On This Day

The Day the British Sentenced Peasant Rebel Leader Saya San to Death

By Wei Yan Aung 28 August 2019

YANGON—On this day 88 years ago, Saya San, a practitioner of traditional medicine who led a peasant armed rebellion against colonial rule, was sentenced to death by a special tribunal.

Burdened with heavy taxes imposed by the government and dispossessed of their property by Indian moneylenders, a group of peasants led by Saya San rose in rebellion in Tharrawaddy District of Bago Region in 1930 after an economic depression caused rice prices to drop. The rebellion later spread to southern parts of Myanmar.

The peasant rebellion is regarded as one of the earliest of the nationalist movements that would eventually culminate in Myanmar’s independence.

As the colonial government was not able to crush the rebellion with its existing troops in Myanmar, it was forced to bring in two divisions armed with machine guns from India.

The Galon Army of peasants, armed only with swords and spears, were no match for British troops with machine guns.

Even so, it took nearly two years to quell the rebellion. It was the costliest such operation the British government had undertaken up to that time, costing 2.5 million kyats and requiring 10,000 to 11,000 soldiers.

Saya San was hanged on Nov. 28, 1931 at Tharrawaddy Prison at the age of 52. Around 3,000 of the rebels who fought alongside him were killed or injured. Over 8,000 were arrested, with 78 hanged and 270 sentenced to life imprisonment. On the government side, 58 people were killed in the rebellion and 96 injured.

The next-biggest armed rebellion was the Thirty Comrades’ war against the British in 1942.

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