The other day, I came across something profound. Perhaps it’s been forgotten by the vast majority now, but Burma, like its Southeast Asian neighbors, once had an Indic national motto, during its short-lived parliamentary period following independence from 1948 to 1962.
Ethnic identity is a social construct, and a very fluid one that at that. It’s by no means immutable, especially in multi-ethnic societies like Burma, where many assume multiple ethnic identities depending on context, as a means of conducting business, gaining social acceptance, and receiving education. For the Burmese community, there’s a also certain ambiguity attached to the term “Burmese,” and whether it’s a reference to the Burmese nationality, the Burman ethnicity, or both.
Robert H. Taylor, a prominent Burma studies scholar, has penned an excellent article on the emotive ethnic-based political troubles that Burma is currently mired in. I’ve written before about the man-made construct of ‘race,’ and the transformation of regional affiliations to ethnic-based ones during the colonial period.