Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mizoram needs an English news website

By - Paritosh Chakma

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

Are Chakmas indigenous/ tribals?


I have come across this question many a times in various forums (particularly on the internet) as to whether the Chakmas of Bangladesh and India are indigenous or tribals in their own countries. Being a Chakma, I want to answer to the question in my own ways.

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.

The Chakmas, now a marginalized backward community, were once the rulers of themselves before the colonization. They have retained much of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions while fighting for their rights in the present day political set up. This rightly fits them into the definition of “indigenous peoples” or “tribals”.

There may be much more additions, but this is how I have simplified my answer.
(Note: Photo courtesy- Indigenous Jumma People's Network, USA)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Victims of Barbed wire: Chakmas of Mizoram being denied compensation and justice

By- Paritosh Chakma
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 pchakma@gmail.com)

For further information, read http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2008/02/india-bangladesh-border-fencing-in.html