The Rangoon Abduction Case of 1905: Rape and the Racialization of Religious Identity

The Rangoon Abduction Case of 1905: Rape and the Racialization of Religious Identity

Alicia Turner, Associate Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies, York University, Toronto

In 1905 Ma Nu, the daughter of one of the most prominent men in Rangoon was abducted by armed men and kept on a boat with E Maung for six weeks. Was this a dramatic elopement against the wishes of powerful patriarch or the violent abduction of a vulnerable girl? The question hinged not on whether the two were in love, but on Ma Nu’s religious identity.  Under colonial law, if she was Buddhist it was a consensual marriage. If she was Hindu, she was incapable of consent or marriage to him. In this jumble of gender, sex and law by religious difference, when asked her religion, Ma Nu replied, “I am Hindu, and a Buddhist also.” Read against the contemporary claims of abduction and sexual assault of Buddhist women which precipitated anti-Muslim violence, this historical event highlights the nexus of sexual violence and the racialization of religious identities and offers a new perspective to understand anti-Muslim animus in Burma. Working from Saba Mahmood’s (2015) insights about how colonial secularism entwined the fates of minority religious identity and the gender, this paper explores how claims about sexual violence reify the boundaries of religious communities and force singular religious identities on people who otherwise lived lives with multiple and fluid religious affinities.

Alicia Turner is Associate Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies at York University in Toronto with a research focus on Buddhism, secularism and colonialism in Burma. Her current book project explores how colonial secular policy reified religion as a key element of identity and entwined the regulation of gender with religion. She is the author of Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma and co-author of The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

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