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Mizoram: Minority Report

Mizoram's minorities (the more important of whom are the Chakma, Hmar, Lai, Mara and Bru) together constitute nearly 27% of the state's population, but are discriminated against in terms of access to educational and employment opportunities and live in abject poverty. Some of them are now turning to armed militancy.

COMMENTARY

Mizoram: Minority Report

Paritosh Chakma

Mamit and Lunglei districts and the Brus

– both inside Mizoram and in the relief camps in Tripura and the Hmar ethnic people have faced the worst neglect. The attacks on the Chakmas and their homes,

Mizoram’s minorities (the more important of whom are the Chakma, Hmar, Lai, Mara and Bru) together constitute nearly 27% of the state’s population, but are discriminated against in terms of access to educational and employment opportunities and live in abject poverty. Some of them are now turning to armed militancy.

Paritosh Chakma (pchakma@gmail.com) is a social activist and student of MA (Sociology) at the Indira Gandhi National Open University.

T
he Congress government in Mizoram led by Chief Minister Pu Lalthanhawla has a special responsibility to protect and work for the interests of the state’s minorities – religious, ethnic and linguistic, who feel estranged from the mainstream society due to systemic discrimination, lack of development and neglect by successive governments at Aizawl.

Few Rights, No Privileges

Among the minorities in Mizoram, the largest are the Chakma (8%), Lai, Mara, Hmar and Bru. Other smaller minorities include the Kuki, Khasi, Naga, Dimasa and Garo. These minority groups have their own ethnic identity, culture and tradition and speak different languages. While the Chakmas are Buddhists, the non-tribals (5.5%) are mostly Hindus and Muslims.

The Mizoram Accord of 1986 guaranteed that, “The rights and privileges of the minorities in Mizoram as envisaged in the Constitution, shall continue to be preserved and protected and their social and economic advancement shall be ensured”. But unfortunately, no matter which political party was at the helm in the state the minorities who constitute 27% of the state’s population have been neglected.

In 1972, the Chakma, Mara and Lai communities were awarded an Autonomous District Council (ADC) each in southern Mizoram. But even these three ADCs have been discriminated against. On 13 February 2008, Mani Shankar Aiyar, then mini ster for development of the north-eastern region during a visit to the state noted:

It appears that only a very small proportion of funds have reached these people who constitute 15 per cent of the state’s population. I can now understand why the minorities are demanding Union Territory status. Mizoram should remain one, but it can remain united only when all the sections of the people feel that they are equally treated.

Minorities who have been excluded from the ADCs such as the Chakmas of

june 6, 2009

the desecration of their temples and the mass deletion of their names from the voters’ list (during the previous Congress rule in the state during the 1990s) have still not been investigated and the perpetrators continue to remain free. The expulsion of over 30,000 Bru tribals from their villages which forced them to take shelter in Tripura in 1997 is yet another example of minority repression in Mizoram.

These communities continue to face discrimination in terms of public employment, access to educational and healthcare facilities, sanitation, and overall development.

Illiterate Children, Literate Mother

Beneath the shining example of Mizoram’s high literacy rate of nearly 90% lies its shame: the illiteracy of its minorities. Against the Mizos’ 95.6% literacy, the largest minority tribe the Chakmas have registered a literacy rate of 45.3%, according to the Census 2001. Among the Mizos the literacy gender gap is small with the male and female literacy at 96.8% and 94.4%, respectively. In contrast, Chakma, Kuki, and Naga tribes exhibit higher malefemale disparity in literacy with the male and female literacy standing at 56.2% and 33.6%, respectively among the Chakma.

The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in the Chakma areas, at least in Mamit and Lunglei districts, is only in name. The SSA Mizoram Rajya Mission seems to discriminate against the Chakmas instead of educating them. The teachers in Chakma areas are Mizos who do not stay in the village of their appointment, and are unable to teach the Chakma children who do not understand either the Mizo tongue or English. Clearly, the appointment of Mizo teachers is not benefiting the targeted populations (at least in the case of the Chakmas), and hence is a futile exercise.

In some parts of Mizoram, the state government has deliberately kept generations of minorities illiterate by doing nothing to provide more than primary education. Most border villages inhabited by the

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Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

Chakma tribe have only primary schools. Faced with acute poverty, the parents are simply clueless about educating their children further.

Discrimination in Employment

The recruitment rules of various government departments make it mandatory for a candidate (including one belonging to a linguistic minority) to have studied the Mizo language up to middle school level. This is clearly in contravention of Article 16(1) of the Indian Constitution which provides that “there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State”. Since linguistic minorities such as the Chakmas do not study Mizo, they do not qualify for jobs however talented they may be.

As a result, the representation of minorities in the government services is almost negligible. For example, the Chakmas’ representation in the Mizoram Civil Services and in other gazetted posts is almost nil. In fact, except for a few in the police force, teaching and medical services, there are hardly any Chakmas in other services under the government of Mizoram. This makes the minorities more vulnerable to repression and less empowered to deal with it.

Development as a Human Right

Although the rural areas of Mizoram, irrespective of whether they are inhabited by Mizos or minorities are underdeveloped, there is hardly any semblance of development in areas inhabited by the minorities. Even the central government’s Border Area Development Programme (BADP) has not been implemented along the India-Bangladesh border. Is it because the India-Bangladesh border is inhabited predominantly by the Chakma tribe?

The ministry of home affairs says that:

BADP is a 100% centrally funded programme. The main objective of the programme is to meet the special developmental needs of the people living in remote and inaccessible areas situated near the international border. The schemes/works like construction/maintenance of roads, water supply, education, sports, filling gaps in infrastructure, security, organisation of early childhood care and education centre, education for physically handicapped and backward sections, etc, are being undertaken under the BADP. Preference is given to the villages/habitations which are closer to the border line.

The central government released Rs 22.62 crore during 2006-07, Rs 20.86 crore during 2007-08 and Rs 25.35 crore during 2008-09 under the BADP. The Mizoram government has claimed in its utilisation report submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs, that it has utilised the funds received during 2006-07. However, there is not even a semblance of development in the Chakma-inhabited border areas.

To make things worse, over 35,000 Chakma tribals in 49 villages are facing displacement due to the ongoing India-Bangladesh border fencing. The state government has not yet drawn up any proposal to properly rehabilitate them.

Forced to Pick up Arms

There is no doubt that Mizoram is an oasis of peace in the conflict-ridden north-east region of the country. However, the sufferings of the minorities are also acute. Their struggle is not for luxuries or even “progress” but for the bare necessities of life. The Chakmas have been wtinessing the rapid loss of their means of livelihood. They traditionally depend on jhum (a form of shifting cultivation), but the depleting forest cover is making it increasingly difficult for them to survive. The state government has done nothing to deal with the situation but is busy trying to herd them into smaller and smaller space by extending the reserve forest areas. For example, the Dampa Tiger Reserve (DTR) authorities now claim that the Chakma village of Andermanik in Mamit district is a “core area” of the tiger sanctuary.

However, conflict is not totally absent in the state. On 2 September 2008, the underground militant outfit Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) killed four police personnel in an ambush at Saipum village in Kolasib district, and warned of more attacks. Several suspected militants have been arrested in Mizoram during 2008. The Hmar ethnic minorities want to upgrade their Sinlung Hill Development Council into the Hmar ADC The Brus have also demanded an ADC and had even taken up arms to press for their political rights.

Before the bomb of ever increasing resentment explodes, the state government must set up a high level committee to study the socio-economic conditions of the minorities and take appropriate measures to improve their condition. The state of Mizoram must take its minorities along on the path to development.

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