Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom
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The “Long March” was the evacuation of Indians from Burma as the Japanese advanced during the Second World War in 1942. The Indian community in Burma was well established but also a source of racial tensions and riots in the 1930s. When war broke out, Burmese resentment towards both the British and Indian immigrants was aggravated by the horrors of the war. The Long March was particularly poignant because Indians in Burma argued that they had been let down for a second time by the British following the separation of Burma from India in 1937. Many had no choice but to flee by land despite desperate conditions. Nearly 244,000 Indians left Burma and officially just under 5000 died during this trek.
This paper examines how the Long March was experienced and remembered by Burmese Indians. The march triggered a particular kind of resentment against imperial rule based on the belief that Indians in Burma had served the imperial cause without earning British support or protection. It also became a flashpoint in the complicated relationship between Burma and India, especially with the expulsion of Burmese Indians in the 1960s. The sense of British abandonment reemerged in the 1960s when debate raged about who should take responsibility for Burmese Indians in light of Burma’s new citizenship laws. This paper examines the Long March not just as a singular historical event but also as a backdrop for a more complicated negotiation of political and national belonging in the 1960s.