Dr Jacques P. Leider is a historian of Myanmar and has headed the research centres of the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient in Yangon and Chiang Mai. He is currently the head of the EFEO office in Bangkok. A trained teacher with extensive professional experience, he had stints in diplomacy and consulting with UN organizations on contemporary conflict issues.

Project Summary

Ethno-religious Entanglements, Tensions, and Violence in the Bengal-Burma Borderlands

Labour migration from Bengal to overwhelmingly Buddhist Arakan (today’s Rakhine State) during the colonial period led to an increase of the Chittagonian Muslim population in border townships. The new settlers arriving joined an existing and well-integrated Muslim minority. While migrations within the poorly populated coastal areas had been an ongoing phenomenon for centuries, the market-oriented context of the late colonial and the nationalist post-colonial context engendered increasing social and economic tensions between the resident Buddhist population and the newly settled Muslim migrants. In Muslim south-eastern Bengal during the colonial period the Chittagong Hill Tracts Administration sought to shield (largely Buddhist) ethnic minorities from outside interference. However these protective regulations were dismantled by the post-colonial nation-state. By examining demographic and economic change since the 1920s, this project explores the unresolved ethno-religious entanglements that, up to the early 1960s, had laid the ground-work for deteriorating State-minority relations under authoritarian and central-state-focused administrative regimes in East Pakistan/Bangladesh and Burma/Myanmar.

This research project seeks to take a fresh approach towards the roots of ethno-national and ethno-religious tensions at the frontier of Bangladesh and Myanmar/Burma by embracing the regional borderlands context. It starts with the premise that the post-colonial entanglements that have led to state violence in the 1970s cannot be viewed in the Burmese/Myanmar context alone but has to include an analysis of the history of its connections with East Pakistan/Bangladesh. From this perspective, the Chittagong Hill Tracts War (1977-97) can be interpreted as demonstrating the failure of centre-periphery relations. Broadening this analysis this research project also takes a novel approach towards the emergence of new Buddhist and Muslim identities by exploring their roots in the transregional context of economic change – as well as heightened social and cultural mobilization – in colonial Burma and India after the First World War.