Decolonisation: Asia





In the first half of the twentieth-century decolonisation did not take very long, in many of the Asian and African countries. The process of decolonisation was accelerated in a short time because of the conflicts among European coloniser countries, the occurrence of the First and Second World Wars and the anti-colonial movements in the colonies.

Decolonization, the process by which colonies become independent of the colonizing country. Decolonization was gradual and peaceful for some British colonies largely settled by expatriates but violent for others, where native rebellions were energized by nationalism

The European countries could not have reasoned out colonisation and the exploitation of colonies from the intellectual platform. The Indian freedom movement had reached a culminating point, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Under the situation, England had become aware of the reality of their diminishing power. This resulted in gradually introducing the system of internal autonomy in some of the colonies.

Germany and Turkey were defeated in the First World War. To manage the administration of the colonies which were under the control of Germany and Turkey, the ‘League of Nations’ introduced the system of trustees.

The League of Nations was an international organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, created after the First World War to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. Though first proposed by President Woodrow Wilson as part of his Fourteen Points plan for an equitable peace in Europe, the United States never became a member. Speaking before the U.S. Congress on January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson enumerated the last of his Fourteen Points, which called for a “general association of nations…formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” Many of Wilson’s previous points would require regulation or enforcement. In calling for the formation of a "general association of nations," Wilson voiced the wartime opinions of many diplomats and intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic who believed there was a need for a new type of standing international organization dedicated to fostering international cooperation, providing security for its members, and ensuring lasting peace. With Europe’s population exhausted by four years of total war, and with many in the United States optimistic that a news organization would be able to solve the international disputes that had led to war in 1914, Wilson’s articulation of a League of Nations was wildly popular. However, it proved exceptionally difficult to create, and Wilson left office never having convinced the United States to join it.

England and France were entrusted with the role of trustees. Later, India, Cyprus and Malta successively gained their independence. In 1971 England withdrew its army from the Gulf of Iran. After that, England released its hold on Singapore. Indo-China, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria were under French domination. These countries became independent. By the end of twentieth-century South Africa also gained independence. Colonialism came to an end and gradually the process of decolonisation was completed. ‘United Nations’ was largely responsible for facilitating this process.

1. Maldives:

Portuguese entered the Maldives in 1507. Since then the Maldives began paying tribute to Portuguese in Goa. In 1573, the Portuguese rule was ended by Muhammad Thakuruphanu Al Azam from Malabar. He ruled over the Maldive Islands from 1573 to 1585 AD. He was a captain, environmentalist and a military strategist. He is considered as the national hero of the Maldives for driving out the Portuguese who ruled over the Maldives from 1558-1573 after killing Sultan Ali VI in Malé. His victory is commemorated in the Maldives as Qaumee Dhuvas or National Day. He was also the first Maldivian king to form the 'Lashkaru (a unified military body). After his accession as the Sultan of Maldives, he made a treaty with the Dutch and gave them the administrative responsibility of Maldives. From thereon, the Sultan of Maldives began to pay tribute to the Dutch in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Later, Maldives was taken over by the British. They built a naval base and a radio transmission centre in the Maldives. They also took Indian labourers to work in the paddy fields in the Maldives. Maldives became independent on 26th July 1965, by a treaty signed at Colombo.

2. Sri Lanka:

The British ruled Sri Lanka (Ceylon) from 1798 to 1948. They took over Sri Lanka by defeating the Dutch and the Portuguese. There were uprisings in Sri Lanka against the British rule. The British plantation owners had taken many labourers from Tamil Nadu to work in coffee plantations. In Sri Lanka, the British dominated the production and markets of coffee, tea, rubber and coconut. They developed Colombo as an international port city. They also established colleges and universities in Sri Lanka and encouraged Buddhist Studies. Sri Lanka became independent in 1948.

3. Myanmar (Brahmadesh):

In 1599, the Portuguese defeated the king of one of the kingdoms in Myanmar. However, in 1611 various dynasties ruling in Myanmar got together, defeated the Portuguese and amalgamated their kingdoms. United Myanmar adopted an expansionist policy and conquered Manipur and Assam. It meant that the British Indian territory was under threat of being invaded, a situation that caused three wars between the British and Myanmar. The first war in 1826 was won by the British and they took over Assam and Manipur. They also defeated Myanmar in the second war. At about the same time the French had taken over the regions of ‘Upper Burma’. In the third war, the British won this region too, thereby ruling over entire Myanmar. The British administration annexed Myanmar as a province of British India. In 1935, it was again separated from India and was granted autonomy. After 1937, the people in Myanmar created an organisation called ‘Burma Independence Army’ under the leadership of Aung San.

Aung San was a Burmese politician and revolutionary. He is often considered the man most responsible for bringing about Burma's independence from British rule but was assassinated six months before independence. He explored many political movements throughout his life in the pursuit of Burmese independence: when he was a student he was influenced by communism and socialism; when he worked briefly with the Japanese military he was influenced by fascism; but, before the end of World War II he rejected this ideology and he promoted social democratic policies marked by multiculturalism and secularism. He is considered the founder of the Myanmar Armed Forces and is considered as the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar. Affectionately known as "Bogyoke" (Major General), Aung San is still widely admired by the Burmese people, and his name is still invoked in Burmese politics to this day. This organisation helped the Japanese during the Second World War. It looked like a downslide for the British. However, they strengthened their hold in Myanmar once again with the help of America. The British learnt their lesson that as administrators, they could not afford to neglect the popular opinion in a country. They appointed Aung San as Vice President. The British granted independence to Myanmar on 4th January 1948.

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