A Nation's Desire

“Nationality is that principle, compounded of past tradition, present interests and future aspirations, which gives to people a sense of organic unity, and separates them from the rest of mankind.”—Heanrshaw.

In unity there is strength. “Hang together and be strong, or hang separately” is an old and indisputable maxim. Sir Frederick Whyte in his treatise India - A Federation? Strongly suggests that India can be a strong nation and reach her full stature and unity only by federation, that is, in the union and co-operation of communities. He says “In India, of all land, there are to be found in her social fabric elements which have disturbed, if they have not actually destroyed, the unity and the sense of common nationality in other peoples and other times.”

The above statement is perfectly applicable to Burma. The Burmese nation (by which is meant all the indigenous races of Burma) can never be strong or regarded by other nations as such, unless and until the principal races of the country are satisfied and contented by having a fair share of the country and its administration. The Arakanese can preserve their country which is separated form the rest by a natural barrier. The Shans have their won states in which to do the same, and the strength of their nationality and self-Government has been strengthened by the recent grant of Federation. The Burmans have the whole country to themselves. Where have the Karens a place they can call their own?

Mr. Smeaton, even when the Karen nation was in its infancy, strongly advocated a scheme, which, had it been followed, would have met with great success. He said, “There is a capacity for self-government in every people, but it varies with race and climate. The highest excellence in any administration must always consist in the perception of this capacity, and in leading it into those channels for which it is vest suited we have conceded what may be called a limited self-government to the people of India; but we have made the concession without discernment of the varying capacities of the races and classes to which it has been granted. We have dealt with all alike, neglecting distinctive natural characteristics. We have failed to seize the true spirit of self-government in the East. Both in method and in scope we are wrong… the result of our method is this: that the reforms which we endeavor to introduce strike no real root. The soil and climate are not congenial to the plant. The year 1986 will, I fear, find the millions on India not one whit more able to govern themselves than they are now. We have nowhere fostered the growth of real material life. We are endeavoring to create a new English India. The product will not be much to our credit.”

“Why should we not try -­ if only as a political experiment - to give the Karens a chance of growing as a nation in their own way? Why should we not try and bring their wild growth under cultivation, grafting on the ancient roots as time and experience improve our perception and increase our skill? We have here a little people—probably under a million in all—who aspire to keep their own nationality intact. Why should we not allow them and encourage them to do so. The result may be of the highest interest in the future, and cannot fail to be fraught with great benefit to the people themselves; it will strengthen British rule and safeguard it in the times of trouble which may yet be in store for us in Burma.” Yes, why not? Surely, those British officials who have given the subject a thought and have carefully looked into the matter could not help but be convinced of the reasonableness and potential significance of Mr. Smeaton’s comments.”

Will Government or its officials redeem past neglect by lending an ear to a national request? The Karens have not proclaimed it from the house-tops, but they have time and time again, through their representatives, called the attention of Government to this earnest wish of theirs. If Government is convinced that the Karens are deserving of a fair trial, have they not the courage of their convictions before it is too late to do the Karens a good turn, and in turn get the full benefit of the co-operation of a loyal people of proven worth?

And what is this request which the Karens submit for consideration? They ask for a fair share of the administration of the country which they have on several occasions helped to save from insurrection and rebellion. It has been estimated that there are seven Burman’s to one Karen, and the Karens have tried unsuccessfully to obtain this ratio in the results of competition with the Burmans. The reasons have been fully stated in the preceding pages of this book. The obstacles are insurmountable, and the only practical solution is to allot the Karens one-seventh of the province for administration. There are seven divisions in the province, excluding Rangoon, one-seventh of it means one division. In this division the entire administration should be by Karens directly under British supervision. Tenasserim division would be the division of choice, as it is mostly inhabited by Karens, and one in which administration is not so well developed as in other parts of the province the administrators can therefore exercise or adopt any scheme or plan that will suit the peculiar needs of the country and its intended administration. The inhabitants of that part of the country, like any other part, will not be in any way disturbed. The Karens in other parts of the province can remain where they are if they wish it just as people of other nationalities domiciled in Tenasserim can remain there, as long as it as recognized that Tenasserim is a Karen country. The division will advance and progress independently under the able guiding hands of sympathetic and efficient British officers.

The present-day ideal is self-determination; but the Karens, in their desire for self-determination, realize that self-determination in their case must be determined according to the method and mode mapped out by experienced British officers with whom they have fought, with whom they have worked, and with whom they would ever co-operate. If the Karen nation, like all other nationalities of Burma, is left as it is, and not given their legitimate aspirations in a proper direction as inspired by its feeling of patriotism and loyalty to the government and law and order, it is greatly to be feared that a new group or generation of Karen extremists or obstructionists will arise.

The Reforms Scheme has not been a benefit to them nor will it be for generations to come. Their wish is to work with be under the direct supervision of the British in a section of the country to which they feel they have a right by their number and the solid work that they have put in ever since the British Government annexed the country. The Burmans have claimed the right of self-determination and so far they have been allowed a good share of it. Surely, they cannot object to the Karens having a proportionate share?

Like the powerful British nation formed of four mighty nations in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, a great Burmese nation may be formed of the four principal races of the country, the Burmese, the Karens, the Arakanese, and the Shans; each nation with its own country and its own distinctive national characteristics, ready to unite for the good of the whole country. “Gallant little Wales” occupies a position, in many respects in relation to its more powerful neighbor England not dissimilar to that of the Karens in relation to the Burmese. The distinct nationality and language of Wales is being more and more recognized. This enables her the better to develop her peculiar genius, and contribute her special gifts to the common stock.

The Karens of Burma are more numerous in proportion, and fully as distinct. It is their plea that this distinction as between Burmese and Karens be fully recognized, and acted on-to the benefit of Government and the contentment of the people; at present officials and Government servants in strong Karen communities are largely ignorant even of the language of the people. Let a condition be made that for service in the “Karen country,” the candidate, whatever his nationality, should pass an examination in Karen.

The educational qualification required in the service of the Karen country should be lower than those required for Burma as a whole. The Karens are still classified as a backward race, and it would only be fair to allow them lower qualifications for service. There will then be no dearth of candidates for the different services. For clerkships and ordinary posts in all departments an Anglo-Vernacular Seventh Standard qualification, and for posts like the Deputy Myookship a High School Final qualification only should be required. It might be mentioned that in Sir Reginald Craddock’s original scheme for the Deputy Myookship the qualification specified was the High School Final Examination, although at present candidates from the ranks of University graduates have received preference over those with the High School Final qualification. Higher services such as the Burma Civil Service, Judicial Service, and so on alone should claim university-graduates under such a scheme.

If the above suggestion is accepted there will be no dearth of candidates for all the services for the whole Division as is feared by some officials with whom the writer has discussed the matter. If it is found that Karens cannot supply the requisite number of men in addition to the British officials, candidates of Burmese or any other nationality may be temporarily accepted until Karen candidates with the necessary qualifications are available. Of course, the above is only a bare outline of the scheme, but the matter can be left in the hands of the highly-experienced British officers who will be in direct charge of the administration of the Karen country.

“Karen Country,” how inspiring it sounds! What thoughts, what manly feeling, what wonderful visions of the future the words conjure forth in the mind of a Karen. It was a highly-placed official to whom may be credited the origin of the name. A young Karen subordinate civilian officer had been recommended by his Deputy Commissioner and his Commissioner for dismissal from the service. The young officer went personally to the Chief Secretary and related the whole story of how it happened that he incurred the displeasure of his superior officer. A Burmese Sub-Divisional officer had found fault with him for something which, in the ordinary course of events, would have been overlooked and for which at most some chastisement would have sufficed; but the Sub-Divisional officer enlarged upon the fault or neglect and made such a strong report to the Deputy Commissioner, without hesitation, recommended the young man’s dismissal. It so happened that this high official was in the Chief Secretary’s office at the time, and after hearing the story he said, “You Karens should all go to a ‘Karen Country’ since you cannot get along in other parts of the Province.”

In support of my contention for a “Karen Country” some lines may be quoted from the book India-a Federation? By Sir Frederick Whyte-hose name has more than once been quoted - First President of the Imperial Assembly of India, well-known to Burma as chairman of the Whyte Committee on the Reforms Scheme. “Love of the country or patriotism is compounded of many things - sentiment, historic associations, community of economic interest, attachment to the soil itself, trials and triumphs shared in common-which when wielded together make nationality. Love of country is an affection, nationality the intellectual conception in which it is cast by political science. It has been defined many times, but never to the complete satisfaction of those who know what it is and how it can sway the hearts of men and move mountains. A nation has been defined as “a body of people united by a corporate sentiment of peculiar intensity, intimacy and dignity, related to a definite home country.” This is a comprehensive definition in which the essentials are the unity, the corporate sentiment and the definite home country. These factors may be present in a Scotsman, for instance, both in relation to his nearer and dearer homeland of Scotland and in relation to the larger patria of Britain. Here two patriotisms happily interwoven in a manner far more complete than that in which a Bengali can say that he belongs to the whole of India and the whole of India belongs to him. It is because of the fusion of the two patriotisms that Great Britain is truly a United Kingdom; and it is because that fusion is far from perfect in India that Indian Nationality is as yet no more than adolescent.

The absence of nationality, or its decay, or even its adolescence, is a condition in which it is not proper or even possible to create enduring political institutions, whether Federal or unitary, if those institution are to depend for any of their vitality on the popular will. The life is not there, or is but awaking. ‘Only those,’ says Mr. Alfred Zimmern, in his Nationality and Government, ‘who have seen at close quarters what a moral degradation the loss of nationality involve, or sampled the drab cosmopolitanism of Levantine seaports or American industrial centers can realize what a vast reservoir of spiritual power is lying ready, in the form of national feeling, to the hands of teachers and statesmen, if only they can learn to direct it to wise and liberal ends. The strongest federal unions are those in which the local patriotism finds a comfortable place within the embrace of the larger national patriotism.’… The Thirteen Colonies of the Atlantic Coast of America, for instance, grew up in independence, the one from the others, separated by great distance and peopled by citizens of very different origins. The climate of Boston differed from the climate of Savannah no more than the Bostonian himself differed from the gentleman of South Carolina; and if the Rhode Islander was a Puritan and democratic individualist, the Virginian was a patrician and a Cavalier to his very marrow. When some form of union was forced upon the colonies, these differences in habit and outlook made a unitary Government impossible, and exerted a determining influence upon the character of the federal constitution. So in Switzerland, each canton grew in sturdy independence in its home of mountain and valley, and only when compelled by the instinct of self-preservation to join forces with its neighbors did it yield even the meager federal rights of the Swiss Constitution to a National Government. It has been held by the apologists of Swiss local autonomy that, after the Reformation, the Swiss Confederation only survived the strife between Catholic and Protestant because its loose bonds lay lightly on both. The Catholic canton indeed long withstood the growth of federal power, but eventually, it tardily, in 1874, consented to pay the small price required for the establishment of National Government.”

The above is a true sentiment. The Karen Elders, who have all along co-operated with the Government and are continuing to do so, have met with many obstructions and obstructionists, while engaged in finding recruits and other necessary requirements. If Government would carefully look into the reasons for the antagonism shown by these men, the Government would only blame themselves for not seeing into their grievances which have been real and heartrending. There are so many causes that have led to the adverse feeling of the Karen people. One great and most damaging cause is that the Karens have to work, communicate and co-operate with and through the “Middleman,” so to speak, who has not the necessary sympathy and kindly regard. Remove that cause and the result will be a true co-operation in any movement for the good of the Government and the people.

May God hasten the day when we can lift up our voices and sing with our whole heart and soul:

“My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where our fathers died!
Land of our Ancestors’ pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

“God save our gracious King,
Long live our Noble King!
God save the King!
For Britain and her King,
Have made our nation free!
Now let our voices ring
God save the King!”

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