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.”

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