My local shop in Yangon was owned by a retired army officer and his wife and guarded by their handsome coal-black dog. When I asked the name of the hound the man smiled and said ‘Kalar’, before enquiring if I knew the meaning of the word. I did. Kalar is a racial slur, employed originally by the Burmese to describe the darker-skinned immigrants from India brought to Burma by the British as cheap labour in the colonial era.
More recently, the word has come to be used as a derogatory reference to Burma’s Muslims, and especially the reviled Rohingya minority in the far western state of Rakhine. The use of the insult has become so pervasive since the persecution of the Rohingya began making global headlines in 2012 that Facebook, by far the most favoured means of communication in Burma, now automatically censors any post that includes the word.