Wednesday, March 14, 2012

48 - The Liberation Struggle in Arakan (1948-1982)

Written by Abdul Mabud Khan
Like the tribal movements of northeastern India there has been a regionalist movement in Arakan, which is not much known or published. This is partly because, Burma is ruled by a military dictatorship' which does not recognize the rights of other nationalities and partly because , the Burmese press has limited scope to give it wide publicity. In this paper, an attempt has been made to trace the origin and development of the liberation struggle in Arakan depending on available source materials which are however, limited.
Arakan is a province of the Union of the Socialist Republic of Burma. It is situated between Burma on the east and Bangladesh on the West. A long range of mountain called Arakan Roma acts as a barrier against inter-communication between the people of Burma and Arakan. The Bay of Bengal bound it on the southwest and estuary called Naaf. On the north and northwest are situated India and Bangladesh. The territory of Arakan extends in latitude 21*, 10 north down to Cape Negris in latitude 16*, 2 south. The total area of Arakan is about 18,500 sq. miles.
For scenic beauty, picturesque landscape, hills and creeks the Arakanese are very much proud of their motherland and many of them chauvinistically consider the land as, "The Switzerland of South-East-Asia". The total number of population in Arakan is about 4 millions of whom the Buddhists constitute two millions, the Muslims one million and the others are Hindus, Christians and animists.1
The earliest people who lived in Arakan were Negritos who chronicles as 'Bilus' i.e. 'cannibals'. The appear were mentioned in the Arakanese to be the Neolithic descendants of the primitive people of Arakans.2 later on, weave of migration of different races came into this land. The composition of the Arakanese population is of different stocks, religion languages. Ethnically, they, belong to Mongoloid, Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan races. Each ethnic group has got its own history and culture, even each of them speaks its own dialect. This co-existence of different ethnic and cultural groups in the soil of Arakan does not mean that they are isolated from each other; each group maintains links with one another.3 'Unity in diversity' is the main characteristic of the Arakanese culture. Despite these differences, the Arakanese have a common bond of unity and it springs from: (a) common cultural heritage (b) common language (c) a deep-rooted spirit of national identity.
The Arakanese generally take a keen interest in the history of their native land; they still regard it as being one of the most favoured countries of the world. The ancient name of Arakan is 'Rakhaing pray' the origin of which goes back to the classical age.4 The word 'Rakhaing' appears to be a corrupt form of Rakhaing Tomgi; probably the term originates from Sanskrit word Raksa and pali Rakkhsa. It means monster, half man, half beast which like the Cretan Minotaur devoured human flesh',5 although there is no evidence regarding the existence of any devil in Arakan of the period under review. Before the spread of Buddhism in Arakan, the Arakanese had no definite faith; they used to practice some sort of animism. In this connection A. Phayre rightly says: -
There is a tribe in Arakan, which is known as Rakhaing and their country as Rakhaing pray. They are supposed to be the aboriginal of the land. Thus, the home of Rakhaing tribe was known to be Rakhaing Tomgye or Rakhaing Pyee which are apparently the corrupt form of Raksa Tunga and Raksapura.6
Again A. Phayre mentions that during his stay in Arakan he saw a group of people in Pegu known as Rakhaine who had no connection with Buddhistic faith.7 According to one oral tradition, those save their culture from utter destruction are known as Rakhaing and their native land is called Raksapura8. This conservative attitude to their culture clearly demonstrates their affection and deep respect for motherland. Thus it goes to suggest that the term "Arakan" is a derivation of Rakhaing9.
According to one Muslim tradition, the ancient name of Arakan is Arikhong pray i.e. land of wealth10 which is not however, supported by any historical evidence. The Muslims claim that the term Arikhong pray derives from Agabic word "Al-Rukun".11 On the basis of this oral tradition, a small section of the Muslims try to designate Arakhan as Arikistan.12 This attempt to islamise the term 'Arakhan' is closely associated with the idea of Pan-Islamic movement under the leadership of Jmaluddin at Afgani (1839-97) created tremendous impact on the Muslims living in different parts of the world but later on, it proved to be a complete failure. Historical records leave to doubt that Muslim settlement in Arakan did not begin before the 8th century when king Maitang Chandra (9788-812 AD.) was on the throne of Arakan.13 Phililogists mention that Arikistan is a corrupt form 'Rakhaing'.
The Buddhist of Arakan including their counterpart of Bangladesh are known as Magh.14 After investigation, it is proved that there is no race or group of people known as Magh. The Arakanese are men of different stock belonging to Mongoloid, Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan races. With the lapse of time, all of them jointly constituted the Arakanese nationals. But a small section of the Muslims of Arakan want to introduce themselves as Rohangya. They argue that the Muslims are distinct from the Buddhists having their own culture and tradition. Philologists think that the term Rohingya derives from Rakhaing. Rohang is a Tibeto-Burman term which according to some Philologists, means 'Arakan'. Subsequently, the term 'Rohang' has been changed into Rohingya.15 Furthermore, they argue that some inhabitants of Chittagong district even today, use the term Rohang and Rohangya to mean Arakan and the Arakanese Muslims. In mediaeval Bengali literature a number of words like Rohang, Rosang and Rokam are found;16 all these words are used to denote Arakan and Mrohaung one of the important cities of Arakan. Thus it is probably safe to conclude that the national identity of the Arakanese is Rakhaing.
The germs of the Arakanese nationalism are to be the traced in the history of Arakan. The history of Arakan may be divided into the following periods:
(a)   Independent kingdom -------- 2666 BC. -1784 AD.
(b) Burmese Rule
It is mentioned in one Arakanese chronicle that in the ancient time, Arakan was divided into four divisions namely, (a) Dhannyawadi (b) Rammwadi (c) Megawadi and (d) Derawadi.17 Rakhaine Razwang,18 states that there was an independent kingdom according to Rakhaine Razwang, came into being in 2666 BC., Marayu, the first king of Arakan founded the city of Dhannyawadi and his descendants ruled Arakan for 1800 years.19 He was the son of a prince of Kapilavastu who must have been driven out from his birth place by his political opponents, Marayu married the daughter of a powerful Mro tribal chief of whom the deer was considered sacred. When the young prince came of age, he led the whole of his mother's tribe along with his father's followers from India.20 After wards, he founded a dynasty in Arakan at a place called Dhannyawadi, hence it is called Dhannyawadi dynasty.
After the fall of the first Dhannyawadi dynasty, there appeared second Dhannyawadi dynasty which was established by Kanrazagri; his descendents ruled Arakan for more than eight hundred years. The dynasty founded by Kanrazagri was succeeded by the Surya Kings; the first of whom was Chandra Surya. He established the third city Dhannyawadi.21 It was mentioned in the chronicle that during his reign, Lord Buddha visited Arakan with his five hundred disciples. The famous Mahamuni image was built by King Chandra Surya as mark of respect to Lord Buddha.22 In Arakan, Lord Buddha is also known as Mahamuni. The image was brought to Amarapura when Arakan was conquered by the Burmese in 1784 AD. The Surya dynasty consisted of fourty eight kings and was succeeded by Chandra dynasty.
Maha Taing Chandra the founder of Chandra dynasty ascended the throne in 788 AD. and Vaisali was the capital of the Chandras for more than three hundred year.23 Vaisali collapsed due to the invasion of the Shans in 957 AD. Though under unsettled conditions it continued as capital till 1018 AD.
After the fall of the Chandras several dynasties such as Pyin Tsa (1018- 1118 AD.), Pa-rein (1118-1142 AD.), Kharit (1142-1250 AD.), Launggrat (1250-1404 AD.) and Mrauk Oo (1430-1784 AD.) ruled Arakan for more than seven hundred years.24 During the time of Mrauk Oo dynasty, Arakan witnessed literary and cultural developments in all spheres of life for which it is called "The Golden Age of Arakanese history". Arakan entered the greatest period of her history with the accession of King Mong Ben (1531-1553 AD.). The kings of Arakan firmly established their authority in Chittagong region during the greater part of 16th century. For a short period during the reign of king Razagri (1593-1612 AD.) Arakan dominion is said to have extended from Sunderban to Monlmein. In mediaeval times, some Arakanese kings assumed Muslim titles and used Arabic scripts in their coins in imitation of the kings of Bengal.25 This practice which they did clearly demonstrates that they were greatly influenced by the Muslim culture of Bengal. Historical record does not prove that they were Muslims and there was a Muslim Kingdom in Arakan. However, the Kingdom fell into the hands of the Burmese in 1784 AD. Thamada, the last king of Arakan became a captive but later on, he was deported to Pegu with his family and kinsmen together with the Mahamuni image. Thus the Arakanese for the first time lost their independence and came under the control of the foreign rule. Arakan was thus incorporated into the territory of Burma.
Archaeological evidences also speak about the flourishing condition of the kingdom in Arakan. The ruins of ancient temple of Mahamuni built entirely of stone, the sites of the ancient cities shown by the remains of tanks, the existence of stone walls at the old capital and ruined Pagodas in different spots of Arakan clearly remind us the glories of the independent kingdom of Arakan.
Not only the historical accounts tell about the antiquity of the Arakanese culture but also the scripts and the language uphold their national identity. The Arakanese have got their own scripts which owed its origin to the Brahmi scripts of northern India.26 The present Arakanese scripts resemble the Burmese scripts since the two types of alphabets belong to the same stock of family. However, the Arakanese scripts underwent change in different stages of history which clearly reflected in old inscriptions and coin used in ancient and mediaeval times.27
From the foundation of the Dhannyawadi dynasty to the fall of the Mrauk Oo city, different types of writings had been evolved by the Arakanese for preservation of their cultural heritage. King Mongyinpru who had recorded the Tripitaka on gold leave stone inscriptions became famous in history for his religious activities. In 1298 AD. Thiri Dhamma Raza Guru, the chief monk of King Mong Hti sometimes known as Pyu Tathein Mong who ruled over on hundred thousand Pyus inscribed on stone the account of his visit to Bodh-Gaya.28 During the reign of this king, Shon Agga Thera, the mentor and tutor of Mongri Swa-Saw-Ke wrote the memorable book entitled "The Essence of Human Conduct".29 However, many copies of the Razwang are to be founded in the possession of the Arakanese. With the conquest of Arakan, the ancient chronicles were destroyed or carried away by the Burmese in the hope of eradicating the national feeling of the Arakanese but these efforts however, proved to be futile and many of the books are still secretly preserved. This clearly shows that the Arakanese emerged as a nation probably since the earliest time.
According to one Talaing inscription of the 11th century, the national name of the Burmese is Myanmar.30 As stated earlier, the national identity of the Arakanese is Rakhaine. The Burmese imposed Myanmar national domination on the Arakanese after the occupation of Arakan. Hence, a clash caused between the Myanmar and the Rakhaine nationalism which later on gave birth to the national independence movement in Arakan. In fact, nationalism in Arakan has now started to stir up all classes of people who identity themselves as Arakanese rather than Burmese.
Burma won independence on 4th January 1948 but Arakan has continued to remain as an integral part of Burma. The relation of Arakan with Burma is very much reflected in the policies adopted by the Burmese Government which are not congenial for the development of Arakan. From 1948 to 1982 during these thirty-four years, the Government of Burma has not yet undertaken any programme of development in Arakan. To speak the truth, educationally and economically Arakan is still very backward. It is surprising to note that there is only seventeen high schools and one Intermediate College for the education of four million people.31 The communication system in Arakan is very bad; there is only forty five miles of motorable road.32 No railway line has yet been established. Rice is one of the primary sources for earning foreign exchange in Burma; though Arakan supplies the largest portion of rice yet the Arakanese are deprived of almost all Governmental facilities. No mill, not even a small factory is to be found in Arakan. There is only three hospitals consisting of 260 beds for the four million people of Arakan.33 political rights are not allowed to them. The Socialist Party of Burma headed by former President General Ne Win is the only political party that is allowed to function. And all other political parties have been declared banned when the present regime came into power in 1962. Freedom of press has been greatly curtailed; even the Citizens are not allowed to move freely without identity card.34
In such circumstances, political persecution and atrocities have become every day affairs in Arakan. For examples in 1785 at the time of occupation of Arakan the Burmese brutally murdered twenty thousand people and several thousand were forced to take shelter in the district of Chittagong whose descendants have been living there as citizens of Bangladesh.35 Walter Hamilton who had visited the southern part of Chittagong in 1802 reported that he sow with his own eyes about one lakh Arakanese refugee at Ramu.36 From 1950 to 1980 during these thirty years about ten thousand Muslims were murdered and about one lakh left home for shelter in different parts of the world.37 The Burmese hatred for the Arakanese is very much reflected in the behaviour of the Burmese. In Burma, there is a proverb "if you see a snake and one Arakanese, you will kill the Arakanese first."38 This proverb explains the Burmese attitude towards the Arakanese.
In such situation, the Burmese rule appears to be a foreign rule in Arakan. Naturally, the Arakanese started movement for independence. Saradaw U. Seinda, a noted Buddhist monk was the leader of this movement in mid sixties he had presented a programme for independence before the Arakanese which in turn created tremendous impact the Arakanese national movement. Subsequently, he was arrested and died in a Burmese jail.39 However, the liberation struggle of the Arakanese has a long history of its own. In the beginning of the thirties Saradaw U.Ottama (1897-1939) an outstanding monk of Akyab initiated the national movement. He organised several mass movements against the British when British rule was in Burma. He had links, it is said, with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two great national leaders of the Indian sub-continent.40 Saradaw U Ottama is regarded as one of the national heroes of Arakan. The Arakanese are fortunate enough to have produced a number of national leaders among whom Bo Chong Byan was one of them. The first national liberation struggle was inaugurated by Bo Chong Byan in the beginning of the 19th century. He fought against the Burmese on a number of occasions but all his attempts failed.41 This is partly because his strength could hardly match with that of the Burmese and partly because, he failed to enlist the support of any foreign power. However, the Arakanese formed a number of political parties with the object of achieving the goal of independence. At present six political parties have been working underground and these parties are:
(a) Communist Party of Arakan (C.P.A.),
(b) Arakan National Liberation Party (Ra-Ma-La Party),
(c) Arakan Independence Organization (A.I.O.),
(d) Arakan Liberation Party (A.L.P.),
(e) Rohingya Patriotic Front (R.P.F.) and
(f) Rohingya Liberation Front (R.L.F.).42
The Ra-ma-La Party was formed in the year 1960 by a group of militant nationalists youths educated in the Rangoon University. All other parties formed in the mid seventies. The objects of all these parties among other things, include:
(a) Independence
(b) Democracy
(c) A Society free from exploitation.
However, disunity of the political groups and absence of efficient leadership constitute the Arakanese of the national movement.
In the 1954, some Arakanese Muslims raised a slogan for the establishment of an Islamic state in Arakan comprising the Muslim majority areas (i.e. Rathidaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw) of Arakan. Mir Kasim, a barely literate and militant young man was the leader of this movement.43 His intention was probably to add the Muslim majority areas of Arakan with the territory of erstwhile East Pakistan. Within a short time, he was able to collect a large number of followers. The then Pakistan Government, it is learnt supplied him arms and money from time to time.44 After several years the Government of Pakistan understood that the programme would not be materialised by a man like Mir Kasim. Thereafter help was withdrawn. The Government of Burma declared Ks. 2500.00 as reward for anybody who could arrest. Mir Kasim but the attempt of the Burmese Government did succeed. There are many reasons why Mir Kasim failed. First, Mir Kasim lacked the kind of leadership needed to lead a national movement; soon he turned out to be a common brigand taken to looking on both sides of the border. Secondly, the kind of "Islamic State" which he wanted to establish was unpractical in the sense that East Pakistan and Arakan had deep cleavages in regard to ethnicity, culture and language.45 On 13th September 1966 he was killed by an unknown person in the neighbourhood of Cox's Bazar. With the death of Mir Kasim the movement became cooled down.46
However, in 1973 some of the followers of Mir Kasim formed a political organization named Rohingya patriotic Front. The activities of the Rohingya Patriotic Front were limited in the northwestern parts of Arakan. In the beginning of 1978, the Rohingya Patriotic Front was split up into two factions namely 'Rohingya Liberation Front' and 'Rohingya Patriotic Front'. Personal rivalry together with self-interest of the leaders hastened the disintegration of the Rohingya Patriotic Front.47
In fact the Arakanese have a good ground for independence. They have shed blood in the past to uphold their national identity. But the success of the liberation struggle of the Arakanese depends on many factors such as external help, globable situation, and internal unity of the various elements to continue a prolonged war. Presently, they have none in their favour. The Arakanese will probably have to look forward to future for changes in the present situation. And changes in Southeast Asian politics are not uncommon and long delayed.
Abdul Mabud Khan

1.     Unlike Bangladesh, there is no census of population in Arakan. Interview with Nurul Islam, an Arakanese refugee at Nila Camp on 7.5.1978, Age-33. The animists include the Khamis, the Mrongs, the Sandus and so on.
2.     San Tha Aung; The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan, Rangoon, 1979, P.1.
3.     Interview with Khen Maung, an Arakanese refugee at Nila Camp on 8.5.1978. Age-30.
4.     A.Phayre: An Account of Arakan, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1941, p. 680.
5.     APhayre: "On the History of Arakan" Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol-XIII, Part-1, 1844. p.24.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Ibid. A.Phayre was Assistant Commissioner in Arakan for about 10 years.
8.     Khem Maung: Op.cit.
9.     Rakhaing>Arkhang.Araccan>Arakan.
10.                        Interview with Rafiqual Alam, an Arakanese refugee at Ledha Camp on 8.8.1978. Age-40.
  1. Rohingyar Daak, a pamphlet published by Rohingya Patriotic Front, Vol.1, January 1981. p.11.
  2. It means just to put the Arabian dress on the Buddhist monks. The Buddhist monks wear saffron colour dress. Again, there is a close resemblance between Arakistan and Hindustan, Pakistan and Afghanistan at least, in etymology.
  3. Rohingyar Daak, op. cit.
  4. A small section of the Arakanese Buddhists descendants live in Patuakhali, Chittagong, Banderban and Chittagong Hill Tracts. They came in this part of Bangladesh when Bodaw paya, a Burmese King conquered Arakan in 1784 AD.
  5. The Arakanese Muslims are divided into four groups: (a) The Zerbadi (b) The Tanbukia (c) The Kamanchi and (d) The Rohingya. The Rohingya are mainly concentrated in the northwestern parts of Arakan. They are numerous compared to the other groups of the Muslims. In Arakanese language Rohingya means 'nomadic people'. Except the Rohingyas, the three groups introduced themselves as Rakhaine or Arkanese Muslims.
  6. (a) Rosanga Sahar ek gram Manohar Puthi parichiti, A. Sharif, p.242.
    (b) Karnaphuli Nadi purbe acche ek puri. Rosanga nagar nam svargaava tari. (Kazi Daulat): Sati Mayna (ed) S.N.Shosal, p.45.
    (c) Rosanga deseta acche Jata Musalman. (Sikandarnama) Tohfa: (ed). A.Sharif, p.115. Rakhainga>Rakhanga>Rohanga>Rosanga.
  7. A.Phayre: 'Account of Arakan' Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal No.117, 1841, p.685.
  8. It relates the history of the kings of Arakan from the earliest time to 1784 AD. The book is written in Arakanese language. It is mainly based on chronicle.
  9. A.Phayre: "On the History of Arakan", Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol-145, 1844, p.35.
  10. San Tha Aung: Op. cit. p.3.
  11. Ibid. p.4.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid. p.109. ---

No comments:

Post a Comment