Early History of Burma – 3

  • Burma in the 19Th century:

In the beginning of 19th century Burma was being ruled from Ava. Hinyana Buddhism was the religion of the people. In the mountains and hills people lived in a state which was near primitive society. They had borrowed many traditions from India.

Sanskrit and Pali were common languages spoken by the people. Their local literature was available in vernacular language. Influence of China and Burma was not as deep as on Cambodia or Siam. Chinese also lived in Burma as artisans and merchants.

Burma occupies a very peculiar position in Asia because its borders touch two great Asian countries of the world namely China and India. Both these countries had their influence on the culture and civilization of Burma as well. This impact also increased when India and Burma were both under the domination of one superior namely the Britishers and was the part of same British Empire.

  • British colonial policy in Burma:

Until the annexation of Upper Burma in 1886, British colonialism was based on two complementary principles:

  • The first was a policy of conciliation which represented the Governor-General’s policy toward unannexed Burmese territory.
  • The second principle was one of modified association which the British exercised in annexed Burmese territory i.e., justice, education, etc.

However they permitted the indigenous system to co-exist with it or corporate elements of it into the British system. A true system of association would have required that indigenous systems and the population they served be left intact without any interference. Modified association was the practice followed in Tenasserim, Arakan, Assam, Manipur, and Cachar after their annexation in 1824. The British government received them as a concession under the treaty of Yandab which ended the first Anglo-Burmese war. Similarly, modified association was practiced in Pegu after its annexation in 1852 as a result of the second Anglo-Burmese association was the system under which the British established their own colonial administration in Burma.

The policy of conciliation: Conciliation was both a policy and the basic premise upon which modified association was based. The “live and let live” philosophy to which the British adhered, at least tacitly, recognized and approved the right of indigenous system of administration and education systems to exist–a form of conciliation. The policy of conciliation is a stand-alone policy and the effect of modified association policy on education.

The policy of conciliation hinged on the philosophies of avoidance and reaction. Avoidance centered on two areas:

  • First, it sought to avoid additional military entanglements in Southeast Asia. Pursuit of this policy caused British authorities to turn a blind eye when the

Burmese perpetrated territorial incursions and diplomatic and physical affronts. The London Times, in its 17 July 1824 issue, reported:

“During many years past, Burmese officials governing the country contiguous to our Southeast frontier have from time to time been guilty of acts of encroachment and aggression which the British government would have been fully justified in repelling by force. Solicitous, however to preserve with all nations the relations of peace, the British government has considered it to be in an especial manner its duty to make large allowances for the peculiar circumstances and character of the Burmese government and people.”

The “large allowances” made by authorities to which the article refers is the conciliation policy. The British were prepared, from their perspective, to endure countless affronts to avoid confrontation with the Burmese in the region.

The second arm of the avoidance philosophy sought to forego, as much as practicable, additional territorial acquisitions in the region. The British colonies in southeast Asia were administered jointly by the British government and the East India Company until 1858. Company’s practice was to operate colonies much like businesses– –they should pay for their own operations.

At the time, India was costing more money to operate than it was generating in trade. As a result, Lord Amherst, the Governor-General of India, was directed by the Directors of the East India Company “At all times to keep in mind the expressed command of the Court of Directors [East India Company ] to avoid additions to the Indian Empire.”

“Evidence of this policy was the piecemeal annexation practiced by the British after each of the Anglo-Burmese; annexation was limited to territory which satisfied immediate strategic requirements.” The British demonstrated the reactive element of the conciliation policy by their tendency to take no action against Burmese “transgressions” for relatively long periods of time. Once a saturation point was reached, they employed force. This pattern of British reaction is evident throughout nineteenth-century Anglo-Burmese relations.