Time and again, it’s the same thing in Burma. Religious/Ethnic uprisings occur because one supremacist group said the other minority group raped their woman. Some time later "claims were later fabricated".

Two things: 1) I am wary of “rape claims were fabricated” reports. Women since forever have not been believed when it comes to the violence enacted against them. But then again, 2) isn’t it interesting how uprisings seem cued on protecting women? Patriarchy works in interesting ways. Violence in a patriarchal world seems justifiable only when it is protecting the women (who seems to just fit in within the box set by patriarchy) and also when patriarchy has to beat the women back into her pre-assigned box. 

Tags: burma myanmar own

"For fiction writers, there’s self-censorship. For nearly five decades, they only thought about how to bypass censorship. And now, even when they get a chance, they forget to touch on current issues, such as land conflicts, in their writing. It’s an intellectual inertia—our thinking has been changed by censorship. For journalists, there’s a lack of training. Some reporters are struggling, even though they are so enthusiastic."

'Censorship Changed our Thinking', says Burmese leading writer and human rights activist Ma Thida 

Tags: burma myanmar

Being a history/ian

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. 

Third: scholars.

  • 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. 

I’m writing my first real introductory paper to my “South Asian diaspora in Myanmar”  project. I’m exhausted, but at the same time, I feel at peace. I feel in my element. 

History and anthropology have very rigid hierarchical ways of presenting facts.  Not stories, as they claim, but facts. And the trouble is, I’m not interested in the project of telling facts.  Facts leave a people nude and up for display for the hungry gaze of anyone walking by. That’s what Western discourse has largely done for the last two centuries. Taken peoples and presented them as “facts”, compressing them into objects, and propping them up in display cases for all to hungrily, consumingly, gaze upon.

This gaze. This gaze that consumes and rips and slices through and breaks pieces off. This gaze has a revolting, barbaric quality to it. 

Colonialism was a large project and institutional violence was an integral part of it. This compressing of people into objects, however, was a small piece of the larger project. A past time taken up by elites whose money was managed well by others.  Elites who were actively, directly participating in the larger project of colonialism. Not indirectly by this telling of facts. They were directly participating in this project, by dictating what sentiments should be conferred on the colonized, and by directly deciding the fates of the colonized. 

It was a past time.Something one did in cozy libraries on large estates. A past time. 

But story telling isn’t a past time. It is a time honored tradition without which, communities, peoples, civilizations would perish in the dust, never again to be known anything else other than objects. 

It is a time honored tool that was used to survive. They told stories, charged their descendants with the enormous job of remembering. And if you know anything about memory, about story telling, and about the raw human aspect of it, you would know that these are incredibly holy and sacred spaces where not all are allowed to walk into. 

I’m interested in the project of storytelling. That part is in my blood, otherwise, I wouldn’t feel so at home. 

However, what is strange, is the environment. I am working in an environment which has systematically dispossessed my own community a hundred times over by compressing them into facts. I have a sense that I need to undo this doing, this compression of people into facts. 

I’m trying to decipher the language which would allow me to undo (at least just a little of) the terrible wrong that has been done. 


Three women telling me parts of a large, complex story. A mother and a daughter. The daughter continuously interrupting her mother to explain, to explain, to explain. 

Is that a co-optation of voice, I thought vaguely (in secret from myself) to myself, or is that a desperate desire to speak that has yet to find it’s venue. 

The third woman told me (after hearing what I was doing), “write about this. Write about this”. And across two oceans, she commanded, she dictated. 

Write about this.


Every river must flow. Sooner or later, every river must flow. It will either flow underground for years before someone finds it, or it will break through the surface. And when it’s done flowing, it will quietly dry up and quietly disappear.

It will leave a mark.

Voices are like that I think. Dispossessed voices, unheard voices, trampled down voices. Sooner or later, they will find their venues. They will either burst out or they will quietly flow and and if no one hears them in their lifetimes (why doesn’t anyone think of this as a tragedy, why doesn’t anyone have mass funeral prayers over these unheard voices), they will leave a mark. An echo. Through generations. Etched in a forgotten memory. A pendant. A crumpled letter. An engraving on a buried wall. 

Voices will find their way to the surface. Voices will find a way to be heard.  This I believe. This I believe with a deepening spirituality. And so in accordance, I hope I am able to honor their sacredness as befits them.

(Though sometimes I get afraid. Of my own limitations).


In 1939, deadly anti - Indian riots broke out in Rangoon, killing many. Unlike the ones in 1929, these were not about labor relations, but about a presumed religious conflict. 

"There was no conflict that I know of. We lived in Sule, and we saw nothing. Perhaps there were skirmishes far off. But not in the neighborhood certainly. It was quiet. 

Of course, I was a child. There is little I can remember now.” 

(So the mother told me. And I pondered. Was there a story that was missing, hidden in plain sight? There were riots, we know this, because there are records of it, but here’s a woman who lived in the heart of Rangoon telling me she saw nothing in Sule. 

I confirmed with her daughter. Family narrations figured the various travels during this time into World War II and then into Partition and after. But no riots. There have been no riots from this time in collective memory.)

(How could it be? What is this that I’m looking at? What is this that I’m looking at?) 


"I’m a politician, not a saint", Aung San Suu Kyi on being an icon, and of the various protracted conflicts that has seized her country. She has been criticized for her evasiveness on the issue of the Muslim prosecution in Myanmar. In the meantime, the government has also systematically ejected NGOs that may be able to document what is really happening on the ground. Asked, the Burmese Government stubbornly gives numbers of casualties much lower than Human Rights Watch activists. 

[9:17:17 PM] QJ: Oh u could write abt this…nurses…like doctors usually are supposed to take an oath, as far as I’m concerned

[9:17:38 PM] QJ: To treat anyone or care for anyone disregard their race, religion etc etc

[9:18:09 PM] pb: mm. this is true

[9:18:17 PM] QJ: And the nurse services I called for my baby…they asked me what race I am. I get really offended

[9:18:34 PM] pb: huh. did they ask anything else?

[9:18:39 PM] QJ: Actually they r asking if I’m muslim or not

[9:18:52 PM] pb: did they ask if you were muslim, your race, or both?

[9:19:40 PM] QJ: They ask Luu Myo…which can be translated as race, but in myanmar it is very mistaken as Kalar or Indian if u r muslim

[9:19:55 PM] pb: mm

[9:19:59 PM] pb: i understand

[9:20:09 PM] QJ: Yeah write abt that too

[9:20:17 PM] pb: i will. thanks :)

[9:20:23 PM] QJ: I had surgery n my nurses left cos i was muslim

[9:20:37 PM] pb: did they. wow!

[9:20:52 PM] QJ: Yeah days post-op

[9:21:11 PM] QJ: Mind u, i dont have anyone at my house except my husband n they know

[9:22:16 PM] QJ: Enjoy your dinner, I’m chewing my meat


There’s a larger story here that I’m being asked to tell. That I’m compelled to tell. I just have to decipher the language of the story so I can retell it. So I can pass it on. 


As I write my paper, I define everything. What is Indian. What is kalar. What is diaspora. How did these people came about to be. How did they came to remain where they did. 

And so I play with the structure of the hierarchy of the environment. If I define everything as meticulously as possible, is there a chance that my writing will not be bastardized? But that is a secondary consideration. The primary consideration is setting up structures, definitions, so I don’t bastardize my own work. 

It’s a work in learning in progress. I wonder if I’ll really ever get it right. 

Popular Reads: “The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi” by Peter Popham

                 The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham is a timely book as Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) takes hesitant steps towards democracy. Popham explores the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most famous former political prisoner, and the unusual circumstances which brought her into the spotlight of the fight for democracy in Myanmar. Popham’s easy journalistic style of writing makes the book accessible to the larger public, and his book is well researched and thought-provoking.

Read More

Desmond Tutu is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace laureate.

In Myanmar, the word “kular” is an insult that you hear shouted at Muslims. You can see it printed in vicious pamphlets about the Rohingya, Myanmar’s largest Muslim ethnic group, calling for them to be kept away from towns, kicked out of the country or murdered.

Kular is a slang word for “dark-skinned” — a form of abuse I know something about. And I, like millions of South Africans, know that such abuse can never last. God did not create us for such hatred.

The Lady (2011) Trailer 

I watched the film in my class, after we discussed The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham. The film has given me a lot of feels, so here they are. Spoiler alerts, possibly.

The trailer pans this film out to be political, with instances of family life shown. I was disappointed to see that, especially in the latter part of the film, the viewer was led over and over through a heart wrenching journey over her family (love) life. I mean, I will be honest. When we were discussing this in class, many of my peers pointed out that the emotional aspect of the film is what gets the viewer to empathize with the figure of Aung San Suu kyi, but the film seemed so heavy on her family life (with empty detail) that I think the film took away her political agency, and not just in that aspect. We see her thrust in to this movement by other men, there is a remarkable lack of Burmese feminine presence throughout the film, especially feminine political presence. Her mother is portrayed in the beginning of the film, but she is shown as an invalid, without agency. Aung San Suu Kyi is herself portrayed as someone who was pushed into this decision by men, she is constantly surrounded by men, and except for one or two political speeches by her, we never really see her political activity. There is an absence of Ma Thanegi, who recorded diary entries of Suu Kyi’s activist life when she first began in 1988. The only other real female presence that we see are Dr. Aris’ sister in law (I think she is his sister in law? Or perhaps sister), and Daw Su Kyi’s maid who stayed in her house through her mother’s illness and house arrests. Both of them are still devoid of any real agency - Dr. Aris’ sister in law is around and the only reason she is there is for the concern of the family. Outside of that, she seems to have no concern. Same for Daw Su Kyi’s maid. All she does is bring letters to Daw Su Kyi or announce her visitors. She is not shown to have any feelings about politics (except when NLD won by a landslide), and that’s it. For a film that is about a huge female political figure, I found female agency considerably lacking in the film. 

It was also really annoying when at the end (serious spoiler alert now), the Saffron movement is portrayed and the monks all simply march to her house and start chanting her name. That was not the Saffron movement. The Saffron movement was not about Aung San Suu Kyi, and though a long line of monks did pass by her house, and she did come by her gate to greet and bow to them, they did not simply collect in front of her house and chant her name. That was a gross misrepresentation of a political history in the making, and it was so, so annoying.

I also think that Burmese oppressive history under the junta was also oversimplified, but I will give concession here that perhaps the filmmaker and scriptwriter did not have adequate film space to portray that. But the whole emotional conflict she seems to be constantly having in the film (what to choose, family, or country) was, I think, just over played. The film maker too away not only Daw Suu Kyi’s political agency, but a lot of political agency of many worthwhile Burmese activist in this saga, both male and female. I hope when the next movie comes out to portray Daw Suu Kyi, it delivers better. 

Here’s the New York Time's review if you are interested in reading other opinions


Ashin Pum Na Wontha is a 56-year-old Buddhist monk with a long history of political activism dating back to 1988. He now belongs to the Peace Cultivation Network, an organisation established to promote understanding between different faiths and communities.

In a recent interview conducted at his monastery in Yangon, he told Spectrum that Ashin Wirathu is a merely a puppet ”motivated by his vanity and thirst for fame”.

”Wirathu and the 969 movement receive financial support from the cronies,” he said, referring to a group of about 30 rich men linked to the military and the government who control the nation’s economy. Several Muslim businessmen have huge assets and, according to Ashin Pum Na Wontha, the cronies would like to get their hands on them.

He said he also believes the military is involved in the violence, as a way to destabilise the country and have the chance to present itself as the sole institution capable of re-establishing the law and order. According to his analysis, the military does not want to recover full power, as it had following the 1962 coup of Gen Ne Win, but to ”go back to 1958”.

That the cronies want assets belonging to Muslim businessmen isn’t without precedent. When Ne Win took power, he did set off strong hate for desi people in Burma— as well as Chinese people. Most people owned a building, which would consist of a store on the ground floor and housing above, and they came around the seized the stores— which would include all the supplied, inventory, essentially, the very livelihood of those people. That property was handed over to “true” (Bamar Buddhist) Burmese.

This entire article is extremely detailed as far as commentary on the latest attacks against desis (mostly Muslims, ethnicity and religion in Burma is tightly knit together because of Ne Win’s work too) and I strongly recommend reading it through.

Tags: burma myanmar

This picture was taken in Kandawgyi Nature Park, Yangon, Myanmar just a few days before Cyclone Nargis wreaked devastation on the city and the low-lying delta areas around the Irrawaddy River. The area suffered further damage due to the governing junta’s refusal to allow foreign aid to operate in the country. During this time, a constitutional referendum was also held as scheduled in the country (except in the disaster hit areas) despite vehement protests. Established in 1915, Kandawgyi Nature Park is still a protected forest area.The site suffered extensive damage as a result of the cyclone, for which little survey exists. It further displaced many who were dependent on this park for housing and other economic opportunities.
This post may not be reblogged except with explicit permission. 

This picture was taken in Kandawgyi Nature Park, Yangon, Myanmar just a few days before Cyclone Nargis wreaked devastation on the city and the low-lying delta areas around the Irrawaddy River. The area suffered further damage due to the governing junta’s refusal to allow foreign aid to operate in the country. During this time, a constitutional referendum was also held as scheduled in the country (except in the disaster hit areas) despite vehement protests. 

Established in 1915, Kandawgyi Nature Park is still a protected forest area.The site suffered extensive damage as a result of the cyclone, for which little survey exists. It further displaced many who were dependent on this park for housing and other economic opportunities.

This post may not be reblogged except with explicit permission. 

The armed forces are meant for this nation and this people, and it should be a force having the honor and respect of the people. If instead the armed forces should come to be hated by the people, then the aims with which this army has been built up would be in vain. 

- Aung San, requoted by his daughter Aung San Su Kyi (pictured above) in her first public address of August 26, 1988 outside Shwedegon Pagoda. Her public address was in response to government’s mass massacre of student protests of 1988. Her demand was simple, and unwavering. Speaking as “the mouth piece of the people”, she demanded for a multiparty democratic system in Burma, and said she was committed to a “second independence of Burma.”

On 27th March, 2013, Aung San Su Kyi accompanied Major General Zaw Win during Burma’s 68th Armed Forces Day parade. The Burmese army has been accused of committing genocide against the Burmese Rohingiya and other Burmese Muslim population in recent days, and committing other human rights atrocities including conscripting children into the army.

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