Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One year of blogging......!!


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

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Congress' "electoral Tsunami" in Mizoram: Why the Congress won a landsliding victory

By - Paritosh Chakma
In the recently concluded MLA elections, the Congress surprised every one by winning 32 seats in the 40-member Legislative Assembly! This surpassed even Congress workers’ own imaginations. It was "electoral Tsunami" for the Congress. The ruling MNF was almost rooted out, struggling to get 3 seats. The newly formed alliance UDA, despite all its tall claims proved to be no factor with 4 seats.

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:

Killing of Rev. Chanchinmawia: Rev. Chanchinmawia, a veteran and influential Church leader, was allegedly killed. The murder has remained a mystery so far. The accusing figure pointed towards the complicity of the MNF government. The MNF was “compelled” to hand over the case to the CBI, after the Mizoram Police made no headway. The inability of the MNF government to bring the killers to justice did not go well with the Mizoram Presbyterian Synod, the state’s apex church. The church, it is an open secret, plays crucial roles in Mizoram elections. Extremely religious that the Mizos are, the killing of Rev. Chanchinmawia and indifference of the MNF government to nail to killers took the common Mizos away from the MNF.

Corruption: The Congress alleged that Zoramthanga administration was involved in huge corruption of BAFFOCOS money released by the Congress-led UPA government to combat the bamboo famine menace. The visit and lecture of Dr Manmohan Singh in Aizawl who exposed Zoramthanga government’s corruption and inability to deliver good goverance was enough to woo the learned Aizawlites. He shifted the winds in favor of the Congress as the Mizo voters wanted a change for good and corruption free governance. This is evident as the Congress won 8 out of 11 seats in Aizawl city.

Anti-incumbency factor: The Congress did brilliantly exploit the anti-incumbency factor against the MNF. During 10-year rule of the MNF only the leaders (including in the rural areas) benefited financially but not the poor masses. The MNF ignored the masses and paid heavily for this policy. The Congress could convince the voters that it would bring a change. The verdict against the MNF was so strong that Chief Minister Zoramthanga lost in both the seats he contested. This shows the frastration of the people agaisnt his rule and leadership during the 10-year MNF regime.

NLUP card: The Congress played the NLUP card by promising 1 lakh rupees of financial assistance under NLUP scheme for socio-economic development. General voters, especially in the rural areas do “recognize” money and they want some piece of concrete assurance from the political parties. The MNF had nothing new to offer.

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

Conditions of minorities in Mizoram

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.

Mizoram

I. Overview

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/)