On This Day

‘Cruelty of the British’

By Wei Yan Aung 8 June 2019

YANGON—On this day in 1931, the prestigious Burmese-language newspaper Thuriya published a photo of 16 decapitated heads. “Cruelty of the British,” the caption read.

The heads belonged to farmers who had risen in popular rebellion against colonial rule due to high land taxes imposed on the country’s peasantry.

They were beheaded by the British soldiers who quelled the rebellion, which broke out in Tharrawaddy, Bago Region, in late 1930 and went on for nearly two years. The heads were put on public display at a police station in Pyay.

The uprising against the colonial government by Burman peasants, led by Saya San, was unprecedented in terms of its scale, extent and impact. The colonial government punished individuals to set an example to the general public, the local newspaper wrote.

The photo was taken by an amateur Indian photographer. It caused great controversy among the public, and it even raised questions in the British Parliament.

As the peasant revolt spread to other parts of the country, the British colonialists brought two military divisions in to crush it.

The revolt was finally defeated at the end of 1932 with as many as 3,000 rebels killed or injured. Many more were arrested and given one to 10 years in prison. Hundreds were hung or imprisoned for life.

Saya San was hanged in Tharrawaddy Prison. He was 52. The biggest armed revolt to follow Saya San’s was that led by the Thirty Comrades, the founders of the modern Myanmar Army, against the colonial government in 1942.

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