Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Debunking the Theory of Abnormal Chakma population growth in Mizoram

By Paritosh Chakma

Mizoram’s largest circulated daily, Vanglaini on 11th May 2015 reported that the Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA)- Mizoram’s largest voluntary organization – has decided to go ahead with its proposal to conduct a census on Chakma minority community of the state. Earlier the CYMA had to shelve this illegal “Chakma Census” because the Union Home Ministry reportedly ticked off the Mizoram government after a high level delegation of Chakma National Council of India led by Tarun Vijay, senior BJP leader and Member of Parliament met the Union Minister of State for Home Shri Kiren Rijiju in New Delhi.  

In this regard, the Mizoram government took a logical stand with Home Minister R. Lalzirliana categorically telling CYMA leaders that “ it would be against the Constitution to conduct a census for one particular community within Mizoram”. But it appears that the YMA leadership is not impressed.

Last month (April, 2015), the Mizo Zirlai Pawl submitted a memorandum to BJP national president Amit Shah during his visit to Aizawl. The memorandum pointed out to alleged “abnormal increase” of Chakma population in Mizoram “due to immigrants from the neighbouring Bangladesh”.

Such allegations of Chakma influx are not new. Such allegations were investigated and rejected by the Government as early as 1955.

Shri S. Barkataki, the last Superintendent of Lushai Hills, in his letter vide D.O No. II-7/50/56-8 dated Aijal 11th October 1950 to R.V. Subrahmanian, Secretary to the Government of Assam for Tribal Affairs brought to the notice of the Government about alleged Chakma influx from Chittagong Hill Tracts in then East Pakistan. His Inspection Note on Lunglei SDO’s office dated 21st November 1949 stated that new passes were being issued to Chakmas and Tripuras. He contended that “These peoples are foreigners and I do not see any reason why they should not pay at the foreigners’ rate of Rs 5/- each. Taxes must be realized at this rate from 1950-51.” But Mr Barkataki himself admitted that prior to writing this Lunglei Inspection Note it was not known to him that his predecessor Mr A. Macdonald, Superintendent of Lushai Hills, in his Order No. 734-47G of 29 April 1946 had declared the Chakmas to be natives of Lushai Hills just like the “Lushais” or Mizos and with effect from 1946-47, Chakmas were needed to pay house tax equal to what Lushais paid, that is Rs 2/- and not Rs 5/- which was what the foreigners paid.

The order of Mr A.  Macdonald, Superintendent Lushai Hills is worth producing here below:

Order No. 734-47G of 29-4-1946
With effect from 1946-47, the following races will be deemed to be a “Lushais” for the purpose of House Tax assessment under Notification 4973 of 16-7-1934.
PAWI, PAIHTE, HMAR, LAKHER, CHAKMA, RIANG (Tuikuk), MATU, CHAWRAI, HRANGKHAWL, LANGRAWNG.
This order does not affect any restriction on immigration into Lushai Hills District from other areas.
------
Copy to S.D.O., with reference to your 273/D.C.VII.4 of 15-4-1946.
Copy in Lushai to all Rahsis. The race will still be named in the House Tax Registers, but all the races above named will pay House Tax at the same rate as if they were Lushais.

Sd/- A.Macdonald, 29-4-1946
Superintendent, Lushai Hills”

But Mr Barkataki totally misinterpreted Mr Macdonald’s order. Mr Barkataki wondered “on what principle Mr Macdonald included the Chakmas with Lushais. The Chakmas are an entirely different race having little in common with the tribes of Lushai Hills.” If only Mr Barkataki utilized a bit of his brain and senses he would have known that Mr Macdonald did not identify Chakmas as an ethnic group belonging to Lushais but only notified that with regard to payment of House Tax Chakmas and other tribes such as PAWI, PAIHTE, HMAR, LAKHER, RIANG (Tuikuk), MATU, CHAWRAI, HRANGKHAWL, LANGRAWNG will pay as much house tax as the Lushais paid at that time. (Clear this from Macdonald’s order “The race will still be named in the House Tax Registers, but all the races above named will pay House Tax at the same rate as if they were Lushais.”) In effect, Chakmas and other tribes such as PAWI, PAIHTE, HMAR, LAKHER, RIANG (Tuikuk), MATU, CHAWRAI, HRANGKHAWL, LANGRAWNG were not to be considered as foreigners (who are required to pay tax at the rate of Rs 5/- while Lushais paid Rs 2/-) but natives of Lushai Hills.

It is evident that Mr Barkataki’s concern was more of losing revenue due to Mr Macdonald’s order. He writes, “If the Chakmas are treated as non-Lushais they will be liable to pay house tax at the rate of Rs 5/- and also other taxes such as Court and Stamp duties which will bring in an additional revenue of over ten thousand annually. I am in favour of adopting this course.”

The government of Assam shot down Mr Barkataki’s absurd suggestion.

An investigation into Mr Barkataki’s allegations about illegal Chakma influx into Lushai Hills was also found to be incorrect. Mr Barkataki’s successor Mr KGR Iyer, IAS, Deputy Commissioner, Mizo District personally investigated the matter and submitted his report to the Government of Assam vide No. GP.21/55/56 dated Aijal the 27th October 1955. Relevant points of his findings are as follows:

“In order to ascertain whether there has been any increase in the Chakma population of 11435 in 1951 an informal census was held by me in 1954 and 1955 and it was found that there has not been any increase as shown below:-
Lunglei Subdivision                Population of Chakmas
(1954)
Circle XII ..                                         1664
” XV                                                   36
” XVI                                                  173
” XVII                                                 8615
________________
Total 10488
Aijal Subdivision (1955)
Circle X                                              840
” XI                                                     47
_________
Total 887
Grand Total for whole District, 11375 against 11435 in 1951”

So in fact the Chakma population decreased by 60 souls from 1951 to 1956.

Mr Iyer, Deputy Commissioner of Mizo District further stated that “The report of the Chief Executive Member [of Lushai Hills District Council] about unauthorized influx of Chakmas from East Pakistan is not correct.” He further added that the District Council was “trying to blame the Government for the presence of the Chakmas instead of tackling the real problem facing the District Council. The view taken by the Chief Executive Member, District Council, Mizo District, is in my opinion, not sound as Government is sought to be blamed for the shortcomings in the administration established by the Council.”

The Chief Executive Member of Pawi-Lakher Regional Council, Lungleh, also rejected the contention of the CEM of Lushai Hills District Council on abnormal rise of Chakma population within the Pawi-Lakher Regional Council. In his letter dated 11 April 1955 to the Chief Minister of Assam, Regional Council CEM stated “First, the Chief Executive Member’s figure of Chakma and Riang families living in our area as stated by the Chief Executive Member is not correct. There are not “more than 1344 families” as the Chief Executive Member would have it, but only 831 families.”

The Lushai Hills District Council was always at loggerheads with the Chakmas and wanted to expel them forcefully. When on 26 July 1954, Executive Secretary of the Lushai Hills District Council wanted to know from the Deputy Commissioner of Lushai Hills whether there was any order from the Government to expel to Pakistan any Riang or Chakma residing without possessing passes after 15-7-1954, Deputy Commissioner KGR Iyer returned a stern letter stating that there was no such order from the Government and that “unnecessary correspondence may pleased be avoided.” (No.GP.21/54/58 dated 31.7.1954.)

Chakmas’ unique place in Lushai Hills

The Chakmas of British Chittagong Hill Tracts happened to be included within the British Lushai Hills when an eastern part of the Chakma chief’s (king) territory were transferred from Bengal province to Lushai Hills under Assam province in 1898. As the Chief Commissioner of Assam Mr W E Ward in his letter No. 149-P dated the 17th July 1897 written to the Government of India stated, “The station of Demagiri is not situated within the present area of the South Lushai Hills. It is topographically within the area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But, under Sir Charles Eliott’s [Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal] orders, passed in 1892, it was declared that, for administrative purposes, Demagiri should be considered to be part and parcel of the South Lushai Hills” This proposal of the Chief Commissioner of Assam was accepted by the Government of India on 27th January 1898 and finally, the South Lushai Hills together with Demagiri sliced off from CHT was placed under the administration of Assam by a proclamation of the Government dated 1st April 1898. “The boundaries [of CHT] were revised, and a strip on the east, including Demagiri with a population of about 1,500, was transferred to the Lushai Hills.” (See, Sir Robert Reid, History of the Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam 1883-1941)

Prior to such transfer of Demagiri areas from CHT to Lushai Hills, wide consultations were held with the then Chakma Raja Bhuban Mohan Roy. Indeed, in a letter dated 19 October 1898 to the Chakma Raja, Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton, then Chief Commissioner of Assam stated that “We cannot prohibit your people from entering the Lushai Hills but have no wish to offer them any inducement to do so.” However, several Chakma families gradually migrated to Lushai Hills from CHT due to a number of factors, chief of them being availability of virgin forests for Jhum cultivation, extraction of wood etc which attracted them. But these settlements were neither illegal nor unauthorized.

The position of the Government of India with regard to Chakmas in the Lushai Hills is clear from this statement dated 27 October 1955 of Shri KGR Iyer, then Deputy Commissioner of Mizo District: “As the Chakmas are treated as Scheduled Tribe just like any Lushai or Mizo tribe they were allowed free entry into this District without passes before the introduction of Indo-Pakistan Passport system but they were not, however, allowed to settle without a pass. Since the introduction of the passport system no entry of Chakmas from Pakistan is allowed without Valid passport and visa and from July 1954 no new influx of Chakmas is allowed without the prior permission in writing of the Deputy Commissioner, Mizo District and a standing order to this effect has been passed.”

Therefore, entry of Chakmas from CHT into the Lushai Hills was never prohibited or sought to be made prohibitory during the British rule. Only rules were imposed if they wanted to settle down permanently. The Chakmas being tribals like the Lushais required no permit to enter the Lushai Hills, but to settle down they had to get written permission from the SDO and follow the rule of the Lushai Chief of the area.

Anti-Chakma campaign based on lies and rumours

The basis of anti-Chakma campaign by YMA, MZP or some political parties is based on lies, half-truths and rumours about abnormal growth of Chakma population and illegal infiltration from Bangladesh. These malicious campaigns can be easily debunked or exposed with facts that are already available in official records.

With regard to the MZP’s memorandum to Amit Shah, the CNCI has this logical response:

“This also bears significance to the memorandum submitted recently to Amit Shah, President, BJP by the MZPs wherein facts have been misrepresented deliberately regarding the growth of Chakma population in Mizoram with inflated figures about the Chakma population as has been learnt from a press report of the thenortheasttoday dated 17/4/2015. For instance it was claimed that Chakma population have jumped to 80,000 in 1991 against the fact that Chakmas were only 54,194 (as per census data)…. It was also conjured that the population of the Chakmas could be around 1,50,000. Whereas, the population of the Chakmas is only 71,283 by 2001 Census figure (http://censusindia.gov.in/Tables_Published/SCST/dh_st_mizoram.pdf) and as per a report of the Vanglaini issue dated 2/3/2015 the population of the Chakmas as of 2011 is only 96,972 (http://www.vanglaini.org/tualchhung/32034).”

Therefore, MZP’s claim is highly distorted and does not tally with official census figures. It is ridiculous that the CYMA wants to go ahead with its socalled Chakma Census based on such false and distorted figures on Chakma population submitted by MZP. The Chakma population data available at Mizoram at a Glance 2001 published by Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Mizoram government makes the picture pretty clear:
YEAR
TOTAL POPULATION OF MIZORAM
CHAKMA POPULATION
REST POPULATION(2-3=4)
DECADAL GROWTH (CHAKMA)
DECADAL GROWTH (REST POPULATION)
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
(5)
(6)
1951
1,96,202
15,297
1,80,905
-
-
1951-1961
2,66,063
19,337
2,46,726
26.41
36.38
1961-1971
3,32,390
22,393
3,09,997
15.80
25.64
1971-1981
4,93,757
39,905
4,53,852
78.20
46.41
1981-1991
6,89,756
54,194
6,35,562
35.80
40.04
1991-2001
8,88,573
71,283
8,17,290
31.53
28.59
Average
37.55
35.41


Therefore, it is up to the leadership of CYMA which is a celebrated organization and has won national awards for its community service, to choose between facts and fictions, and to decide whether it can risk its credibility by engaging itself in an unconstitutional act like headcounting members of a minority community which is actually unnecessary. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mizoram: creating unequal citizens and conflicts

By Paritosh Chakma

The Chakmas of Mizoram have often alleged a tacit understanding between the state government and some jingoistic civil society groups in their larger goal to suppress the minorities with an aim to keep them deprived as long as possible. But the recent act of the Government of Mizoram, at the behest of the state’s all-powerful student outfit the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP or Mizo Students Association), to remove the Chakmas from Category I for the purpose of selection in higher technical courses, has openly brought into public display how community NGOs like MZP are dictating the terms and the government has abdicated its constitutional responsibility to protect the minorities’ interests. The fact that the notified amendments to the State Technical Entrance Examination (STEE) Rules were drafted by the MZP and the government accepting them in toto, speaks volumes about the government’s intention to create unequal citizens, which in turn lead to acrimony and conflicts.

The Mizoram (Selection of Candidates for Higher Technical Courses) (Sixth Amendment) Rules, 2015 notified on 24th March, 2015  provides for three categories: Category I for Zo-ethnicity people who are “indigenous people”, Category II for Non-Zo ethnicity who are “non-indigenous people”, and Category III for Central government and other state government employees who are not permanent residents of Mizoram. Since Chakma is a non-Zo community, they are excluded from Category I, and instead included in Category II along with, probably, Brus and Gorkhas/Nepali and other permanent residents who are not “Zo”. Earlier, under the Principal Rule of 1999 all the “local permanent residents” of Mizoram were together put in Category I along with the Mizos. The removal of Chakma and other non-Zo Scheduled Tribes from Category I is not merely administrative but has political overtones with far-reaching impacts on the minority communities. The message from the Mizoram government is loud and clear: Chakma cannot be equal to Mizo; Chakma are unwanted in Mizoram.

Fight for limited opportunities

The problem started after as many as 38 Chakma students qualified, including 25 in medical and 13 in Engineering, in the STEE 2014 by dint of their merit and hard work, and were rightfully placed in Category I under the existing rules (Rules of 1999). The selection of so many Chakma students in engineering and medical seats alarmed the MZP, and it launched protests demanding amendments of the STEE Rules to the disadvantage of the Chakmas. The question is: are the Mizo students afraid of Chakma students in a free and fair competition?


Surely, it is all about fight for limited resources. But the Mizo students body has chosen a short cut way to access these limited resources and opportunities: by depriving the Chakmas through wrongful means. Indeed, opportunities are limited in the state which does not have a single higher technical or medical college/institute. The Central Government made provision for allotment of seats for the State in different institutes of India for higher and technical education. But the number of seats so allotted is quite insufficient to meet the demands of the Mizoram students. This year, Mizoram has a quota of 176 seats in medical and 121 seats in engineering colleges. Hence, the MZP wants to keep the Chakma and other non-Zo students out of the competition by removing them from Category I, rather than giving them a tough fight in the examination halls. The method of selection as adopted now is unfair to non-Zo students, as it provides for “total reservation” of all seats in favour of Zo students.

Contempt of Court

The concept of “total reservation” for Category I candidates first espoused in the Rules of 1999 were declared as unconstitutional by the Gauhati High Court in September 2000 in Bhanu Choudhury vs State Of Mizoram And Ors. In its judgement the High Court stated, “...we find that the new Rules of 1999 to the extent as contained in sub-rule (3) of Rules 5 providing that selection shall be made from Category I first. In case sufficient number of candidates are not available from Category I remaining seats shall be filled up from Category II and III and likewise, is held to be ultra vires and is struck down.”

This forced the state government to amend the Rules in 2002, providing 85% reservation for Category I (Children of local permanent residents), 10% for Category II (Children of non-local permanent residents) and 5% for Category III (Children of Central government and other state government employees who have lived in Mizoram for the last two years). So, Chakma students, being local permanent residents of Mizoram, were required to compete with Mizo students and other local permanent residents for 85% of the total seats. This was fair enough – let merit alone decide the allotment of seats for local permanent residents of Mizoram, not community or ethnicity.

But the Mizoram government tweaked the Rules once again, and the 2014 examination was conducted by providing total reservation to Category I in contempt of the Gauhati High Court order. This is evident from the “Information Brochure 2014”of “Technical Entrance Examination for selection of candidates for higher technical courses” which stated,

“Method of Selection
On the basis of marks obtained in the Selection Examination, selection shall be made in order of merit from amongst eligible candidates from Category-I first. In case sufficient number of eligible candidates are not available from Category-I, the remaining seats shall be filled in, in order of merit by the eligible candidates from Category-II and Category-III likewise.”

In such a scenario providing for Absolute Reservation for Zo-ethnicity people, no one other than students of Zo-ethnicity will ever be selected, even if they top the entrance examination, as per the new Rules of 2015. Hence, the rules are illegal.

Antithetical to idea of Mizoram

The amended Rules, 2015 gives the political message that Mizoram belongs to the “Zo” ethnicity and all other communities who are non-Zo may live in the state but as “second class citizens”, or as “guests”, correspondingly, with lesser rights and privileges.  This violates the very idea of Mizoram which is peaceloving and God fearing. The Mizoram Peace Accord 1986 promised 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.” That promise has been broken prominently once again.

By creating “unequal citizens” you end up creating more conflicts. The Hmars and Brus have been waging armed movements against the State. Three other major minority communities having their own Autonomous District Councils (Chakmas, Lai and Mara) are up in arms against the state but through peaceful means, pressing for direct funding and even upgradation of their ADCs into the status of Union Territory to escape epic discrimination and neglect by the majority. Chakmas are worst targeted as minorities, but they remained committed to peaceful democratic means of struggle. This is the beauty of Mizoram that the non-Mizo minority community like Chakma have contributed. Mizos must acknowledge this. They should also realize that they (community and state) gain nothing by keeping the Chakmas deprived and backward; rather it harms the interests of the state. At the end of the day, a single community cannot take a state or country to its height of development or glory, if the condition of the other communities (minorities) living therein does not improve. A man may be healthy or well-built in all respects but if any of his body parts are deformed that man will still be considered as physically handicapped. By drawing a legal distinction between Zo and non-Zo among its citizens, what the Mizoram government has eventually done is to further divide the state along ethnic lines. The alienation of the minorities, who already face systematic discrimination, could only weaken Mizoram further.


All communities have wings of fire. The selection of 38 students from Chakma community in a single competitive examination says a lot about the rising aspirations of the Chakma youths. It will be a mistake to try to crush the aspirations of the youth, which is never possible. Further while the motive may be to keep the Chakmas oppressed, my reading is that it might have just helped the otherwise lethargic community to strengthen socially and politically. A few months earlier, the proposal by another leading NGO, Central Young Mizo Association to headcount the Chakmas had brought Chakma leaders of different political parties on a single platform to resist the illegal move. The STEE issue has shaken the Chakmas further, and an appropriate democratic response is bound to come in the coming days.


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.