The conditions under which Indian labour lived in Burma defy description. As early as 1878-9, the Report of the Rangoon
Municipality recorded that Indian coolies were living in”houses in a very dirty state with few small doors and windows;
in one house in 29th Street, there were found in one room 23 inmates—the dimension being only 18 X 14 feet.’ In his report for 1882, the Health Officer of Rangoon reported: “The health of the city is at all times of the year threatened by arrival of thousands of coolies by steamer from Madras.’ There was not
much improvement even in the 1930s. The Public Health Committee of Rangoon, appointed by the Government in September 1926, reported:In one room where we counted 50 coolies, the number allowed by regulation was 9. The conditions are indescribable. Every
inch of the floor space is occupied by a sleeping human being and others are to be found on shelves and bunks along the walls …The exhalations from overcrowded sweating humanity lying
actually on top of one another and breathing the same foul atmosphere over and over again must be sufficient to turn the strongest stomach.Even after a hundred years of unrestricted immigration, Indian settlers in Burma hardly exceeded 2 per cent of the population, but their influence was considerable,especially in Rangoon, the capital,which was virtually an Indian city.
Dr. Chakravarti’s book analyses the
economic and political conditions of
Indians in Burma, from 1900 to 1941,
and explains how they were finally forced to a massive exodus by Burmese nationalism and the Japanese invasion.
The role of the Indian Chettyar bankers who revolutionized Burma’s agriculture and trade, and the pathetic condition of the Indian labourers, are critically examined. On the political side, the author surveys the reasons for the growth of feeling against Indians and the circumstances which led to separation from India, and concludes that much unpleasantness could have been avoided by timely action on every side.This is the sad story of a minority race which lived for several generations in Burma, worked hard, and made tremendous contributions to the development of Burma over a period of more than one hundred years of British administration, only to be finally thrown out of their homes and vocations by the avalanche of international tragedies, namely, the Japanese invasion of 1942, a systematic destruction of Burmese economy both by the incoming Japanese and the advancing Indo-British army during 1942-5. To these were added the internal disorder which began in 1942, became endemic thereafter,and continued to take its heavy toll for many years.The purpose of this essay is not to blame anyone or any group or set of circumstances for this unhappy situation. The main purpose is to state the case, on the basis of ascertainable facts, fairly and without prejudice, to fill the gaps which have been observed in several documentations of the events, and to draw certain conclusions which may be of some use in clearing the minds of Indians and Burmmans.