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Panel 18. Minority Language, Culture, and Identity in Burmese Southeast Asia

Chair: Mandy Sadan (School of African and Oriental Studies)

The panel addresses minority language, culture and identity in the historical Burmese region of mainland Southeast Asia. Using historical, lingustical, and sociological approaches, it looks at the issue of the numerous minority cultural and religious identities that interact and overlap between Burma and its region of historic influence, and examines their political implications in the context of contemporary Myanmar.

Paper 1: Historicizing identity: Arakanese Muslims, the Khmer Krom, and the Legacy of Porous Borders in Mainland Southeast Asia

Trude Jacobsen (Northern Illinois University)

What happens when porous borders become impermeable through the adoption of western conceptualisations of the nation-state, with their attendant notions of national identity and citizenship that do not reflect the ethnic plurality of a border area? If the Arakanese Muslims and the Khmer Krom are any indication, the result is alienation, violence, and statelessness. The former, along with their non-Muslim neighbours in Rakhine State, have been fleeing oppression at the hands of the Burman ethnic majority for over 200 years. Similarly, the Khmer Krom of southern Vietnam have been wont to relocate westwards into Cambodia since the seventeenth century, when settlement programs of successive Vietnamese governments started to encroach upon their way of life. Yet the border traffic has not been unidirectional. The inhabitants of the other side of the border, in Bangladesh and Cambodia, have frequently crossed over in their own efforts to escape persecution or seek employment. The borders between Bangladesh and Rakhine State in Burma/Myanmar and between Cambodia and southernmost Vietnam have always been porous, from pre-colonial times into the twentieth century. The sudden categorization of these borders as impermeable has had a devastating effect upon the peoples on either side of them. The statelessness of the Arakanese Muslims and the Khmer Krom, and their oppression by the states in which they live, is a direct result of borders becoming impenetrable through the application of western norms of sovereignty to an area that even during colonial times continued to operate according to local ideas of space and place.

Paper 2: Khumi: Endangered language of Myanmar and Bangladesh

Sikder Monoare Murshed (University of Dhaka)

Amongst the primitive dwellers of Myanmar and Bangladesh one of the most prominent indigenous are the Khumi. They live in the hilly border areas of the Bandarbon district of the Bangladesh and Settue district of the Myanmar. The Khumi peoples are primarily aborigines of modern day Myanmar. It is said that the Khumi were an intrusive conquering tribe whose belligerent antics drove out the neighbouring Murong, Pankho, Bonjogi etc. tribes who in turn absconded from Arakan to migrate and settle in Chittagong around 17th or 18th Century. The Khumies are especially distinct in their language and behaviour with others. Now days according to the population census report the Khumi population decreasing bouth country. On the basis of population decline it can be said that the Khumi language is on its path to extinction. The language of the Khumi peoples constitutes a faction of the TB language family and is devoid of orthographic representation. Now their language and culture are changing, because of the connection with the civilized world, their basic needs etc. In this paper I try to find out the present situation of Khumi endangered language of Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Paper 3: The Rohingya from Burmese Perspective

Akkanut Wantanasombut (Chulalongkorn University)

The conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state of Myanmar has been going on for decades. Myanmar had accepted a total of 135 ethnic minority groups in its territory, but denied the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state for the ethnic minority status. The Myanmar Government considers the Muslims, who call themselves “Rohingya”, as Bengalese migrants, while the Rohingya claim that they have been living in this area for centuries.

The Human Rights violations in Rakhine state is a cause of concern to the International community. The media reports about arbitrary arrests, torture, execution, and killings have been repeated again and again. Many Rohingya people tried to flee from their homeland, seeking a new and better life, but most of them die at sea while fleeing in boats. These tragic stories make the world sympathize with the Rohingya and question Myanmar Government’s humanity.

Since Burma was fully granted independence by the British in 1948, Myanmar has been consumed by the chaos of civil wars with ethnic minority groups and the struggle for democracy against the Military Government that continues until today. The only thing that majority Burmese seem to agree with the military regime is the attitude toward Rohingya. This paper aims to examine the perception and the mindset of the Burmese toward Rohingya, in order to understand the causes of conflict.

Paper 4: Challenges of Conducting Field Research in Myanmar (Burma) in the Context of Banking

Sandar Win (University of Bedfordshire)

The paper reports on the challenges faced by the researcher in conducting field studies in Myanmar with the main emphasis in banking sector. It is motivated by the desire to share the experiences of the researcher in conducting field work in the context where there are limited prior studies using primary data. Irrespective of any discipline, research papers in Myanmar have been limited. Moreover, the trustworthiness of the available secondary data was doubtful, especially with the financial data provided by the government and the banks. Hence, the main objective of the study is to propose suitable research methods for data collection in the society where bureaucratic culture and lack of trust are prevalent. These findings were based on the researcher’s experiences in conducting interviews with banks in the UK, Singapore and Myanmar. It will be presented along with the similarities and differences faced by the researcher in applying appropriate research methods to collect required data. The study reveals that there are incompatibilities in applying Western research methodologies in Myanmar, thus, requires different methods of capturing qualitative data which could enhance the reliability and validity of the research.