World War II, Ethnic Minorities in

   World War II and the Japanese Occupation transformed relations between the indigenous and nonindigenous ethnic minorities and the Burman (Bamar) ethnic majority. In Lower Burma, the Japanese invasion and antiIndian incidents led to the departure of more than half a million persons of South Asian descent in early 1942. They returned to the British-ruled subcontinent, often overland under conditions of great hardship. Only a few went back to Burma after the war, meaning that South Asians (including people from what are now India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) exercised significantly reduced economic and social influence compared to before 1941. The Overseas Chinese and SinoBurmese sometimes suffered harsh treatment at the hands of the Japanese, but apparently not the systematic atrocities endured by the Chinese in Singapore and Malaya. The Anglo-Burmese (Eurasians) seem not to have been systematically persecuted, but they lost the favorable connections provided by British rule. Violent race riots broke out between Buddhist and Muslim residents of Arakan after British authority there collapsed in early 1942.
   Generally loyal to the British, the Karens (Kayins) of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River Delta region and the hills east of the Sittang (Sittoung) River endured atrocities at the hands of the Burma Independence Army and the Japanese, and organized guerrilla resistance with the help of Force 136. The British supplied the hill Karens with weapons, which they used with great effect against retreating Japanese troops in 1945. Although Dr. Ba Maw and General Aung San tried to win their trust, Karen wartime experiences engendered strong opposition to their inclusion in any Burman-dominated state, leading to the 1949 uprising by the Karen National Union.
   With a few exceptions, the Kachins, Chins, and Nagas, who lived along Burma's mountainous borders with India and China, supported the British. This was because of traditionally close ties between their leaders and the colonizers (including in many cases a common Christian faith), the inclusion of these groups in the colonial armed forces, and the fact that many hill areas were not firmly under Japanese control. These groups, along with the hill Karens, played a significant role in the Allied recapture of Burma in 1944-1945. The Shans, whose sawbwa (saohpa) or rulers were confirmed in their semifeudal status under Japanese rule, remained largely aloof from the war, though many Shans were alienated by the Japanese decision to give the states of Keng Tung and Mongpan to Thailand in 1943.
   In conclusion, the war, which enshrined the politics of armed violence, broke down Burma's multiethnic plural society and shattered the ethnic peace that had been imposed by the British since the late 19th century. The Japanese-supported government of Dr. Ba Maw, moreover, espoused a specifically Burman cultural and national identity, creating Burma's first "postcolonial state." Though Ba Maw and Aung San sought ethnic inclusiveness, many of their subordinates (especially in the armed forces) were afflicted by Burman chauvinism. Among minorities, such as the Kachins and Karens, fighting alongside the British and Americans gave them the experience they needed when they began insurgencies against the Rangoon government after the war.
   See also Myaungmya Massacres; Panglong Conference; World War II in Burma (Military Operations).

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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