To stimulate trade and facilitate changes, the British brought in Indians and Chinese who quickly displaced the Burmese in urban areas. To this day Yangon and Mandalay have large ethnic Indian populations. Railroads and schools were built, as well as a large number of prisons including the infamous Insein Jail, then as now used for political prisoners. Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralyzed Yangon on occasion all the way until the 1930s. Much of the discontent was caused by disrespect for Burman culture and traditions, for example, what the British termed the Shoe Question: the colonisers’ refusal to remove their shoes upon entering Buddhist temples or other holy places. In October 1919, Eindawya Pagoda in Mandalay was the scene of exceptional violence when tempers flared after scandalised Buddhist monks attempted to physically expel a group of shoe-wearing British visitors. The leader of the monks was later sentenced to life imprisonment for attempted murder. Such incidents inspired the Burmese resistance to use Buddhism as a rallying point for their cause. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement, and many died while protesting. One monk-turned-martyr was U Wisara, who died in prison after a 163-day hunger strike to protest a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned. Kipling’s poem 'Mandalay' is now all that most people in Britain remember of Myanmar’s difficult and often brutal colonisation.
However, without casting any doubt on the above, there is the obverse of the coin.
The colonial government built roads and railways, and river steamers, belonging to the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, operated between Rangoon and Mandalay. The British brought electricity to Rangoon, improved urban sanitation, built hospitals and redesigned the capital on a grid system.
While the British set about building and modernizing, they benefited greatly from an economic boom in the Irrawaddy delta region. When they first arrived in Burma, much of the delta was swampland. But under the British, Burmese farmers began to settle in the delta and clear land for rice cultivation. In 1855, paddy fields covered 400,000 ha; by 1873 the forests had been cleared sufficiently to double the productive area. Land under rice cultivation increased by another 400,000 ha roughly every 7 years, reaching 4 million ha in 1930. Population in the area - which was about 1.5 million in the rnid-1 9th century- increased more than 5-fold.
From the beginning of the colonial period, the British stressed the benefits of education, and formal Western-style schooling replaced the traditional monastic education system. Rangoon University was founded in 1920 and a new urban elite evolved. They attempted to bridge the gap between old and new Burma by calling for the reform of traditional Buddhist beliefs and practices. In 1906, the Young Men's Buddhist Association was established in an effort to assert Burmese cultural identity and remain distinct from their colonizers. In 1916, the YMBA objected to the fact that Europeans persisted in wearing shoes inside religious buildings, which was considered disdainful. After demonstrations in over 50 towns, the government ruled that abbots should have the right to determine how visitors should dress in their monasteries - a ruling hailed as a victory for the YMBA.
Note, for example, the fact that the 'shoe' protests happened, that they were led by an organisation modelled on a British one and that it resulted in a change of the law. Wouldn't it be good it that was how things happened now?