Monday, December 29, 2008

Mizoram: Horrible conditions of the border Chakmas


By - Paritosh Chakma
In the pic: a Chakma house
I have just returned from a visit to Mizoram. The conditions of the minority Chakmas living along the Mizoram-Bangladesh borders are horrible.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

[1]. See http://mha.nic.in/pdfs/BM_BADP(E).pdf
[2]. BADP funds go unutilised: Reports, The Newslink, Aizawl, 15 July 2008

2 comments:

Ravilochanan said...

My heart weeps out for the Chakmas. If the Buddhists are unable to maintain their culture in the land of Buddha, where else can they? The government must have some common sense and help resettle the Chakmas. It must also ensure that they are able to live a decent life with their self esteem intact.

Paritosh Chakma said...

Thanks a million for your solidarity and support for the Chakmas of Mizoram. Indeed, what I am speaking is nothing but the bare truths about the situation of the Chakmas along the border. Alas, the state government does not care a shit for them.