Despite being one of the most literate states in India, Mizoram is drowned in alterity against minorities. The latter&’s struggle for basic rights have often been highlighted in courtrooms and Parliament and through rallies in New Delhi&’s Jantar Mantar. The Chakmas, the largest minority, are often the targets of such discrimination and hatred. The recent one being the eviction notice served on Taichawngchhuah village consisting of 49 families. They are being subjected to gross violation of human rights by the institutional and governmental apparatus with the tacit support of the Mizo Students’ Union.
Life for minorities, especially Chakmas, in Mizoram is one of struggle and humiliation. They are often treated as unwanted, unlawfully occupying others’ land. Such antagonistic socio-political relationships can be traced back to British rule in the Chittagong Hill Tracts whereby, to suppress the revolt against the Raj administration and the Chakma queen&’s (Kalindi) rule, at the behest of the latter the Mizos undertook a mass killing of Chakmas in different villages. In the later stage of history, the advent of Christianity and English education played a role in continuing such a relationship whereby the Chakmas felt at the receiving end for rejecting both. Such boundaries that Mizos draw are more than evident and are played out in very robust manner. A walk from the Chanmari area to New Market can speak a multitude of realities unfolding in every gaze thrown at you. especially when appearances differ or one is a distinct “other”.
In one such encounter, the residents of Tuichawngdorchhuah village — consisting of 224 persons belonging to 49 families — were asked twice (officially) to vacate their homes without any reason. It was on 15 November 2015 that the MSU and the Mizoram police asked Chakma families of Toijongdor in Lunglei district to vacate the village by 31 December 2015, demanding that they provide proof that their village was sanctioned. They provided the proof — land passes issued by the Mizoram government in 1977. But they were not satisfied and told the Chakmas to leave and this order could not be changed.
The state government then served another eviction notice No. K. 23012/2/2013-DCLO on 17 December 2015 without assigning any ground. The MSU allegedly threatened the villagers that if they did not leave it would use force that would be 10 times more severe than what was used on 30 June 2013 to drive the Chakmas from Sibinesora under the Lungsen Village Council of Lunglei district. Gauhati High Court passed a stay order and gave the authorities six weeks to respond. Instead, yet another eviction notice — No. B. 14016/39/2015- LAD/VC — was served on them on 21 January 2016.
Before going into details, a few facts need to be stated. First, the notice is in direct conflict with the Gauhati High Court stay order. Second, the so-called notice is vague in every detail. It states, “As per the government&’s verification from various sources and after thinking consciously, since the village is unauthorised and illegal there are possibilities of activities against the government and occurrences of untoward incidences.” Now what are these sources? How was the consciousness achieved? Why is it unauthorised and illegal? What are these “activities against the government” and the “untoward incidences”? Third, available official records show that the Tuichawngchhuah villagers have been receiving various assistances from the state government since 1977. These include garden passes, financial assistance under the New Land Use Policy, a primary school under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2004, and electricity since 2012. The villagers are also a part of the electoral rolls and have ration cards and job cards to avail the benefits of the Public Distribution System and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
The Mizoram government tries to defend the notifications under the Lushai Hills District (Village Councils) Amendment Act, 2014 under sub-section (2) of Section 26 of the Principal Act. The clauses read: (a) In case any sub-village or Thlawhbawk other than the sub-village or Thlawhbawk set up by the state government under sub-section (1) is established and if the state government is of the opinion that a situation has arisen demanding stoppage or closing of any sub-village or Thlawhbawk or any sort of settlement at any place, the state government may issue notice for eviction to vacate the site or location or place. Such sub-section under the amendment allows the Mizoram government the power to evict. As per the constitutional law, such a power cannot bypass provisions of fundamental rights. To our mind such a sub-section arises out of village grouping exercises carried out by the Army in the late 1960s. The logic of village grouping is against Article 21 and it creates a state of exception.
Interestingly, copies of the eviction notice were sent to 11 different locations and two were meant for the president of the Mizo Students’ Union general headquarters, Aizawl, and the president of the Mizo Students’ Union sub-headquarters, Lunglei. This fact was highlighted by the president of the All India Chakma Students’ Union, Dilip Chakma. An obvious question was why these two designations were marked in the notice. Although no clarification was sought, the motive is loud and clear.
Undeniable bypassing of democratic institutions and continued harassment of minorities have become the mainstay of everyday politics in Mizoram. It is “mein kamph” politics on display where the “other” is targeted repeatedly and is dehumanised in every walk of life. Such an act of eviction proves that the majority in Mizoram is using the state apparatus in an unlawful manner against the minority of the state.
As this was written, on the issue of eviction highlighted in this article a contempt of court and public litigation is going on in Gauhati High Court against some sub-sections of the Lushai Hills Village (Amendment Act) 2014.
Shyamal Chakma is an independent researcher and a human rights defender of the Chakmas. Suraj Gogoi is a research scholar at the University of Delhi.