By- Paritosh Chakma
(This article was first published in the Newslink, Aizawl, Mizoram in August 2007)
Presently, Mizoram is the second most literate state in India, next only to Kerala. In a way this is something to be taken proud of considering many other states’ dismal records such as Bihar (47.53), Uttar Pradesh (57.36), Arunachal Pradesh (54.74), Jammu and Kashmir (54.46), Jharkahand (54.13), and even West Bengal (69.22).
Yet, something is rotten in the government of Mizoram’s education policy. It seems that the minorities do not figure anywhere in the Education Ministry’s priority list. The State Education Ministry in particular and the government of Mizoram in general have blatantly failed to take note of the 2001 Census of India’s findings that the Chakmas are the most illiterate tribal community in the state with only 45.3 per cent literacy rate against the 95.6 per cent literacy rate of the Mizos.
If this huge gap is any indication of outright discrimination and deprivation, such discrimination and deprivation are more glaring when considered the fact that only 56.2 per cent male and 33.6 per cent female among the Chakmas are literate against 96.8 per cent male and 94.4 per cent female literacy among the Mizos.
Literacy is not the only area where the Chakmas are lagging behind. Over 99 percent of the Chakma population lives in the villages. They are traditionally cultivators of Jhum , which is also renown as shifting cultivation. Their economic condition is deteriorating day by day with the lack of job opportunities for the educated youths and diminishing returns from the Jhum cultivation which is done after cutting off forests. The Jhum cultivators do not find green, fertile forests anymore and their futures are empty. Outside the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC), which is the homeland for only half of the total Chakmas of the state, the only government job available for the educated Chakma youths is the teaching post in schools in Chakma dominated villages. In a situation where even the schools are limited or absent in villages there is practically no employment opportunity. It is another notable fact that there is no State cadre gazette officer from the Chakma community. Aren’t these symbols of discrimination?
The ongoing Mizoram-Bangladesh border fencing will displace thousands of border villagers who are mostly Chakmas. These people have already been embattled by poverty and the fencing is sure to break their backbones. The pangs of displacement from one’s land can be felt only by the victims themselves while others can only sympathize with them. Although the government has provided some monetary relief to the displaced families, it is not yet clear whether the government will do enough to provide proper rehabilitation to them. It is important that the people who have sacrificed their lands for the interest of he nation should be respectfully resettled and given all kinds of facilities which they had enjoyed in their original villages. The government in fact is duty bound to do much more than that. But having known the bitter experiences of other IDPs elsewhere in India, the prospects of the Chakmas do not evoke much hope.
It is the hope of every person of Mizoram to take the state towards peace and progress in every sector. But this will never be possible so long as the State government treats the Chakmas, who are the second largest tribal community, as step children and do enough to bring them at par with other citizens. In other words, for the advancement of Mizoram it is equally important that agonies of the Chakmas be transformed into hopes and smiles.