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Friday, February 22, 2013

Is exclusion of minorities a State Policy in Mizoram?


By Paritosh Chakma

I.   Introduction

Tugged in a corner in the Directorate of Information and Public Relations, Government of Mizoram’s website are two interviews given by Chief Minister Lalthanhawla to two magazines in which he listed his vision for a prosperous Mizoram.

“Mizoram of my dream is a vibrant, prosperous State where peace prevails and the people, irrespective of caste, creed or religion, live side by side in harmony and prosperity” – he proudly announces in an interview with North East Sun magazine, 15 January 2010. (http://dipr.mizoram.gov.in/uploads/featured_magazine/file1.PDF)

But how can prosperity of its people “irrespective of caste, creed or religion” take place when the state structure is seemingly working against its own minorities? In a State like Mizoram where religions identify the ethnicity of its people (for example, Mizos and its sub groups are Christians, Chakmas are Buddhists, half of Brus are Hindus), ethnic considerations can easily become religious divisions and vice versa. This in turn affects the way the government funds are being spent.

 II.  Minority funds are diverted

In 2008, the Government of India introduced Multi-sectoral Development Plan (MsDP) to address the “development deficits” in the minority concentrated districts of India. The Ministry of Minority Affairs selected 90 Minority Concentrated Districts (MCDs) in 20 states/UTs which “have a substantial minority population and are backward, with unacceptably low levels of socio-economic or basic amenities indicators, requiring focused attention and specific programme intervention.” The Central Government provides funds to “address the ‘development deficits’ that were either not met fully by existing schemes/programmes or catered to by any scheme/programme of the State or Central Government.” Amongst the 90 Minority Concentrated Districts are two Mizoram districts namely Mamit and Lawngtlai. (http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/upload_files/moma/files/pdfs/mcd_90districts.pdf) The schemes and programmes for poverty alleviation, education, health and other welfare schemes of government are focused in these districts.

The “Minority” in India is defined under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 as “a community notified as such by the Central Government”. The Central government notified five minority communities – Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis. In some states, a minority community may be in majority and its members can enjoy the fruits of development in all spheres because of its dominance in polity, bureaucracy, social and economic prowess. Therefore, in order to ensure the equitable development of “the other minorities” in those certain states, the government of India made some special provisions for “the other minorities” in the implementation of some of its schemes in those states.

One such scheme is the Multi-sectoral Development Plan (MsDP). At Para 1.7 (viii) of the MsDP Guidelines,(http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/upload_files/moma/files/pdfs/dist_planprep_guide.pdf) it is unequivocally provided that “In the minority concentration districts in the States of Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya and Mizoram, where a minority community is in majority, the schemes and programmes should be focused on the other minorities.”

However, this very crucial note escaped notice for a long time in the case of Mizoram where the state government systematically deprived the “non-Christian” minorities of benefits of MsDP scheme. The trend continued and continues even today but for an intervention before the NHRC by an NGO on behalf of the Buddhist minority, the Mizoram government today has been forced to do a re-think.

While clarifying the doubts about the applicability of the MsDP in Mizoram, the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) vide letter No. 3/16(2)/2008-PP-I dated 13 May 2011 informed that “The focus for the minority concentration districts of Lawngtlai and Mamit in Mizoram would be for minority communities (Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis) other than the one in majority (Christians) in that State.”

Therefore, there should be little doubt with respect to the intended beneficiaries of the Central funds in Mizoram under MsDP. The Census of 2001 makes it clear that the actual beneficiaries of minority funds in Mizoram should be mainly the Buddhists. And, Buddhists in both Mamit and Lawngtlai districts are the Chakmas. As per Census 2001, in Mamit district, Christians constitute 80.53%, Buddhists 13.66%, Muslims 1.75% and Sikhs 0.04% while in Lawngtlai district, Buddhists constitute 52.17%, Christians 44.66%, Muslims 0.31% and Sikhs 0.1%

But Mizoram has a unique mechanism to scuttled development of non-Christian minorities. In recent months, evidence to prove that minority funds have been diverted to non-minority areas (under MsDP) have come to the fore and lies of the Mizoram government nailed.

The responses of the Mizoram government were bizarre. First it sought to provide “incomplete” information about the locations of the projects when grilled by the MoMA. When fund diversions were established, Mizoram government took the position that “claiming of the benefits of Multi-sectoral Development Programme Schemes by only one section of the minority community i.e. Buddhists may not be fair and just.” But Mizoram government should know that this position is antithetical to the very purpose of the MsDP. Yet, interestingly, Mizoram government did not oppose the MsDP Guidelines, including Para 1.7 (viii) which excluded the Christians, and always got the projects approved on the condition that the projects will be implemented in villages/habilitations having the largest concentration of minorities! However, once the funds are released, the projects are implemented in non-minority areas. Worst, the Ministry of Minority Affairs has no mechanism to verify the location of the projects and it sanctioned the funds solely on good faith which the Mizoram government betrayed.

Second, the state government of Mizoram highly exaggerated the population of Muslims and mysterious “others” in order to justify the projects in Christian areas. The officials have quoted the population figure not as per any official records like Census report but as per their whims and fancies.

Third, Mizoram government has shown substantial Buddhist population in several locations where there are no Buddhists at all.

Fourth, wherever lies could not be concealed, the Mizoram government plainly admitted the guilt. In its letter to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, the Secretary to the Government of Mizoram, Social Welfare Department, vide letter No. A.14014/78/2010-SWD dated 8th June 2011 has submitted a list of “Villages/Locations at Lawngtlai district where the Desired Percentage of Minority Population are not Attained”. The list included 12 villages selected for construction of Anganwadi Centres, 9 villages selected for construction of additional classrooms, girls’ hostel at Lawngtlai town, 3 villages selected for construction of health facilities, and 10 villages selected for Indira Awas Yojana.


Example of fund diversion: The case of Girls Hostel at Lawngtlai town

The MsDP Empowered Committee in the Ministry of Minority Affairs at its 38th Meeting approved construction of two girls’ hostels respectively at Lawngtlai town (district headquarter) and Kamala Nagar (headquarter of Chakma Autonomous District Council) in Lawngtlai district. The girls’ hostel at Lawngtlai town was approved based on the false claim of the Mizoram government that Lawngtlai town has “more than 30% minority population of Buddhist community”.

However, it was pointed out by the NGO that were only six Buddhist families consisting of about 25 persons (0.13% of Lawngtlai’s population) living in Lawngtlai town.

Not knowing how to defend its case, the Mizoram government pleaded with the Ministry of Minority Affairs that the proposed 50-beded girls’ hostel at Lawngtlai town “will also cater to the need of accommodation of minority communities who often visit the district headquarters for medical treatments and other official purposes.” This is despite fact the hostel is totally an educational project which is clearly mentioned at the 38th Empowered Committee (EC) Meeting whose minutes stated, “It was confirmed that these hostels would be located in the premises of Government schools and will be used only by school students.”

Mizoram also brought down the minority population of Lawngtlai town (despite clubbing together “Buddhists, Muslims and others population”) to 15% from earlier 30% of “Buddhist” alone. The Ministry of Minority Affairs sought a clarification as to what communities constituted the “others” and kept the project “on hold”. The Mizoram government came out with the reply on 8 June 2011 that the term “Others” was meant for Santals and Gorkhas but itself clarified that “on verification it is found that the percentage of population projected could not be acceptable because Santals are not recognized Minority Community.”

III.  “No” to inclusivity 

The state government of Mizoram has firmly resisted any attempt to promote inclusivity. It has been resisting the setting up of State Minority Commission as desired by the National Minority Commission. In a response, the Mizoram government told the NCM that “the State is not in a position to set up neither State Minorities Commission nor Minority Cell as the entire populace of the State comprises of mostly tribals”! (http://ncm.nic.in/pdf/Agenda%20%202011.pdf ) This is an absurd argument, for the simple reason that the proposed State Minority Commission will be for the protection and promotion of the rights of the minorities, not of the tribals per se.

The Buddhists, who are the second largest minority in Mizoram, after the Christians, lack representation in the selection committees/commissions such as Mizoram Public Service Commission. One of Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities relates to Recruitment to State and Central Services” which states that “In the recruitment of police personnel, State Governments will be advised to give special consideration to minorities. For this purpose, the composition of selection committees should be representative.” (http://www.minorityaffairs.gov.in/sites/upload_files/moma/files/pdfs/pm15points_eguide.pdf )

But when asked about measures taken by Mizoram to include a member belonging to the minority community in selection committees for public appointments, the Mizoram government gave this absurd response - “No community is declared as Minority in Mizoram and inclusion of a Member belonging to the Minority Community in Selection Committee for Public appointments etc. could not be entertained by the Government of Mizoram.” (http://ncm.nic.in/pdf/Agenda%20%202011.pdf )

The question is: if there is no Minority community in Mizoram, for whom are the Minority Scholarships and minority funds received every year from the Central government?

Yet, no one has taken the Mizoram officials to tasks for such illogical, absurd and irresponsible responses.

One thing is therefore very clear: when it comes to the rights of the minorities (read the non-Christians), the state government denies existence of any minority community within Mizoram, but when it comes to receiving Central funds, the Mizoram government will not mind even inflating the population of Muslims and Buddhists in areas where theren’t Buddhists or Muslims.

Will it therefore be correct to conclude that to exclude members of the minorities other than those in majority is a State-sponsored policy in Mizoram?

Postscript: In an interview to NAMASKAAR magazine, Chief Minister Lalthanhawl has stated, “I plan to have Mizoram grow into a model state.” (http://dipr.mizoram.gov.in/uploads/featured_magazine/file2.pdf ) If that is the dream of our leader, then surely the ongoing systematic exclusion of the non-Christian minorities from the developmental process as part of State-sponsored policy must go.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Arunachal: Uncertain future awaits the Chakmas of Papumpare


By Paritosh Chakma

Recently, I visited Chakma villages in and around Kakila Centre in Papumpare district of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Assam’s Sonitpur district. It was my only sojourn there so far, and the experiences are exhilarating.

“Kakila Centre”, as they named it, is the main business point and is connected by a considerably good road with Gohpur, a small town in Assam’s Sonitpur district, which is the gateway. A cute “Tata Nano passenger car” (picture on the right) took us in style from Gohpur to  the Kakila Centre which is about 18 kilometres. A good number of such vehicles ferry passengers throughout the day, the last being 5-30 PM from Gohpur if you are lucky enough. And, we were. The signboard mentioned the road was constructed under PMGSY scheme.

A small dusty road that runs through the Kakila Centre is, surprisingly, the state border between Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. People move freely, and we do not know whether one is from Assam or Arunachal Pradesh, and of course, it does not make any difference. For a semi-rural Kakila Centre is a bustling business hub with daily markets, where fresh vegetables of all kinds, meat and fish are readily available, throughout the day. Poor people from villages come on by-cycles to sell their vegetables. Monday has a bigger and busy Weekly Market at the heart of the Kakila Centre. Assamese is the lingua franca, although the majority of the main Kalika are the Bodos. I loved eating the “Bodo pitaa” (rice cake) prepared by the Bodo women at the Monday market. If you order and wait for some time, you can have them hot.

I enjoyed a lot of Chakma hospitality for which I am grateful. However, in this article I would like to write about the problems this small community faces in this part of the world.

Chakmas’ sojourn in these lands

The painful story goes back to the Partition of India in 1947 when the homeland of the Chakmas, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, was “gifted” by Radcliffe Award to Pakistan, despite strong resistance from the people of CHT. The interventions from Congress leaders, particularly Jawaharland Nehru and Sardar Patel couldn’t help CHT to be part of India and Buddhist Chakma tribe’s future was sealed in Islamic Pakistan.

During 1964-69 the Government of India (the process was initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru and completed by his daughter Indira Gandhi) accepted hundreds of Chakma refugee families who had to flee homes in CHT, East Pakistan due to inhuman atrocities by the Islamic State and submergence of their lands by Kaptai dam and resettled them in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang, Lohit and Papumpare districts. More numbers are presently in Changlang and Lohit and fewer (around 2000 souls) are settled in Papumpare district’s “Chakma Settlement Area”. There are about half a dozen Chakma families living in Arunachal Pradesh’s side of Kakila Centre. Some kilometers from the Kakila Centre are larger Chakma villages, or what is called the “Chakma Settlement Area”.

I am fortunate enough to meet some living souls who were young at the time of the “Great Exodus”, or “Bor Porong” as the Chakmas call it, and they came as refugees with their parents or relatives. “We entered through Demagiri, where we remained for a few weeks in relief camps. Then, we were brought to Aizawl with full armed escorts. The people had to walk the whole journey to Aizawl, except the aged and the women who were driven in small vehicles”, recalled a lady who is now in her 80s.

An aged man informed me that they had to remain in relief camps in Aizawl for two years. “During our stay, the Aizawl was bombed by planes.. There was flames all around us. We were so afraid, but our relief area was not harmed”, he told me. Immediately after I came back to Delhi, I checked the month of this aerial attack by the Indian Air Force. It was in the afternoon of 4th March 1966.

The Chakmas recalled that the Mizos were too generous to them when they travelled from Demagiri to Aizawl. All along the road, they supplied food, and water to the refugees.

From Aizawl, they were shifted to Cachar, Assam from where they were resettled to then NEFA, a Centrally-administered region of enough vacant lands, now known as state of Arunachal Pradesh.

“Then this area was quite uninhabited, wild forests, and full of wild animals like tigers, elephants, bears. We had to face a lot of atrocities mostly from the elephants .. We cleared the jungle to make it habitable and suitable for cultivation”, I was informed during a discussion with a group of Chakma elders while the others nodded in agreement. They laughed heartily. Laughter and casual discussions over glasses of home-made wine are the routine affair. But I sensed that beneath the laughters run deep-seated sorrow and concern for their future. 


The Socio-Economic conditions

I must record here that I did not see a good house built by Chakmas, except two or three in Chakma Village No. 8 which were built with cement.  Most of the houses are constructed with bamboos and already in dilapidated conditions. The houses explain their socio-economic conditions.

How do they earn their living? The Chakmas have been allotted their own house plots and agricultural lands at the time of settlement in “Chakma Settlement Area” in 1964-69. But poverty, medical needs, and other reasons have forced many Chakma families to sell off their agricultural lands to the local tribes. Those who still retained their agricultural lands cultivate these lands which are the main source of their food and subsistence. Some families have betel nut and coconut gardens which they sell in the market. Some grow vegetables. Yet some others (particularly youths) saw logs for rich local tribesmen. I met some youths who, they said, went as far as China border to earn their living! 

Others survive by gathering vegetables from the Jhum fields which are one-day walking distance away from the villages to sell in the daily markets to earn a square meal for the family. Of course, for some, earning is not enough for a square meal for the family which I found is usually big. But none has been included in the Public Distribution System.

Discrimination and neglect by the State government is all-pervading. But their situation is seldom taken into account and I have a feeling that Chakmas of this part are even more marginalized than their brethren in Changlang and Lohit districts of Arunachal. Due to their population being numerically small, they are less cared for. Due to lack of high schools and above, most students are forced to drop out. Chakma children do not get opportunity to study further. Job opportunity within the State of Arunachal Pradesh is NIL. By looking at the face of this boy, I asked myself "What is his future?"

Politically, except the recognition of the “Gao Buraa” or the village headman, the Chakmas have nothing. There are around 2000 Chakmas living in this area. Only a handful of them have been granted Indian Citizenship after nearly 50 years of their sojourn. The rest are “Stateless”. They are not even “Refugees”, as they get nothing from the Central or State government. They fend for themselves. But there are restrictions. The Chakmas are not allowed to acquire land or built houses outside the “Chakma Settlement Area” but almost half of the “Chakma Settlement Area” has been captured by Arunachalese locals by way of buying from the Chakma land owners!


“The Chakma Settlement Area” will be turned into an airport



Vast swathe of fertile agricultural land will be taken over for airport

Soon the “Chakma Settlement Area” will turn into an airport, to be constructed by the Airport Authority of India. The Arunachal Pradesh government is in full swing to acquire a vast swathe of very fertile agricultural land in five Chakma Blocks No. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10 of the “Chakma Settlement Area”, and will uproot 237 families. The process of land acquisition is being done in a very clandestine manner. So, is this a ploy to grab the Chakmas' lands in the guise of airport? We don't really know. But what we can know is that the impoverished Chakmas will have to pay the costliest price for the development of Arunachal.

As of now, all questions in the minds of the Chakmas are unanswered. As a result, fear and uncertainly were reigning in the minds of the people at the time of my visit.

Where will the Chakmas go? No idea.
Will they get compensation? May be. How much? Don’t know.
Will they get resettlement and rehabilitation? No idea.

The biggest issue is how will the Chakmas survive without their agricultural lands? Since they cannot buy lands outside the “Chakma Settlement Area” where will so many families be accommodated?

Only future will be able to tell. But the future is predictably uncertain for the Chakmas of Papumpare district! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is Mizo Sutdents Union right in objecting to Chakma representatives in Delhi Police NE Cell


MSU objects appointment of Chakmas as Mizoram representatives


Aizawl/New Delhi (mizonews.net): The Mizo Students’ Union (MSU) yesterday objected to the appointment of two Chakma natives – Biny Chakma and Lokesh Chakma — to the Mizoram Co-Ordinator in ‘Special Cell For North-East’ in Delhi.

“(The) MSU strongly objects appointing (of) two non-Mizos to represent Mizoram while there are many energetic and gentlemen Mizos in Delhi from Delhi Mizo Welfare and Delhi Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Delhi MZP),” the MSU said in a press release.

The student body has submitted a memorandum to Delhi Chief Minister and Delhi Police Commissioner to replace the two people.

Meanwhile, the MSU also urged Biny Chakma and Lokesh Chakma to resign from being Mizoram Co-Ordinatorin ‘Special Cell For North-East’.


Chakmas representing Mizoram will not resign: NESF


Aizawl/New Delhi (mizonews.net): North East Students Federation (NESF) said on Thursday that two Chakmas nominated to represent Mizoram at the Special Cell For North-East in New Delhi need not resign.

The Mizo Students’ Union yesterday had opposed their nominations and sought their resignations stating that there were a good number of people from the Mizo community to represent Mizoram.

“NESF hereby stands by it’s decision and states that Lokesh and and Binny Chakma will under no circumstance resign. This is the time for us to be united and work together for the upliftment of just about anyone and everyone from the North east region by looking beyond ethnicity and region,” President of NESF, Abhijit Sharmah, said in a statement.

The NESF also stated that it was “unfortunate” that such reactions came from the MSU.

“Comments like this are unfortunate and give a wrong message…the whole purpose for selecting the coordinators for Delhi police is to provide security and mend bridges. The allegations (of the MSU) are not true and we never intended on leaving anyone behind,” the statement added.

The student federation also sought to dispel doubts over the issue with a statement that all north east student organisations were invited during the selection process for  the coordinators.

“And specially all the organization of Mizoram were contacted. Since Mizo Students Union (Delhi,DMZP) failed to respond; existing active members from the state of Mizoram (Delhi Mizoram Chakma Students Union) were nominated. We request them to take the matter with the concerned authorities to clear any doubt regarding the nomination,” NESF said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mizoram's NLUP a 'Congress-party-only' scheme?


By Paritosh Chakma
IN JULY 2010, the Planning Commission approved Rs 2873.13 crores for Mizoram’s flagship scheme, New Land Use Policy (NLUP) whose main objective is to “develop and give all farmers in the state suitable, permanent and stable trades” and thereby, put an end to “wasteful shifting cultivation”. The NLUP aims to cover 120,000 families in the first five years.

But since day one, doubts have been raised about the implementation of the programme. The ruling Congress party has been particularly accused of handpicking its own party supporters although the tax payers’ money channeled by the Central government should have been utilized to select “Jhumia families” who met the eligibility requirements, without any bias based on party affiliations.

Now, it seems that the accusations are not without any worth. The Seven Sisters Post, published from Guwahati, today [16 October, 2012] carried a story titled “Mizoram’s flagship project ‘lacks’ market strategy”, which stated that a study conducted by Mizoram Presbyterian Church’s synod social front found that a whopping 88.6 per cent of the beneficiaries were members of the ruling Congress party. Only 0.03 per cent of the beneficiaries belonged to the largest opposition party Mizo National Front while 0 .06 per cent was from smaller party Mizoram People’s Conference. As many as 10.3 per cent of the beneficiaries were neutral voters.

The findings of the study somehow justify the opposition parties’ allegations that the NLUP was a ‘Congress-party-only’ policy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chakmas to be affected by land acquisition demand consultation

By Paritosh Chakma

IN YET another glaring instance as to how the people affected by so called developmental projects are shabbily treated in this country, the Papumpare Chakma Welfare Society has brought to the public notice that 237 Chakma families face imminent displacement due to acquisition of the lands for the proposed Itanagar Greenfield Airport at Hollongi in Papumpare district of Arunachal Pradesh.

The state government has failed to consult the affected people and there is no transparency in the proposed acquisition of the lands and the affected people are being kept in the dark.

On 13 and 14 September 2012, five Chakma inhabited villages (Chakma Blocks No. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10) have been demarcated as proposed airport site by the magistrate/ extra assistant commissioner (EAC) Balijan Circle under the direction from the state government. But neither the government of Arunachal Pradesh nor the Airport Authority of India (AAI) has informed anything officially to the affected people regarding the acquisition of their lands. Chakmas do not know where the displaced people will be resettled, the PCWS stated in a press statement.

The proposed airport site at Hollongi is a 'Chakma settlement area' where Chakmas from the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, had been settled by the government of India in consultation with the then local administration during 1964-69. “If the Chakmas lose their allotted lands, they stand to lose everything. In the absence of any other livelihood options as well as any government support, agriculture is the only means of survival for them,” stated Bodhisatta Chakma, President, PWCS.

The affected Chakmas have demanded that authorities make the land acquisition process transparent, and affected people be “adequately consulted” in all stages including preparation of the detailed project report.