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In the Memory of Late Taher Ba Tha

By Taher Ba Tha (Buthidaung)

Rohingyas are a nation in Arakan

“They are living in a hostile country, and have been for hundreds of years, and yet they survive. They are perhaps to be compared with the Jews. A nation within a nation, and the apple tree hating the growth of the mistletoe but not being able to destroy it…..”1 Anthony Irwin

When the Burmese Government had sent its troops to Arakan to put down the rebels the army killed, looted and kidnapped the prosperous Arakanese peoples.2 The Government failed to build Arakan’s war damaged economy. Rice, the sole and the important product of Arakan, was rotting in godowns for lack of transportation. The local merchants were being ruined by the government to eliminate and frustrate middlemen. The agricultural loans were entirely inadequate to the farmer’s need. The government had appointed incompetent party members to the higher administrative posts which had formerly been held by efficient and capable civil servants.3 All these circumstances gave opportunity to the Arakanese for demanding a State. In 1951, 23 candidates were elected to parliament, out of whom 12 members advocated Autonomous State for Arakan and they formed the Independent Arakanese Parliamentary Group (IAPG) under the leadership of U Kyaw Min, but later its name was changed to the Arakan National United Organization (ANUO), and they “moved a resolution in the House of Nationalities that the Arakanese no longer be classified as a minority”.4

But in Arakan strong forces hostile to ANUO still exit and these forces were favourable to Anti Facist Peoples’ Freedom League (AFPFL). The Arakanese people suspected the ANUO controlled Arakan because “Kyaw Min and his group are prosperous landowners and capitalists, high government officials, and professional men. And the small rice farmers in Akyab, as elsewhere in the division, has good reason to fear that he might be oppressed should the (IAPG) win its campaign for an autonomous Arakan State”5.

And the people of Kyaukpyu and Sandoway ” have been traditionally resentful of Akyab’s domination and snobbishness”,6 and they are against the Akyab people “and hence against separation; and the Kyaukpyu people even aspire to make their little four-townships island into a divisional headquarters”.7

The Rohingyas opposed the ANUO because of their Arakanese brother’s “feeling of superiority to the Muslim north”.8 The Rohingyas preferred the control by the Union Government to the domination by the AUNO leaders, and they supported the AFPFL Government.9 But some noted Rohingyas had become ANUO members. Mr. M.A .Gaffer thought it was a grave mistake for the Rohingyas and he strongly warned the Rohingyas to keep away from ANUO for two reasons—– firstly that the right course for the Rohingyas as an educationally and economically backward community was to concentrate on education and social uplift and avoid political agitation; secondly that the demands made by the ANUO reflected the ambitions of the Arakanese majority and were manifestly detrimental to the interest of the Rohingyas. Their demands for Arakan State implied the introduction of ultimate majority rule which naturally meant vassalization of the Rohingyas. Arakan is inhibited by two major peoples –Rohingyas and Arakanese— each one of whom is different from the other in name culture, moral code, social organization, political outlook, religion and physique.

It means that Rohingyas are a nation in Arakan.” We the Rohingyas of Arakan are a nation. We maintain and hold that Rohingyas and Arakanse are two major nations in Arakan. We are a nation of nearly nine lakhs more than enough population for a nation; and what is more we are a nation according to any definition of a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of value and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions aptitude and ambitions, in short, we have our distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international law the Rohingyas are a nation in Arakan.” 10 So it is a dream that the Arakanese and Rohingyas can even evolve a common nationality.

It is quite clear that Arakanese and Rohingyas derive their inspiration from different sources of religion— Buddihism and Islam. Rohingya culture had been basically and overwhelmingly Islamic in letter and in spirit, and the interplay of many centuries did not make them lose their distinctive character. This feeling of distinctiveness ever present in their consciousness made them articulate to look upon themselves not only as a distinct indigenous race but also as a separate nation. The Rohingyas emerged as a distinct entity because they developed a separate culture and well-defined aims and ideals. Today, Rohingyas also wish to develop their spiritual, cultural, economy, social and political life in a way that they think best and in consonance with their ideals and in accordance with their genius; and today in both town and countryside Rohingyas and Arakanese lead separate lives and have little to do with one another as they kept socially apart from each other.

The End


1. Anthony Irwin, Burmese Outpost, p. 25
2. Virginia Thompson, Minority Problems in Southeast Asia, p. 156
3. Ibid, p 157
4. Ibid, p. 157
5. Ibid, p. 157′
6. Ibid, p.157
7. Ba Chan, “Report on Arakan”, The Guardian Monthly, Nov:1953
8. Minority Problems in Southeast Asia , p.157
9. Ibid, p.157
10. Memorandum presented to the Regional Autonomy Enquiry Commission by M.A. Gaffar dated the 24th May, 1949.
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Labels: History, U Ba Tha

Massacre of 1942

In 1825 Arakan became a British territory with a population of only one lakh souls, (Maughs 60,000; Muslims 30,000, Burmese 10,000).In 1835 this had risen to 211,536. In 1845 the population numbered 309, 608 and in 1855 reached 366,310. The total population of Akyab district was 95,098 souls in 1831, which had risen to 109,645 in the following year, thence forward the increase was very rapid.

The Muslim population of Akyab district, who numbered 154,887 in 1901, which at the census of 1911 had increased to 178, 647 while the Maghs were only 209,432. At the census of 1921 the Muslims in the district were 208,961 while the total population was 576,430 including Arimists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and others, and 315,140 Buddhist which includes Maghs, Shans,Burmese and Baruas.

The Maughs had been decreased by 30,217 in 1911 due to different speaking dialect while the Muslims had been increased by 23,760 at the census of 1911 because the Muslims intermarry freely with the women of other faith of the country who became Muslims whilst non-Muslims rarely do this. The children of mixed marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims generally adopt the religion of Islam while the children of mixed marriages between two races of different religion assimilated by one of them as the early Hindus of Arakan were assimilated by the Tibato-Burmans. Before 10th century A.D in Arakan there were all Bengali Hindus but not a single Maugh was there. Arakan was invaded, in A.D. 957, by Tibato-Burmans who must have been early Burmese. They mixed with the Indians (Hindus) and created Maugh race. Then the proper history of the Maughs began, which lasted eight centuries until 1784 when the country was conquered by Bodaw Paya of Ava “True, before A.D. 957 Arakan was a Hindu State. “writes Maurice Calls. 1

Islam allows the Muslims to take more than one wife. Early marriage is common to them. The age-group 14-16 in the following table extracted from the Census Report of 1931 will show clearly that 465 per 1000 of the Muslim females are married, and it is much more higher than the proportion married among the Maugh females which are of only 141. The other two age-groups are also higher. Birth rate is much higher than the Maughs,

Married Persons per 1000 of each sex
14-16 17-23 24-23
1 MAUGHS 15 141 333 632 830 796
2 MUSLIMS 14 465 401 821 817 836

and the children of mixed marriages between Muslims and Maughs adopt the religion of Islam. Rohingyas are the followers of Islam. By the above facts and figures the Rohingya population is increasing year by year. The Maughs have an eye on them. They waited for a chance to drive away the Rohingyas from the soil of Arakan; they did not get any opportunity. But in 1942 while the Burma Government evacuated to Simla and before the arrival of the Japanese the Maughs were favoured with a chance. Japanese aircrafts bombed Akyab. The British Indian forces retreated Akyab. The rebels known as Maugh Thakhins organized themselves into many groups. The withdrawal of the legal government removed from them the fear of armed resistance. Thousands of Maughs joined them in the attack on the Rohingyas.

U Kyaw Khine, the then Deputy Commissioner took charge of Arakan division from the Commissioner, an English man, of Arakan, and he himself a Maugh then supplied the Maugh population with guns, and all guns under license were taken by force back from the Rohingyas who were then helpless, defend less and they could do nothing against the well-armed and well-organized Maughs.

Mr. Zaimuddin writes, ” U Kyaw Khine, the Deputy Commissioner of Akyab, was sole representative of the British Government present. He went east, west, north and south. He freely distributed arms and ammunitions exclusively to the Arakanese of Minbya, Myohaung, Kyauktaw and Buthidaung. His attitude and behaviour to the Muslims however did not suggest in the least that he had any desire to protect them.” 2

Then in March 1942 the Maughs started the massacre and driving away the Rohingyas with the intention of rooting out the Rohingyas of Arakan with the help of arms distributed by U Kyaw Khine and arms received from the deserted Karen soldiers who were on the way from Akyab persuaded by the Maughs to join them to root out the Rohingyas. This was started from Myebon township, Kyaukpyu district. U Chit Pa, Ex-Member of Parliament of Minbya constituency in a speech in the Parliament Session of the 17th September 1950 opposing the creation of a new district comprising Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rahtedaung townships, had admitted that this was started by the Maughs. In this massacre thousands of Rohingyas ( it is said that 80,000 of Rohigyas) were massacred and thousands of them were driven away mercilessly. And those Rohingyas who were once in the cream of Muslim society in Kyauktaw, Myohaung, Pauktaw, Punnagyun, Minbya, Rathedaung and Myebon townships were taken refuge and are now in Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Akyab townships, and some of them were in Chittagong district. And twenty two thousand of them were in the refugee camp then opened in Shubirnagar in Rangpur district in India.

In turn the Rohingyas who survived and took shelter in Maungdaw-Buthidaung area wanted to create trouble there. The Maughs timely ran away from this area to Kyauktaw and Myohaung townships and some of them, especially of Maungdaw township, were taken away to India and allowed them in Dimazpur Refugee Camp. So very few of them were killed. When the Second World War Came to an end all these Maugh refugees were brought to Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships and were resettled in their old places. In their resettlement Mr. A. Ghaffar and other Muslim officers took active part while they were the Township officers there, but 99% of them sold out their landed properties at abnormal high price and came to 7 other townships to enjoy freely the landed properties left by the Rohingyas there. In this massacre and drive 307 Rohingya villages were totally destroyed in the nine townships shown below. All the villages in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships were reoccupied and rehabilitated by the Rohingyas. Some of the Rohingya refugees after the war tried to go to their former places in other 7 townships but the Maughs did not allow them to occupy their villages as a result of which they had to come back to Buthidaung and Maungdaw again. All their landed properties were usurped and enjoyed freely by the Maughs to the present day who do not want to give up the usurpation of the lands of the Rohingyas.

Rohingya villages destroyed in 1942 massacre

Mye bon 30 villages
Min bya 27 villages
Pauk taw 25 villages
Kyauk taw 78 villages
Punna gyun 5 villages
Rathedaoung 21 villages
Buthidaung 55 villages
Maung Daw 8 villages
T otal 307 villages

The 6000 Rohingya refugees of one camp are still in East Pakistan scattered all over Chittagong district because U Kyaw, the then Commissioner of Arakan at Akyab not only bitterly refused to take them back but also said to one Mr. Gundivia, the representative of the Indian Government, who came to Akyab and saw the former in connection with these refugees while the Indian Government decided to close down the refugee camps, that he would not allow the steamer to enter the Akyab Port with the refugees in question.3

About this Rohingya slaughter Anthony Irwin says, ” The Arakan before the war had been occupied over its entire length by both Mussulman and Maugh. Then in 1941 the two sects set to and fought. The result of this war was roughly that the Maugh took over the Southern half of the country and the Musslman the Northern. Whilst it lasted it was a pretty bloody affair. Where the Mauhg predominated whole villages of Moslums were put to the sword — For weapons they ( Muslims ) used a great two – handred Dahs, with a blade in some cases four feet long. At first the Maughs had it all their own way, for they were both better organized and better armed, having a fair sprinkling of rifles. But as they pushed North, so they met up against stiffer and more organized resistance and were not only held, but forced to retreat, for they are man to man, no match for the Mussulman Arakanese. ” 4

It separated the two peoples into two distinctive areas of influence. The Northern Section is predominated with the Rohingyas while the Southern Section is predominated with the Maughs. As in Maungdaw-Buthidaung area the Maughs have no chance to be returned in any election for the Union Parliament, the Rohingyas became an eye sore to them. In 1948, Bo Nyo Tun (Maugh) who was the them Minister for Minorities had attempted to start a campaign of exchange of population. He submitted a report in which he requested the Prime Minister to exchange ninety thousand Rohingyas with an equal number of Maughs from different area so that they could diminish and exterminate the Rohingyas, saying that they wanted Arakan to be joined with Pakistan as the area is predominated with them. 5 U Nu gave a heed to his request and the AFPFL (before split) Government uprooted the Rohingyas of Tulatuli village tract of Maungdaw township, who were for generations there, and the Maughs were settled there and the landed properties belonging to the Rohingyas were distributed to the Maughs who were imported from Pakistan and other places. The Rohingyas, therefore, were deprived of justice and landed properties. 6

The same plan will be carried by the ANUO (Arakan National United Organization) leaders if Arakan Autonomous State is granted to them. They are always making false propaganda about the Rohingyas that the Bogyoke Ne Win Govt’s plan was to shift about 200 Rohingya villages, into further interior of Arakan, which are situated along the Naaf River and border side, and an equal number of Maughs from different parts of Arakan would be settled there after the monsoon season in order to seal off the Naaf River to stop smuggling and illegal immigrants from Pakistan. 7 In this connection Mr. A. Ghaffar and other Rohingya leaders saw U Khin Maung Phyu, Minister for Home Affairs in the Caretaker (Bogyoke Ne Win) Government, who replied to them that there was no such plan made by the government.

Many Rohingyas had migrated to Saudi Arabia and 30,000 of them went away to Pakistan in 1949 and 1950 because of local tyranny from various sources 8 especially due to the oppression of the Maugh BTFs ( Burma Territory Force ), and Maugh Police. They were extorting money from the well-to-do Rohingyas who were arrested under section 5 POPA; and many elders,9 for instance Master Azhar Hussain and Moti Rahman, Headmen of Kannyobyin and Kasaribil ( lower Purma ) village tracts of Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships respectively, were killed by them.

Besides, there was another organized attack on the Rohingyas in 1954 in Rathedaung township, in connection with which the Maugh leaders of Akyab town made vigorous attempt to defend the inhuman crimes of the Maughs of Rathedaung township and they expressed the feelings against the Rohingyas, which are still fresh in the mind of every Rohingya. 10

Failing in these two drives and killing the Maugh leaders applied the latest method to uproot the Rohingyas, in which they were successful in driving away mercilessly over 13,000 and over 10000 Rohingyas from the Northern regions of Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships respectively in the months of July and August 1959. These two inhuman drives were done by the Immigration Officers who were inclined to the Mauhgs. These people still have taken refuge in East Pakistan. All the Rohingya refugees who are still in East Pakistan are waiting for repatriation. 11

1. Maurice Collis: Into Hidden Burma, p 137
2. Mr. Zainuddin: Political Development in Burma
3. Mr. A. Ghaffar: Press Conference given on the 21st April, 1960
4. Anthony Irwim: Burmese Outpost, p 21
5. Memorandum presented to the Regional Autonomy Enquiry Commission by S.Ahmed
6. Mr. A. Ghaffar: Press Conference given on the 21st April, 1960
7. The Nation Daily: Dated 8th July, 1959
8. Mr. A. Ghaffar: Press Conference given on the 21st April, 1960
9. Mr. A. Ghaffar Address Presented to U Nu on 10-3-50 at Maungdaw
10. Mr. Zainuddin : A Cursory Survey of Muslims’ Position in Akyab District
11. Mr. A. Ghaffar: Press Conference given on the 21st April, 1960