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The Muslim Massacre of Arakan in 1942


By Aman Ullah

Across the last two thousand years, there has been great deal of local vibrancy as well as movement of different ethnic peoples through the region. For the last millennium or so, Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) have historically lived on both side of Naaf River, which marks the modern border with Bangladesh and Burma. In addition to Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) majority groups, a number of other minority peoples also come to live in Arakan, including Chin, Kaman, Thet, Dinnet, Mramagri, Mro and Khami etc.

The Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) had been peacefully coexisting in Arakan over the centuries. Unfortunately, the relation between those two sister communities began to grow bitter at instigation of the third parties, during the long colonial rule of more than two centuries. The anti-Muslim pogrom of 1942—in which about 100,000 Rohingya were massacred, 50,000 of them were driven across the border to the east Bengal some parts of Muslim settlements were devastated—have caused rapid deterioration in their relation.

Peter Murray, a British army officer, sent a secret letter dated 26th January 1949, to the R.W.D. Fowler, Esq., Commonwealth Relations Office, in this letter he mentioned that, “The two communities lived intermingled under British rule for 116 years without much incident, though the latent hostility between them flared up into occasional riots and murders. At the beginning of 1942, the British administration collapsed, and the Japanese with the assistance of the Arakanese occupied Akyab early in May. They did not move north of Akyab until October 1942; and in the meantime, the area of mixed population was the scene of repeated large-scale massacres in which thousands of people perished or died subsequently of starvation and exposure.”

When the British withdrew, the administration of Arakan Division was entrusted to a Magh Buddhist, U Kyaw Khine, who was vested with the power of Commissioner of Arakan Division. This made the Maghs extremely happy. The Thakins who had been wanted by the government for various crimes came out of their hiding and started indulging in looting and plunder. Muslims were their natural victims. Before the Japanese bombed Akyab most of the Muslims from different towns and villages left for their homes for fear of the rumor of an imminent anti-Muslim rioting going to break out in Akyab.

The Japanese bombed Akyab on March 23, 1942 killing many British, Gorkha, Rajput and Karen soldiers. Many British soldiers left leaving behind a large quantity of assorted arms. Some misguided Karens sold or gave arms to the Magh fanatics bolstering their strength.[1] The Thakins also seized all the arms of Township Officers, Police officers, and Police constables which were left by the British to take care of the security of the public.

Moreover the Magh Commissioner, U Kyaw Khine, supplied the Thakins a boat-load of arms and ammunition at Kyauktaw and Minbya.[2] Thakins had also seized all the licensed firearms of the Muslims. Now the Thakins have become well armed whereas the Muslims are left barehanded only with the spirit of Iman (faith). The Muslims have utterly failed to recognize the impending disaster. They nurtured fanciful thoughts of facing the enemy and some even hoped that they would be protected by their Magh friends. The Muslims were not organized and there was no one to guide them.

In the meantime full preparations were being made by the Maghs to attack the Muslims. They held a secret meeting at Minbya and came out with the following resolutions:[3 ]
1. There shall be three categories of Thakin militia holding the gun, the sword and the club;
2. The Chief Commander of these forces shall be San Kyaw Aung; Second in Command shall be Maung Kyaw and Tun Hla Aung: but the order of attack shall come from President Thakin Tha Zan Hla and Vice-President U Pho Khine, and
3. The aims and objectives were as follows:
a) to support the Japanese against British colonialists in the battle for Autonomy of Arakan;
b) to drive out the Kalas ….. White Kalas (Britishers) and black kalas (Indians)…. and to confiscate their properties for the welfare of Maghs and
c) to allow the Rohingyas and Kamans to stay who settled in Arakan for generations, but to drive out them too like Chittagonians if their activities prove undesirable.

The resolution to allow the Rohingyas and Kamans to stay is just eyewash for that section of Magh Buddhists who harbor a soft corner for the Muslims living side by side with them for generations. Actually the conspiracy to wipe out the whole Muslim population of Arakan, irrespective of their ethnic origin, had been hatched by the Thakin leaders of Burma and their Arakan partners long ago. The Thakins saw that the independence of Burma was coming very soon and if the Muslims could not be finished during this chaotic and anarchic situation, they would remain as a permanent headache in the post-independent Burma. The Magh Buddhists of Arakan had been deluded by the Thakins that the Muslims are a serious threat to their Buddhist religion. In fact it is the machination of the Burmans to divide the two sister communities forever so that it could be easier to rule a divided people and make Arakan their permanent colony. But the misguided Maghs have their grudge against the Muslims and preferred to live under Burman domination rather than enjoy freedom together with the Muslims. Now, except Akyab, the whole countryside fell under the sway of the rapacious Thakin. Looting of Hindu and Chittagonian Muslim shops started just after the British withdrawal. Most of these people fled away. The Rohingyas were ordered to warn their Chittagonian Muslim brethren to quit or that they would also not be spared. Almost all of those people left. But the cunning Maghs would not stop. Bazars after Bazars of the Muslims have been looted indiscriminately.

The Thakin leaders of Arakan namely U Pinnya Thiha (Buddhist monk), U Tha Zan Hla, U San Kyaw Aung and U Maung Kyaw etc. gave orders to carry out general massacre of the Muslims.

Thus, the barbaric Muslim massacre started on 28th March 1942. The Thakins fell upon the innocent Muslims of village Chanbilli under Minbya Township. The Muslims fought tooth and nail. But they could not withstand the onslaught of the Thakins whose rifles overpowered their local firearms. The plunder, slaughter and rape of the Maghs and their Thakin masters during the assault were so great; hundreds of innocent men, women and children were murdered. The Rohingyas were defeated. Many people of the village jumped into the river or hid in the forest. The swimming people were shot dead. With their long swords the inhuman Maghs brutally butchered the half dead men, women and children. Those alive in the slaughter were stabbed with the pointed spears and cut into pieces. Rohingya girls and women after having been raped were murdered and the children were mercilessly slaughtered. The Maghs of the neighborhood carried away their cattle, rice, paddy and even clothes. Costly things like gold and silver were taken by the Thakin leaders and other booties were given to savage plunderers. The waters of Lemro River turned red with the blood of innocent victims.

The next day on 29th March the thigh tattooed Maghs attacked Lombaissor. The Rohingyas resisted most gallantly but they were overpowered. Many men, women and children got killed. Many women in order to save their modesty threw themselves into the river. Some people swam across the river and escaped towards Patthari Qilla. At one river crossing point known as Taungyinyo ghat the Maghs stopped the fleeing Rohingyas; stripped them of their valuables first, and were mercilessly slaughtered. Beautiful girls and women were taken away to houses and after satisfying their sexual enjoyment for a few days killed them. At the Taungyinyo ghat approximately 15,000 lives fell to the sword of the ruthless Maghs. Also about 10’000 men, women and children were blocked at the mouth of ‘Afaqer dala’, a mountain pass linking Apawkwa (Afaq) in the east with Rathedaung in the west. All of them were killed there.

After destroying Chanbilli and Lombaissor in Minbya Township the Thakins attacked the flourishing Muslim villages of Myebon Township, namely Raischaung and Pankha on April 1, 1942. About half of the 15’000 Rohingyas of these two villages were massacred Attempts were made to carry out massacre at Kyauknimaw near Ramree township, but they were saved in a miraculous way. The Muslims of Kyaukpyu town acquired the help of some British troops stationed there and got saved. On April 8, 1942 the Thakins attacked Baharpara of kyauktaw. Countless Muslims were killed. Then the thugs went on rampaging the villages of Mahamuni, Paktoly (Pauktaw), shotily (Minchaung), Bargoapara (Alaygyun), Nayashar (Myauktaung), Ambari, Fidapara, Afaq (Apaukwa), Kazipara and Rwangya para. The richest man of Afaq, Abeddin, fled away leaving behind his wealth. Before the Magh’s carnage he used to say ‘the Maghs are like dogs; if you throw bones at the dogs they are silenced. Similarly if you give money to the Maghs they would not harm you’. But, Alas! At the last moment his wealth could not save him. Although he narrowly escaped the massacre he had to breathe his last in refugee camps at Rangpur, needy and broken hearted.

Meanwhile the Muslims from Ataraung and Ponnagri evacuated and fled under the threat of Thakin attack. Muslim villages east of Akyab city like Chandama, Meeurkul, Quiniprang, Solipara, Toenpara and Taukpho and villages of Pauktaw Township were under constant threat of the Tahkins. Similarly Rohingya villages of Todaing, Nonakhali, Zolapara, Ziza and Kim were targeted by Thakins for pillage and destruction.

At the end of April the onslaught swept over the township of Rathedaung and Buthidaung. The villages up to kwason in the township of Buthidaung were destroyed and burnt down. Taung bazar, north of Buthidaung, and surrounding villages also came under Magh attack who burned many of them. Three fourth of the Muslims in the Rathedaung township were massacred. The Muslim villagers of Lengwin (Mrawchaung) fought the Maghs heroically with only one D.B. gun. The Rohingyas of Prinkong crossed the Mayu River by country-boats and reached Akyab island. On their way the Maghs fired at them drowning many people. Muslims from Mozi, Anauk prang and Kodaung villages of Rathedaung Township fled to take refuge in Akyab. Bulk of the Muslims from Mayurtek, Zofrang and Razarbil had already left their villages of Akyab. By the mercy of Allah the Muslims of Akyab had the opportunity of acquiring some arms and training to defend themselves from the marauders. Both offensive and defensive preparations of the Muslims in Akyab frightened the Maghs to the extent that they could not dare to attempt an onslaught. Some wicked Mahgs were also driven out of Zabbargyafara in Akyab.

The result of this Burman instigated anti-Muslim massacre in terms of physical and material loss is myriad. More than 100’000 Muslims were massacred. Thousands of Muslim villages were destroyed. The Muslim majority areas in the east of Kaladan River had turned into a Muslim minority area. But the loss in terms of human civilization and moral values is much greater. The 1942 massacre impressed such an indelible black mark in the minds of Arakanese that the reminiscence of which shall serve as a constant source of impediment for a long way in the process of rapproachment between the two sister communities living together in Arakan from time immemorial.

According to Sultan Mahmud, former Health Minister, which was mention at the April 12, 1959 issue of The Nation, that, “I refused to accept that there was a communal riot in Arakan in 1942.It was a pre-planned cold-blooded massacre. On March 28, 1942 a group of 37 soldiers who are trekking their way to Burma was intercepted, persuaded and prevail upon attack and loot the Muslim villages. The cold-blooded massacre began with an uncontrollable fury in the Muslim village of Letma on the western bank of the Lemro River in Maybon Township. It spread like a conflagration in all directions and the unsophisticated villagers with the prospect of gain joined with guns, dahs, spears and all other conceivable contrivances of destruction.

There was absolutely no attempt at retaliation even by way of self-defense by the Muslim and it was simply one sided affair. Not a single Rakhin suffered even a scratch. Maybon Township in Kyaukpru District and six townships of MInbya, Mrohaung, Pauktaw, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw and Rathedaung in Akyab District were depleted of Muslim by murder and massacre and those who escaped evacuated through long tortuous and hazardous routes across mountains to Maungdaw.. On the way Muslim/ Rohingya in thousand and thousand were murdered by armed Rakhines. Twenty two thousand Muslim/Rohingya reached ‘Subrinagar’ camp in Rangpur District in India But very large number had stayed behind in Maungdaw.

I give below the number of Muslim villages totally destroyed in 1942.They are;(1) Myebon 30 villages(2) Minbya 27 villages (3) Pauktaw 25 villages (4)Myohaung 58 villages; (5)Kyauktaw 78 villages;(6)Ponnagyun 5 villages; (7) Rathedaung 16 villages; (8) Buthidaung 55 villages.Total 294 Muslim villages destroyed by Rakhines. All the villages in Buthidaung Township were re-occupied and rehabilitated by the original inhabitants after the war.” [4]

In the last week of April, 1942 as the onslaught of the Maghs was spreading like conflagration the Muslims of Kwasone, Godumpara, Sindiprang, Ali Yong, Fuimali, Roingadaung and all other Muslim villages around Buthidaung gathered under the leadership of prominent Muslims like Abdul Majid popularly known as Atura Raja of Fonduprang, Mir Ahmed Jonnal of Au Yong, Abdul Jabbar dubashi, Abul Baser chowdhury etc. to resist the advance of the Maghs. Meanwhile hundreds of valiant fighters under the leadership of persons like Master Sultan of Kiladaung and Noor Ahmed Jannal of Hancchurata also came from Maungdaw with their arms and ammunition and joined the main force at Buthidaung. Some Muslims who escaped from the jaws of death in the interior part of Arakan, now in the Muslim stronghold, are seething with rage to avenge the death of their near and dear ones. They took active part in the battle for Buthidaung.

The Muslims encircled the town of Buthidaung from all directions and laid an effective siege to it. Fighting started. The infidel Maghs and some Chinese were resisting from the bunkers of the police station and other government buildings. After a few days when the fall of Buthidaung became imminent the panicky Maghs of Buthidaung and the Chinese scrambled to board on the steamers at Buthidaung Arakan jetty kept standby for any eventuality. But the Maghs would not allow the Chinese families to board before evacuation of their lot; this attitude of Maghs enraged the Chinese so much so that they started firing shots at the steamers now full with Maghs ready to leave. As the frightened people dashed towards the safe side, the steamers turned upside down and sank. Two steamers thus sank at Arakan jetty with all the inmates drowned while another managed to escape. But it was intercepted by one Furuk Raja at Sindaung who sank it also. On hearing the news of sinking of the steamers the Magh defenders of Buthidaung dispersed and fled into the hills. Buthidaung was captured by the Muslims. Then the Muslims gave a hot pursuit to the fleeing Maghs. The report of the fall of Buthidaung halted the advance of Thakins from the east. The Muslims liberated all areas upto kwasone and Razarbil in the Rathedaung Township. The Maghs of Maungdaw, afraid of possible reprisal from the Muslims, fled across the Naf river into British controlled territory.

Muslim and Buddhist refugees from the affected area were sheltered at Rangpur and Dinajpur in the erstwhile Bengal by the British government. Then the whole area under Maungdaw Township, Buthidaung Township and part of Rathedaung Township were brought under the administration of Peace Committees set up by Muslims. Mr. Omrah Meah became head of the Peace Committees.

On May 1, 1942 the Japanese Imperial Army (JIA) led by Gen. Esa Goda and Burma National Army (formerly BIA) Arakan Front led by Bo Ran Aung marched to Minbya town from Prome in the lower Burma across Arakan Yoma. Minbya town was the headquarters of Japanese supporting Thakins in Arakan. The Maghs and Buddhist monks of Minbya gave them a rousing reception and vowed to help JIA occupy Akyab. On 3rd May Japanese troops and BNA men reached Ponnagyun a few miles northeast of Akyab.

British navy stationed in the Kaladan River shelled Japanese positions and the Japanese returned fire. On 5th May British navy was withdrawn and the Japanese advanced towards Akyab via Pauktaw. Akyab was occupied by the Japanese on 7th May without any resistance.

On the very day BNA led by Bo Ran Aung also entered Akyab and brutally killed 30 Muslims of Ambari and Manupara, [5] the frightened villagers left their houses. BNA troops and Maghs entered the villages and carried away all the belongings of the Muslim villagers including their cattle. But the presence of Japanese forces at Akyab helped considerably in saving the lives of the people from the marauders and thugs. An uneasy peace prevailed around Akyab area.

During the first half of May, a contingent of BNA with Thakin leaders cruised upstream in a patrol boat along Mayu River towards Buthidaung. They fired shots at the Muslims on the shore to frighten them. But a group of valiant Muslim fighters led by Ezhar Mian Chowdhury intercepted the patrol boat in between Sindiprang and Godumpara. In the ensuing encounter British appointed wartime Commissioner, U Kyaw Khine, was shot dead. The patrol boat did not proceed ahead and turned back. The Maghs and Japanese became furious over the news of the incident. But the Japanese calculated that without the support of the Muslims of Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw it would be very difficult for them to complete the occupation of Burma and drive further westward. With this end in view the Japanese discussed with many influential Muslim elites of Akyab including Mr. Sultan Mahmud, leader, Mr. Mohammad Yasin, B.A.,B.L., Advocate and Thakin supporting U Po Khine (a) Nasiruddin. A delegation constituted by Mr. Mohammad Yasin and U Po Khine from the Muslim side and BNA officers Bo Yan Naung, Ho Yan Kin and Bo Myo Nyunt and some other Maghs, was sent to Maungdaw by the japs. The delegation had planned to hold a public meeting at Shikderpara on 8th June. Local Rohingya leaders headed by Tambi saheb met the delegation. In the meeting the BNA and Muslim leaders spoke for making peace between the two warring communities. They also argued that it would hamper the interest of the Muslims to go against the Japanese. Meanwhile local Muslims joined by refugees are seething with rage to see the infidels who carried out the carnage of the Muslims. Muslim leaders and Tambi saheb tried their best to control the Muslim zealots. It is to be noted that both groups in the meeting were equipped with firearms. In the ensuing hue and cry gun fire broke out suddenly. There was exchange of fire. Bo Yan Naung, Bo Yan Kin and Bo Myo Nyunt died from the Magh side whereas Inna Amin, Abu Hakkar, Habibullah, Molvi Abdus Salam and a son of Molvi Abdur Rahman died from the Muslim side. The rest of the Maghs fled. Both Moahmmad Yasin and Po Khine were arrested by BNA and taken to prison. Tambi saheb was also arrested and was confined at a secret place in Akyab. But the Japanese came to know, somehow, about the detention of the three Muslim leaders. They ordered Bo Ran Aung to immediately release them and as such he was compelled to do so.

The inter-communal and interreligious strife halted the Japanese advancement for a while, [6] but gradually they pushed northward along Mayu Peninsular and occupied Buthidaung and Maungdaw towns in October. The Japanese built a number of defensive positions in the area and reconnoitered the Indian frontier. The British had withdrawn already to the west of Naf River.


1. Khalilur Rhman, “Massacre in Arakan” in Urdu translated by Mr. Shabbir Hussain, p. 5 ; Dr. Mohammed Yunus, “ A History of Arakan ( Past &Present) Chittagong 1994, p 106

2. Ibid p. 10; Yunus, p.106
3. Ibid pp. 6-7; Yunus, p.106
4. Jilani AFK, “Human Rights Violations in Arakan”, pp- 47/8
5. Khalilur Rhman, “Massacre in Arakan” in Urdu translated by Mr. Shabbir Hussain, p. 17; Dr. Mohammed Yunus, “ A History of Arakan ( Past &Present) Chittagong 1994, p 114
6. Ibid p. 20; Yunus, p.116

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