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Discriminations galore

Shyamal Bikas Chakma |

On 21 August, Buddha Dhan Chakma, the minister of state for sericulture and fisheries resigned from the Lal Thanhawla-led Congress ministry in Mizoram in protest against what he described as discrimination and racism. In his resignation letter he said that the four Chakma students who qualified for MBBS seats under the state quota were denied admission in medical colleges in India, so “remaining in the council of ministers might create uneasiness to maintain the glory of democracy of our state where all of us, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, should feel at home”.

In the history of Mizoram, no Chakma or any non-Mizo minister has ever resigned despite a tense relationship between the Mizos and nonMizos. The question arises as to why did he the minster resign? Is it a political drama or a strong expression of protest against discrimination, injustice and racist treatment to non-Mizo communities in Mizoram?

The resignation raises more questions than answers. Is the symbolic Mizo movement and struggles against discrimination, negligence and injustice against an Indian state in general and Assam in particular, over? Has the oppressed became the oppressor?

In the pages of such glorious Mizo history, the Mautam (flowering of bamboos) famine of 1959 has remained as one of the most catastrophic events. The flowering attracted thousands of rats that destroyed standing crops. Many died of starvation and disease. The composite Assam government was a mute spectator to all this.

The Mizo Cultural Society, formed in 1955 changed its name to Mautam Front with Laldenga as its secretary. In September 1960, it was renamed the Mizo National Famine Front and it gained popularity for its relief activities during the famine.

Assamese politicians tried to do away with the special provisions in the Sixth Schedule enjoyed by the Khasis and Mizos. Then Assam chief minister also declared Assamese as the official language of the state. The Mizos living outside the Mizo District Council, including the increasing number of students, felt neglected. All such instances of discriminatory treatment of the Mizo people led to the Mizo rebellion in the mid-1960s, to secure their rights and self-determination.

The movement started when the MNFF changed its name to Mizo National Front on 22 October 1961 under the leadership of Laldenga, the specific goal being the achievement of a sovereign independent state. The Indian government did everything possible to suppress the movement and even used the Air Force to carry out strikes on Aizawl in 1966. After nearly three decades of rebellion, the movement succeeded in achieving statehood on 20 February 1987.

At the same time, ethnic minorities, such as the Chakmas, Mara and Lai, held their parallel movement to secure their identity, rights and selfdetermination as they refused to identify themselves with the dominant Mizos. Though, their movements got overshadowed by the movement of the Mizos against the Indian state, nevertheless, under the Sixth Schedule they also got autonomous district councils on 1 May 1989.

But Mizos resented the granting of autonomy to the Chakmas. Soon after signing the 1986 Mizo Peace Accord, Laldenga asked the Centre to abrogate the Chakma Autonomous District Council.

Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi told a rally in Aizawl that “if the Mizos expect justice from India as a small minority, they must safeguard the interests of their own minorities like the Chakmas”.

Ranabir Samaddar writes that in between 1986 and 2000, there were 21 private members’ resolutions submitted to the Mizoram legislative assembly by Mizo legislators for the abolition of the CADC. He further states that the Chakmas were seen as the “enemy tribe” by the hard-line Mizos. In the 1990s, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a powerful Mizo student organisation, undertook similar movement like that of the All Assam Students’ Union (1970s) to “detect, delete and deport” foreigners.

Unlike, the Aasu, the MZP movement did not get media attention. The movement against the Chakma and Reang tribes led to physical violence, burning of their houses and displacement of people in thousands. In August 1992, about 380 Chakma houses were burnt by organised mobs in Marpara, Hnahva, Sachan and Aivapui villages. In 2009, the Asian Centre for Human Rights reported that on 30 January 1995, the MZP served a quit notice to the Chakmas to leave Mizoram by 15 June that year.

The report further stated that “thousands of Chakma voters whose names were in the 1980, 1983, 1991 and 1993 electoral rolls were deleted from the subsequent electoral lists published in 1995 and 1996. In Aizawl district alone, names of 2,886 Chakma voters were deleted from the final assembly electoral rolls published on 2 January 1996. The names of entire voters in some villages were deleted from the 1995-1996 rolls on the basis of complaints by a few individuals.”

Though the government attempted to enumerate the deleted persons, at the same time it also provided vehicles to activists of the MZP, Young Mizo Association and Mizoram Peoples’ Conference to pressurise the enumerators in the process of identifying alleged foreigners. It further states that “these activists decided who should be in the electoral rolls. The Mizoram police remained mute spectators to the activities of the MZP, YMA and other non-state actors”.

In such a backdrop, the Chakma social leaders like Snehadini Talukdar and Subimal Chakma demanded the creation of a Union Terr itor y for the Chakmas. In response, the Centre in 1997 formed a Rajya Sabha petition committee, which then recommended the extension of the CADC. Then chief minister Lal Thanhawla succeeded in persuading his minister from the Chakma community to issue a press statement on 10 October 1997, denying that the Chakmas have demanded a Union Territory and alleged that only a handful was doing this for their own political gains. However, this time out the same chief minister could not stop his Chakma minister from quitting in protest against discrimination and racism.

Unlike in the 1990s, this time, in the same spirit of Mizo nationalism and the alleged foreigner issue, the movement went one step further by adopting racist and discriminatory policies and programmes.

In 2014, when more than 40 non-Zo (other than Mizo tribes) students were selected to do their higher studies under the state quota, the government amended the Mizoram Selection of Candidates Rules in 2015. The amended rules divided the citizens of Mizoram in three categories — Zo ethnic group (the original inhibitors of the state or the Mizos), non-Zo ethnic group (non-natives such as the Chakma and Reang) and “Others” (people from outside Mizoram, who have been living in Mizoram for government services and so on).

In response, the Mizoram Chakma Students’ Union approached the Gauhati High Court in 2015 and challenged the new rules against which the high court had given a stay order. However, it was amended on 22 April 2016 and notified to reserve 95 per cent seats for Zo ethnic people/Mizos while the non- Zo ethnic people of the state were given four per cent seats.

The Chakma student body once again challenged the notification in the high court and it passed yet another stay order on 24 June 2016.

This year, four Chakma students were denied educational opportunities. Indeed, non-state actors also demanded sacking of the Chakma minister and not to file any Chakma candidate in the state elections.

Indeed, such discriminatory treatment has spread to almost all forms of governance like in development-related policies and programmes such as the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme and Border Area Development Programme whereby the targeted beneficiaries are always left out by benefiting the dominant groups.

An activist, Suhas Chakma has rightly pointed out the exclusionary policy of the non-Mizo tribes by the government in the service sector by making Mizo language compulsory up to Class VIII. He further states that indeed “no Chakma has cleared the Mizoram civil services examination since the creation of Mizoram in 1987”.

The perpetrators of jingoistic Mizo nationalism not only target the Chakmas but the Reang (Bru) tribe as well. In 1997, the MZP and YMA burnt down 500 houses belonging to Bru (Reang) tribe and that forced 33,000 Bru or Reang tribes to flee to Tripura and Assam.

Today, in Mizoram, the nonMizos are being excluded from the common conceptions of citizenship or belonging to the land. Hence, are we going to witness an uprising from the non-Mizo ethnic groups to secure their rights?

The writer is a PhD scholar in development studies at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK