Caste and the quest for racial hierarchy in British Burma: An analysis of census classifications from 1872-1931
McAuliffe, Erin Lynn
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Ethnically-defined conflicts are major concerns in Burma/Myanmar today, particularly as the country navigates the political, economic, and social changes necessary for successful democratic consolidation. ‘Race’ labels and their perceived inherent status used by groups today to justify, legitimate, or demand rights are products of colonial administration; however, race or ethnicity (lu-myo in Burmese) remains an ambiguous and fluid identity. How then have race labels been defined and measured and structured into a racial hierarchy during colonial rule? This thesis, through a textual analysis of the definitions and applications of the terms “caste” and “race” in the Census of India from 1872-1931, government documents, and British scholarly publications of the 19th and 20th centuries, identifies the emergence of racial hierarchy in British Burma, a province of British India, as an alternative to the caste structure of India and as an attempt to conform local criteria for measuring social and cultural difference, notably language and religion, to British racial theories of inherent and unequal human characteristics.