto Harrassowitz. Wisbaden)
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- Haresh Pandya: “K. R. Narayanan: Indian president from downtrodden caste”, The Guardian, 29 Nov. 2005.
- SURESH KOHLI, Helen of Bollywood . Hindu, India’s National Newspaper Friday, Apr 14, 2006.
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- Mixed blooded Myanmar political and military leaders (drkokogyi.wordpress.com)
- To look and see a HUMAN as an EQUAL HUMAN being with the EQUAL RIGHTS (drkokogyi.wordpress.com)
- We all are migrants and mixed blooded in Myanmar (drkokogyi.wordpress.com)
- Burma Severely Restricts Religion, Says US Commission (thesail.wordpress.com)