In Search of Chin identity: A Study in Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identity in Burma
Author: Dr Lian H. Sakhong
Publishing House: NIAS Press Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
Printing history: First printing 2003
: Second printing 2008
The book, like any other books written by non-Burman scholars, talks about how the Chins were involuntarily lumped up together with the majority Burmans by the British invaders who left in a hurry after World War II.
What this book surpasses others of its kind is that the author, who is an ethnic Chin, also took trouble to delve into the two schools of thought of the Burmans: one traditional, as exemplified by the late Gen Ne Win and the current de facto leader Than Shwe, and the other revolutionary, as presented by Aung San, the father of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.
The ‘traditional nationalism’, as upheld by the original Dobama Asi-Ayone (We Burmans Organization founded in 1930, was “not simply a movement for freedom from foreign rule.” Instead, it was based, among other things, “on a common race, language and religion”. The notion of “To be a Burman is to be a Buddhist” can be seen as an integral part of it.
However, when Aung San became Dobama’s secretary general in 1938, he presented a radical non-racial and non-religious approach. In his concept of a nation, Aung San explicitly rejected the centrality of race and religion:
A nation is a collective term applied to a people, irrespective of their ethnic origin, living in close contact with one another and having common interests and sharing joys and sorrows together for such a historic period as to have acquired a sense of oneness. Though race, religion, and language are important factors it is only their traditional desire and will to live in unity through weal and woe that binds the people together and makes them a nation an their spirit a patriotism.
This approach, which allowed a certain level of inclusiveness towards non-Burman nationalities, while exerting considerable appeal to the non-Burmans, also caused a split in Dobama: one faction led by Tun Ok and Ba Sein, the traditional nationalists “one race, one blood, one voice and one command” in favor of a totalitarian system, and the other led by Kodaw Hmaing and Aung San in favor of democracy and federalism.
It was Aung San’s non-racial and secular approach that had won over the non-Burman leaders at Panglong in 1947. But when he was killed 5 months later, his colleague U Nu was appointed to succeed him. And it was him, according to the author, who had “directly or indirectly betrayed Aung San’s policy on at least two points. The first point, as mentioned already, was on the principle of the federal constitution, and the second point on religious policy. Although Aung San had opted for a ‘secular state’ with a strong emphasis on ‘pluralism’ and the ‘policy of unity in diversity’ (Silverstein in Lehman 1981: 51-58) in which all different religious and racial groups in the Union could live together peacefully and harmoniously, U Nu gradually reversed Aung San’s secularism.
Thus it was U Nu’s policy which gradually made way for the traditional nationalists to take over the helm of the country in 1962.
So the question is: Is there any hope for Burma to have another Aung San with non-racial and non-religious nationalism?
The military junta and its successors that grew out of traditional nationalism have supposedly given the diverse peoples of Burma a common moniker: Myanmar. However, the fact is that it has been forced down their throats without bothering to ask them.
Until we can give a positive answer to that it thus seems clear the search for a common identity, not just Chin’s or Shan’s for that matter, will go on.