Sometimes I wonder: if I’d had more faculty of color mentors, would they have warned me against the project I am doing when I first conceived of the idea? Against this project of historicity, against this project of walking back through the lives of my own community to see what happened, to see exactly how we came to where we are.
And then I tell myself, I’m being too sensitive. I’m over thinking. I’m being too sensitive.
Blundell and other European observes realized that indigenous governmental institutions which did not fit into the British - Indian system were decaying and that the foundations of the traditional ties of village and family life were also giving way. But business demands invariably took precedence. From Calcutta’s perspective, economic production needs were more important than accommodation to popular desires. Little attention was accordingly given Blundell’s insistence that Talaings recently freed from Buremse misrule could not be handled by Bengali methods, especially if the attempt were made in accordance with the presumptuous pattern of personal privilege set up by the British mercantile community.
- “A History of Modern Burma” by John Cady
A few things immediately run through my mind.
First: “Calcutta” does not necessarily imply Indian administration. The excerpt above is a *history snapshot* of 1842, when India was pretty firmly under British rule.
Second: a flashback to a class about Pre-Modern India when a south asian student was reading about satti. She had come back to class, and after prompted, told the class about how various economic changes that the British implemented, fully knowing that they weren’t working, fully knowing how much harm they were bringing to the community, was regardless implemented. One of the results of the new economic changes and laws was how the practice of satti became entrenched in the region.
- Jonathan Saha has presented John Comaroff’s argument in his book Law, Disorder and the Colonial State that colonial law should not be treated as a functional, monolithic entity. Further in his introduction, Saha points out that colinial state in history books are often protrayed as “a rational, impersonal, bureacratic actor, separate from, and yet increasingly intrusive in, society. This dominant narrative has created a dichotomous, Manichean picture the relationship between the state and society that can be mapped directly onto the binary of the colonizer and the colonized. There is little room in this framework to examine the complexities of how the state was experienced in everyday life. Nor is there much scope to study the role played by the mostly Indian and Burmese subordinate state officials; a group on which precious little historical work has been published”. [The view gave me pause: there’s substance in there but I need to read more, to think more.]
- Marc Epprecht wrote in his book Sexuality and social justice in Africa : rethinking homophobia and forging resistance that he is against the idea of blaming colonials for everything, but colonialism shouldn’t be discounted in relation to current events in post colonial regions.When he talked about his abhorrence of blaming everything on colonialism to make ourselves feel better, it made me laugh.
- Uma Narayan argued in her 1989 essay, “The Project of Feminist Epistemology: Perspectives from a nonwestern feminist”, that just because an individual is oppressed does not mean said individual has “epistemic advantage” to the *oppressed* view point. She pointed out that many of the *oppressed* group are so Westernized that they lose knowledge of their own culture. And so criticism is necessary.
"Calcutta" does not imply British administration. Not in 1842. However, shortly after that, the Chettiyar community came to Burma, and essentially did become rich from the opportunities that opened up in Burma. We also know that though administration was essentially British, it did not mean that Burmese/Indian officials weren’t present in the administration. British administration. Burmese official. Whose ambitions?
A complicated picture.
I go back to reading the above excerpt again. “… realized that indigenous governmental institutions which did not fit into the British - Indian system were decaying and that the foundations of the traditional ties of village and family life were also giving way. But business demands invariably took precedence”.
British ambitions. Burmese/Indian players. Burmese/Indian pawns. The destruction of old ways and emergence of new ways of living.
A century and a half later, the identity of Muslim Rakhine is being debated in the Burmese parliament. Are they Burmese? Foreign Bangladeshis who came to take advantage of the fertile rice delta? Do they have the right to citizenship? Owning property? Vote? Hold office?
The questions are not new. They can be traced back to the 1930s and 1940s and before when Burmese national identity was being debated. When the Chettiyar Indians - and so by relation, all Indians - in Burma were considered foreigners. When the choice to remain sovereign under India was being debated.
Questions asked for a century have a peculiar kind of pain behind them. And so I turn back to my history books. To solve the riddle of how we came be this way.
Are current kalar-Bama relations wholly the result of colonial practice and greed? How much can be blamed on the subordinates? There were so many looking for more opportunities, who also played a role in the colonial state. How much is my own history intertwined in this pain?
I don’t know. There’s so much more I need to read. And so I pause.
Perhaps I am over thinking everything. Being too sensitive. Regardless, I have a lot more reading to do.