Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Happy New Year-2009..!!
On 26 December 2008, I have turned a proud one-year-old blogger. My personal experiences tell me that I have learnt to write a bit better. That is why I encourage others also to blog regularly. This habit prompts you to think and explore topics to write on, and hence enhance our understanding of things around us and our inner self through a bit of research.
So far, I have written 45 articles, small and big, on various issues since 26th December 2007, the day I started blogging. It shows I have not been able to write regularly. One of my pledges on this New Year will be that I write regularly and make my blog more beautiful, serious, and lively.
So far, this blog remains to be the only voice of the Chakma people of Mizoram on the internet. I am happy to play the role. When I visited Chakmas living near the international border line they have expressed their angst and hopelessness about the way they have been forced to live in. They do not have faith in the state government that it will work for their development and betterment. I can tell you they want Central intervention to improve their lot. I am happy to try to highlight their sufferings by providing true, accurate and timely information and analysis in the way I see things. Their aspirations are my inspirations.
My analysis may differ with others but the “facts” remain “facts”.
In many of my writings I have received reviews and feedbacks. In most cases, people supported me. As eSpirit said,
“I Agree with you Paritosh. Our Chakma friends need education like others. Mizoram literacy will be above Kerala if Chakmas are given the priority now. I hope Mizoram will develop as a whole not in parts”.
My article “SSA Mission in Mizoram: Mission to educate or discriminate against the Chakmas?” evoked interesting responses. While Beita Jr from http://www.samaw.com/ said I was right as the ugly situation of education holds true even for LADC and MADC, another reader “Deepen” accused me of “discriminating against the Mizos”. However he provided no supporting evidence to back his allegation. I replied him on my blog - “My observations were based on facts and field study” and that “Victims should not be treated as victimizers”.
I have learnt a few things from eSpirit/Samaw from Mara ADC who said even the health conditions of the people in MADC were as bad in response to my article- "In the Chakma hinterland in Mizoram, people just wait for Death". He further encouraged me, saying “Keep blogging, it is a very good source and way to know the voice from within Chakma community.”
However, the direct praise came from Hem Raj Singh, Content Manager, Merinews who said “Dear Mr. Chakma, I just went through some of your writings. It seems you write well. It's a good time to start writing for a much larger audience. Come, join Merinews.com”. But unfortunately I could not respond to him till date.“Benjamin rualthanzzuva” taught me how to subscribe to “Google News Alert” to get news from Mizoram. It helps. It’s a brilliant piece of idea.
Hence, there are a lot to learn from (unknown) friends. That is precisely also why you must blog.
Monday, December 29, 2008
In the pic: a Chakma house
Their villages are most undeveloped and not connected by roads. In most villages, people have to walk on foot for hours across the hilly terrains. The villages along the river Sajek are accessible by boats. However, boat journey is expensive for the poor tribals.
The villagers of Mauzam have to carry their rations on their backs through jungles and steep hills from Marpara government godown which is over 10 kilometres away. The village has only one Primary School.
Zero Healthcare: Along the Sajek River, which is the natural international border, there are at least 15 Chakma villages. Except a big village called Marpara, no other village has Primary Health Centre. Only three villages have a Health Sub Centre each managed by Health Workers. Hence, medical facilities in rest of the villages are non-existent. The poor tribals have to depend upon traditional herbs for treatment. During my visit, I have met several sick people who do not have access to any medical care. Many including children have died but their records do not show up in the Register of Births and Deaths. “Are our lives worthless?” an elderly Chakma woman asked me. I was clueless.
A registrar of Births and Deaths told me that in a year only two or three death certificates are issued although the infant mortality rate is quite high. He suggested that the government should provide incentives to those who register deaths. I think this is a good recommendation. In 2007, the number of deaths of Chakma children is put at over 100 in the Sajek villages but the state government does not act. Officially the number of children deaths in the entire Mizoram did not cross this figure. There is no public awareness on the need of death certificates.
No schools: Only two villages out of 15 Chakma villages have government High Schools. Silsury, with a population over 1500 is the only other village having a lone High School and the students are clueless as where to study after completion of Middle School. Marpara with a High School is nearly 25 kilometres away.
The rest of the villages do not have more than Primary Schools. Some of the government Primary Schools are run by SSA teachers. As a result, students do not have the scope and opportunity to study beyond Class IV. The parents are clueless, hopeless and demoralized.
There are no NGOs either to look after the education needs of these one of the most unfortunate tribals on the earth.
No livelihood: Traditionally, the Chakmas have depended on Jhum (slash and burn method) cultivation, which is deemed as unscientific and anti-ecology. The world have developed but till date the Chakmas continue to cultivate Jhums as they have been left uneducated for generations.
Jhums need green and fertile forests to reap a good harvest. Such forests are not there any more. The forest department has long ago declared vast area inhabited by Chakmas and Brus, another minority group as Dampa Tiger Reserve. The DTR has been extending its areas continuously. Presently, Andermanik village is being claimed as “core area” of Dampa Tiger Reserve. If government has its way, the Chakmas of this village will have to run away.
The forest department has also reportedly erected “stones” near Tuikawi village area. Villagers say the forest officials have clandestine motive to declare the area as “Bird Sanctuary” which will displace the Chakmas. The Chakmas have asked me, “Are we more worthless than tigers and birds?” They have a valid point to make but who will listen to the poor and the weak?
The forest department is gradually squeezing the Chakmas into a limited space.
A few villages have problems with Mizo villages regarding village council areas. In some villages, the villagers only have area to build houses but not to engage in Jhum or other cultivation such as fruits garden due to lack of forest area or land.
No jobs for Chakmas: It is a different matter that there are fewer scopes for the Chakmas to pursue higher education. First, there are no schools. Second, the Chakmas are too poor to go to towns for study. Yet, a few Chakma children manage to study in cheaper schools outside the state and complete their graduation. But these graduates do not end up with jobs (other than teachers in the villages) due to presence of specific discriminatory laws called the Recruitment Rules in Mizoram. The Recruitment Rules in several government departments require for compulsory Mizo subject to be studied upto Middle School level. The government has cleverly legislated the Recruitment Rules but did not appoint any Mizo teachers in the Chakma villages to teach the Mizo subject. Also, Chakma children who have studied Middle School outside Mizoram do not qualify, as per the Recruitment Rules. A Chakma graduate may later learn to speak, read or write Mizo fluently but he cannot change his Class VII Marksheet, can he?
I am sure these Recruitment Rules do not apply to Mizos. Why, don’t Mizos study in English medium public schools outside Mizoram?
Absolute lack of development: This border area lies most undeveloped. There are no basic infrastructure for development and survival such as schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, markets, etc. This is despite the fact that the Central government is pumping in millions for the socio-economic development of border people.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has stated 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 crores during 2006-07, Rs 20.86 crores during 2007-08 and Rs 25.35 crores during 2008-09 to Mizoram under the BADP. Mizoram has claimed to have fully utilized all the funds it received during 2006-07 in its utilization report submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs. But there is truly no semblance of development in the Chakma inhabited areas along the India-Bangladesh border. Yet Mizoram says it has spent only a fraction of BADP funds received in 2007-08.
Mizoram shares 404 km international borders with Myanmar and 318 km border with Bangladesh. Considering that Mizoram spent two –third of the BADP funds in the Mizoram-Myanmar borders, it must have spent one-third i.e. Rs 7.54 crores during 2006-07, Rs 6.95 crores during 2007-08 and Rs 8.41 crores during 2008-09 for the development of the Mizoram-Bangladesh borders which is predominantly inhabited by the Chakma minority tribals. This money, if spent judiciously, is enough for socio-economic development of the border Chakmas but the Mizoram government’s spending under BADP in the sajek areas is almost nil. The government has been misusing the funds by utilizing them for the development of the (Mizo) areas far away from the borders.
The apathy of the state government: You may ask - “Why political leaders are not doing anything for development of the border Chakmas?” It is precisely because such kind of underdevelopment, demoralized minds and hopelessness of the Chakmas have helped the local Member of Legislative Assembly, of whichever party he may belong, to win the elections. The Chakmas have been reduced to “political prostitutes” – to be bought and used during the elections but not to work for their welfare.
To the Chakmas it does not matter which party rules the state. Neglect and economic deprivation resulting in absolute lack of development and absence of basic amenities have been fueling strong resentment and frustration among the Chakmas in these sensitive border areas. The displacement due to the border fencing and denial of adequate rehabilitation will only alienate them further.
Surely, insurgency is not needed to help New Delhi and Aizawl to recognize the problems of the Chakmas. All that is necessary is sensitivity and care. Aizawl must immediately end the policy of discrimination and neglect against the Chakmas and instead work for their development which will lead to the development of Mizoram. Further alienation could fuel unrest.
. See http://mha.nic.in/pdfs/BM_BADP(E).pdf
. BADP funds go unutilised: Reports, The Newslink, Aizawl, 15 July 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Every one is left guessing and speculating as to what led to this historic win, the first of its kind and magnitute in the electoral history of Mizoram.
Was it a miracle? By no means was it a miracle. It was a vote for change.
There are a complex mixture of several factors which came into play. In my opinion, the main issues were the following:
Minority factor: The minorites – Chakmas and Brus - are traditional supporters of the Congress Party. They do not determine so mcuh in the government formation but has a critical role to play in at least five constituencies. The Congress continue to charm them.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Note from Paritosh Chakma: Below is the report on Mizoram brought out by a human rights watchdog, Asian Centre for Human Rights as contained in its "India Human Rights Report 2008". The report on Mizoram, though not exhaustive, sheds some light on the conditions of the minorities in the state. It is worth reading.
Ruled by the Mizo National Front, the State government of Mizoram failed to take appropriate measures to address the serious human rights problems in the State. Not a single Bru internally displaced persons (IDPs) who took shelter in Tripura State since their expulsion from Mizoram in 1997 returned. A survey conducted by Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum found that 94.22% of the Bru IDPs had documentation to prove the bonafide residence in Mizoram
35,438 persons representing about 40% of the total Chakma population in Mizoram) were displaced due to the building of the fence along the 318 km-long international border with Bangladesh.
The State Government failed to curb vigilante violence. Members of Young Mizo Association (YMA) continued to take the law into their own hands. On 8 May 2007, one Mr Lalbiakliana was allegedly tortured to death by activists of Young Mizo Association after he was ‘arrested’ by a YMA anti-drug and alcohol squad for allegedly possessing ganja in Mizoram.
Though women generally enjoyed freedom in the society, there has been a steady rise of crime against women and children in Mizoram.
II. Human rights violations by the security forces
The security forces were responsible for torture and custodial death. The National Human Rights Commission did not receive any reports of custodial death by the security forces from Mizoram during the period 1 April 2006 – 31 March 2007.
On the night of 23 January 2007, 30-year-old Mr Hrangchhingpuia, resident of Hourang village in Lunglei district was allegedly tortured to death in the custody of excise police after he was arrested for selling local made liquor. However, the excise officials claimed that he hanged himself in the lock up.
On the night of 28 March 2007, two persons identified as P Vanlallawma and Lalchamliana were allegedly beaten up Border Security Force (BSF) personnel at Tlabung in Lunglei district. They were detained while returning home after looking for work.
III. The Bru crisis
a. Failure to repatriate the Brus
By the end of 2007, the government of Mizoram failed to repatriate the Brus from the relief camps in Tripura. The Bru indigenous peoples had fled to Tripura in 1997 following organized attacks against them by the Mizos.
The state government of Mizoram has refused to repatriate the Brus on the ground that not all of them were genuine residents of Mizoram and due to the opposition from the influential Mizo NGOs including Young Mizo Association (YMA) and Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo students union, MZP). Although the Brus themselves claim that there are 29,000 persons in the relief camps in Tripura, the government of Mizoram claims that only 543 Bru families (3,189 persons) fled the state in 1997.
On 26 April 2005, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Government of Mizoram and the Bru National Liberation front (BNLF), an insurgent group. In the MoU, the state of Mizoram admitted its obligation/duty to repatriate and resettle the Reangs/Brus, but again questioned the “genuineness” and/or bonafide inhabitance of the Reangs/Brus. The MoU was signed without the consent of the Brus living in relief camps.
About 1,000 members of the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) have so far laid down their arms after the signing of the MoU with the government of Mizoram in April 2005 and the government has provided them with rehabilitation in Mizoram. Yet, in March 2007, the state government of Mizoram entrusted three Mizo non-governmental organizations - the Young Mizo Association, Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (the apex body of the Mizo women) and Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo students union) to verify the credentials of the former Bru rebels. All of the groups are well known for their anti minority stands. The NGOs reportedly identified 40 former Bru rebels as non-residents of Mizoram.
The contention of the state of Mizoram is false. In October-November 2007, the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) conducted an on-the-spot survey of 5,328 families residing in the six relief camps at Kanchanpur sub-division of Tripura. According to the survey of the MBDPF, 94.22% of the Reangs/Brus in the relief camps have at least one document each, issued by the State of Mizoram, its local authorities as well as constitutional bodies, namely, the Election Commission of India to prove that their bonafide/natural place of inhabitance is Mizoram.
Since April 2007, the state government of Mizoram held a series of talks with the MBDPF, the last round of discussion being held on 21 November 2007, but no result emerged. In order to prevent the Brus and the Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN), an NGO working for the rights of the tribal and indigenous peoples, from filing a writ petition before the Supreme Court of India for its intervention for early repatriation of the Brus to Mizoram, the Home Secretary, Government of Mizoram, who was the Chairman of the meeting warned the Bru leaders against going to the Supreme Court. The Home Secretary, Government of Mizoram warned the Bru representatives “not to file petition in the Supreme Court as it can create serious repercussion among the general public which may lead to further delay in the process of repatriation… ”
b. Miserable camp conditions
Presently, a total of 29,545 Brus are living in six relief camps in Tripura. Their camp-wise population is as follows: Kashirampur – 15,499 persons; Longtraikami - 5,137 persons; Hazachara - 2,593 persons; Kashau A & B - 3,305 persons; Khakchang - 1,243 persons and Hamsapara - 1,768 persons.
They conditions in the camps are poor. Since 2001, babies are included only in the census but not in the relief cards denying them access to food. Those who have become adult in the last six years continue to be given rations as minor. The ration quota is so inadequate that the Brus do not even report deaths as it will mean a further reduction of rations being provided.
Presently, a Bru adult gets cash of Rs 2.90 per day and a minor gets Rs 1.45 per day. 450 grams of rice is being provided to per adult Bru per day while 225 gram rice is being provided to per minor per day. This ration is highly inadequate. Yet, on 15 October 2007, the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, Government of Tripura reduced the monthly rice allocation being provided to the relief camps under the Public Distribution System (PDS), inter alia, on the ground that there is no separate allocation of rice from the Government of India for them.
Medical facilities are almost non-existent. Only when health conditions seriously deteriorate do doctors visit the camps. The conditions of children and pregnant women are the worst. As there are no primary health care centers, pregnant women are forced to deliver their babies at the relief camps. Maternal mortality is high. and as are also the common diseases.
Most tube wells are out of order. The Brus are forced to drink water from streams and ponds resulting in high levels of water-born diseases. Sanitation facilities are non-existent.
The Tripura government has denied educational facilities to children in the camps. Only primary education under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (Education for All) programme has provided limited education. There is no scope for higher education. Effectively, over 5,000 minors have been denied the right to education and an entire generation of the Brus have become illiterate in the last ten years.
The MBDPF in its letters dated 26 June 2007 and 20 July 2007 addressed to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India and Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Kanchanpur, Tripura (N) rpointed out the lack of basic amenities. But to date the government has failed to act.
In addition, there is no security for the camp inmates. It has come to light that about 35 Bru children (aged between five and 15 years) went missing from the refugee camps during the last five years. The state government of Tripura has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
IV. The status of minorities
The enjoyment of rights by religious, linguistic or ethnic minority communities continued to be poor.
The Chakmas are the second largest community in Mizoram with 8.5% population against the Mizos who constituted 77%. The socio-economic conditions of the Chakmas are poor. Although Mizoram’s overall literacy is 88.49%, the rate of illiteracy of the Chakmas is very high. According to Census of India 2001, the Chakmas are the most illiterate community in Mizoram. They have a literacy rate of only 45.3 per cent, way behind their Mizo counterparts at 95.6 per cent. The gap is huge between males and females amongst the Chakmas: while 56.2% of the men are literate, the literacy rate of women is only 33.6%. In case of the Mizo tribes, male and female literacy stand at 96.8% and 94.4% respectively.
Minorities are discriminated in employment. The state’s Recruitment Rules of several departments require the candidates to be compulsorily educated in Mizo language up to Middle School level. Since most Chakmas do not study Mizo as a subject in school, they are not qualified to appointment, however talented they may be.
The Chakmas living along the Indo-Bangladesh border were also the victims of the border fencing in Mizoram. A total of 5,790 Chakma tribal families (35,438 persons from 49 villages or 40% of the total Chakma population in Mizoram) have been displaced due to erection the 318 km-long international border fence. Apart from their houses, the people have lost already wet rice cultivation lands, horticulture gardens, gardens for growing vegetables and other cash crops, tree plantations of high commercial values like teak etc, community/ government assets like schools, health sub-centres, community halls, market places, places of worship, play grounds, cemetery/ grave yards, water ponds, water supply, and other government/ council office buildings, etc.
Four companies viz. National Building Construction Corporation Ltd. (NBCC), Border Roads Organization (BRO), Engineering Projects India Limited (EPIL) and National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd (NPCC) have been given contracts for construction of the fencing.
The companies did not follow the guidelines for acquisition of the lands set by the Ministry of Home Affairs prior to construction of the fencing for mandatory consultation with BSF (Border Security Forces) & DM (District Magistrate). They started acquiring land without consultation with the tribal inhabitants or the local authorities, including the District Magistrate and the Border Security Force.
There was inordinate delay in releasing compensation to the affected families. Even nearly one year after completion of verification of the affected families, the NBCC failed to provide any compensation. From 13-18 January 2008, hundreds of Chakmas including women and children protested at Marpara village near India-Bangladesh border in Lunglei district against the denial of compensation and halted construction work of the NBCC. The protest was temporarily withdrawn only when the Project Manager of NBCC, Mizoram sector, signed an agreement with them on 18 January 2008 to release compensation by 31 January 2008. However, as the NBCC failed to keep its promise, the protests resumed.
V. Violations of the rights of the child
There has been a steady rise of crime against women and children in Mizoram. According to the records of the Mizoram police, 61 incidents of rape were registered between January and August 2007 as against 46 during the same period in 2006. 39 out of 61 rape victims were girls below 18 years of age - 17 victims were between 10 to 14 years of age and 16 were below 10 years while six of them were between 14 to 18 years.
The 2006 Annual Report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recorded 125 cases of violence against women including 75 cases of rape during 2006. NCRB also recorded 35 cases of violence against children including 35 cases of rape during the same period.
According to a study, about 84.64 per cent children were physically abused in the state. Of these, 35 per cent belonged to 15-18 age group. About 16.20 per cent were cases of severe forms of sexual abuse.
On 1 April 2007, a 17-year-old girl was allegedly molested by a Central Reserve Police Force constable when she was alone in her house at Bairabi village in Kolasib district.
(The report is available at http://www.achrweb.org/)
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The one thing which I miss very dearly each day is the absence of English news website from Mizoram to keep myself abreast with the happenings of the state on daily basis.
An online newspaper will enable people of Mizoram have access to daily news of the state even though they may be staying outside the state, for example the students.
In the age of information technology, it is really regrettable, more so given the fact that all other six North Eastern states - Arunachal Pradesh (Arunachal Times, http://www.arunachaltimes.com/), Tripura (http://www.tripurainfo.in/), Meghalaya (The Shillong Times, http://www.theshillongtimes.com/), Nagland (http://www.nagalandpost.com/), and Manipur (http://www.kanglaonline.com/) have online version of their state newspapers, not to speak of Assam which has many of them.
There are at least three English newspapers published from Aizawl – Newslink, The Aizol Times, and the Highlander, and dozens of Mizo dailies, weeklies and even monthlies but they do not have webistes. I know only Vanglaini maintaining a good website http://vanglaini.org/ but I do not understand Mizo so well. Hence, that does not help me.
I must thank to http://zawlbuk.net/ which provides links to “Newslink”. But the links are not regularly updated and sometimes do not cover Newslink daily for a series of days. I must confess that I anxiously keep awaiting such daily updates and I shall be happy if http://zawlbuk.net/ can provide the Newslink news update on daily basis without a miss.
I have been subscribing to the Newslink by post but it takes a long time to reach me. The news get old. But regrettably, even the Newslink fail to cover enough news from rural corners of the state, particularly the social problems.
The Newslink has been the only English daily to have successfully run a website for some time, first in the form of http://www.zoram.com/ and then had its own webpage (I forget the exact link). Another English paper, “Aizol Times” had one http://www.aizoltimes.com/ but the link now shows “this account has been suspended”.
All these news dailies must be facing financial problems to even retain their domain and update them which needs manpower. So, the state government of Mizoram must come forward to help the dailies run their websites successfully and provide sufficient funds for that purpose.
The Young Mizo Association (YMA), the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and the Mizoram Journalists’ Association (MJA) must extend a demand to the government of Mizoram in this regard.
If Mizoram, which is the second most literate state in India, cannot afford to have a news website, it reflects negatively on the state. Also, it is in the interest of all the people of Mizoram, in particular the intellectuals and students who need to be updated on daily basis about the latest happenings in the state.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
The Chakmas of India enjoy the affirmative action programmmes of the government on the basis of their recognition as “Scheduled Tribes” in five states namely, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya. Out of the five states, Chakmas are presently residing the highest numbers in Mizoram (71,283 according to Census 2001), followed by Tripura (64,293). In the other three states, their population is very negligible. Though Chakmas are residing in considerable numbers in Arunachal Pradesh they have not been accorded the “tribal” status as yet.
Unfortunately, in Bangladesh the indigenous Jummas (collective name for 11 ethnic communities) do not have any Constitutional or legal recognition as “indigenous peoples” although they have been living there for centuries.
Some Chakmas, in particular the youths who form the majority of the social forums on the internet, who pose this question (Are Chakmas indigenous/ tribals?), are in particular, opposed to the “tribal” status. They feel that they are not to be considered tribals. Their often quoted arguments are Chakmas have “more civilized” culture and way of life than the typical tribals. For example, the Chakmas do not paint their faces, hung feathers on their heads or dance with “hunting tools” like the primitive peoples. And, Chakmas have their own scripts called “Arog” unlike most tribes who have borrowed Devanagiri or Roman scripts to express themselves in literature.
No doubt different tribal groups do have their distinct ways of life, but these are not the only characteristics to be recognized as tribals.
Surely, there are no universally accepted definitions of the concept of “indigenous peoples” or “tribals”. There are some recognized criteria by which the indigenous peoples are recognized. Some of these as incorporated in the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 are:
- They are the descendants of those who lived in the area before colonization;
- They have maintained their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions since colonization and the establishment of new states;
- Self-identification as “indigenous peoples”
The last point points to the fact that it is equally important for a community to consider or identify themselves as “indigenous peoples” to be recognized as such.
Other features of the indigenous peoples are that they consider themselves distinct from other sections of the mainstream society and are the non-dominant section of the society. They have preserved the customs and traditions of their ancestors; and are determined to preserve their own ethnic identity in accordance with their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.
The Constitution of India failed to identify who the Scheduled Tribes in India are. Article 366(25) defines Scheduled Tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this Constitution”. However, Article 342 does not define “Scheduled Tribes” but only lays down the procedure for scheduling and de-scheduling of the tribes.
Under Article 342(1), “the President may with respect to any State or Union territory, and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union territory, as the case may be”. Under Article 342(2) “Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Tribes specified in a notification issued under clause (1) any tribe or tribal community or part of or group within any tribe or tribal community, but save as aforesaid a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.”
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs in its 2005-2006 Annual Report states, “The criteria followed for specification of a community as a Scheduled Tribe are (a) indications of primitive traits, (b) distinctive culture (c) geographical isolation, (d) shyness of contact with the community at large, and (e) backwardness”. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs further stated, “These criteria are not spelt out in the Constitution but have become well established and accepted. They take into account the definitions in the 1931 Census, the reports of the first Backward Classes Commission (Kalelkar) 1955, the Advisory Committee on Revision of SC/ ST lists (Lokur Committee) 1965 and the Joint Committee of Parliament on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Bill, 1967 (Chanda Committee) 1969.”
The Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission appointed by the President of India on 28 April 1960 pursuant to Article 339 of the Constitution of India in its report of 14 October 1961 stated that “As these groups are presumed to form the oldest ethnological sector of the population, the term “Adivasi” (“Adi”= original and “Vasi”= inhabitant) has become current among certain people. The International Labour Organization has classified such people as “indigenous”.
It is important to note that the state governments sometimes determine the tribal status of a particular community on the basis of political considerations too.
The Chakmas were historically the rulers of Chiittagong Hill Tracts (now in Bangladesh). They had fought against the Mughals and thereafter against the East India Company in order to protect their lands and sovereignty. However, the Chakmas finally signed a peace treaty with British in 1786 and came under the rule of the British government. Under the rule of the present day Bangladesh, the indigenous peoples (of whom Chakmas form the majority) in CHTs have been facing state sponsored persecution and annihilation of their ethnic identities due to constant implantation of Bengali settlers from the plain areas which has changed the demography of CHTs and forcible capture of their lands by the illegal plain settlers and the Bangladesh military. This has raised tensions in the CHTs and the Jummas have been forced to fight guerrilla war with the Bangladesh government for protection of their rights. The 1997 CHTs Peace Accord ended the tribal insurgency but the Accord has not been implemented and the Jummas continue to suffer threats of extinction of their rights and identities in Bangladesh.
The western part of present day Mizoram has been inhabited by the Chakmas from time immemorial. As the provincial gazetteer of India Volume V at page 413 states: “The station of Demagiri [a Chakma concentrated place now under Lunglei district of Mizoram] is not situated within the present area of South Lushai Hills. It is topographically within the area of Chittagong Hill Tracts. But under Sir Charles Elliot’s order passed in 1892, it was declared that for administration purposes Demagiri should be considered a part and parcel of South Lushai Hills.” The boundaries were revised and a strip on the east including Demagiri was transferred to Lushai Hills in 1900. Hence the “foreigner” question vis-à-vis the Chakmas in Mizoram is worthless; it is only political.
As a result, the Chakma Autonomous District Council in Mizoram is the only homeland which the Chakmas can call their own, though it merely covers less than 50% of the Chakmas living in Mizoram.
Both in India and Bangladesh, the Chakmas have their own culture, traditions, ornaments, folklore and literature. The Chakma women wear their own traditional cloth around the waist which is called “Phinon” and a “Hadi” is wrapped to cover the bosom. The “Phinon” and the “Hadi” are colourfully hand weaved with various designs and this is uniquely Chakma as anywhere in the world you can recognize a Chakma woman if she is wearing the traditional attire.
There may be much more additions, but this is how I have simplified my answer.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
reporting from Indo-Bangladesh border areas, Mizoram
The ongoing India-Bangladesh Border Fencing Project will displace a total of 5,790 Chakma families consisting of 35,438 persons from 49 villages in Mizoram– representing 49.7% of the state’s Chakma population (71,283 as per Census 2001).
When 49.7% of a community’s people are being affected it can be rightly considered a grave situation and needed urgent attention.
But nothing such thing called “attention” has been given to the affected Chakmas anywhere along the fencing line by the administration.
The fencing of the 318 km Mizoram-Bangladesh international border is being carried out by four public sector construction companies - National Building Construction Corporation Ltd. (NBCC), Border Roads Organization (BRO), Engineering Projects India Limited (EPIL) and National Projects Construction Corporation Ltd (NPCC). In the very beginning, the Chakmas had complained of non-compliance of the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs by these four construction companies while carrying out the fencing alignment and works.
Despite of the alarming situation, no Central team surveyed the area to take stock of the problems of the victims. The state officials did not visit most of the affected villages.
Instead, the state officials and the engineers of the four construction companies have been busy exploiting the situation, to gain the most out of the chaotic situation prevailing in many villages as the villagers (who have never faced such a situation) do not know what to do in order to get proper compensation on time.
They have been helpless and desperate.
In March 2008, a tribal rights NGO based in Delhi filed a complaint with the NHRC against the non-delivery of compensation to the victims and sought an investigation into it.
After the NHRC issued a notice, the District Commissioner of Lunglei has coerced the Village Council members of the Chakma affected villages within the district to provide in writing a letter withdrawing the complaint.
On the other hand, the situation of the victims did not improve, as in many villages they did not get any compensation as yet.When the victims are facing insurmountable problems while getting the basic compensation, what will happen to them with regard to rehabilitation?
What the local authorities of the state government and the constructing companies are interested is how best to get fatter through corruption and mismanagement of the funds awarded by the Central government as compensation to the victims.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
For further information, read http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2008/02/india-bangladesh-border-fencing-in.html
Monday, August 25, 2008
Silent persecution in Mizoram: SDO’s letter threatens Chakma villagers to cut off all welfare facilities
That the Chakmas have been victims of state sponsored policy of silent persecution in the state of Mizoram is beyond doubt. They have been victims of the state’s “exclusionist” structure and system which excludes the minority sections from development and enjoyment of human rights. The Chakmas like other minority communities are treated like second class citizens.
The exclusion of all Chakmas, primarily living outside the Chakma Autonomous District Council, from mainstream development process has been highlighted time and again by me in this blog.
The Chakmas face all these injustices silently because they are incapable of lodging protest against the system dominated by the majority from head to toe due to fear of reprisals from the system. Yet, this is not to suggest that all the people in the administration are bad.
Another reason is that in the case of the Chakmas the persecution is more through denial of economic and social progress and less of physical atrocities. Hence, there are little proofs. Yet, the backwardness and the helplessness of the Chakmas in the state are all pervasive.
But of late, there have been some tangible proofs.
On 24 May 2008, the Sub Divisional Officer (Civil) of West Phaileng, Mr Sangthuama dashed off a threatening letter (he is only too stupid to do so) to the Village Council President (VCP) of Khantlang village under Mamit district. Khantlang is a Chakma village and the VCP too belongs to the Chakma community.
In Mizoram, the Chakmas whose population is about 100,000 are a minority community.
It so happened that the villagers of Khantlang rightly refused to freely allot any land to the Presbyterian Church, whose sole motive for extending its wings in the Chakma village is to convert the Buddhist Chakmas into Christianity. Surely, in this secular democratic India, the minority Chakmas do have the basic right to have a say on their community properties, including land and hence, they may decide not to allot (why should they freely allot any land to any body?) land to any one.
The SDO’s letter follows this.
In his letter, the SDO has stated that he was writing as per the direction of the Deputy Commissioner of Mamit district and has categorically threatened to stop all welfare facilities/schemes enjoyed by the Chakma villagers of Khantlang! The DC’s complicity in the use of coercion is clear.
Surprisingly, the SDO has invoked the secular principle of the Constitution to justify his threats saying that the VCP must not discriminate against Christians. Truly, there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion and caste. But discrimination is all that has been happening against the Buddhist Chakmas in Christian dominated Mizoram.
The Deputy Commissioner and the SDO have misused their good offices, powers and position to harass and threaten an elected representative (VCP) solely because he belongs to Chakma community and he dared to stand firm for defending the rights of his community.
The threat of the SDO to stop all welfare schemes and pro-poor programmes to the Chakma villagers of Khantlang is the height of abuse of democracy and rule of law in the state of Mizoram. The letter bears testimony to the silent persecution faced by the Chakmas in Mizoram. It equally exposes the fundamentalist and communal attitudes of some civil servants in the state.
When the minority people do not have a right of say in matters relating to their land and properties, culture and religion, there does not seem to be there an iota of democracy and freedom in this part of the country. The SDO thinks a threatening letter is all that it takes to forcibly grab a piece of land from the minority community in Mizoram.
May be the Chakmas will prove him wrong this time.
Friday, August 15, 2008
As India celebrates her 61st year of independence from the British rule, emotions run high in the minds and hearts of every Indian.
At the birth of independent India at the midnight of 14th August 1947, Pandit Nehru spoke about India’s “tryst with destiny”. The destiny, as I understand it, is the ultimate establishment of a real democracy where all are equal and free from wants. Alas, as we all know, this has not been realized thus far. The goal is too far yet…..
What is freedom? The poem of Rabindranath Tagore comes to my mind:
“WHERE the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
How true he was but the country failed to awake.
As the whole nation celebrates the Independence Day, today I am disgusted and a bit frustrated by the sorry state of affairs of my community people in the state of Mizoram, which is thought out to be one of the best governed states in the country.
I must pour out my angst and frustrations as a method of protest against the system, the rulers and type of governance which is solely responsible for such a pitiful state of the Chakmas of Mizoram.
In Mizoram there exists an “exclusionist structure” which systematically excludes the minorities of various kinds – religious, ethnic, and linguistic. We seem to extol the “unity in diversity” features of Indian democracy, but the extent of intolerance to “difference” (in religion, ethnicity, and language, among others) is very high in this tiny state in the North East.
The majority must learn to tolerate and accept the different cultures, customs, languages and religious beliefs which the population of Mizoram practices.
But, the truth is discrimination of the minority by the majority is systematic, often state sponsored, endemic and omnipresent.
There has been a tactical shift in the policies of suppression against the Chakmas. The Chakmas no longer face physical attacks or arson of their villages as openly as had been done by the majority in 1990s. Now, the attacks have been more subtle. The “covert assaults” suit to the image of Mizoram as a peaceful and progressive state.
The art of persecuting the minorities has been perfected by Mizoram, not Gujarat which has come under international criticisms for state sponsored massacre of over 2,000 Muslims in 2002. Surely, Mizoram has long ago understood that economic and social subjugation of the Chakmas would be the best tool to assault them – not physical attacks.
As a result of the continued state policies, the Chakmas who are the second largest ethnic, religious and linguistic minority group are the poorest in the state. They live in tattered bamboo houses under unhygienic conditions.
In the modern times, the jhum (traditional practice of agriculture of the Chakmas) has seen a gradual decrease in production due to rapid decrease of fertile forest land. In addition, long ago – perhaps with a strategic point in mind – the government had declared the forests around the Chakma habitations as “reserved forests” depriving the Chakma villagers the right to livelihood. For over two decades the Chakmas have ignored the government’s policies. But now they have begun to feel the pinch. The reserve forests have made the Chakmas vulnerable to arrest and harassment by the police as they would be forced to venture into these forbidden areas. Their vulnerability has ever since increased many fold as their need for more virgin forest lands increased due to rise in the population and decrease in food production.
Also, the policies of the government (however positive) to combat global warming could be disastrous to the survival of the Chakmas. Burning down of forests surely contributes to global warming but in the absence of any alternate sources of livelihood the Chakmas have been totally left in the lurch. I attach to the great importance of preserving the environment, but the government has failed to strike a fair balance between the need to protect nature and environment and the need to protect the Chakmas, who are minority in the state.
The government of Mizoram does not establish schools on its own, it is the villagers who first run schools for years before the government recognizing these schools.
The problem is the poor villagers cannot be expected to be able to fund higher education, including secondary education. In the absence of high schools in Chakma areas, students do not know what to do.
Worst, even the educated Chakma youths do not get state government jobs and are not likely to get because of various Recruitment Rules enacted by the state government which have made it mandatory for the candidates to have studied “Mizo” (language) as a subject up to the Middle School level. Chakma youths who have all the qualifications hence do not qualify. Prima facie this is discriminatory. While a Chakma candidate may be speaking Mizo language fluently, he or she will have to face rejection on the basis of not having Mizo subject upto Middle School standard. While it may be easy to learn the state language for a Chakma, it is not possible for his already graduate to add the Mizo subject in his Class VII marksheet, can he? While one may argue that all Chakmas of Mizoram must study Mizo subject in school level, the problem is what about those who go outside the state for studies. It is a fact that hundreds of Chakma children are studying in schools outside Mizoram where Mizo subject is not taught. It is different matter after all as to why the Chakmas are being forced to learn the Mizo literature subject?
It is not difficult to see how the Chakmas are caught in the net. There are no prospects for higher studies required for getting jobs, and even the educated youths are not likely to end up with a job under the state government due to the discriminatory Recruitment Rules. This means the Chakmas who have already been facing the wrath of economic suppression will remain to ever more struggle for survival. On the other hand, the stalking of diseases coupled with absolute lack of medical facilities in the rural areas will make the Chakmas all the more susceptible to threats to their lives.
Under these circumstances, you do not need to kill the Chakmas en masse like the Hindu government in Gujarat did. The government of Mizoram is giving the Chakmas a slow death with its policies of economic and social subjugation and systematic methods of deprivation, discrimination and neglect, which are undercurrent, imbibed in the very veins of the social and political structure of Mizoram.
This single line may aptly describe the present situation of the Chakmas in Mizoram – “Where the mind is full of fear, how can the head hold high?”
The fear comes from the “exclusionist structure” existent in Mizoram.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
On the night of 15 May 2005, Mr Thanthuama raped a 26-year-old Chakma woman after YMA members found 32 cakes of yeast used for making country liquor during a raid at her jhum hut. Instead of handing over the victim to the police, the accused took her to his home in the pretext of investigation. He forced her to cook food in the evening and raped her at night. Later, after his arrest, the accused confessed to raping the victim before the Lunglei police. (Branch YMA leader confesses to rape, The Newslink, Aizawl, 24 May 2005)
I hail the verdict.
After I came to know of the incident through the Newslink newspaper in May 2005, I was extremely sad that such thing should happen to a poor woman. In Mizoram, selling of liquor is totally banned. But the law should take its own course and a woman should not be raped for allegedly selling or manufacturing country liquor as punishment. More, I was skeptical whether the accused would be brought to justice as he held a post with very powerful Young Mizo Association and the victim belonged to a minority community. But today, my conviction in the fairness of the Indian judiciary has been strengthened as the rapist stands convicted in the court of law.
A rapist must be punished severely and despised by the society for his inhuman act. But I could not know about the sentence.
The death of 19 persons due to malaria in one month (June-July 2008) in the Chakma dominated village of Marpara in western Mizoram is shockingly disturbing. More shocking is the fact that 15 of them were children. This is only the official figure of the deaths; the unofficial toll is higher. I have been informed that in neighboring Silsury, also a Chakma village under Mamit district, as many as 30-40 persons, if not more, died in June and July 2008 but there has been no official documentation of the deaths. Importantly again, the majority of the deaths were children.
These deaths are only the tip of the iceberg. The larger problem is that the entire western belt of Mizoram inhabited by the minority ethnic Chakmas does not have any semblance of healthcare system.
Yet, the state government does not seem to be at all concerned.
a. Deaths in election year
It seems lives in this part of the planet are considered so less valuable that even high number of unnatural deaths are not officially recorded or reported.
This is not the first time that such a high number of deaths have taken place in a Chakma village in a given year. But this is certainly the first time in the recent memory that the figure has been officially reported and accepted. Every year dozens of Chakmas die of malaria and other “unknown” diseases but get no attention from the government, let alone medical aid.
But 19 deaths in a village within a month in an election year have knocked the sleep off the Mizo National Front government which immediately dispatched a medical team to Marpara and Silsury to take the situation under control. The team reportedly tested blood samples and distributed medicines and mosquito nets. Although I hugely appreciate the wisdom of the Zoramthanga government to send a medical team, I ask - why do politicians act only in times of elections? The mosquito nets and malaria pills were very much necessary throughout the whole year, in particular during the monsoon, but the authorities distributed them to the poor people only after some deaths have been reported. Is it merely a face saving formula and not a genuine effort to contain malaria, the most dreaded disease in the state?
b. Absence of healthcare facilities in Chakma areas
Any genuine effort to combat malaria, or for that matter any other disease, must be holistic. Ad hoc and temporary medical teams are not sufficient to meet the challenges created due to absolute vacuum of healthcare services in the entire western belt of the state. For decades, the healthcare system in the Chakma areas in the western belt has been neglected.
Although Mizoram is one of the 18 “high focus states” in the National Rural Health Mission (2005-2012), the basic healthcare facility is yet to reach the Chakma areas of Mizoram. The goal of the NRHM “to improve the availability of and access to quality healthcare by people, especially for those residing in rural areas, the poor, women and children” is still an unrealistic dream for the entire Chakma population. Forget about the “availability of and access to quality healthcare”, the Chakma villagers are not fortunate even to know the name of the disease which took away the lives of their beloved. While malaria is a household name, other deaths are often attributed to “unknown” diseases. In this age of advanced medical sciences, Chakmas of Mizoram still live in Dark Ages.
The apathy of the state government towards the welfare of the Chakmas has been the single most important factor responsible for this pathetic state of affairs.
188 km away from Aizawl, Marpara villages (I and II) have a combined population of about 2,500. Yet, there is only one Primary Health Centre – that too very ill equipped – to cater to the medical needs of the people of Marpara North and South villages and other neighboring villages like Tarabonye, Hruiduk, and Hnahva. In the PHC, there is no MBBS doctor and the wellbeing of the villagers is being looked after by a Chakma health worker who the villagers know as the “doctor”. Similarly, the Sub Centre in Silsury village (having a population of over 1,000) is being manned by a Chakma health worker. The Sub Centre is in shambles and the Mizo staffs posted in the Sub Centre have taken transfer to elsewhere.
Yet, Marpara and Silsury which are considerably large in size and populations are rated among the best of the Chakma villages in the western belt in terms of access to medical facilities and medicines. If such are the conditions of these two “best” villages, one can imagine the conditions of the other Chakma villages.
In the 21st century the lives of the Chakmas of Mizoram continue to fragilely lie at the mercy of the self trained medics and traditional herbal “doctors” (“Boddyo” in Chakma tongue) who apply their great intuition rather than medical expertise while attending a patient. Despite their lack of sufficient medical skills, these self trained medics have played critical roles in saving a number of precious lives.
In the doomed land of the Chakmas – the western belt of Mizoram – the villagers wait for Death in the absence of medical facilities and doctors. The visuals are still vivid in my mind when one day I visited a seriously sick child (aged about 4 years) in a Chakma village where there is not a single doctor. Many Boddyos (Chakma herbal doctors) were called to save the child but nothing helped. I never felt so helpless in my life as we all waited for the child to die. How we wished there were roads and cars in the village so that we immediately shifted the child to a hospital in Aizawl. In the towns and cities even a minute is crucial to save a life. But in the Chakma hinterland in Mizoram, people just wait for Death, helplessly.
It seems as if we live somewhere in the dense jungles of Africa and not in a rising nation like India. It’s an utter shame!
Yet I am surprised to see a government data of March 2007 which stated that Mizoram had 366 Sub Centres against the required 146; 57 Primary Health Centres against required 22; and 9 Community Health Centres against required 5 in the state! The same data points out that there were 39 doctors at PHCs against required 57 (that is shortfall of 18), there were 303 Heath Workers against required 366 (that is shortfall of 63); but surprisingly no shortfall of Health Assistants (both male and female).
If there is no shortfall, then why there is no medical staffs (health assistants) in Chakma villages, say in Silsury village which has only a health worker at the Sub Centre looking after for over 1,000 villagers?
If there are more than required Sub Centres, as the government has claimed, why is that there is no Sub Centre in Chakma villages including Tarabonye, Hnahva and Hruiduk under Mamit district?
c. Chakmas - victims of state apathy
That the Chakmas have been victims of state apathy is beyond doubt. But whenever the Chakmas level charges of discrimination, denial and apathy against the state government, Aizawl tends to dismiss those charges by giving the impression that they are enjoying self rule under the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) in Lawngtlai district and hence the state government is not to be blamed for their miserable socio-economic and health conditions. But Aizawl will never stress the fact that out of total of about 100,000 Chakmas, about 50% live in areas (particularly under Lunglei and Mamit districts) falling outside the jurisdiction of CADC and they are the most discriminated lot. They are the poorest and most illiterate. Majority of the Chakmas living outside the CADC live in tattered bamboo houses. Their living conditions are shabby and unhygienic which make them most vulnerable to diseases.
In absence of health centres/medical staff in the rural areas, the poor who cannot go to Aizawl for treatment are most likely to die if the self trained medics and Chakma “Boddyos” raise their hands in surrender. It is nothing sort of miracle that some still survive.
The situation is more aggravated due to lack of proper transport system connecting the villages to hospitals.
Yet still, the Chakmas continue to be at the mercy of a section of the hardliners in the society who scrupulously try to block roads to meet their political ends. In the first week of April 2008, there was a blockade against the Chakmas of Marpara, Silsury, Hnahva, Hruiduk and Tarabonye at Mizo village Pukzing by the Pukzing villagers who were protesting against some old demarcation of village boundaries. While the fight ought to have been against the government which is responsible for official demarcation of village council boundaries, the Mizos of Pukzing chose to vent their ire on the most vulnerable – the Chakmas. The blockade called “the Chakma blockade” was intended to be “indefinite” but the protestors were forced by the district officials to withdraw after the second day as it was illegal and immoral. The socalled blockade was informed only through the press but since newspapers do not reach the Chakma villages, the Chakmas were caught unawares. On the first day of the blockade, no Chakma was allowed to pass through Pukzing, the only point of transit for the Chakma villagers to the outside world. The Chakmas traveling on the Mizoram State Transport bus from Marpara to Aizawl were forced to get off and threatened with violence if they did not return home. Despite repeated pleas, even the ailing Chakmas, old men, and pregnant women were not allowed to go with the bus but had to walk on foot back to Marpara which is more than 20 kms away from Pukzing.
The Chakmas faced all the problems for no fault of theirs but authorities failed to take any action against those responsible for imposing a blockade against a minority community which is “racial, communal, illegal and unconstitutional”. The incident was unprecedented and will remain a blot in the social history of Mizoram.
d. Final words
The government of Mizoram cannot remain a blind or silent spectator to the problems facing the minority Chakmas. The Chakmas’ right to enjoy “the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health”, among others, must be ensured as best as possible.
Aizawl must not act only in times of elections but every time and all the time to ensure that not a single precious live is lost due to curable diseases or during child birth. Apart from sending regular medical teams to the rural areas, the state government must put in place permanent structures – health centres, doctors and adequate and regular supply of essential quality drugs must be ensured in every village.
As a short term and effective measure, the government of Mizoram can identify the self trained medics (who otherwise do not have academic qualification to practice medicine) and provide them necessary training and facilities at the expense of the public exchequer to enhance their medical knowledge and expertise to deal with the most common diseases in the rural areas such as malaria, typhoid, jaundice etc. This is the best immediate step the state government can take in the absence of doctors, health centres and medical staff in the rural areas.
However, the long term approaches should be to facilitate Chakma students from Mizoram who aspire to pursue medical courses by providing them financial assistance including scholarships.
Making all government doctors compulsorily serve in rural areas, including Chakma areas for at least five years each is also not a bad idea. This could help overcome the lack of doctors in remote rural areas.
Friday, July 4, 2008
I agreed to play if my neck allowed me (I was having pain in the neck due to wrong sleeping posture).
Sunday, the 29th June 2008 came. I was waiting for a phone call from my friend Tejang to know if the match would be held. Till 7-30 in the morning, he did not ring me. And I thought the match must have stood cancelled due to lack of players till I got another call from him ten minutes later.
We reached the play ground, a park in Janakpuri where the Chakma boys were already practicing. I saw three other teams playing on their own pitches. No one fought for space.
The game was about to begin. The players were counted. No team could not bring 11 each. The Naraina team was one short, and we were one more. So we generously lent Mukul, who is a good player to the opposition team. We made 8 in each team.
Each inning was decided at 15 overs.
The coin was tossed and our team was asked to bat first. To my surprise, I was asked to open. I murmured a few words saying to myself I had no experience to bat first.
I have not played cricket for the last five years which stole the practice out of me. In school, I had played the game. Occasionally, we also used to take the field in the village (when I went during long holidays after end of examinations).
Yet, I think I did fairly well hitting the ball off the fence at least two times. I also picked up some singles. But mostly my bat was missing the ball due to lack of practice.
Many players of my team did wonderfully with the bat. Tejang scored most individual runs with several master strokes.
We set a target of 121 before the opposition at the end of 15 overs.
The opposition made a bad start but they managed to recover in the end when they made most of the runs. At a point of time, we thought they were going to win until the last wicket fell. The wicket keeper caught my good friend Ranjoy behind the stumps and appealed for his dismissal. The bowler and other players appealed too. It seemed the ball hit the bat by a fraction. But there was no third empire or a possibility of a reply. It could have been a controversial dismissal, but Ranjay, a gentleman that he is, nodded his head in approval even before the empire pronounced his decision.
The opposition were short of 4 runs.
We celebrated our win. Took a rest. The opposition captain handed over the prize money (Match fee of Rs 50 by each player) to our captain. All of us held a discussion regarding the modalities for holding another match. Another cricket match was fixed.
We shook hands and departed.
The winning team (we also brought “our man” Mukul with us) gathered in a room. It’s time for celebration.
In the celebration room, captain Victor handed over the man of the match trophy (a bottle of beer Haywards 50000) to Tejang and everybody cheered for him. As a show of kind gesture to me, I was given the second beer bottle, my trophy as best debutant, although no such trophy might have existed in the game of cricket.
In the glee, we discussed how our bowling was awfully bad. 30% of the total runs were conceded by our bowlers through wide and no balls.
But no one criticized anyone. It was a game played simply to derive fun.
The Chakmas are a small, marginalized community in this planet. The losing side had not the slight feeling of dejection. It was partly because everybody of us was silently aware of the social importance attached to a cricket match such as this one.
Personally, I derived the greatest satisfaction although the next day my entire body was aching. Many cricket matches have been played by the Chakmas in Delhi grounds but this was the first time I participated.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The Shillong Times, 26 June 2008 (http://www.theshillongtimes.com/editorial.html)
By: Paritosh Chakma
This article is in defence of the Inner Line Permit regulations in Mizoram in the wake of the recent Gauhati High Court judgement that Mizoram government should not arrest or deport any body for not having valid inner line permit (ILP). I was aghast to hear the judgement. What are the police expected to do if not arrest an "illegal outsider"? The Court's order has definitely provided impunity to all those staying on in the state without the valid papers. Illegal outsiders can pose serious threats to the peace and security of the state.
The government of Mizoram has announced that it would challenge the High Court order "up to the Supreme Court".
If there is a law in place, all must abide by it and defaulters must be punished. The legal formalities under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873 require any Indian Citizen who is not a resident of Mizoram to have an Inner Line Pass to enter the state. Two other North Eastern states - Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh also have the ILP system.
Foreigners touring North East India are required to obtain Restricted Area Permit from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Most mainland Indians and non-tribals of the N-E region oppose the ILP system on the ground that restrictions violate the fundamental rights of the citizens of India including the right to free movement throughout the country and to take up employment. But everyone must understand that the Inner Line Permit is a "protective discrimination" for the indigenous populations of the states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, introduced by the British to protect the indigenous populations from the onslaught of "the outsiders" and has been retained in Independent India.
The ILP's aim is not to harass or prevent entry of non-Mizo Indian nationals per se but to secure the future of the natives by protecting the sanctity of their socio-cultural rights, preventing demographic upheaval leading to invasion of their political bastion by the "outsiders" which has been the case with Tripura. Due to the large-scale influx from Bangladesh, the indigenous peoples of Tripura have been reduced to minority. The defeat of another North Eastern state - Assam - in identifying and deporting millions of illegal Bangladeshis is also known to all of us.
The guidelines for enforcement of the Inner Line Regulation in Mizoram notified on 8.9.2006 clearly state that the visitors must not be harassed at the check gates: "Therefore, the method of checking should be as simple as possible, yet effective so that no one who is required to possess an Inner Line Pass, enters without a pass".
Protecting the natives from influx and demographic invasion by "outsiders" was one of the top priorities in the minds of the Mizo leaders when they demanded statehood. Thus, the Mizoram Accord of 1986 between the Mizo National Front and the government of India provides that "The Inner Line Regulation, now in force in Mizoram, will not be amended or repealed without consulting the State Government." It would have been far better had MNF supremo Mr Laldenga stressed for insertion of the word "consent" in place of "consulting", for "consultation" is not always equal to obtaining "consent" of a party. "Consent" requires the approval of the concerned party who has the right to say "no".
Issuing of ILPs is "subject to availability of a sponsor who is a bonafide indigenous resident (of Mizoram)" and their renewal or extension is allowed "subject to the good conduct of the ILP holder that he/she is not involved in any criminal activity". Hence, it is clear that the system seeks to be an effective mechanism to check illegal infiltration of "outsiders" and their illegal activities in Mizoram.
The ILP's aim is not to harass or prevent entry of non-Mizo Indian nationals per se but to secure the future of the natives by protecting the sanctity of their socio-cultural rights, preventing demographic upheaval leading to invasion of their political bastion by the "outsiders" which has been the case with Tripura. Due to the large-scale influx from Bangladesh, the indigenous peoples of Tripura have been reduced to minority. The defeat of another North Eastern state - Assam - in identifying and deporting millions of illegal Bangladeshis is also known to all of us.
Land is the most important source of livelihood and critical for our survival. Yet, the tribals have been losing their lands to the non-tribals across the country despite presence of various legal safeguards. The Constitution of India under the 5th Schedule protects the land rights of the tribals in mainland India. In the North East India, the 6th Schedule of the Constitution authorizes the Autonomous District Councils to make appropriate laws against land alienation. In addition, at the state level, there are numerous laws prohibiting transfer of lands from indigenous/ tribal peoples to "non-tribals". But the non-tribals have been successful in taking control of the lands belonging to the tribals by adopting various tricks including fraudulent means, marrying tribal women, harassment through police and goons, in addition to purchasing although transfer of tribal lands to non-tribals is illegal.
According to the 2007-2008 Annual Report of the Ministry of Rural Development, a total of 506,307 cases of tribal land alienation have been registered (involving 902,417 acres of land) in India so far. The statistics provided in the report further proves that the tribals have been losing their legal battles in the Courts to recover their lands. Out of the total of 430,450 cases (involving 851,372 acres of land) disposed of by the Courts in the country, 46.1% (198,674 cases involving 410,587 acres of land) were decided against the tribals which means the tribal victims could not get back their lands. Lack of proper legal documents proving ownership of the land and inability to hire good lawyers to fight the cases in Court often acted against the tribals while seeking to restore the alienated land.
There has been no report of any alienation of tribal lands in Mizoram and the state government too has not released any such data. The Inner Line Permit regulation has been instrumental in averting such illegal activities by non-locals. On 1 April 2008, Mizoram Home Minister Mr Tawnluia informed the State Assembly that 22 Bangladeshis who entered the state illegally were arrested and deported to Bangladesh during 2007-2008.
In order to protect the interests of the indigenous peoples of Mizoram, it is extremely necessary that the Inner Line Permit system is strictly enforced. But ILP is not enforced strictly. For example, every non-Mizo resident passenger is asked to produce ILP during entry at the check gate at Vairangte, but I have not seen the law enforcement personnel checking the validity of the ILP of the persons during exit. If police do not check the ILP validity during exit, it means any ILP holder can overstay in the state without the fear of being caught and prosecuted for the crime. At the same time, it is equally important that no bonafide citizen of India, irrespective of caste, creed, sex, colour or religion, or any foreigner having entered the state for valid purposes with valid papers should be harassed in any way. In order to detect illegal outsiders, the police have been entrusted with the duty to conduct "surprise checks" in every district at least once in a month. However, due to the failure of the police to do so, there have been reports of raids conducted by non-state actors to identify the alleged illegal outsiders. Such acts, though done while keeping in mind the interests of the state, are absolutely illegal and uncalled for. This will further create a deep sense of fear among the non-locals including tourists which is not in the wholesome interest of the state.
It is everyone's duty to uphold the human rights of ALL while enforcing the laws of the land.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
(The Hindu, Open Page, 22 June 2008, http://www.hindu.com/op/2008/06/22/stories/2008062250011600.htm)
Has non-violence lost ground to violent protests in the land of Mahatma Gandhi?
In India everyone has the right to protest peacefully. But such protests often turn violent. The recent violent protest by Gujjars in Rajasthan demanding tribal status is one example. The protests hit the headlines of very national newspapers and the electronic media in particular the TV news channels were covering almost every bit of the news of Gujjars.
The Justice Jasraj Chopra Committee set up by the Rajasthan government and the Union Law Ministry have stated that Gujjars of Rajasthan do not qualify for inclusion as a Scheduled Tribe. Yet, the government of Rajasthan has recommended to the Centre for providing “4 to 6 per cent reservation” to the Gujjars under the category of denotified tribe. The Gujjar leaders have been almost immediately invited for talks.
The Gujjars are fortunate enough to be residing in states which are bordering New Delhi. They are at strategic advantage to be able to block all roads to Delhi and can trouble the government at the Centre. Else, if the Gujjars were, for example in the far away North East India, New Delhi would not have cared so much about them despite all their efforts to create instability and unrest. They would have never got the limelight that they are getting.
More brutal protests
Many ethnic communities in the North East have been trying unsuccessfully to draw the attention of the Centre towards their miserable plight, injustice, and underdevelopment due to the policies of the Central government. Many other minority communities are opposing their respective state governments’ discriminatory policies. Many communities have taken up arms against the government of India. Thousands have died, fighting goes on regularly; yet, who cares? It requires the demonstration of some brutality in the North East for the incident to find a small place in the front page of newspapers in mainland India.
In the land of Mahatma Gandhi the method of non-violence is fast losing grounds and support. Gandhigiri may have become a fashionable concept, but it certainly does not work on the street. Our political leaders and rulers swear by Gandhi, exhort the people to follow Gandhian principles and export Gandhism but do not care for considering the demands, if raised through non-violent ways. The government has often responded to the peaceful protests led by social activist Medha Patkar by arresting her and restricting her rights. The conditions of the poor and displaced people for whom Ms Patkar/ Narmada Bachao Andolan is fighting for, continue to remain grim.
Irom Sharmila of Manipur can rightly be called the greatest living Gandhian. She has been fasting for more than seven years seeking repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Manipur. Even the colonial British Empire shook when Gandhiji fasted to protest British government’s policies. But the government of India has responded by detaining the “iron lady” of Manipur while throwing the recommendations of the Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee, appointed by the Prime Minister himself to review the AFSPA, out of the window. The committee recommended for repeal of the Act. If you do not implement the recommendations of a commission/ committee why do you set up that commission/committee in the first place and waste so much of tax payers’ money?
While India and Indians may criticize the military junta of Burma for continued detention of Nobel peace prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the non-violent movement for human rights and democracy in Burma, how is the Indian government different?
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Nepal is now a secular democratic republic. I feel good for the Nepali people. Gyanendra, the King, had become an absolute despot and had no interest in the welfare of the ruled. The future of the Nepalis was to be more frightening and insecure under crown prince Paras who was a drug addict, alcoholic, womanizer and had all qualities which are not befitting a king. He had beaten innocent people on the streets.
The people of Nepal must be commended for their unity and valour during the Peoples Movement II to overthrow the absolute despotic ruler. They have succeeded.
Apart from victory of the democratic spirit of the Nepalis, the socalled Bishnu avator stands exposed to the people. King Gyanendra, once considered the God in the Flesh, has become plain old Mr Gyanendra.
We must understand that in the modern world, it is not God’s divine policy but politics and diplomacy that make, remake and sustain governments in whatever forms they are. Vir Sanghvi has rightly pointed out - “But all this Vishnu avatar stuff hides a seamier reality. In many ways, the modern Nepal monarchy is not a creation of Brahma, Vishnu or Mahesh at all. It is a creation of New Delhi’s South Block.”
With the fall of the last Hindu king, the worst losers are the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS) who took immense pride in Nepal as a model Hindu rashtra. Now, the former King of Nepal will have to fight it out in the streets – with folded hands to the people he ruled with brutal hands and merciless heart, if he wants to remain a ruler or a player in the government. This is what he is most unlike to do. Ramchandra Guha, eminent Historian suggests a strange formula to give respect the last king of Nepal deserves from the Hindus. He says ".............the now homeless, jobless, commoner carrying the name of Gyanendra can be invited to Nagpur to assume a honoured place among the men who presume to lead the Hindus of the world.”
Nepal has taught many other societies of the world - where rulers assume divine roles to rule the people for ever - to rethink whether such rulers do really have the sanction of God to rule the people the way they like to. If not, why should we allow them to fool us and rob us?
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Mizoram Chakmas demand political rights and right to development: Joint Memorandum submitted to Ms Sonia Gandhi
Marpara “S”, BPO- Marpara, Lunglei district, Mizoram-796431
14 June 2008
Mizoram Chakmas demand Sixth Schedule status
Marpara [Mizoram]: Today, a conglomerate of Chakma civil society groups namely, Mizoram Chakma Welfare Committee (MCWC), Young Chakma Association (YCA), Mizoram Chakma Students Union (MSCU), Chakma Mahila Samitti and Sajek Valley Chakma Youth Forum (SVCYF) submitted a joint representation to Smt. Sonia Gandhi when she visited Chakma–dominated Marpara village near the India-Bangladesh border, seeking that all the Chakma dominated areas of Mizoram be brought under the Sixth Schedule provisions of the Indian Constitution or be put under a “Single Administrative Unit”. The Chakmas who are the most backward tribal community in the state feel such a step by the Central government is necessary for their speedy development as they are discriminated under the Mizo rule.
Presently there is a Chakma Autonomous District Council, but the Joint Memorandum pointed out that nearly fifty percent of the Chakmas of Mizoram have been left out of the Chakma ADC and they are the most deprived lot. Justifying the demand, Chakmas alleged that successive governments at Aizawl did nothing to improve their living conditions in areas falling outside the CADC.
Issues of non-implementation of welfare and development schemes in Chakma areas, mass deletion of Chakma voters from electoral rolls in the 1990s, discrimination under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), mass displacement due to ongoing Indo-Bangladesh border fencing, lack of relief to Chakma villagers affected by the bamboo famine, denial of benefits of the Border Area Development Programmes although Chakmas live on the border, denial of forest rights, non-existence of medical facilities, lack of reservations in government jobs, and lack of alternate source of livelihood at a time when the Forest Department has been busy declaring all forests as Reserved Forests around the Chakma habitations, among others, have been highlighted before Ms Gandhi.
Smt. Sonia Gandhi is on a tour to West and South Mizoram to take stock of the impacts of “Mautam” on the people. [Ends]
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Government of India’s flagship programme for achievement of universalization of elementary education. The 86th amendment to the Constitution of India (2002) has made “free and compulsory education” to all children of the age group of six to fourteen years a Fundamental Right. The SSA programme is being implemented across the country in partnership with the state governments. Hence the role of the state government officials is crucial in the success of this education mission.
The government of Mizoram started implementing the SSA during the financial year 2000-2001. After seven years of operation, Mizoram has certainly benefited in terms of enrolment of students. In February 2008, State Education Minister Dr R Lalthangliana stated that Mizoram has “almost achieved total enrollment in primary education”. But has SSA Mission in Mizoram been able to provide quality education? Far away from providing quality education, Mizoram SSA Mission has become another tool at the hands of the state to breed discrimination against the Chakma minority community in the state, at least in the areas falling outside the political borders of the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC).
The Mizoram SSA Mission’s slogan is “Mi Tin Tana Zirna Leh Hmasawnna” which means “Education and Development for All”. But it seems that “all” does not include the Chakmas. The functioning and administration of SSA in Chakma areas has been frustrating, to say the least.
Worst, a particular SSA Mizoram official has even come out to publicly call the Chakmas as “nomads” and thereby justified the reasons for SSA for not been able to educate them. Such remark can only emerge out of utter ignorance about the Chakmas and/or due to the personal prejudice against this community. If he was referring to the traditional Jhum cultivation practiced by most Chakmas, which requires shifting from place to place every year, why, even a vast number of Mizo villagers survive on this traditional form of agriculture. The SSA official in question must be aware that Jhum is increasingly being recognized in this civilized world as a form of agriculture, not a “nomadic” lifestyle of the tribals. That Jhumming in traditional form destroys the forests and ecology is a different subject matter.
The reality of SSA Mizoram is completely different on the ground. The SSA has become a breeding ground for rampant discrimination and injustice against the Chakmas in Mizoram!
This author has recently visited some Chakma-dominated villages in western side of Mizoram, bordering Bangladesh and found several disturbing facts about the functioning of the SSA Mission in the Chakma areas.
First, almost in every school under SSA established in Chakma dominated villages, a Mizo teacher has been appointed along with the Chakma teacher, even if qualified Chakma candidates were available for appointment. These Mizo teachers cannot speak the Chakma language, the mother tongue of the Chakmas and the Chakma children at primary and upper primary level would understand neither Mizo language nor English. In such circumstances, it is quite difficult for the Mizo teachers to communicate with the Chakma students, let alone teach them the lessons. If the students cannot learn, how will the SSA Mission be of any help to them? Hence, mere enrolment will not lead to universalization of primary education which is the mission of SSA in India.
Second, appointments of Mizo teachers have been made without any prior consultation with the local Village Education Committee, headed by the President of the concerned Village Council. The District Project Coordinator, who is the head of SSA at district level, is acting as the judge and jury in the matters of appointment, transfer or termination of the SSA teachers.
Third, most of the Mizo teachers who have been appointed in Chakma villages are non-locals and they hail from villages far away from the Chakma village where they have been given appointment. They do not stay in the Chakma village, among the Chakmas, to teach the Chakmas. In other words, they do not attend classes. In a few cases, the school children have not even seen the faces of their Mizo teachers as they never came to teach them but these teachers continue to draw monthly salaries without any problem. This is an absurd democratic practice and model of professionalism which Mizoram is unfortunately trying to impart to the people! The loss is directly caused to the Chakmas who would not receive good education. But the loss is also to the state and the country as a whole, as children are considered to be the assets of the nation.
Fourth, some of the Mizo teachers have already been transferred to SSA schools in Mizo villages from Chakma villages where they have been actually appointed. Such transfers are completely illegal and arbitrarily decided by the concerned District Project Coordinator. (Many other Mizo teachers are probably waiting for their chances of transfer.) In consequent to such transfers, the SSA school (which usually has two teachers only) is left with the lone Chakma teacher to teach the entire school whose strength is not less than 50 students. Can a teacher effectively teach 50-60 students of different classes? If the answer is yes, it is not difficult for anyone to guess about the quality of education being imparted in these schools. The lone teacher should be devoting his/her time and energy to controlling the kids who are usually naughty and noisy rather than teaching their lessons. Surprisingly, the post left vacant due to the transfer has never been considered as “vacant” and notified as such for appointment of another teacher.
Fifth, as visible from above, the SSA Mission has turned out to be a job vending machine for some Mizo youths. Jobs are first created in Chakma areas, only to be transferred to the Mizo villages later.
In addition, the Chakma teachers could face termination from services any time without following the due procedures. In a particular case which this author has come across during his visit, a Chakma teacher in a Chakma village was terminated from job without any formal notice by the District Project Coordinator (DPC), SSA, Mamit district. The only cause for the dismissal, which was verbally informed to the Chakma teacher, was that there has been a complaint against the Assam Sanskrit Board, Guwahati from where this Chakma teacher did his matriculation, alleging that the Assam Sanskrit Board was not recognized and hence all certificates issued by the Board should be deemed as fake. It is worth-mentioning that there was no complaint against this Chakma teacher individually. Hence, verification if any should have been conducted into the genuineness of the Assam Sanskrit Board, not against the Chakma teacher. Yet, without verification of the allegation contained in the purported complaint, he was dismissed from job, albeit verbally. A Mizo girl who was a staff of the DPC office, Mamit, was appointed by the DPC in place of the Chakma teacher. This Mizo girl, who hails from Mamit town, has never attended class but continues to draw regular monthly salaries. Later, when a Chakma student submitted a written complaint with the State Project Director of SSA Mizoram, Aizawl on behalf of the deposed Chakma teacher, the DPC Mamit, as part of compromise, issued an order appointing the deposed Chakma teacher as Education Volunteer at the same school at fixed pay of Rs 2,000 per month up to December 2008 on the condition that he may be dismissed from job any time without any notice! Seemingly, the Chakma teacher was denial promotion as an “upgraded teacher” (which would have increased his monthly salary to Rs 8,000) solely because he was a Chakma. While this Chakma teacher is trying hard to educate the school children, most of who are from his community, the Mizo lady teacher is enjoying her fat salaries as an “upgraded teacher” staying in her home town Mamit without attending any class. If this is not “injustice”, what is “injustice”? If this is not “discrimination” then what is “discrimination”? Of course, this is a clear case of racial discrimination and injustice against the Chakmas of the state in general.
The SSA Mission Mizoram is clearly further dividing the two biggest tribal communities (Chakma and Mizo) of the state on communal line. As a result, the Chakmas residing outside the CADC areas see the SSA Mizoram as a curse than a blessing for them.
Is SSA Mission in Mizoram a mission to educate or to discriminate against the Chakmas? The SSA must attempt to promote a holistic approach to education, human rights and embody a pluralistic and non-discriminatory view of society. Therefore, Mr V.Ralliana, the State Project Director, SSA Mizoram and Chief Minister Mr Zoramthanga as the Chairman of the Governing Body, SSA Mizoram must enforce the mechanisms of checks and balances in case of any misuse of power by any officer and launch an investigation into the non-attendance of classes by Mizo SSA teachers appointed in Chakma areas, illegal transfers made so far, and arbitrary denial of promotion of Chakma teachers, among others.
A prompt and impartial high-level investigation is must to probe into the ongoing discrimination and injustices against the Chakmas under the SSA Mission in order to establish fairness, transparency and accountability to achieve the goal of universalization of elementary education in Mizoram apart from delivering quality elementary education for the betterment of the society.
[For further understanding of the educational problems of the Chakmas of Mizoram, read: The illiterate children of a literate mother: The case of the Chakmas of Mizoram ]