Resignation of a Chakma minister in Mizoram

Has the oppressed became the oppressor?

By Shyamal Bikash Chakma

The lone Chakma minister resigned from the council of ministers in Mizoram in protest against discrimination and racism. In the resignation letter, he stated that the four Chakma students who qualified for MMBS seat under the state quota were denied admission in medical colleges in the country.  He expressed that “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 such socio-political egregious relationship between the Mizos and the non-Mizos, and stood against any discriminatory treatment towards them. The question arises why he resigned? Is it a political drama or expression of a strong protest against discrimination, injustice and racial treatment to the non-Mizo communities in Mizoram?

The resignation of the minister from a marginalised community raises many questions than answers. The fundamental question is whether the glory and the symbolic Mizo movement and struggles against discrimination, neglect and injustice against the Indian state in general and Assam state in particular over? Has the oppressed became the oppressor?

In the pages of a glorious Mizo history, the ‘Mautam Famine’ of 1959 remained a  catastrophic page leading to starvation, disease, and deaths in an unimaginable magnitude. The Mizo hills was devastated because of Mautam (bamboos flowering resulting in dramatic increase of rat population) which destroyed food crops, infested human habitations and caused plague. The Indian state and the then Assam government ignored and neglected this acutely painful event. To fight against such neglect and discrimination in 1960, the Mizo cultural society which was formed in 1955, changed into ‘Mautam Front with Mr Laldenga as secretary. In September 1960, it was renamed as the Mizo National Famine Front (MNFF) and gained popularity among the people in Mizoram and outside.

On the other hand, the then Assamese politicians attempted to remove the special provisions for the Khasis and the Mizos from the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In addition, the Assamese jingoism was expressed in the Assamese language movement, whereby the then Chief Minister of Assam declared Assamese language as state official language. In addition, the Mizo people living outside the Mizo District Council including the increasing numbers of student communities were neglected. All these untoward historical events of neglect and discrimination of the Mizo people led to the Mizo uprising to secure their rights for self-determination. The movement started when the Mizo  National  Famine  Front reformed into  a  new political organization, namely the Mizo National Front (MNF) on 22ndOctober 1961  under  the  leadership  of Laldenga  with  the  specific  goal  of  achieving a sovereign independent state of Mizoram.

However, the movement for self – rule was ridden with violence. The Indian state did everything to suppress the movement including tragic acts on their own citizens of carrying out airstrikes in Aizawl in 1966. After nearly three decades of struggles, the movement succeeded in achieving statehood on 20thFebruary 1987.

At the same time, the ethnic minorities such as the Chakmas, Mara and Lai held their parallel movement to secure their identity, rights and self-determination as they refused to identify themselves with the dominant Mizo identity. However, their movements got overshadowed by the Mizo movement against the Indian state. Nevertheless, under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution they also were given autonomous district councils on 1st May 1989. However, there was resentment by the Mizo community against granting autonomous  council to the Chakmas. Soon after signing the 1986 Peace Accord, the Mizo National Front (MNF) led by Laldenga asked the government of India to abrogate the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) to which the Indian government did not agree. In fact, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi told in a rally in Aizawl, “If the Mizos expect justice from India as a small minority, they must safeguard the interests of their own minorities like the Chakmas” (Benerjee et. al. 2005).

Ranabir Samaddar (2005:228) writes that in between 1986 and 2000, there have been 21 private members’ resolutions submitted in the Mizoram legislative assembly by the Mizo legislators for the abolition of the CADC. He further states that the Chakmas are seen as the “enemy tribe” by the hardline Mizos. In the 1990s, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP, a Mizo student organization) undertook a movement similar to that of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1970s to ‘detect, delete and deport’ foreigners. Unlike, the AASU, the MZP movement did not come into the limelight. The MZP movement against the Chakma and Reang tribes led to physical violence, burning of houses and displacement of people in thousands. In August 1992, about 380 Chakma houses were burnt down by the organized mobs of the Mizos in the villages of Marpara, Hnahva, Sachan and Aivapui. In the 2009 Asian Centre for Human Rights report of  30thJanuary 1995, the MZP served “Quite Notice” to the Chakmas to leave Mizoram by 15 June 1995”.

The report further states that “thousands of Chakma voters who were included in the 1980, 1983, 1991 and 1993 Electoral Rolls were omitted and deleted from the subsequent electoral rolls published in 1995 and 1996. In Aizawl district alone, a total of 2,886 Chakma voters were deleted from Final Assembly Electoral Rolls published on 2ndJanuary 1996. The entire populace in some villages were omitted and deleted from the 1995/1996 Electoral Rolls on the basis of complaints by a few individuals. Though the government attempted to enumerate those persons whose names were deleted from the electoral rolls, it also provided vehicles to the activists of the MZP, Young Mizo Association (YMA), Mizo National Front and Mizoram Peoples Conference to pressurize the enumerators in the process of identifying the alleged foreigners (as reported by the ACHR, 2009). It further states that “these activists decided who should be in the electoral rolls. The Mizoram Police remained mute spectators to the unlawful activities of the MZP, YMA and other non-state actors”.

Against this backdrop, the Chakma social leaders like Snehadini Talukdar from Mizoram and Subimal Chakma from Arunachal Pradesh demanded for the creation of Union Territory for the Chakmas. In response, the central government in 1997 made a Rajya Sabha Petition committee, which recommended extension of the CADC. The then Chief Minister Lalthanhawla successfully managed his minister from the Chakma community who, then, in a press statement October 10, 1997 denied that the Chakmas of Mizoram have demanded a Union Territory. He alleged that few people were doing this for their political interests. However, this time the same Chief Minister could not manage to convince his Chakma minister who resigned in protest against discrimination and racism.

Unlike the 1990s, this time though in the same spirit of Mizo nationalism and alleged foreigners’ issue, the movement went one step ahead by adopting racial and discriminatory policies and programmes. In 2014,when more than 40 non-Zo (other than Mizo tribes) students were selected for higher studies under the state quota, the government amended the Mizoram (Selection of Candidates for Commencement Higher Technical Courses) Rules in 2015.The amended rules divided the citizens of Mizoram in three categories – (1) Zo-ethnic group (the indigenous Mizos), (2) Non-Zo ethnic group (Non-natives such as the Chakma and Reang) (3) others (people from outside Mizoram but living in Mizoram for government services and so on). In response, the Mizoram Chakma Students’ Union (MCSU) approached the Gauhati High Court in 2015 (PIL No. 39/2015) and challenged the new rules against which the High Court gave a stay order. However, in April 2016, it was amended and notified to reserve 95% seats for Zo ethnic people/Mizos (Category I) while the “non- Zo-ethnic people of the State” were given 4% seats. The Chakma student body once again challenged the notification in 2016 (PIL No. 49/2016) in the High Court. Again the Court stayed this notification in June 2016.

Against this gross act of discrimination, this year the four students belonging to Chakma community were denied the educational opportunities. Indeed, the non-state actors demanded to sack the Chakma minister and not to allow any Chakma candidate in the upcoming state elections.

Indeed, such exclusionary and discriminatory treatment has spread in almost all forms of governance such as development related policies and programmes. Central schemes like the Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP) and Border Area Development Programme (BADP) have left out the targeted beneficiaries and benefitted the dominant groups. Suhas Chakma of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has rightly pointed at the exclusionary policy of the non-Mizo tribes by the government in the service sector by making Mizo Language compulsory up to VIII standard. He further states that “no Chakma has cleared Mizoram Civil Services Examination since the creation of the State in 1987.

Therefore, the question that arises now is – “Has the oppressed became the oppressor?” The victims of jingoistic Mizo nationalism not only target the Chakmas but the Reangs (Bru) tribe as well. In 1997, the MZP and YMA reduced to ashes 500 houses to belonging to Bru (Reang) tribe. More than 33, 000  Bru or Reang tribes are languishing in the neighbouring states of Tripura and Assam (ACHR, 2009). In their write-up on Northeast India, Biswas and Suklabaidya (2008) rightly analysed that in the dominant notion or claim of “Indigeneity” or “son of the soil”, it fails to accommodate the multi-ethnic, lingual and cultural identities of the marginalized. In Mizoram, the non-Mizo are treated with suspicion and are excluded from the common conceptions of citizenship or belongingness to the land. Hence, are we going to witness a similar uprising from the non-Mizo ethnic groups in Mizoram to secure their rights and justice?

(Shyamal Bikash Chakma is PhD Scholar in Development Studies at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London)  

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