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Burma and India (Some Aspects of Intellectual Life Under Colonialism)

Burma and India (Some Aspects of Intellectual Life Under Colonialism)
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Item Code: NAG865
Author: Aung San Suu Kyi
Publisher: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789382396017
Pages: 84
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 125 gms

About the Book

For the major part of its time under colonial rule, Burma was administered as a province of the British Indian empire. It was during this period that Burma began to develop along modern lines. However, the development of both countries assumed their own separate forms, influenced by their greatly different historical and cultural backgrounds. This book looks at a variety of these differences and in the way in which they affected the intellectual values of the two countries. As in many other Asian colonies which became independent after the Second World War, there was a strong connexion between nationalist movements and intellectual developments in Burma and India. This short study seeks to discover the nature of this connexion and to establish why the kind of fusion between eastern and western intellectual traditions represented by the Indian Renaissance failed to take place in Burma. The comparative approach helps in bringing out the important role which religious principles and social practices played in shaping the attitudes of colonized peoples towards new ideas ushered by the imposition of alien rule.

About the Author

Aung San Suu Kyi is a global political leader who is committed to democracy and non-violence. She was a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in 1987 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Foreword to the Second Edition

A quarter of a century has gone by since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study at Shimla, 25 turbulent years during which she has emerged as a moral and political icon for the world’s struggling people. Her commitment to non-violence and democracy, and her steadfastness for the interests of her people have become the stuff of legend and inspiration to those of us striving to make a better future. She is remembered as having spent joyful days with Dr Michael Aris and her children at the IIAS. We take great pride in the fact that she was one of us and that the IIAS is not just a happy memory for her but is also an intellectual institution that helped her explore the cultural transactions between India and Burma and examine the impact of colonialism on the making and domination of the public mind. This slim volume gives us an insightful glimpse into the intellectual history of Burma under the shadow of colonialism. It belongs to the genre of studies that look at the subtle and insidious ways in which the colonizing of the mind has occurred and in that sense describes one aspect of the human condition, the study of which is the mandate of the IIAS. We are happy to have been associated with this brief interlude in her moving personal journey and are delighted to have an opportunity bring out the second edition of her book.

Foreword to the First Edition

Aung San Suu Kyi stayed at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study as a Fellow for no more than six months to produce this delightful book. A study of intellectual life in Burma under colonial rule, as reflected in literature, compared with the contemporaneous developments in India, becomes fascinating when the story is told in simple yet meaningful terms by an author who combines delicate sensibility for literature with robust appreciation for politics.

I have read this thin volume with great pleasure and I feel sure that others are bound to enjoy reading this book.


When I first proposed a study of intellectual life in Burma and India under colonialism, I had counted on spending one year on the project. However, my appointment as a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study was delayed by the need for government clearance, and I found myself with only six months to work on a very broad and diffused subject. The limited time at my disposal, combined with the difficulty of obtaining the material I needed, has led to a much shorter study than I had originally planned.

My time at the Institute was interesting, happy and fruitful. I would like to record my sincere thanks to the director, consultant, administrative staff and fellows of the Institute who contributed to the pleasantness of my brief stay at Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla.


A Comparative study of the literature of two different nations can be a hazardous task fraught with the dangers of generalization, oversimplification and the temptation to find contrasts and similarities where none, in fact, exist. On the other hand, the comparative approach offers opportunities to highlight the salient characteristics of a particular tradition as well as to indicate those trends that might be considered the product of the human creative impulse independent of the national setting. Yet, the latter also take on forms decided by the social and political context in which they were given shape. Thus the treatment of love and religion, two of the most popular themes in the literature of many cultures, can differ not only between different societies but also between different periods in the same society, reflecting changing values. Consequently, the study of literature is enhanced by an examination not only of the broader corpus of ideas, beliefs and creative thinking that make up the intellectual life of a society, but also of the political and social factors that have shaped this life.

In the course of the study of Burmese intellectual developments under colonialism my interest was drawn to intellectual life in other Asian countries which had also undergone the colonial experience. Of these, India presented itself as the most obvious choice for a more detailed comparative study with Burma: the two countries had been ruled as part of the same British administration for several decades; while at the same time each preserved its own distinct character. Burma had been open to cultural influences from India since the early days of her history. Of these influences the most important was Buddhism, which became so integral a part of the Burmese ethos that it has become common to say: ‘To be Burmese is to be Buddhist.’ These early cultural and religious Indian imports were selected and adapted by the Burmese in ways that bring out the contrasting values of the two societies. By the time of the British conquest of Burma cultural influences from India and other neighbours had long since matured, in some cases one might say hardened, into attributes of the distinctive culture of the Burmese. Thus, in comparing the intellectual traditions of the two countries, Buddhist concepts and ideas which had originally come from India could legitimately be treated as particularly Burmese in contrast to the predominantly Hindu values of Indians.

The choice of India as one of the major components in a comparative study of intellectual traditions poses a considerable problem of selection. It would be impossible to give satisfactory attention to all the areas of the subcontinent in several tomes, let alone in one very slim volume. I have therefore concentrated on those aspects that seem to offer interesting points of comparison with developments in Burma. It has not been possible to avoid the pitfalls of generalization and oversimplification mentioned earlier but it is hoped that these might be balanced to some extent by insights afforded by the comparative approach. I would like to make it clear that this study has been made in a speculative spirit: possible interpretations have been put forward without the intention to assert that they are the only plausible ones.

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