Chakma Centric Crisis in Mizoram

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Parvedge Haider

The relationship between Mizoram’s major ethnic group ‘Mizo’ and the second largest ethnic group ‘Chakma’ have been always hostile. Political scientist Ranabir Samaddar writes that, Chakma are seen as the “enemy tribe” by hardline Mizos[1]. Besides Mizoram, there is presence of Chakma in Chittagong Hill Tracts Bangladesh, Tripura, Aurunachal Pradesh etc places. There are processions by the local ethnic groups against the Chakma community in Aurunachal Pradesh for long years. But recent Chakma centered tensions in Mizoram is really getting a big concern. The current ethnic tensions are the clear exposition of increasing presence of ethnicity in the political domain. The origination of indigenous issue is spreading gap between the two communities. Mizo consider the Chakma as “non-indigenous” or, at times, “illegal migrants,” but the Chakma always project themselves to be the indigenous community of Mizoram. This ethnic clash has been a concern since long and there are controversies in the historical contexts also. The present political impasse in Mizoram could be an eruption of long unsettled ethnic issue between the Mizo and the Chakma.

The term “Scheduled Tribes”(ST) refers to specific indigenous peoples whose status is acknowledged to some formal degree by national legislation. Both Mizo and Chakma are included according to the list of Indian ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’[2], surprisingly both the communities claim themselves to be indigenous.

The name ‘Mizoram’ has been derived from “Mizo” and “Ram” means land; so Mizoram means “land of the Mizos”. Mizoram was one of the districts of Assam bearing the name Lushai Hills district (later on renamed as Mizo Hills), until it was upgraded to union territory (UT) status in 1972. It was one among the last states to be sliced out of Assam in 1987 along with Arunachal Pradesh. The state shares its boundary with Manipur, Assam, and Tripura, and its international boundary with Bangladesh and Myanmar. The international boundary comprises the major part, sharing 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh.

Photo-1: Map of Mizoram

According to 2011 census, among all the states of India, there are highest percentages (94.4%) of tribal population reside in Mizoram. The current population is of diverse tribal origins settled in the state are mostly from Southeast Asia. There was migration of various tribes in Mizoram during 16th century but mostly occurred in 18th century. These tribes constitute the Mizos and other minority tribes specially the Chakmas. There are different languages within the respective tribes. Chakmas are found mostly in Lawngtlai, Lunglei and Mamit districts among the eight districts of Mizoram. Most of the people of Mizoram are the believer and follower of Christianity. There are other religions also, specially the Chakmas follow Buddhism.

Photo-3: Religions in Mizoram
Photo-2: Languages of Mizoram

Before the British colonial period, various Mizo clans used to live in the autonomous villages. The institution of chieftainship began in the 16th century. Each village behaved like a small state and the chief was called as ‘Lal’. The Mizo Hills formally became as a part of British India in 1895. During the British colonial period, this area was known as ‘Lushai Hills’. The British conducted a military expedition in 1871 in the Lushai Hills in an attempt to suppress the Lushai chiefs. There was a corrective movement to rescue the British subjects, captured by the Lushais and to convince the hill tribes of the region that they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by placing themselves in a hostile position towards the British Government. However, the colonial power retained the chiefs and Mizo customs. During the expedition of British in 1871, Chakma queen Kalindi Rani joined hands with them to suppress the Lushai chiefs. In 1937, under Section 6 of the Scheduled District Act, the British administration consolidated executive and legislative political power to the Deputy Commissioner. After India gained independence from the colonial rule, the region was granted autonomous status in 1952, where Mizo people formulated their own laws and delivered judicial decisions. In 1954 it was renamed as ‘Mizo Hills’ considering the maximum presence of ‘Mizo’ tribe. The Mizos were particularly dissatisfied with the Government of India (GOI)’s inadequate response to the 1959–60 Mautam famine, a bamboo based cyclic ecological phenomenon occurred in Mizoram. The ‘Mizo National Famine Front’, a body formed for famine relief in 1959, later developed into a new political organization, the Mizo National Front (MNF) in 1961. MNF had major uprising in 1966 under its leader Laldenga. This group fought a bitter separatist struggle against the Indian Army until an accord that guaranteed Mizoram’s autonomy as a separate state. Long insurgency of 20 years was ended after the signing of the Mizo Accord in 1986. On 20 February 1987, it was formally upgraded to 23rd state under the union of India[3].

There are confusion and controversy on the historical origination of ‘Chakma’ tribe. The Chakma people mostly live in Chittagong Hill Tracts Bangladesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Aurunachal Pradesh of North East India. The Chakmas are the minority Scheduled Tribe in Mizoram. Their ethnicity is closely linked with the peoples of East Asia. There is different historical background on the Chakma entry in the Lushai Hills. The settlement of Chakma community was done on the basis of residential permission allotted by the British. The incursion of Chakma in Lushai Hills and the migration from different places were also strictly regulated by the British. Some of the Chakmas, employed in ‘Labour Transport Corps’ by the British during World War II, possibly stayed back in Lushai Hills permanently. However, the British authority instructed all chiefs and Headman in the Lushai Hills district that no influx of Chakma and Tripuras will be allowed without the prior written permission of the Deputy Commissioner, Lushai Hills.

Photo-4: MNF Logo

Laldenga demanded the Government of India (GOI) to disband the Chakma council after signing the Mizoram Accord in 1986 but it was not considered by the GOI. Former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi addressed a rally in Aizawl saying “if the Mizos expect justice from India as a small minority, they must safeguard the interest of their own minorities like the Chakmas”.

In 1990’s, Mizo tribe based student organization Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) arranged various movements that lead to physical violence against the Reang and Chakma tribes; there were burning of houses and displacement of thousands of people. According to the report of Asian Centre for Human Rights, there were as many as 380 Chakma houses were burnt by the organized Mizo mobs in August 1992[4]. In January 1995, MZP declared a “quit notices” to the Chakmas who had entered the state after 1950 and asked them to leave in six months. There was allegation of omission of the names of the Chakma people as a voter. Besides those grievances, the forceful instruction of learning Mizo language up to class eight was not well accepted by the Chakma community. Moreover, there were hardly any Chakma who could qualify in ‘Mizoram Civil Services Examination’ after 1987.

At present, there are number of ethnicity based organizations, raising voice to establish their basic rights.

  • Chakma Autonomous District Council(CADC)
  • Lai Autonomous District Council (LADC)
  • Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC)
  • Chakma National Council of India (CNCI)
  • Mizoram Chakma Students’ Union (MCSU)
  • Chakma Law Forum (CLF)
  • Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP)

The strained relationship state between the Chakma and Mizo was within an acceptable limit earlier. The growing political aspirations of the Chakma community have generated tension within the Mizos. The claim for the reform of current Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) to a union territory status or demand of inclusion of all the Chakma inhabited areas into CADC, created tension between the two communities. Possibly, such demands have stirred the Mizos on the presence of Chakma community in Mizoram.

According to the rules formulated in 1999, regarding the selection of candidates for the higher technical courses, applicants are supposed to be classified into three categories for the purpose of seat allotment.

  • Category-I : Local native people of Mizoram
  • Category-II: Non-local permanent residents of Mizoram
  • Category-III: Central/other state government employees, not permanently serving in Mizoram

In 2015, a selection of 38 Chakma students under category I created an alarm of the Mizos. On the protest of Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), a Mizo multinational student organization and apex students body in Mizoram state, the existing rules had to be amended on 24 March 2015.

Photo-5: Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP)

But the new amended rules were stayed by the Gauhati High Court on June 24, 2016 following the ‘public interest litigation (PIL)’ filed by the Mizoram Chakma Students’ Union (MCSU). Thereafter the high court dismissed the petition after the petitioner failed to appear in the court. In August 2018, the high court restored the stay order following the application filed by the Chakma students to restore the petition. In February 2019, the high court issued a judgment saying that placing of non-Mizo ethnic people under Category-I cannot be sustained and therefore they need to be placed under Category-I.

The most recent Mizoram elections were held for 40 seats of legislative assembly on 28 November 2018. The voter turnout was 80%. The ‘Mizo National Front’ led by Zoramthanga was elected to the power. Zoramthanga has become the Chief Minister of Mizoram.

Photo-6: Zoramthanga, CM Mizoram

The current controversy and debate is all about indigenous status in Mizoram.  Both sides project their own version of truth, contesting each other’s facts. In the mean time the Mizoram Cabinet made a decision of eradicating the Chakma and other non-Mizo communities, from Category-I in the selection of Candidates for Higher Technical Courses. This means that the Chakmas and other non-Mizo communities have been transferred to Category-II and III. This decision has created tension among the Chakma community in Mizoram.

The overall status of Chakma community is getting feeble in Northeast Indian states gradually. In Arunachal Pradesh, Chakma community’s long demand of citizenship rights is not accepted yet. The indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh are getting fear of losing political power and economic opportunities. The same kind of fear and apprehension has been identified in the case of Mizoram. The focal point of tension between the Mizo and the Chakma have generated on the fear of losing control over the resources. The current tension is an outburst of long-unsettled issues between the two communities that caused both the communities prejudiced to each other.

Colonel (retired) Kritti Ranjon Chakma expressed his concern about the future of Chakma community[5]. He thinks that the people of Chakma community have frequently shifted from one place to another place in the history. In none of the place, they could settle for few hundred years peacefully. Colonel Kritti Ranjan made a concern that this state might cause dissolve of Chakma community. There are historical bases of his concern. Some of the decisions and actions taken by the Chakma leaders are contradictory to the interest of their own ethnicity and sometimes those created mistrust with the other communities also. During the British period, this community supported the British, during 1947 partition they raised Indian flag in Rangamati but after few years they started supporting the Pakistan Government; even there were hardly any strong protest during the preparation of Kaptai dam and most importantly the then Chakma circle chief took the side of Pakistan during the war of Liberation in 1971. After the independence of Bangladesh, they led an armed insurgency without much of valid reasons. The long practice of going against the flow without considering interest of the country and state cost the individual or community very badly.

Will there be any come back of the Chakma community in Mizoram!!

 

Parvedge Haider

Researcher, Geopolitics and CHT

Email- parvedgehaider5235@gmail.com

 

[1] https://www.facebook.com/TheChakmaTimes/posts/mizoram-chakmacouncil-sushma-swaraj-recommends-single-administrative-unitunionte/2318291461580547/
[2] ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ lists (Modification) Order, 1956 and as inserted by Act 81 of 1971.
[3] https://forest.mizoram.gov.in/page/mizoram-forest-at-a-glance
[4] https://scroll.in/article/848260/no-state-for-chakmas-in-mizoram-a-minority-battles-for-rights-against-a-former-minority
[5] Speech of Colonel(retd) Kritti Ranjon Chakma, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h042-T79J0
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