When Myanmar’s Police Joined Civil Disobedience Movement 75 Years Ago

By The Irrawaddy 22 March 2021

Yangon — In stark contrast to the way their successors protect the military regime by killing protesters today, members of Myanmar’s police once stood with the people by refusing to work for the then British colonial government during the independence struggle in September 1946.

Police officers, who had helped prop up the colonial authorities, replaced their crown badges, the imperial symbol, on their caps with peacock badges, the symbol of Burmese sovereignty and anti-colonialism. It was an unprecedented event in colonial Myanmar (then Burma).

The main sit-in strike by the police was staged at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (then Rangoon), calling for total independence and the establishment of an interim government of people’s delegates.

The move by the police – who were often seen as colonial stooges – to stand by the citizens was hugely popular.

The All Rangoon Buses Union announced that it would charge half fare for striking officers traveling within the city and towards Pyay (then Prome) and Mandalay. Newspapers carried extensive coverage of the strike with papers selling fast as the news spread.

The federation of government unions followed the police on strike with postal staff, dockers, miners, government publishers and rail and factory workers joining the strike. The colonial administration and businesses were brought to a halt after about a month.

Major General Sir Hubert Elvin Rance, the last colonial governor, was forced to hold talks with Gen. Aung San to end the strike. Rance, who understood the will of the people, asked Gen. Aung San to form a government. The formation of the cabinet ended the strike and the situation returned to normality.

There were only a few cases of theft and muggings and no serious offenses while the police were on strike, said U Ba Swe, who would become prime minister in 1956.

An outcome of the strike was that U Ba Maung was appointed the inspector general of police, the first Burmese national to hold the position under colonial rule.

The country’s police officers, who once took a stand for freedom, have helped defend the military regime since the Feb. 1 coup, torturing and murdering innocent civilians, much to the disgust of the public.

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