Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 August 2018
This article considers the relationship between poverty in Rangoon and the ways in which both an imperial and a post-imperial urbanism helped ‘improve’, develop, and reclaim Rangoon's urban environment. Examining the actions of the Rangoon Development Trust before and after the Second World War in the context of actions taken by the Bombay Improvement Trust, Bombay Development Directorate, Singapore Improvement Trust, and Hong Kong Housing Authority, it both analyses measures taken in Rangoon and constructs a connective history of urban development in relation to other Asian port cities. Incorporating documents released only in 2014 by the National Archives of Myanmar, this analysis for the first time considers interventions made in Rangoon's post-war built environment of poverty, connecting these actions to policies constructed over the preceding decades.
*I would like to thank Tim Harper, Sasha Sahni, Camille Cole, Catherine Evans, Sunil Amrith, and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and guidance at various stages of pursuing this research as well as the late Chris Bayly for encouraging me to pursue such research. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the History Project at the Joint Center for History and Economics, Harvard University, and the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) for their support of this research. Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the support of the Cambridge Overseas Trusts and the Smuts Memorial Fund in pursuing my research more broadly.
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3 MSA, GD, 1899, 32, 36, p. M-S 227, ‘Administration Report of the City of Bombay Improvement Trust for the year ending on the 31st March 1899’, 31 March 1899.
4 BL, IOR V/27/780/12, Report of the Departmental Committee on Town Planning, Burma, Rangoon: Office of the Superintendent, Government Printing, Burma, 1917, p. 93
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16 Rao, House, but No Garden, pp. 24–8.
17 Estimates for the number of chawls come from Maharashtra State Archives, Public Works Department, Development Department (Henceforth, MSA, PWD, DD), 1922, 12 II, p. 27, ‘Questions asked in the Legislative Council Bombay Sir Chimanlal H. Setalved answering question no. 5 by S. K. Bole, M.L.C. at the ensuing meeting of the Legislative Council’, 22 July 1922.
18 MSA, GD, 1918–1919, 1919, 379, p. S-M 9-14, ‘Housing problem—How it is being tackled by in England by JP Orr’.
19 MSA, PWD, DD, 1921, 225, Sr. 42, H. V. Braham, ‘Establishment of a Directorate of Development to be against as at on a department of Government and an executive authority to undertake development work in Bombay City and the Areas immediately adjoining it’, 18 November 1920.
20 MSA, PWD, DD, 1926, 26, Industrial Housing in Bombay, p. 21, ‘Report on the working of the Development Directorate for the year ending 31 March 1926’.
21 MSA, PWD, DD, 1924, 26/II, pp. 53–61, ‘Report on the working of the Development Directorate for the year ending 31 March 1924’.
22 MSA, PWD, DD, 1930, 53/36, p. 10, ‘Report of Mr. T Harvey on Development Department Chawls, Report of the Special Advisory Committee on the Industrial Housing Scheme, 25 March 1927’; MSA, PWD, DD, 1930, 153, pp. 174–6, ‘Abolition of that Development Department and Distribution of the work of the DD’, 5 December 1929.
23 BL, IOR, V/27/780/12, 1917, p. 78, ‘Report of the Departmental Committee on Town Planning, Burma, Rangoon’.
24 MSA, GD, 1910, 50, 460, p. M-S 21, ‘Information required by the Government of Burma concerning the conduct of Improvement projects in Bombay City’, 4 June 1910; BL, IOR, V/26/780/12, 1917, pp. 12–3, ‘Report of the Suburban Development Committee, Rangoon’.
25 BL, IOR, V/26/780/12, 1917, pp. 12–3, ‘Report of the Suburban Development Committee, Rangoon’.
26 British Library, Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, London, UK (henceforth BL, APAC), P/V 1176, 1941, pp. 9–10, ‘Report of the Rangoon Development Trust Enquiry Committee, 1941’; BL, IOR, V/27/780/12, 1917, p. 77, ‘Report of the Departmental Committee on Town Planning, Burma’.
27 For some examples of the use of chawl, see National Archives of Myanmar, Yangon, Myanmar (henceforth NAM), 4756, 4/6(21), 1927, pp. 33–4, 36, ‘Report on the Public Health of Rangoon Vol. I’ and NAM, 11865, 4/19(22), 1960, pp. 13, 75, ‘Report of the Committee appointed to enquire into the effects of the removal of rent control in Rangoon’.
28 NAM, 4756, 4/6(21), 1927, pp. 33–4, Report on the Public Health of Rangoon Vol. I’.
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32 BL, APAC, W 2058/26 (1933), pp. 65–6, ‘Census of India 1931: Volume XI, Part II—Tables’.
33 NAM, 4758, 4/1(21), 1927, p. 9, ‘Report on the Public Health of Rangoon Vol. II’.
34 BL, APAC, W 2058/26 (1933), p. 301, ‘Census of India 1931: Volume XI, Part II—Tables’.
35 The report defined slums in ‘the accurate sense of an area overcrowded with irregularly disposed buildings and not laid out in streets’. BL, IOR, 1917, V/27/780/12, p. 93, ‘Report of the Departmental Committee on Town Planning, Burma’.
36 NAM, 16665, 1/15e, 1931, J. A. Maung Gyi, ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’, p. 6, ‘The Rangoon Labour Housing Bill’, 19 August 1931.
37 NAM, 16665, 1/15e, 1931, Lieut-Col. E. Butterfield to the Sec. to the Gov't of Burma, p. 18, 21, ‘The Rangoon Labour Housing Bill’.
38 For example, a marked drop in occupied rooms in a BDD properties at Sewri, Naigaum, DeLisle Road, and Worli was noted as coinciding with a ‘mill strike’. See MSA, PWD, DD, 1926, 26, pp. 44–8, ‘Report on the working of the Development Directorate for the year ending 31 March 1926’. See also the attribution of a mill strike in driving a spike in renters in arrears in MSA, PWD DD, 1924, 3A, p. 116, ‘Bombay and Suburban Area. Circulars, Agenda minutes, etc., in connection with the meetings of the Advisory Committee’.
39 An annual report on the working of Indian factories (India here including Burma) describes labour as temporary, ‘since the labour in Burma is almost entirely imported and does not look on this country as its permanent home’; see NAM, 152, 2/1, 1897–1940, ‘Annual Report on the working of the Indian Factories Act, 1911, in Burma for the year 1922’, p. 2, ‘Reports on the working of The India Factory Act, 1897–1940. Reports on the working of Municipalities 1876–77 to 1881–1882 (to the end of Rangoon Municipality)’. A 1927 report on rent control describes labourers in Rangoon and Burma: ‘this class of people stay in Rangoon for a short time en route to districts and those returning from districts remain here for a short time on their way to India so that Rangoon is more or less a clearing house for the whole of Burma.’ For more, see NAM, 11865, 4/19(22), 1960, pp. 84–5, ‘Report of the Committee appointed to enquire into the effects of the removal of rent control in Rangoon’; census data point to the gender imbalance of Indian communities in Burma; see BL, APAC, W 2058/26 (1933), pp. 6–7, ‘Census of India 1931: Volume XI, Part II—Tables’.
41 Ibid., pp. 159–65; Professor H. S. Jevons of the University of Allahabad wrote: ‘the mere discomfort of family life in a single room abolished every ideal of right living’, in a piece critical of the BDD's development projects.’ Sir Lawless Hepper, the director of the BDD, acknowledged the problem in his response: ‘As regards the single roomed tenements in Bombay I am afraid we can't avoid them, much as I dislike the idea.’ For more about this correspondence and criticisms of the BDD, see MSA, PWD, DD, 1921, 702, pp. 17–29, 32–3, ‘Certain suggestions made by Professor HS Jevons of the University of Allahabad in connection with the Development of Bombay and Suburban Area’.
42 A 1927 Public Health Report on Rangoon defines lodging houses as ‘one room in a row of similar rooms often no more than 12 ½ feet wide and, allowing for the space at the back of the lot for kitchen and latrine, probably 30 or 40 feet deep’; see NAM, 4756, 4/6(21), 1927, p. 30, ‘Report on the Public Health of Rangoon Vol. I’.
43 One inspection found ‘over 50 coolies’ where ‘the number allowed by regulation was 9’; see ibid., p. 32.
51 NAM, 11865, 4/19(22), 1960, pp. 3–4, ‘Report of the Committee appointed to enquire into the effects of the removal of rent control in Rangoon’.
56 Mr Pillay also noted cases where landlords ‘have taken more than 100 per cent, 150 per cent and 200 per cent increases’; see ibid., p. 69.
61 BL, IOR, V/24/2963, 1926–1927, ‘Seventh Annual Report of the Trustees: For the Development of the City of Rangoon on the working of the Rangoon Development Trust, for the year 1926–27’.
62 Osada, ‘Housing the Rangoon Poor’.
63 A report on the problem of housing in Rangoon describes the importance of ‘removing the huts from the dilapidated bombed out building[s]’. This goes to illustrate the kinds of conditions facing Rangoon residents in the late 1940s. For more, see NAM, 22, 11/8(5), 1950–1951, p. 5, ‘The Housing Problem in Rangoon (Memorandum by Dr HMJ Hart, Statistical Advisor to the Government of the Union of Burma, in collaboration with U Kyaw Sein, Acting Chairman, Rangoon Development Trust)’.
64 Burma, which had previously been a province of British India, was separated as its own crown colony in 1937. The Japanese captured Rangoon and most of Burma's territory from 1942 to 1943. The Allies recaptured Burma and ruled via a military administration from 1945 to 1946. A reinstated colonial government ruled Burma from 1946 until the country became independent on 4 January 1948.
65 For a discussion of the armed conflicts, particularly as they relate to Burma's Karen community, see Mikael Gravers, ‘Disorder as Order: The Ethno-Nationalist Struggle of the Karen in Burma/Myanmar—a Discussion of the Dynamics of an Ethicized Civil War and Its Historical Roots’, The Journal of Burma Studies 19, I (2015).
66 India has been called a ‘centre of empire’ in Metcalf, Imperial Connections, p. 1. For more about the post-war problems in Hong Kong and Singapore as they relate to housing, see Hong Kong Public Records Office, Hong Kong, China (henceforth HKPRO), HKRS156-1-579, 1944–1961, ‘Housing—Miscellaneous documents received from the S of S on’ and NAS, HDB 1057, SIT 240/39, ‘Reports on the Constitution activities of the Singapore Improvement Trust, 1939–1956’.
67 NAM, 4756, 4/6(21), 1927, p. 45, ‘Report on the Public Health of Rangoon Vol. I’.
69 NAM, 22, 11/8(5), 1950–1951, pp. 3–5, ‘The Housing Problem in Rangoon (Memorandum by Dr HMJ Hart, Statistical Advisor to the Government of the Union of Burma, in collaboration with U Kyaw Sein, Acting Chairman, Rangoon Development Trust)’.
73 HKPRO, HKRS41-1-7185, 1952–1956, ‘Mayor of Rangoon and Party—Visit of’.
74 A calendar of the Mayor of Rangoon's visit can be found in ibid., #3(2).
78 For debates about re-establishing the Rangoon Development Trust—the institution through which an imperial urbanism shaped Rangoon—after the Second World War, see NAM, 33E, 12/1, 1946, ‘12th meeting—Wed. 23 June 1946. To consider a memorandum by the Social Services Department on the expansion of the Board of Trustees for the development of the City of Rangoon’.
79 The NAM opened access to research on files originating from 1948 to 1962 in July 2014.
80 Donnison, F. S. V., British Military Administration in the Far East, 1943–1946, History of the Second World War. United Kingdom Military Series (London: HMSO, 1956), p. 271Google Scholar.
84 UKNA, FO 643/49, Rangoon Development Trust, p. 10, ‘Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees held in the office of the Rangoon Development Trust, on Thursday, the 8th of August 1946, at 2-30 p.m.’.
85 UKNA, FO 643/49, 1946, p. 3, ‘Notes of a meeting in Secretaries held in the Office of the Chief Secretary to the Government of Burma at 11 a.m. on Wednesday the 20th February 1946’.
86 Sunil Amrith has recently published much work on migration patterns around the Bay of Bengal before and after the Second World War, some of which focuses on migration to and from Burma. See Amrith, Sunil S., Migration and Diaspora in Modern Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Crossing the Bay of Bengal; ‘Reconstructing the “Plural Society”’.
87 UKNA, FO 643/71, p. 2, ‘Minutes of an Ordinary Meeting of the Board of Trustees In the Board Room of the Rangoon Development Trust Office on Thursday, the 27th of February 1947, at 2-30 p.m.’.
88 Harper, Tim, The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 59–61Google Scholar.
89 NAM, 7681, 4/18(2), 1955, pp. 3–5, ‘Comprehensive development plan supplement, Sep. 30, 1954. National housing and town and country’.
90 MSA, GD, 40, 651, 1912, ‘A lecture on “Light and Air in dwelling in Bombay” delivered by the Hon'ble Mr. J.P. Orr’.
91 HKPRO, HKRS 115-1-86, 1956, pp. 1–4, ‘Interim Report of the Reform Club's Committee on Low Cost Housing, Slum Clearance and Development’, 30 November 1956.
92 MSA, GD, 379, 1919, The Bombay Co-operative Housing Association (Leaflet No. 33)—The Housing Problem: How it is being tackled in England by Mr JP Orr [Discussion], p. S-M 9-14, ‘“Housing Problem—How it is being tackled by in England” by JP Orr’.
93 NAM, 14, 11/8(17), 1954, p. 2, ‘Housing and Social Survey’.
95 NAM, 14, 11/8(17), 1954, p. 2, ‘Housing and Social Survey’.
96 NAM, 488, 12/6, 1953, ‘Proposed consolidation of Rangoon boundary with Dalla docking at Dalla including expansion to docking and ship facilities the development of a housing area’.
97 For 1920s, see NAM, 4758, 4/1(21), 1927, Answers by Mr Gavin Scott, Questions by Mr C. H. Campagnac, 7 January 1927, p. 21, ‘Report on the Public Health of Rangoon Vol. II’; NAM, 488, 12/6, 1953 [U Tin Nyut, Chairman, Inland Water Transport Board] and John G Claybourn, Consultant, IWT, to U Schwe Mra, Secretary of Transport & Communications, 10 January 1953, pp. 10–11, ‘Proposed consolidation of Rangoon boundary with Dalla docking at Dalla including expansion to docking and ship facilities the development of a housing area’.
98 NAM, 488, 12/6, 1953, ‘Proposed consolidation of Rangoon boundary with Dalla docking at Dalla including expansion to docking and ship facilities the development of a housing area’, pp. 12–8, John G. Claybourn to U Schwe Mra, 10 January 1953.
100 North Okkalapa was estimated to have 16,727 housing sites, South Okkalapa was estimated to have 10,374 housing sites, and Thaketa was estimated to have 5,248 housing sites. There are no population estimates for Thaketa, but North Okkalapa accommodated an estimated 68,247 people while South Okkalapa accommodated an estimated 73,065 people. For more on estimates, see Is Trust Vindicated? A Chronicle of the Various Accomplishments of the Government Headed by General Ne Win During the Period of Tenure from November, 1958 to February 6, 1960 (Rangoon: Government of the Union of Burma, 1960).
103 King Okkalappa is said to have built the first pagoda on the site of the current Schwedagon Pagoda. Okkalapa was also the name of an ancient town roughly situated on the site of modern Yangon.
104 For challenges posed by refugees in Hong Kong, see HKPRO, HKRS70-1-452-20, 1955, Sir Alexander Grantham, ‘Hong Kong Economic Housing Society: Lady Grantham Villas’, 18 July 1955; for Singapore, see NAS, HDB, 1096, SIT 498/52, Chairman of Trust [AB Sewell] Press Release, p.000931-4, ‘Publicity regarding Trust affairs’, 17 September 1958.
105 NAS, HDB 1057, SIT 240/39, p.001465-6, J. M. Fraser to A. E. S. Alcock, ‘Reports on the Constitution activities of the Singapore Improvement Trust, 1939–1956’, 29 September 1952.
106 Amrith, ‘Reconstructing the “Plural Society”’; Crossing the Bay of Bengal; Amrith and Harper, Sites of Asian Interaction; Green, ‘Buddhism, Islam and the Religious Economy of Colonial Burma’; Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840–1915 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Lewis, ‘Print and Colonial Port Cultures’; Cities in Motion.
108 Historians of Burma have long been interested in the division between South and Southeast Asia. For a recent discussion of this debate, see Saha, ‘Is It India?’.
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