MSAS Seminar: Rohingyas in Decolonisation as a Moment, Process, and Movement

Jayita Sarkar (Glasgow)

Decolonisation as a moment, process, and movement is polyvalent. This talk explores decolonisation through its many prisms while focusing on the statelessness of the Rohingya people of present-day Myanmar through their role within irregular armies of the British military in World War II. The territorial metamorphosis of borderlands to bordered lands in Arakan mediated by the spectacular violence of global war made the Arakanese Muslims, or Rohingyas, as they are known today, foreigners in their own lands. Courted by the Japanese with promises of a “Pakistan,” and later trained and armed by the British Military Administration of Arakan, the Rohingyas emerged out of the war with new dreams of political futures that were out of place in South Asia at the cusp of formal decolonisation. Decolonisation as a process transformed the Rohingyas into smugglers and insurgents— their circular migration obstructed by carceral regimes of borders and checkpoints. Decolonisation as a movement through revisionist histories from the ground-up that reinstate the disenfranchised as historical agents in stories of their own plight, could help recover the role of the Rohingya people as cosmopolitan actors with a shared maritime heritage spanning across the eastern Indian Ocean world.

Jayita Sarkar is senior lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow. Her research and teaching areas are global and transnational histories of decolonisation, capitalism, nuclear infrastructures, and South Asia. Her first book,Ploughshares and Swords. India’s Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War (Cornell University Press, 2022), received Honorable Mention for the 2023 Best Book Award from the International Studies Association's Global Development Studies Section. She is currently writing two books: Atomic Capitalism. A Global History (under contract with Princeton University Press, America in the World series) and Connected Partitions: From South Asia to the World.

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