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Muslims of Arakan and Baxter Report

August 31, 2014

By Aman Ullah

 

Following the 1935 Government of India Act’s reforms, the British granted Burma a larger autonomous status with the Government of Burma Act. However, with very few educated Burmese available to do the necessary tasks, most of the government affairs continued to be run by the Indian subjects. This attitude of the British government was resented by most Burmese who started the ‘Burma for Burmese only’ Campaign. The Burmese mob marched to the Muslim (Surti) Bazaar. While the Indian Police broke the violent demonstration, three monks were hurt. Burmese newspapers uses the pictures of Indian police attacking the Buddhist monks to further incite the spread of riots. Muslim properties: shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burned. They also assaulted and killed Muslims. It spread all over Burma and a recorded 113 mosques were damaged. The Burmese also resented the fact that all the anti-government and race riots were quelled by Indian troops and police forces.

 

New waves of anti-Indian violence (more specifically anti-Muslim) were stirred up in July-August 1938 by the Burman in the country’s major cities while general strikes (workers, civil servants and students) paralyzed the economy of the province. Riots began in the capital of Rangoon and spread to almost all of southern and central Burma, including Mandalay. The rioting lasted for a month, officially causing the death of 204 people and leaving 1,000 injured. Buddhist monks took a leading role in organizing these riots. On September 2, 1938 another outbreak of anti-Indian rioting occurred in Rangoon. Although somewhat less severe and restricted to Rangoon only, the disturbance lasted for six days.

 

On September 22, 1938, the British Governor set up an inquiry committee to investigate the reasons behind the riots. The Riot Inquiry Committee found out that the real cause was the discontent in the Ba Maw government regarding the deterioration in socio-political and economic conditions of Burmans.

 

In March 1939 there were serious communal and agrarian troubles in Shwebo and Myaungmya. Later in the same month additional Military Police units had to be sent to Myaungmya because of Burmese attacks on Indians. Military Police units were also sent to patrol Shwebo and parts of Katha in the north because of attacks by Burmese on Muslim and Zerbadi (Indo-Burmese Muslim) villages. The troubles spread to Tharrawaddy district as well. By April, 1939, riots had spread to Bassein, Pyapon, Pegu, Lower Chindwin, Shwebo and Myaungmya.

 

Then the Government of Burma issued a communiqué declaring its intention to examine the question of Indian immigration and announced the nature and scope of the agreed upon between the Government of India and Burma. As a result of correspondence with the Government of India has been reached on a Commission of Enquiry that was entrusted to a sole commission to whom one Burman and one Indian were attached as assessors.

 

According the Government of Burma in a Resolution, dated the 15th July 1939, after consultation with the Government of India, appointed the Hon’ble Mr. J. Baxter to examine the question of Indian immigration into Burma, with the assistance of two assessors, U Tin Tut, I.C.S and Mr. Ratilal Desai, M.A,. Later Dr. H. Bernardelli, D. Phil., Head of Department of Economics, University College Rangoon was appointed Secretary to the Commission of Inquiry.

 

The Commission held eighteen meetings and interviewed over seventy-five witness. Memoranda on questions relating to the enquiry was received from representatives of the more important business firms, from employers of Labour, from a member of Government Departments, from Chambers of Commerce and others. A special enquiry on industrial labour was carried out in connexion with which information in the form of required was received from 1,392 industrial establishments.

 

The Report of the Commission, more commonly known as the Baxter Report, was completed in October 1940 and was published in Rangoon in 1941 by the Government Printing and Stationery Office. The Report made recommendations which were generally accepted by the Governments of Burma and India. The Agreement provided that the existing Immigration Order of 1937 would continue at least until 1 October 1945, while Indian immigration into Burma would be subject to the new rules contained in the Agreement with effect from 1 October 1941.

 

The Government of Burma recognize that, “Indians who were born and bred in Burma, have made Burma their permanent home and regard their future and the future of their families as bound up with its interest are entitled to be regarded as having established a claim if they which to make it, to a Burma domicile and therefore on the benefit of section 144 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935.

 

About the Indian in Arakan, in chapter VII, paragraph 66 of the Baxter Report mentioned that, “Indian immigration into Arakan shows special characteristics, due to fundamentally to the existence of a Land frontier with India across which movement between Chittagong in the Province of Bengal and Akyab District of Arakan is, because of the natural configuration of this region, easy, quick and cheap. About 97 percent of Indian population in Arakan in 1931 was concentrated in Akyab District. In Arakan Division, total population was 1,008,538 and Indian population was 217, 801.

 

 

 

In Akyab District

 

Total population was 637, 580

Indian population was 210, 990.

 

The numbers of Indians in Akyab District born in and born outside Burma respectively as follows:

 

 

 

“Females constituted 48.5 per cent of the Indian born in 13.6 per cent of Indian born outside Burma. The great deficiency of females in “born out” population indicates the highly immigrant and unsettled nature of that part of the Indian population while on the other hand the approximation to sex equilibrium in the “born in” population is indicative of its settled character.” 

 

In paragraph 67, it shows the racial constitution of the Indian population in Akyab District as follows: -

 

 

“The Oriyas were practically born outside Burma and were practically all males. Only 677 of 3, 558 Hidustanis were born in Burma and 2, 955 of totals were males. 0f the Bengalis other than Chittagonians, 61 per cent were born in Burma. Of the “born in” the sex ratio was about four females to five males. Of the 5,990 Bengalis born outside Burma only 312 were females. Over 88 per cent of all Indians in Akyab District were of Chittagonians origin and 84 per cent of all Chittagonians were recorded as having been born in Burma. The sex distribution of Chittagonians born in Burma was in the proportion of 94 to 95 females to every 100 males while that Chittagonians born outside Burma was in the ratio of 22 to 23 females to every 100 males.” 

 

 “Of the males earners engaged in agriculture, 9,442 were cultivating landowners, 12, 848 were cultivating tenants and 19, 436 were agricultural labours. It is of interest to note that only 5,570 of the agricultural labours were born outside Burma.” 

 

In the paragraph 11 of that report, commenting on the population in the Arakan Division, which showed an Indian population of 197,990 in 1911 against a total of 839,896, the report says, “For the reasons already given, the 1881 to 1911 Indian population figures are probably too high since they are believed to include a considerable number of Arakanese Muslims. In 1911, for example, the Hindu and Mohamedan populations in Arakan together amounted to 202,320 persons or only 4,330 more than the number who returned an Indian vernacular.” It is also important to note here that the percentage of Indian population in Arakan actually show a downward trend from 1911 to 1931 going down from 23.5% to 22.7% in 1921 to 21.6% in 1931.

 

 

In Chapter III, Paragraph 21, the report also provides some information about the Indians living – permanently or temporarily – inside Burma and Arakan when the censuses were taken.

 

 

 

 

There was a major influx of Indians moving into Burma after the entire country was colonized by the British government. As already noted, many of them came with the colonial administration. A comparison with the census data in 1891 also points to the fact that the 1881 census data for the Indian population born in Burma is unreliable. At the time of 1931 census nearly 77% of the Indians in Arakan were born in Burma.

 

 

Indians born in India and born in Arakan was given as below: -

 

 

 

 

In the Paragraph 7 the Baxter report, it’s mentioned that, “There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mohamedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulemin which could not be regarded as Indian. There is no record of the numbers of any of these categories of Mohamedans in the 1872 census returns and consequently no allowance can be made for them by way of deduction from the Hindu and Mohamedan population figures.

 

 

In the table provided on Section 8, page 5 of the report it mentioned that, “for the censuses 1881 to 1911 inclusive are probably too high. There is reason to believe that some of the Arakanese Mohamedans returned an Indian vernacular as their mother tongue since although they used Burmese in writing, among themselves they commonly speak the language of their ancestors. The number of Arakanese Muslims who returned an Indian vernacular in 1021 was estimated in the 1931 census report at ten to fifteen thousand persons.

 

 

Thus, in sum according to the Baxter report, we can say that: -

 

  1.  There was an Arakanese Muslim community settled so long in Akyab District that it had for all intents and purposes to be regarded as an indigenous race. There were also a few Mohamedan Kamans in Arakan and a small but long established Muslim community around Moulemin which could not be regarded as Indian.
  2. The 1881 to 1911 Indian population figures are probably too high since they are believed to include a considerable number of Arakanese Muslims and the figures are inaccurate.
  3. At the time of 1931 census nearly 77% of the Indians in Arakan were born in Burma.
  4. The Government of Burma recognize that Indians who were born and bred in Burma, have made Burma their permanent home and regard their future and the future of their families as bound up with its interest are entitled to be regarded as having established a claim if they which to make it, to a Burma domicile and therefore on the benefit of section 144 of the Government of Burma Act, 1935.

 

The writer is a prominent Rohingya politician and activist based in Bangladesh.