Friday, December 4, 2009

Press Release- MBDPF condemns use of violence

[Note: I have received the following press release from the Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum]

Head Office: Naisingpara Relief Camp, P.O. Gachirampara, Tripura (N)-799271

2 December 2009


MBDPF condemns use of violence

Agartala: The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the representative body of the Brus displaced from Mizoram, has taken note of the statement of the Mizoram NGOs’ Coordination Committee that the “Brus will not be repatriated until and unless they shun violence and militant activities against the Mizos”.

“We condemn without any reservation all forms of violence whether committed by a Bru or a Mizo or a member of any other community” - stated Mr Elvis Chorkhy, President of MBDPF.

The MBDPF reiterates that it has never engaged in violence and consistently condemned the use of violence in any form by any individual or organisation. The MBDPF therefore immediately condemned the killing of a Mizo youth, Zarzokima on November 13th and urged the government to investigate and punish the culprits. The MBDPF further stated that its President Elvis Chorky himself was held hostage for 22 days in June 2007 by the armed groups.

The MBDPF appealed to the Mizoram NGOs’ Coordination Committee which includes the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and other civil society organizations to unequivocally condemn the use of violence by any group or community. We fervently appeal to these civil society organizations to condemn violence against the Brus that was unleashed following the murder of Zarzokima. At least 465 houses belonging to the Brus were burnt down in 11 villages. It caused destruction of properties, displacement of thousands of Brus and exodus of over 2000 Brus to Tripura.

The MBDPF states that “criminals are criminals and they have no religion or ethnicity”. The criminals whether belonging to Bru or Mizo community must be singled out and be prosecuted in accordance with the law of the land.

However, no community whether Bru, Mizo or any other group should be held responsible for criminal acts of individuals who must be punished in accordance with the law. [Ends]

Monday, November 30, 2009

End Discrimination; take ‘Positive Discrimination’ Policy

(Note: This full article is being reproduced with permission from The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum. This article was first published in the November 2009 Issue of the MCDF’s Newsletter)

I. Introduction
Equality and non-discrimination are two of the main fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution of India. All are born equal, and the State cannot discriminate against any citizen on grounds of “religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them” (Article 15(1) of the Constitution). Yet this does not prevent the state government of Mizoram from resorting to flagrant discrimination against the minorities in particular the Buddhist Chakma tribals.

The most tangible proof of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and language in Mizoram is available in the form of various official Recruitment Rules (RRs), notified by the government of Mizoram, which prevent the linguistic minorities from availing jobs. The RRs make anyone ineligible for government jobs under Mizoram government if he/she did not study Mizo subject up to Middle School level. Although the RRs are application to even the Mizos the main intention is to target the linguistic and ethnic minorities. Even more outrageous is the denial of any opportunity to the Chakmas to learn the Mizo subject in schools. The government of Mizoram has deliberately failed to appoint any teacher to teach the Mizo language subject in any of the schools situated in the Chakma dominated villages. This is a well-designed policy primarily to prevent the Chakmas from learning the Mizo subject in schools and then, to deprive them from jobs under the RRs. The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum (MCDF) condemns this anti-minority policy of the state government in the strongest possible term.

II. Knowledge of Mizo is must to get jobs
One of the important safeguards guaranteed to the linguistic minorities in India is “No insistence upon knowledge of State’s Official Language at the time of recruitment” (see the website of the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, This safeguard has been blatantly violated by the Mizoram government. The government of Mizoram has officially admitted that “knowledge of Mizo is a pre-requisite for recruitment”. This is available in the reports of the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM). There has been no public debate on the Recruitment Rules and the public have been kept in the dark. Even today, these RRs are little known to the Chakmas.

III. Mizoram govt prevents study of Mizo subject in schools
In a report the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) stated that although knowledge of Mizo up to upper primary standard is mandatory for jobs, “But in the visit to the Nepali school, it was found that Mizo was not taught there up to upper primary standard. Since they can then pursue higher studies through English medium, those desirous of joining the services are at a disadvantage” (43rd Report of the NCLM). This fact applies to the Chakma and other minorities who have been deprived of teaching of Mizo subject in English medium or Bengali medium schools.

Strangely the Mizoram government has made knowledge of Mizo up to Middle School level compulsory to get jobs but has not made any arrangement to provide the facility to the minorities like Chakmas to study the Mizo subject in school. The government has not appointed any teacher to teach the Mizo subject in any of the schools in Chakma dominated villages. Studying the Mizo subject by the Chakma children by themselves is out of question.

IV. Why minorities must oppose “study of Mizo” requirement
The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum agrees with the majority opinion of the Mizos that residents of Mizoram must be able to communicate in Mizo language. Surely, any public official if posted in Mizo dominated areas would not be able to function effectively if he can’t speak Mizo with the public who are Mizos. But there is a vast difference between learning (or knowing) the Mizo language and studying the Mizo subject in school. The Mizos in general and the Mizoram government in particular must realize this difference and take corrective measures as soon as possible.

While the Mizo tongue can be learnt at subsequent stage by the Chakmas (say even after completion of their graduation) but the fact that they have been deprived of studying the Mizo subject in school still deprive them of government jobs under the RRs. That is, even qualified Chakmas who know how to speak the Mizo language fluently do not qualify for competitive examinations due to the discriminatory RRs. The Mizos and the Mizoram government must appreciate the fact that the Chakmas, for example, can learn the Mizo language but they can never legally change their school certificates/ mark sheets when they have not studied the Mizo subject. More importantly, the RRs violate the rights of those students whose parents are Central government employees posted outside Mizoram. Surely, they have no chance to study the Mizo subject in schools. Therefore, a student may complete his graduation from prestigious Delhi University or Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) but still would not qualify for jobs in Mizoram under RRs because he had not studied Mizo subject up to Middle School. This is most absurd and constitutes flagrant violation of the fundamental right to equality and nondiscrimination.

Therefore, the MCDF does not think the Recruitment Rules of Mizoram (those providing for mandatory knowledge of Mizo up to Middle School level) will be legally sustainable in the Court of law if the Chakmas challenge the legal validity of these RRs.

V. Recruitment Rules deny jobs to Chakmas
According to the government of Mizoram, there are 546 Recruitment Rules which provide that the knowledge of Mizo is desirable or compulsory for direct recruitment for jobs under government of Mizoram. These RRs blatantly violate the fundamental rights of the Chakmas and other minorities as enshrined in the Constitution of India including Article 14 (Equality before law), Article 15 (non-discrimination), Article 21 (right to life, including right to livelihood) and Article 16 which states that “(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. (2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.”

In February 2008, a public examination was held by government of Mizoram for selection of primary Hindi teachers. In this very exam, 50% of the questions were asked in Mizo language, which, as any sane individual will admit, the linguistic minorities such as Chakmas, Nepalis or Bengalis or Gorkhas or Reangs, who are citizens of Mizoram, will find difficult, if not impossible, to answer. This is against the fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination in state employment. The audacity of the education officials to engage in such type of discrimination springs from the discriminatory law. According to the Recruitment Rules for Group ‘C’ posts in the Department of Education and Human Resources Development, 2007, the essential educational qualifications for recruitment of primary school Hindi teachers are “1. Hindi Prabodh/ Parichay/ Army First Class Certificate of Education or equivalent examination recognized by government of India. 2 Class VIII passed in general education 3. Working knowledge of Mizo language at least Middle School Standard.”

The government of Mizoram has officially admitted that “knowledge of Mizo is a pre-requisite for recruitment”. In response to this, the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) rightly observed that “In such a case there s no chance for linguistic minorities to get Government jobs" (see the 41st Report). This explains as to why the representation of non-Mizos like Chakmas and Reangs in government departments is so negligible.

In the 41st Report the Commissioner Linguistic Minority recommended that "Mizo should not be essential for entry into services though it can be stipulated that it will have to be learnt in the prescribed period and before the end of probation period”. The Commissioner repeated this recommendation in the Forty Third Report 2004-2005 stating that the requirement of knowledge of Mizo should either be relaxed or should not be made “compulsory at the time of recruitment” but that “since Mizo is the Official language, the knowledge of Mizo must be acquired with a stipulated period after joining service.” The government of Mizoram failed to heed to these repeated recommendations but continues to insist “knowledge of Mizo language” as a qualification for jobs in Mizoram.

VI. Recommendations:
Majority of the Chakmas still engage in Jhum cultivation (shifting cultivation) but their life is increasingly becoming harder due to lack of green forests and dwindling productivity in Jhum cultivation. The Chakmas who form over 8% of the total population of Mizoram (2001 census) are one of the most backward communities in terms of social and economic development. Recently the government of Mizoram has even referred them as “primitive tribe” due to their extreme backwardness. Due to lack of jobs and insignificant representation of the Chakmas in the state government, the Chakmas are less empowered to deal with their own problems. For Mizoram to develop wholesomely there is a need to look after the needs of each and every community and the state government must therefore undertake some positive discrimination in favour of the Chakmas for their rapid socio-economic development. Only educated and developed Chakma society can contribute to the progress of the state.

Therefore, the MCDF fervently urges the state government of Mizoram to take the following measures:

1. Provide 8% reservation for the Chakmas in all government jobs including Mizoram Civil Services in proportion to their population as a positive discrimination towards the Chakma minority community who are one of the most backward tribes in the state;

2. Immediately abolish the discriminatory Recruitment Rules or suitably amend them by deleting any reference to the requirements for knowledge of Mizo; and

3. Appoint teachers to teach Mizo language in all the schools in Chakma inhabited villages. In such appointments Chakmas who are qualified to teach Mizo must be given first priority for appointment. In the absence of enough qualified Chakmas the government must train them by providing financial assistance and later appoint them as Mizo subject teachers.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

ACHR to visit Mizoram to investigate ethnic violence

ACHR accepts offer of the Mizoram government to visit the communal affected areas if security can be guaranteed

New Delhi: The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today accepted the offer of the Mizoram Home Minister Pu R. Lalzirliana to visit Mizoram. In a press held in Aizawl on 22 November 2009 in response to the press statement of the ACHR on the recent attacks on the Bru minorities, Home Minister Lalzirliana stated “ACHR representatives are most welcome to come to Mizoram and see the facts and ground realities by themselves.”

In a letter to the Home Minister of Mizoram, the ACHR welcomed the invitation as a positive step and expressed its intention to visit the State should “the government of Mizoram make necessary arrangement for adequate safety and security for the Fact Finding Team”.

ACHR stated that “In order to ensure “absolute independence, impartiality and objectivity”, it has constituted a team of five member Fact Finding Team chaired by Mr Miloon Kothari, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. Other members include Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR; Ms Dashalene Karbetang, Advocate and Human Rights Activist, Meghalaya; Mr Nava Thakuria, eminent journalist and General Secretary of Guwahati Press Club, Assam; and Mr Bamang Tago, Chairman of Arunachal Citizens Rights.

“The Investigation Team has representation from most North Eastern States and headed by a former United Nations expert from India. The members are well known in the field of human rights both in the North East region and the world.” – further stated ACHR.

The Fact Finding Team shall visit the affected areas and meet all sections including those involved in relief and rehabilitation, interview all the communities, representative of the civil society groups including the MZP and YMA and the officials of the government of Mizoram as well as those who recently fled to Tripura.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Attacks on Bru minorities in Mizoram

I. Press Release of Asian Centre for Human Rights (New Delhi), 20 November 2009

CBI investigation sought into the communal attacks on the Brus in Mizoram
- Congress is communal in Mizoram -

New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today urged Home Minister P Chidambaram to order an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the killing of one Mizo youth identified as Mr Zarzokima on 13 November 2009 and subsequent burning down of villages inhabited by the Brus also known as the Reangs in Mizoram since 14 November 2009. More than 500 houses were reportedly burnt and over 5,000 Brus were displaced and forced to seek refuge in Tripura and Assam. “As prima-facie evidence do exist to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that the State government and the some Mizo NGOs were behind the premeditated attacks to prevent the return of the Brus from 14 November 2009 and all the major attacks against the minorities took place under Chief Ministership of Pu Lalthanhawla, an inquiry by the CBI is indispensable” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

ACHR further asserted that in Mizoram, the Congress Party leaders have not been able to rise above their ethnicity and pursued policies against the minorities. All the attacks against the minorities in the State i.e. on the Buddhist Chakma tribals at Marpara in August 1992, deletion of thousands of Chakma citizens from the voters list in Mizoram in 1995 in violation of the 1955 Citizenship Act and 1986 Citizenship Amendment Act and the communal attacks against the Brus in October 1997 took place under the Chief Ministership of Pu Lalthanhawla. No relief assistance, including establishment of relief camps, has been provided to these displaced persons who took shelter in Tripura since 14 November 2009.

ACHR also urged the Centre hold a tripartite meeting consisting of the State Government of Mizoram, Central government and Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) to workout an agreement for return of the displaced Brus with guarantees for safety, security and proper rehabilitation and to send a clear message to the communal forces in Mizoram; arrest all the culprits and ensure their prosecution through speedy trial and provide assistance to the displaced.

II. Reply of Govt of Mizoram

Press Statement of Home Minister, Government of Mizoram in regard to the recent trouble between Mizos and Brus, 22 November 2009
[ Source: Department of Information and Public Relations, Govt of Mizoram]

It is deeply unfortunate that a highly regarded organization such as the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) has approached the Central Government with allegations that the Government of Mizoram was behind the recent communal trouble between the Mizos and the Brus. Before making such serious accusations, it would have been a wise move for ACHR to approach the Government of Mizoram to learn the facts and what steps the State Government took at the onset to prevent further violence from taking place.

I would like to make it clear here that when the State Government learned that 17-year old Zarzokima of Bungthuam village had been killed by alleged Bru militants calling themselves Bru National Army of the Bru Revolutionary Union on November 13, 2009, I made a statement to the effect that violence would be retaliated with violence, meaning the State Government would deal strongly with those threatening to disrupt the peace and harmony of Mizoram through violence.

The “prima-facie evidence” mentioned by ACHR to prove that the burning down of Bru villages were premeditated by the Government of Mizoram and “some Mizo NGOs” could stem from the accusations made by the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that my statement was provocative. As a responsible public leader and a long-time Congress man, I wish to strongly state that my statement was neither provocative nor meant to instigate communal violence.

I would be the first to admit that the Western and North Western belt of Mizoram has been a simmering pot of communal problems from as far back as 10-15 years ago and that the problems between the Mizos and Brus could escalate at the drop of a hat. As such, when the State Government learned of the November 13, 2009 killing of a Mizo youth in western Mizoram, the district authorities were immediately alerted to take action to prevent any communal trouble from flaring up while at the same time to vigorously pursue investigations into the killing of the youth. Moreover, police forces were sent from various parts of the state to Mamit district, the district where the killing took place, as reinforcements. The difficult terrain and inaccessibility of some of the villages made it impossible for the police personnel to reach these places and prevent outbursts of violence. Police, however, managed to prevent miscreants from committing arson at Damparengpui, the biggest Bru village in the area, although, unfortunately, they were unable to save five houses. Had not the police reacted swiftly, Damparengpui could have been razed to the ground and we consider it immensely fortunate that no lives were lost and no one suffered physical injuries from the Bru community.

At this point in time, the State Government is yet to establish whether any NGO is involved in the torching of villages and investigations are still on. Meanwhile, seven persons, four from Kawrthah village, two from West Phaileng village and one from Suarhliap village were arrested on November 15, 2009 in connection with the burning down of villages.

It is the State Government’s belief that the killing of Zarzokima was an attempt by some people with self-interests from the Bru community to prevent the repatriation process which was to begin from November 16, 2009 from taking place. The State Government had taken great pains to see that the repatriation take place as early as possible despite the reluctance shown by the Bru refugee leaders to be repatriated. This reluctance is clearly highlighted by some of the demands the leaders made, demands that are impossible for the state government to meet such as allocating each refugee family four hectares of land.

I would like to assure ACHR that the Government of Mizoram is in no way involved in the torching of Bru villages and that relief measures and protection for the victims are in place and have been carried out. Immediate relief measures carried out was to distribute four kg of rice to each adult and 2 kg of rice to each child, two blankets per family and a silpouline for temporary shelter. The district administration has also been instructed to provide cooking utensils and other necessary household items such as daos (big knife for cutting down bamboos and small trees) necessary for the construction of huts. The State Government has also announced ex-gratia of Rs 10,000 for each victim-family which is to be distributed without undue delay.

I would like to take the opportunity here to give a brief history of the relationship between Mizos and the minority communities of Mizoram. Mizoram has three minority communities namely Gorkhas (Nepalis), Chakmas and Brus (also called Reangs). Mizos have co-existed peacefully with these minority communities for more than a hundred years despite attacks and violence from them towards the Mizos. As anyone will know, when something goes wrong between two communities, things tend to take a turn in a communal way. As such, when a Forest Deptt. Game Watcher Lalzawmliana was killed by Bru miscreants in 1997, the first communal trouble flared up between the Brus and Mizos leading to thousands of Brus fleeing Mizoram despite urgings from the Mizoram Government not to leave the State and assuring them protection. These are the same Brus which the Government of Mizoram is trying to repatriate, the process of which was to have begun on November 16, 2009 if the incident of the killing of the Bungthuam youth had not happened. It may also be correct to mention that some of the Bru leaders living in refugee camps have become ensconced comfortably in the camps given their status as leaders and as such, are showing reluctance to leave the refugee camps since they would face great hardship making a living through farming once they come back to Mizoram.

Given the circumstances as mentioned above, it is the Brus themselves that are now causing problems in the repatriation program and not the Government of Mizoram and the Mizo community as the ACHR would have us believe. Therefore, I strongly urge the media to downplay the recent Bru-Mizo incident so as to enable the Mizoram Government to repatriate the Brus without any further problems and as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Over the dining table - a thought on identity

By Paritosh Chakma

Over the dining table in the spring this year, a Mizo girl asked me: “Do you Chakmas in Mizoram consider yourselves as Mizos?”

I paused for a while before I replied:

“ To me it would depend on the meaning of the term ‘Mizo’. It means whether we take Mizo as an ethnic community or as a territorial/geographical or national identity. Say for example, all Indians irrespective of whether they are Tamils, or Gujaratis or Assamese or Khasis identify themselves as Indians.”

“Similarly”, I continued, “Chakmas living in Mizoram must identify themselves as Mizos. In that sense, we are definitely Mizos too. That is precisely why Chakmas who are residents of Mizoram do not require Inner Line Permit to enter Mizoram.”

At the Assam-Mizoram checkpoint at Vairengte, a signboard facing the passengers reads – “All Non-Mizos are required to produce Inner Line Permit”.

We Chakma students never cared to think of the permit; the question simply did not arise in our minds because we identified ourselves with the “Mizos” - not with the “Non-Mizos” referred to in the signboard.

But, I explained to her, Chakmas are a distinct ethnic tribe and different from the Mizos.
I remember immediately she shot back at me saying, “That is the problem with you Chakmas. You never say you are Mizos.”

On 23 September 2009 she was proved wrong. That day the influential Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo Students’ Association) burnt copies of a Mizoram Board of School Education text book which claimed, among others, that Chakma was a sub clan of the Mizo tribe.

Yet, it was not the MZP to be blamed. I don’t think the Chakma issue was the main objection. Even the Chakmas themselves do not claim to be a sub clan of the Mizos, although they are proud citizens of Mizoram. Hence, the reference in the text book got to be deleted anyway.

In my view, the text book for Class IX “Enjoy Your English” was unacceptable as Chapter 10 – “Jewel of North East: Mizoram” was full of errors. Even Mizoram’s location - ‘Tripura in the East and Myanmar in the South’ - was not correct. It also got Mizoram’s history wrong.

The errors were not surprising. It was written by non-Mizo scholars who were “born and brought up outside Mizoram”- explained MBSE secretary K Lianhmingthanga.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A trip to Nepal

Recently I paid a three-day visit to Kathmandu, the picturesque capital of Nepal. Kathmandu is a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, and it looked wonderful from above. As our aircraft landed after negotiating with the thick clouds, there was a feeling of joy and relief in my mind. It was my maiden visit to Nepal.

The old Kathmandu is a bit crowded and had small, clumsy roads. I found adjacent Lalitpur has much clean, bigger and smooth roads; and the some hilly landscapes look a bit similar to Shillong.

In Nepal, Indian Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes are not accepted. So, Indians have to carry Rs 100-notes which make your purse looks thicker. Everywhere you can pay in Indian Currency. The exchange is as follows: IC 100= NC 160.

Among other things, what caught my imagination is the unique Bakery Cafe at New Baneswar. I saw several Bakery Cafes in Kathmandu, but the amaging thing about this one is that all the staff, except the manager, were people who were dumb! "It is a special mission", explained my friend about the founder of this Bakery Cafe. It takes some time before you could actually find out that all the waiters, including the female, were deaf and dumb. Hence, you could put an order or ask a question only in writing on a note-pad and the waiter replied in writing as well. All of the waiters have been recruited from a special school meant for the deaf and dumb. Hence, all of them were educated and they could communicate in English, of course in writing!

I thought it was a wonderful piece of entrepreneurship and indeed, a special mission to provide employment to these special people, to make them feel that they are also an equal part of the society. I wonder whether such examples exist elsewhere in the world. My Nepalese friend said this was the only restaurant of this kind in entire Nepal.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SSA in Mizoram: Nomads, who?

By- Paritosh Chakma

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines “nomad” as “member of a tribe that wanders from place to place looking for pasture for its animals and having no fixed home”.

Recently there have been several reports in the media quoting unnamed Sarva Shiksa Abhiyan (SSA) Mizoram Mission officials who attributed the failure of the SSA in Mizoram to the Chakma and Bru communities who have been levelled as “nomadic tribes”.

The SSA has been functioning in Mizoram since 2000. But as of now at least 14,826 children aged between six and fourteen years, mostly belonging to minority communities Chakma and Bru, have been deprived of formal education. There has been no consistency in the official figure, however. Earlier in February 2008, SSA Mizoram officer on special duty Robert Romawia Royte stated that only 2,000 children were still out of school.

The reputed Press Trust of India has quoted unidentified SSA officials as saying:

“Majority of the children who are not attending schools belonged to Chakma and
Bru as the two communities are nomadic tribes. It is hard to bring their
children to schools due to their shifting from one village to another often.”

As per as I know this is the second instance in which SSA officials have unrepentantly blamed the Chakmas for the failure of the SSA to reach to the most vulnerable sections of society in Mizoram.

Way back in February 2008, Mr Robert Romawia Royte stated:

“About 2,000 children are believed to be still out of schools. They are from the
residual or the hardcore groups. They belong to the nomadic families of Chakmas along the Indo-Bangla border, migrants and religious sects who do not allow their children to study”

These are racist statements against the ethnic minorities in particular the Chakmas. The Chakmas condemn such racist statements in the strongest possible terms.

Instead of focusing more attention on the ways to educate the minorities, the SSA officials in Mizoram have been publicly calling the Chakmas “nomads” while justifying SSA’s inability to reach to the Chakmas. Such remarks can only emerge out of utter ignorance about the Chakmas and/or due to the personal prejudice against this community. If what they meant by calling the Chakmas “nomads” is their traditional practice of Jhum cultivation which requires shifting of the place of cultivation every year, I do not understand as to why Mizos also should not be called “nomads” as substantial number of Mizo population are also engaged in Jhum cultivation. The SSA officials should know that Jhum is increasingly being recognized in this civilized world as a form of agriculture, not a “nomadic” lifestyle of the tribals. But surprisingly, no official has ever dared to call the Mizo Jhum cultivators “nomads”. Why are two standards being applied to measure the success of the SSA in Mizoram?

Presently, the government of Mizoram is seeking Rs 2,500 crore grant from the Central government to weed out jhum cultivation and provide sustainable livelihoods to the people. If only the Chakmas and Brus are officially nomads, then a major portion of this Central assistance should go to them. But I know that would never happen.

It is true that the SSA Mission has failed in Mizoram among the minorities. But the failure of the SSA among the Chakmas has nothing to do with whether the Chakmas are nomads or not. Substantial number in both Chakma and Mizo communities are engaged in Jhum cultivation but no SSA official has explained why the education mission has reached all the Mizos but not the Chakmas or the Brus. It is because Jhum cultivation has little to do with the successes or failures of the SSA mission in Mizoram. Contrary to the general notion, the Jhum cultivation does not require the tribal people to shift their habitations from place to place each year. They go to cultivate their jhum fields for some months of the year but basically they remain rooted to their houses in their respective villages. Often, the children were allowed to stay home. The government must come up with lucrative incentives in some cases to encourage the children to attend school. Simply putting the blame on the victims does not help.

But 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! 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.

Let me summarize some of the most important points below:

1. The SSA has been used just as a job vending machine in Mizoram. Non-local Mizo teachers have been appointed in Chakma areas although they can neither speak the Chakma tongue nor understand the cultural sensibilities of the local population. Given that the Chakma children do not understand Mizo tongue, such appointment of non-local Mizos to teach the Chakma children is merely waste of the tax payers’ money.

2. There is neither accountability nor transparency in some of the appointments as according to norms locals must be given preference and the appointment should be cleared by the Village Education Committee, usually headed by the elected head of the village.

3. It is seen that most of the Mizo teachers appointed in Chakma areas often do not attend classes. Some of them even do not live in the villages as they are non locals.

4. Several non-local Mizo teachers have taken transfer, leaving the schools with only single teacher (usually Chakma) to teach students numbering above 60.

It is high time the SSA Mizoram stopped blaming the socalled “nomadic” nature of the minorities, which is a fallacy of its own creation, but did enough to take some corrective measures to make the elementary education mission more inclusive on the basis of equality and non-discrimination.

* * * *

Read SSA in Mizoram: Nomads, who? in,

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Twitter Controversy Involving Shashi Tharoor

By Paritosh Chakma

All of a sudden there is a mad rush among the (Congress party) politicians to prove themselves "austere" to win the hearts of the aam admi , i.e. the electorate. After, Sonia Gandhi travelled in economy class and her son Rahul took the Delhi-Amritsar Shatabdi Express, everybody wanted to turn austere to please the Congress boss. So much so that Union Minister Salman Khurshid had to issue a warning that “vulgar display” of austerity should be discouraged. Mr Khurshid argued that "Austerity is something intrinsic and very personal".

There is however some mismatch. For example, Rahul Gandhi reportedly told reporters, "As a politician, you have a duty to be austere,” but his visit to Tamil Nadu to strengthen the Youth Congress cost Rs 1 crore from Congress' purse. No matter, who is paying the money.

Even Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs has claimed that he was paying from his own pocket, not taxpayers' money, for staying in 5-star hotel but was ordered to leave by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and shift to State Guest House.

Recent tweets in social networking site "Twitter.Com" however invited trouble for Mr Tharoor, a novice in politics after he tweetted - "absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!", in reply to a query whether he was ready to travel "cattle class". He was reprimanded by the Congress party, and Rajasthan CM went further ahead to demand his resignation. Luckily for Mr Tharoor, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the minister's remark was "a joke", and should not be taken seriously.

On his part, Mr Tharoor clarified that "cattle class" is "a silly expression but means no disrespect to economy travellers, only to airlines for herding us in like cattle" and said sorry for the misunderstanding. He told another important thing: people do not have humour to accept humour. So, what is the fuss about calling economy class a "cattle class". The Gandhis may be travelling in economy class or boarding a train now to emulate the experiences of the common man, but how long? They will never be common men - "aam admi". I hope they also realized that there exist something called "sleeping class" in train and ordinary people do not travel with heavy security around them. Politicians enjoying z-security should never travel in train or on the road. This only leads to chaos and creates untold problems for the citizenry. They are heavenly people - austerity is not meant for them. As I understand, politicians are more hurt by Mr Tharoors observation because he stingingly refered to the "holy cows" which the majority politicians see they are. But Mr Tharoor clarified, "holy cows are NOT individuals but sacrosanct issues or principles that no one dares challenge".

Another truth that emerges from the present controversy is that "indeed, we lack humour". While not many politicians are net-savvy, poor Shashi will continue to bear the brunt for his tweets. But Shashi must also realize there are millions across the globe who are behind him. I am one of them.

Breaking the impasse

By - Suhas Chakma
The Kathmandu Post, Nepal, 18 Sept, 2009,

September 18 - India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao received a lukewarm response on her two day visit to Nepal on Sept. 15-16. She met the very same officials whom she met in New Delhi about a month ago. In addition she met President Ram Baran Yadav and Chief of the Army Staff Chhatraman Singh Gurung. The missing link was the Maoist leader Prachanda who conspicuously left for Hong Kong clearly to avoid a meeting.

So was the reason behind Foreign Secretary Rao’s rapid reciprocal visit to Kathmandu to re-announce the package announced in Delhi only about a month ago?

Nothing has changed since the visit of Nepal’s prime minister to Delhi. The stalemate and its consequences are still firmly in place: political polarisation deepens; the peace process continues to run dangerously off course; splits in the larger parties are ever more evident; the country is in ever deeper chaos and the security situation continues to deteriorate. Most seriously there are still two highly politicised armies in the country, not to mention the dangerous proliferation of ever more armed groups.Most speculate that Rao’s mission was to buttress Madhav Nepal. But Indian influence has its limits and the visit is unlikely to do much more than delay the inevitable end of this lame duck government.

India’s support for this government appears mostly aimed at denying Nepal’s Maoists a share in power. This position seems linked to rising domestic Indian alarm over Naxalis. Home Minister P Chidambaram in his address to the conference of the India’s State police chiefs on Sept. 14 in New Delhi stated that the Naxalism has affected 2000 police stations in 223 districts of 13 States of India. At the same meeting, National Security Advisor M K Narayan expressed concerns about Maoist resurgence in Nepal.

India is right to be concerned about the failure of the Nepal Maoists to end violence. But this does not necessarily add up to the shrill arguments about Maoist takeover and havens for Indian Naxalism that find favour at the Embassy; and appear to be transmitted verbatim to South Block. India’s most senior Nepal expert, SD Muni has indelicately described the ideas of insurrection as: “bullshit”.

If security is the end goal of Indian policy then India has to realise — whether it likes it or not — that inclusion of Nepal’s Maoists in government is central to a stable and secure Nepal. All the main parties have demonstrated that if they are not included they can make life impossible for the government. There is no solution to the stalemate in Nepal without the Maoists, just as there is no solution without including the Nepali Congress. India’s current position of maintaining the stalemate adds to insecurity: it is not in India security interests.

More broadly, India’s policy on Nepal simply does not add up. India claims to support the peace process. Yet India provides public support to the Nepal Army and its supporters who vehemently oppose integration of the Maoist army. Integration (albeit undefined) is a central part of the peace process.The consequences of this one sided policy are that they allow the Army and its right wing political supporters an effective destabilizing veto over the peace process. It will and is catalysing a Maoist reaction of increased protest and the very real threat of increased violence which could spiral. It prevents resolution of the peace process and provides momentum to the armed groups in the absence of security reform. It further adds momentum to the damaging process of polarisation that empowers those who favour extreme “solutions” and conflict at the expense of consensus politics. In these circumstances increased insecurity on India’s borders is inevitable.

Similarly, India must realise that a legitimate constitutional drafting process requires Maoist participation; they are the largest political party in the constituent assembly. Why would the Maoists soften their position as long as they are denied access to power?

The Maoists on their part must recognise India’s needs. It is a matter of common sense. Prachanda may act as the rabble-rouser to maintain equidistance from China and India but the fact remains India has unmatched leverage.

Nepal is landlocked by India. Nepal can get financial support from China but it is simply not possible to bring gasoline and food supplies for 27 million Nepali people by air. To bring Nepal to a standstill all India needs to do is to put two police constables respectively at the Mahendra Nagar side and the Kakarbitta side along the Indo-Nepal border to strangle Nepal.

Maoist anger against Indian interference cannot be addressed by attacking Indian priests at Pashupati Nath temple. It is one matter to demand the ouster of the Indian priest, it is another matter to strip and assault them. The Maoists may deny their involvement but it is an open secret that they were behind the attacks.

Nepal’s stalemate is a serious political issue with wide ranging consequences for India. The policy should be addressed by India’s politicians and not left to bureaucrats. It requires the engagement of political leaders. The absence of an Indian political party with leverage on the government of India and an interest in Nepal is a handicap. The CPI (M) which had an interest in Nepal affairs has no leverage on the current UPA government. The political parties in Bihar and UP across the spectrum have no interest on Nepal.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights believes that a first step to a more positive Indian role would be to appoint a political leader to play a role — similar to that played previously by Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) — as an envoy to break the impasse in Nepal. Yechury was instrumental not only in the negotiations between the Maoists and seven party alliance but also amongst the Maoists.

Such an envoy should provide political support for a national unity government and provide support to the parties to sign a new agreement to clarify areas of current disagreement and develop mechanisms to address the disagreements and bring the peace process on track.

If such an agreement could indeed be reached, India’s Prime Minister must visit Nepal. Policies announced by Foreign Secretary Rao will have meaning in such a situation. No Prime Minister of India has visited Nepal since then Prime Minister I K Gujaral in 1997. The first foreign visits undertaken by India’s Foreign Minister Mr S M Krishna and Home Minister P. Chidambaram were to Bhutan in, respectively, June and August of this year. Earlier, in May 2008, India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had also visited that country.

India claims to be a super power. But, it must also act responsibly and transparently. It must look beyond retired foreign secretaries while appointing envoys to Nepal. Many of the Indian political leaders share excellent rapport with the Nepalese political leaders and that should be utilised. A stable Nepal is very much in India’s national interest.

(The writer is Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights)

Read more on Nepal:

- Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR)'s Briefing Paper - Madhes: The challenges and opportunities for a stable Nepal, 19 Sept, 2009

- ACHR's Briefing Paper- Nepal and the Pax Indianus, 14 July 2009

More articles by Suhas Chakma:

- Enforce the law in North-East by Suhas Chakma, The Tribune, India, 19 August 2009,

- Need for a policy for the displaced people by Suhas Chakma, The Tribune, India, 1 Jan., 2006,

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rain water harvesting in the North-eastern India- with special reference to Mizoram

By - Dr. M.P. Mishra

[I have found this article very interesting and relevant, and have therefore reproduced here. The source is as below:]

Mizoram is one of the smallest states in the north-eastern India having an area of only 21,000 sq. Km. It is located in the extreme North East of India bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh. The state is entirely mountainous covered with lush green vegetation. The mountains range in a North - South direction and the rivers flow in either a North or South direction. The highest peak namely Blue Mountain is only 7100 feet high and the climate of Mizoram is moderate. Towns and villages in Mizoram are mostly located on hilltops or on the upper reaches of the hills. Since perennial streams and rivers are located much below the habitations, scarcity of water in the dry season is very common. The whole state enjoys abundant monsoon rainfall during the rainy season extending five or six months in a year.

Springs on the hill slope and valleys are the main water supply sources in the villages. In the dry period the yield from springs gets reduced drastically. During the worst dry periods one has to wait long hours to obtain just a bucketful of water from the spring sources. Spring water supplemented by rainwater harvesting still remains today, the main means of water supply in many villages and outskirts of towns.

Through their skill and experience, the people living in hills and mountains of North-eastern India have developed a number of novel practices of farming, checking soil erosion, preventing landslides, and yes – of conserving water. Cropping in terraces along hill slopes is an age-old practice developed by tribal people. Tribals of Mizoram and Nagaland are expert in cutting beautiful terraces along mountain slopes. This system of cropping is beneficial in retaining fertility of soil; preventing land slides and checking soil erosion. Secondly, it is helpful in retaining the moisture of soil and conserving water, also. How are the terraced fields irrigated? Well, here is the answer.

Tribal people in the north-eastern India are expert in cutting beautiful terraces on hill slopes
The terraced fields are irrigated by a network of water- channels of bamboos that reach to every field. The terraces are graduated in so nice and scientific ways that water flows conveniently through the bamboo channels and irrigates the crop fields. Sometimes holes are made in the bamboo-pipes that facilitate the flow of water in drips. Thus the water is saved against any wastage during the process of irrigation. This system of irrigation is called as “Bamboo-drip Irrigation System”.

The loss of forests and less density of trees in certain regions has altered the pattern of rainfall in some districts of the North –eastern India including Mizoram and Nagaland. The water cycle in these regions has badly been altered and the sources of water have become inefficient. With the skill and experience, the people of these areas have developed a novel method of rain water harvesting and water conservation which is called as Zabo System of Rain water Harvesting.

The word “Zabo” means – impounding of water. The indigenous system of conservation of rain water in Mizoram and Nagaland, through which water is collected and stored in ponds for irrigation and other purposes, is called as the Zabo system of water conservation. The harvesting of water through this system is done by collecting rain water in catchments along mountain slopes. A Pond is dug to store water of the catchment area and all the water flowing down through terraces is facilitated to accumulate into it. The water thus accumulated in ponds is used for various purposes including irrigation. The Government of Mizoram has started a number of projects of water conservation. Rainwater harvesting and spring developments were taken up as a Government Programme. The Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, aiming at providing drinking water to every person, sanctioned a substantial fund for rooftop rainwater harvesting tanks. As many as 198 villages in Mizoram have benefited from the scheme.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The border fencing conundrum in Mizoram

- The insensitivity of the Mizoram government is deplorable -

By Paritosh Chakma

The Chakma tribals in Mizoram are in awkward situation, thanks to the ongoing border fencing along the Mizoram-Bangladesh border. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Annual Report 2008-2009, fencing of 150.15 km stretch out of the total 352.33 km sanctioned in Mizoram has been completed.

As many as 35,438 Chakmas from 5790 families in 49 villages, i.e. 49.7% of the total Chakma population, will be displaced. Their land, homestead, garden and forests have been acquired by the state government of Mizoram under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. In all land acquisitions across the country, the State has always employed arbitrary methods. Notably, the Mizoram government through its gazette notification issued on 27th October 2006 (Issue No. 272) under the Land Acquisition Act had warned that “All persons interested in the said land are hereby warned not to obstruct or interfere with any Surveyor or other persons employed upon the said land for the purpose of the said acquisition” (Clause 3 of the notification).

Protests by the Chakmas can be dealt with firmly on the ground of “obstruction” or “inference” by the protestors to the fencing activities. This takes away the democratic right to protest peacefully against injustice, if any. Of course, there have been lots of injustices.

The victims have been alleging discrimination in payment of compensation. While some have only received in thousands (below 1 lakh), some others have managed to get as high as thirty lakhs or a few even above. How these people got so high whereas some got extremely low has not been explained. Yet, some have informed me that they have not got any compensation despite losing their fertile lands or gardens. One of my friends told me his name was okeyed by the surveyors and he did produce his land document but he came to know from insiders that his name is missing from the final list of beneficiaries. He is contemplating legal action and I support him very much. This means that there is simply no iota of transparency, openness and fairness in the delivery of compensations. Often, in such environment there is high chance of corruption among officials and others. And, Lal Thanhawla administration which has promised clean and good governance must take notice of this.

As for the prospect of resettlement and rehabilitation there is complete darkness. The fencing affected people who are really innocent and ignorant about the affairs of the state (displacement is new phenomenon to them) keep on asking me on the phone whether I came to know anything from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi about R & R. The state government of Mizoram has never cared to assuage their feelings of insecurity or alienation. In fact, district level officials have been suggesting that there may not be any R&R and the victims will have to rebuild their lives with the compensation money they have been provided. This struck fear in the hearts of the Chakma victims as majority of them have consumed up their compensation money, and they have now been living in penury.(To know more in this regard, read another report: Let the Chakmas live in peace; give them the respect they deserve )

In comparison, other state governments are better. At least they think the people who are affected by the border fencing are their own. The state government of Meghalaya had even suspended the fencing works in response to the protests from the victims and this provided itself and officials of Border Management to investigate the grievances expressed by the affected people. Nothing of that sort has happened in Mizoram. On 1 September 2009, Tripura Chief Minister gave an assurance in the State Assembly that all the displaced families (7,997 families) will be provided proper rehabilitation in the state (The Sentinel, 3 September 2009). He was replying to a query by an opposition Congress MLA. Compare this with the position adopted by the Mizoram Home Department with regard to the Chakmas: “It may be mentioned that those families placed on the other side of the Fencing Line may not be called 'displaced' since the Fencing Line is not the boundary of Indo-Bangia Border.” How funny! Does the Mizoram government trying to say that the fencing affected people will not be provided any rehabilitation?

Such insensitivity on the part of the Mizoram government is highly deplorable. Although about half of the Chakmas in Mizoram will be displaced, Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, or his predecessor Zoramthanga of MNF,  has never made any policy statement in the House or elsewhere. No peoples’ representative including the two Chakma MLAs in the House has raised any concern for the would-be displaced Chakmas. Instead the Chakmas have been kept guessing in the dark.

* * * * * *
To know more about the situation of Chakmas in Mizoram, please read "Mizoram: Minority Report" by Paritosh Chakma, The Economic & Political Weekly, 6 June 2009 Issue

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Memories on Teachers’ Day

By Paritosh Chakma

I completed my High School studies from Udalguri, a small picturesque town in Assam. Then it was an underdeveloped sub-division under Darrang district, but now it is the proud headquarters of Udalguri district under the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District Council. It is believed that the name Udalguri derived from a tree “Odal”.

There were three English medium schools then: Ramswaroop Agarwalla Memorial English School, Sacred Heart and Diamond English School. I studied in the school with the longest name.

I was considered a bright student, which I don’t think I was. The teachers loved me because I toppled a seemingly invincible student (who used to always come first in the class since Class I) in the first Annual Examination I faced in the school. I believe the teachers were happy to see the change in the hierarchy within the classroom, and because they wanted some competitions to happen.

But except the school principle, none could actually understand why and how a student from Mizoram, where they believed people earned a lot for a comfortable living, had to come to study in a small town. Even my friends thought my parents were rich enough. That was because very few affluent families of Udalguri could send their children to study in Guwahati or other towns. But that was not the case in my case. My parents found the school in Udalguri because they could not afford my education in Aizawl or Shillong or Guwahati. Yet, I had no regrets. I was too happy to go to school, an opportunity which hundreds of children of my age in my community did not get. Because, either they were poorer than me or not as lucky as I was.

Prafulla Basumatary, the school principal, knew my problems and took great care of me. He was a gentle human being with a smiling face. He was my best teacher. He loved me, and I think he had a special corner in his heart for me. He even invited me for dinners or sometimes, I went uninvited and spent the nights at his house. Even his wife, a teacher herself in another school, was kind to me. I ate meal, watched TV and used their bathroom like I did in my own house, about 800 kms away in a tiny village in Mizoram.

Prafulla sir always encouraged us to study hard and excel in co-curricular activities. He encouraged us to subscribe to the Cub Club of the Sanctuary Asia magazine, made us read Tinkle comics and participate in quiz competitions. I used to write poems and many of them got regularly published in the Times Club, a children magazine that came with the North East Times every Saturday (if I remembered clearly). I was once the editor of the school’s wall magazine which I and my friends named it “The Dawn”. In Class X, I was selected the President of Students Association of the school. It was done by selection. I remember my class lady teacher proposed my name and none objected. I gave an emotional speech after my appointment. But I was never a great speaker.

I have several other indelible memories – both pleasant and unpleasant ones. Once I had to steal for the sake of education. That was the time when I had no money to buy notebooks to do sums. After playing football in the school ground, I saw some old notebooks stored in the store room. Those were attacked by fungi and the school book-stall had to reject them. So, I was tempted to conceal a few of them into my shirt behind and I brought them home. Those were small in size and the pages were lined. I cleaned them and one I used as rough copy and another one to do sums in the classroom. I used the other one to do my home-work. But our Maths teacher was not happy. He ordered me to do the homework in a good quality exercise book having no lines, and whose breath is longer than the length. I didn’t have money to buy them but I said “OK sir”. Next day, again he asked but did never understand my problem.

Prafulla sir, however did. Once in the winter he took me to the market and bought a sweater for me. As I tried the sweater on me, he exclaimed, “There you are; you are looking very smart now”. I shyly smiled back and he asked the shopkeeper to pack the sweater for me.

One of my best friends was Uttambir Basumatary, now a lecturer in a college. He liked quiz competitions very much, and cultural shows. Once in a Bodo cultural programme, he did not have friends to participate in a quiz competition on Bodo cinema and culture. He took me and another friend though we knew nothing about Bodo films, songs or singers. But he gave us some quick updates. We three enlisted our names before the panel. To everybody’s surprise our team won at last. In fact, I answered two of the questions on Bodo films.

Prafulla sir’s wife Ms Basumatary was a lovely lady. I was the only outstation student in the school at that time and received money from home by MO. My father used to send the MO to Prafulla sir’s home address. But that year one Manipuri boy also got admitted in the school hostel and his father happened to send an MO. When the postman came to deliver the MO, Ms Basumatary even did not look the recipient’s name to confirm. Thinking it was my money (Rs 3,000) he gave it to me. After one month or so, the angry father of the Manipuri boy filed a complaint. Then, the mistake was realized but by that time I had consumed up the money. But Prafulla sir never asked me to repay; he paid from his own pocked to the boy. I still owe him the money.

That was over a decade now. But I haven’t forgotten good hearted Prafulla sir. He is a real inspiration for me and shaped my philosophy of life to a large extent. I aspire to become an IAS officer one day and help the masses, particularly living in rural areas without the basic facilities. Then, I hope to pay back to my teacher Rs 3000. No, I won’t pay any interest to him. Neither will he ever ask for any.

Nepal’s language imbroglio

By - Suhas Chakma, Director, Asian Centre for Human Rights

Nepal’s Vice President (VP), Paramananda Jha’s decision to take his oath of office in Hindi was greeted with near apoplexy by the political establishment in Kathmandu. The Supreme Court (SC) of Nepal instructed the VP to retake the oath in Nepali by 4 p.m. on Aug. 30 2009. VP Jha has refused to take fresh oath. Nepal is in a major political and constitutional crisis.

Speaking as a member of an indigenous group — the Chakmas — and as someone who has spent a lifetime defending minorities and indigenous communities, I find much of the argument very familiar. The undertone of the debate in Kathmandu seems clearly premised on a fixed idea of what is, and what is not Nepali. This sits on the exclusionary idea that Hindi is an Indian language and all that infers about many people of the Tarai.

Read the full article: Nepal's Language Imbroglio, The Kathmandu Post, 3 September 2009


Friday, September 4, 2009

An Act to provide free and compulsory elementary education: A boon for neglected communities in Mizoram

By Paritosh Chakma

On 26 August 2009, the United Progressive Alliance government notified the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009. This Act provides free and compulsory elementary education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. By “elementary education” means “the education from first class to eighth class”, i.e. upto Middle School level.

Across India this Act is being hailed as historic. Certainly, I do see this Act as a means for thousands of children to receive education in Mizoram, in particular in the remote rural areas where the government of Mizoram has so far refused to establish schools. Now no longer. Under this Act, the state government is duty bound to establish schools wherever there aren’t any. Section 6 states:
“For carrying out the provisions of this Act, the appropriate Government and the local authority shall establish, within such area or limits of neighbourhood, as may be prescribed, a school, where it is not so established, within a period of three years from the commencement of this Act.”
The message is loud and clear. The state government of Mizoram can’t any longer shy away from its responsibility of providing basic education to each and every child – irrespective of whichever area they live and whichever community they belong to.

Mizoram government has refused to establish schools:
The state government of Mizoram has refused to establish schools in remote areas. This is more true in the Chakma-dominated Sajek Valley areas along the Mizoram-Bangladesh borders. So far, the rule has been that the villagers first open a school (primary, middle or high school) and successfully run with public donations for years. Even to establish schools the public need prior permission from the government.

The villagers who are extremely poor face tremendous problems to fund the school and to pay salaries to the teachers. Poor salaries do not attract bright people into the teaching job. As a result, the schools are not properly run and the quality of education remains low. Yet, it takes years before the state government comes to the rescue and provides aid to the schools. It is ironic that the State should expect the poor villagers to fund education up to high school or above. But this is exactly what is happening in Mizoram.

Thanks to the Central funds flowing under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the Mizoram government has established primary schools in almost every Chakma habitations and some Middle Schools too. But many villagers are still without Middle Schools. The question is where are the children expected to go after passing the primary level? And where will they after completion of Middle School level go as there is no High School in their villages or nearby?

Does Mizoram govt lack determination and efforts?
In August 2009, the Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar declared that Tripura will be fully literate by September 2010. Does it mean Tripura will overtake Mizoram within a year? I don’t think Tripura can achieve this feat given that in the 2001 census Tripura with 73.66 per cent literacy rate was far behind Mizoram which clocked 88.49 per cent. But if Mr Sarkar is to be believed, the Tripura government is making an “all out efforts” to achieve cent percent literacy rate. I admire his courage and determination. Unfortunately, I have never heard from a Mizo Chief Minister making this vow to himself before the public. The one advantage Mizoram has is the Church which has been instrumental in promotion of education. Otherwise, the Mizoram government seems to lack enthusiasm and determination on education front although it recently set up a Education Reforms Commission.

What about the ethnic minorities? Of course, they have never been in the state government's education agenda. The minorities in Mizoram have not been inspired or given sufficient attention by the state government. Instead, a particular SSA Mizoram official has even come out to publicly call the Chakmas as "Nomads" while justifying SSA’s inability to reach to the Chakmas. By calling the Chakmas “nomads” may be he was trying explain that the Chakmas practice Jhum cultivation which required people to station at their Jhum field for a few months of the year. Contrary to the general notion, the Jhum cultivation does not require the tribal people to shift their habitations from place to place each year. They remain rooted to their houses in their respective villages but go to work in their Jhum fields. Often, the children were allowed to stay home and the government can provide lucrative incentives to encourage them to attend school. Of course, some problems do arise as their parents are required to station in the Jhum away from home for a few months during sowing and harvesting times; but that does not mean their children remain inaccessible. The statement of the SSA official was uncalled for as it is not Chakmas alone. Even substantial number of Mizo population in rural areas is also engaged in Jhum cultivation, yet they have been provided access to basic education and they have not been called "nomads". To know more about how Chakmas are discriminated by SSA Mission, read SSA Mission in Mizoram: Mission to educate or discriminate against the Chakmas?

What I am trying to say here is the state government of Mizoram has never tried to find out the reasons for the social-economic backwardness of the Chakmas to solve these problems. Putting the blame on the victims does not help. Also, it does not explain the reasons as to why the state government is unwilling to establish schools in Chakma villages. Why the Chakmas are left to be uneducated and jobless?

Total enrolment is not sufficient:
The government of Mizoram started implementing the SSA during the financial year 2000-2001. In February 2008, the then Education Minister Dr R Lalthangliana declared that Mizoram has “almost achieved total enrollment in primary education”.

However, mere “total enrollment” is not sufficient. The state government must provide quality education at least up to High School level to all the children. The Chakmas have been denied secondary education. Higher secondary or college level education is a far off thing. Higher education for the Chakmas of Mizoram is like the moon – it appears so near, yet far and unreachable.

The 86th Amendment of Constitution of India (2002) has already made “free and compulsory education” to all children of the age group of six to fourteen years a Fundamental Right. But it did not provide sufficient enough to encourage the state governments to take up education missions. This country needs law even to enforce a habit of wearing helmet for the protection of one’s life in case of any accident while driving a motorcycle. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 has sought to do the same thing in education field.

The Act has provided some norms and standards for the schools to follow and the authorities will have to ensure that standards. This is important as schools in rural areas are only in the name. They exist without basic infrastructure and facilities.

Another significant provision is relating to the filling up vacancies of teachers. I have observed that in Chakma areas, once the teachers retire or are transferred the vacancies are never filled up. As a result, in some primary schools there are only one or two teachers left to teach students who number is over a hundred in a single school of the villlage. The Act provides that the there should be at least two teachers for sixty students in primary school and in Middle School (sixth class to eight class), there should be at least one teacher per class and at least one teacher for every 35 students.

Now, armed with an Act the citizens of this country, including the Chakmas in Mizoram will of course demand their fundamental right to free and compulsory education and enforce the Fundamental Right to Constitutional Remedies to secure their rights if necessary.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Will the Chakmas survive in Mizoram? - Section II

By Paritosh Chakma

The socio-economic conditions of Chakmas in Mizoram

The Chakmas of Mizoram are considered to be well off in comparison to their counterparts in other states of India on the basis that they have their own Autonomous District Council. This is not true. (Please see the myth I have broken about the CADC in Mizoram. Particularly note that more Chakmas are living outside the CADC than in the CADC) Look at the socio-economic development made by the Chakmas in Tripura. Today, they proudly occupy the posts of Sub Divisional Officers, Block Development Officers and high posts in the Education Department and various other departments in the state government. In Mizoram, there are none among the Chakmas who have occupied those high posts. Only one – late Nagendra Chakma, Mizoram Civil Service (MCS), was appointed as Deputy Commission of Saiha district for a short period of time on the basis of seniority. Unfortunately he had to step down because of his ill health. In Tripura there are several Chakmas who are serving as doctors in government hospitals. In Mizoram, we have none. And engineers? Chakma engineers in Mizoram simply have not got any jobs to use their engineering abilities for social good. There are few among Chakmas in Mizoram who are studying medicine or engineering, a yardstick to measure social development achieved by the Chakmas of Tripura.

While the pathetic socio-economic conditions of the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh have rightly been highlighted (see for example, Frontline article “State of denial”), no journalist has ever ventured into the Chakma hinterland in Mizoram to tell the world about their plights.

Pathetic living conditions

First, let me tell you that the Chakmas in Mizoram live nearest to the border with Bangladesh (Mamit and Lunglei districts) and with Myanmar (in CADC). As one Chakma villager once told me, “The border people around the world are the unluckiest and most deprived souls on this earth. They always lived amid conflicts and problems of all sorts associated with the border and yet, no one cares for them”. How true he was. Whether it is Koreas, the West Bank, Indo-Pakistan and Indo-China borders, or Afghanistan-Pakistan borders, people living at the borders are the regular casualties to the war associated with the border conflicts or hostilities between countries. This apart, there are cross-border smugglings, illegal trade, and cross-border terrorism, and the border inhabitants are always the first casualties. This situation is made more miserable by denial of development and access to basic services such as health care and educational needs in the border areas.

Recently, the Chakmas of Mizoram have been facing the brunt of the border fencing. The India-Bangladesh border fencing has introduced new problems and challenges to the Chakmas – the challenges they will have to live with for ever.

The border areas inhabited by the Chakmas are undeveloped being the remotest parts of the state. Since Mizoram is a relatively peaceful state and Chakmas do not pose any threat to security, no one cares how the Chakmas are actually living their lives. The development of the border areas was never in the agenda of the Mizoram government and hence, although the government of India has pumped in millions of rupees every year under the Border Area Development Programme, the border areas in Mizoram have been left undeveloped.

The poor living conditions of the Chakmas are clearly visible by their dilapidated houses in the villages. The Chakmas live in their own communities and majority of their villages are separated from the Mizo habitations. Even in habitations where the Chakmas, Brus and Mizos live together, the houses of the Chakmas and the Brus are easily identifiable from their poor living standards.

Once we had to stop in a village in Lunglei district where we did not know any Chakma family. But we knew that the village was inhabited by Brus, Chakmas and Mizos together. So, we thought to find out a Chakma house to spend our night. Guess how did we do it? It is already dusk, and my friend suggested that we enter a house which had a broken wooden varanda. He contended that there was maximum possibility that any good house would most likely belong to Mizos. And we chose the house with broken varanda to many good houses. And lo, indeed the family belonged to a Bru, and he guided us to a Chakma family living nearby. Not surprisingly, his house too was broken and poorly roofed like many of other Chakmas. The next morning, however, we also saw that there also stood a few good and beautiful houses which belonged to the Chakmas alongside the beautiful wooden houses of the Mizos.

That is not to say all the Chakmas are poor. But my experiences tell me that most of the Chakmas have poor quality housing and living standards which are no match to the Mizos and it is also sometimes possible to identify which houses belonged to the Chakmas on the basis of looking at the houses (in cases where more than one community lived).

Majority Chakma people live impoverished lives. They are traditionally dependent on Jhum cultivation for livelihood. But now a days, the jhum produce is rapidly diminishing due to lack of virgin forests. Still the Chakma cultivators are forced to stick to Jhum cultivation and toil to make a Jhum field after borrowing money from money lenders on high interest rate. Under the terms and conditions, which is generally orally executed, the borrower has to pay double or more in the form of money or paddy. The hapless cultivator is forced to take loan to grow his Jhum field. His entire family toils in the scorching sun and incessant rain and, yet yield harvest that is hardly enough to feed the family for the entire year. He has to repay so as to keep the faith on him intact as he will again need the help of the money-lender the next year. After repayment, the farmer family is virtually left with little food. Hence, at the half of the year, they start their life in misery. They start to feed themselves by collection of vegetables in the forests and selling them in the local market to earn for the day’s bread. At hardest times, the family members are forced to live on wild but eatable potatoes available in the jungles or eating only one meal a day, saving something for the next day. The next year, the cultivator will have to again borrow to sow his Jhum field, the entire family toil in the burnt hill but end up with little produce. They again repay the money lender along with interests and they themselves live in penury. This is a vicious cycle in which the Chakma villagers have been caught. No one knows if there is an escape from that.

But recently, the Chakmas whose houses and properties have been destroyed/acquired to make way for the border fencing have received compensation, some in a few lakhs. That took off the burden for a while. But now I begin to hear that the same people who received compensation have grown poorer than they earlier were, as they spent lavishly and saved nothing. Now, they have become poorer as the price of the rice and vegetables are no longer the same as were in the pre-compensation days.

I am of the firm opinion that money cannot alone make a community rich. Give Rs 1 Lakh to each Chakma family every year, yet they will remain poor because they have no habit to save something for the future. Hence, what the government of Mizoram should do is to implement the pro-poor schemes by developing the rural areas in terms of infrastructure and facilities and provide them a source of income, alternative to Jhum cultivation. I am happy that the Central government is likely to grant Rs 2500 crore to the congress government in Mizoram for implementation of New Land Use Policy to gradually wipe out the Jhum practices by the farmers. The Congress party during their election campaigns has promised the voters to give Rs 1 lakh per family under NLUP. But I do not think that would change the future of the rural people. I do not know about the other communities, but certainly Chakmas won’t be able to develop this way. The government of Mizoram must implement the NLUP-2 by providing the seeds for alternative farming or livelihood but should not end up giving money in the hope that the villagers would themselves take care of their farming activities. This is one primary reason as to why NLUP-1 during the previous Congress regime in Mizoram failed. The Mizoram government used up the money but very few farmers were benefited in the long term: the farmers ate up the money and resorted to Jhum again!

Even the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) after 37 years has failed to bring much necessary development and change in the living standards of the common people within the CADC area. Unfortunately, the privileges are enjoyed by a few and the Chakma society in the CADC is rapidly turning into a capitalist model, where the poor are becoming poorer and the rich are getting richer. Yet, the CADC is making slow progress but that is even lacking in Chakma areas outside the CADC. The development is really stagnant. As a result, there is despair in the heart of each and every Chakma.

If the government of Mizoram does not change its policies vis-à-vis the Chakmas (e.g. the BADP implementation), there is no scope for the Chakmas to develop in areas outside the CADC. It is a fact that impoverished, backward and uneducated citizens contribute little to the progress of the nation. Their future becomes threatened.

To be continued.......>>>>

Read Section I here:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why and how Mizoram should promote multilingualism

By Paritosh Chakma

Let me begin by saying Mizoram is a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. In short, it is a pluralistic society in character. But the real problem is with the state government’s policy which favours a homogenous society or seems to project that way. Just take a look at the official website of the government of Mizoram, Only the culture of Mizos is on offer. Anyone who has little knowledge of Mizoram will, after visiting the website, think that only Mizos are the residents of the state and the only language spoken is Mizo.

The problem is not only lack of official promotion of multi-cultural society. First, the majority (Mizos) will need to do away with their linguistic hegemony – both at personal level and governmental level. If we promote multilingualism, we have no loss but only to gain. I am in no way advocating that Mizos should not promote their language but only trying to say that other languages must be given space as well and we need to respect the differences. That is to say, Mizos must promote their own language but must turn bilingual or multilingual to promote communication and ties with other communities who do not speak Mizo tawng.

Language is not merely a means of communicating thoughts and ideas, but it helps build friendships, cultural ties, and forges social and economic relationships between communities. Language creates feelings of cultural kinship. If we cannot understand what another speaker is trying to communicate, how can we put in practice the ethics of Tlawmngaihna by which the Mizo society is well known?

I do not have any problem with Mizo being the only official language but I am pained at how the state treats other minority languages with glaring neglect. In turn, this creates hardships and remains one of the reasons for feeling of alienation among the Mizos and non-Mizo speakers such as Chakmas. Majority of Chakmas cannot speak Mizo and few Mizos indeed speak Chakma. The communication gap and lack of understanding of each other’s culture have created feelings of alienation, suspicion and mistrust among the two largest communities in Mizoram which is a stumbling block to the state's progress. Never has the Chakma culture been showcased in an official cultural programme outside the Chakma Autonomous District Council. It is critical that these gaps are filled for state’s integration.

Vis-à-vis the Chakmas, the state government can do this in two ways: by promoting the Chakma native tongue and helping the Chakmas learn the Mizo language. The rest will follow inexorably.

Promotion of Chakma mother tongue

One of the vital aspects is the preservation and promotion of the Chakmas’ scripts. Why should the Mizoram government promote the Chakma language and script? It must be promoted and protect because it is a unique language. With its death will die the identity of an ethnic group in the state.

The most fascinating thing about the Chakmas is that they among the rarest tribal groups in the world having their own scripts to write their language and literature (In India, most tribal groups express their literature in either Roman or Devanagari scripts in absence of scripts of their own). The scripts of the Chakmas are called “Aja Paat”. Chakmas’ folklore and folk music are inseparable from their culture and these are written in Aja Paat. The Chakma folk music includes romantic love songs known as Ubageet while the Genkhuli ballads narrate the bravery and romances of the Chakma princes and kings. These are played in blend with extraordinary traditional musical instruments. There are also epic poems like Radhamon and Dhanapati. These are orally passed on from one generation to another and have survived centuries. Buddhists books, translated into Chakma and written on palm leaves, are known as Aghartara. The Tallik is a detailed account of medicinal plants, methods of their preparation, and their use in the treatment of disease. These have also been written in Chakma script. All these exhibit the extremely rich and invaluable treasures of the Chakmas. But all these are very much on the verge of extinction today. That is why Mizoram must be proud to include, preserve and promote these treasures of the Chakmas in the Aizawl Museum. Even if Mizoram does not feel proud, it has the obligation to protect all tribal treasures – language, music, art, literature, architecture, science, medicine etc belonging to all tribal communities in the state.

Regrettably, Mizoram is not doing that for the Chakmas. While in the Chakma Autonomous District Council, the authorities have take steps to impart Chakma mother tongue in Chakma script in schools up to primary level, the Chakmas residing outside the CADC are being deprived. It is pertinent to state that more Chakmas reside in Mamit and Lunglei district than in CADC which is in Lawngtlai district and their cultural antiques including the scripts are neither protected nor promoted by the state government.

As a result, the Chakma script is in peril. Today, the script is almost dead. No one expect the Chakma traditional medicinal practitioners/healers in rural areas use it.

There is no economic incentive for learning the script by the Chakmas. Neither will the learning land us a job nor is there any scope for higher learning or research simply because the Chakma language is not rich enough for that. And, sadly, there are not many amateur learners among the Chakmas.

Once I tried to learn to read and write the Chakma “Arog” (script). After acquiring the preliminary knowledge of the script and returning back to Delhi, I remember having written a short letter to my father in the village totally in Chakma script. Bewildered at my adventure, my father, I am told, had to dash off to an elderly person, who could help him cipher my message.

One’s mother tongue is as important as one’s breath. The following poem by an Evenki poet, Alitet Nemtushkin summarizes this:

If I forget my native speech,
And the songs that my people sing
What use are my eyes and ears?
What use is my mouth?
If I forget the smell of the earth
And do not serve it well
What use are my hands?
Why am I living in the world?
How can I believe the foolish idea
That my language is weak and poor
If my mother’s last words
Were in Evenki?

I am happy that in the Chakma Autonomous District Council in Mizoram, Chakma language is taught up to the primary level. That is inevitable if the Chakma script and language are to survive. And, teaching the Chakma mother tongue to the Chakma children in areas falling outside the CADC must be high on the agenda of the state government of Mizoram. Otherwise, Mizoram will be seen as treating its own minorities with neglect and apathy. As the poem above notes, it is a “foolish idea” to believe that one’s language is superior to another.

Promoting Mizo among the Chakmas

I strongly suggest that the state government of Mizoram must take immediate and adequate measures to teach Mizo to the Chakmas. The idea is not to assimilate the Chakmas or to impose the ethnic/linguistic chauvinism of the majority over the minority but to promote integration. The teaching of Mizo should effectively begin at school level, may be from Middle School onwards.

The older generation of the Chakmas have been inclined towards learning Bengali as an additional subject on, according to me, two primary grounds: it is a rich language, and alienation from the Mizos (because the Chakmas live within their communities in habitations far away from the Mizos). But now there is shift towards the Mizo language due to various factors. First, a lot of Chakma students study in Aizawl, Lunglei and other towns and the youths have been instrumental in shift of attitude. Second, Chakmas are beginning to understand the Mizos better as there is now more democratic space given to the Chakmas. Third, there are social and economic incentives to learn the Mizo language in terms of social mobility and employment opportunities within Mizoram.

But, I must say, the state government of Mizoram has been doing a great injustice to the Chakmas. One, it has legislated Recruitment Rules making knowledge of Mizo prerequisite for employment. But on the other hand, it has denied the Chakmas any chance to learn the official language in schools. Simply no teacher has been appointed in Chakma village schools to teach the Mizo language. I cannot understand this paradox in the government’s language policy. Such ill planned policy does not help. Is it basically intended to deny the Chakma educated youths jobs in the state machinery? If true, this could be dangerous for the future.


Today the Chakma script is in danger and Mizoram will suffer an irreparable loss if it becomes extinct. There is also need that all communities must come forward to forge unity amidst diversity for the betterment of Mizoram.

Therefore, I urge the Mizoram government to:

- Frame a language policy which would respect the Chakma and other minority languages and promote them with priority;

- Promote and protect the Chakma script and language, including by encouraging research and documentation;

- Take appropriate measures to teach Chakma language in Chakma script up to primary school level in Chakma dominated villages within Mamit and Lunglei districts in similar line as is being taught in Chakma Autonomous District Council;

- Do away with the language eligibility rules and therefore, suitably amend all such Recruitment Rules which insist on knowledge of Mizo at the time of recruitment. The selected non-Mizo candidates should be asked to learn the language during probation period or given some more time to learn the language; and

- Provide training and scholarships to such Chakma teachers who are willing to learn Mizo and appoint them as Mizo language teachers in Chakma village schools

Read this ARTICLE in the at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

India at 62: A few thoughts on Independence Day

By Paritosh Chakma

As India celebrated her 62 years of freedom on August 15, a few thoughts ran through my mind. Yet, I must confess I always become sad on this very day. As the residents of my building joined others to fly colourful kites, I pensively watched “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” in my TV set and asked to myself: do we really care how much sacrifice our freedom fighters made to win this freedom? Do we really care?

I don’t think majority of us care. That’s why we behave the way we behave – we are corrupt and insensitive to the needs of our fellow human beings; those at the helm of affairs ensure that welfare funds do not reach the ordinary people or to a particular section of citizens; the poor and vulnerable are further suppressed and exploited; farmers who produce food for the country die of hunger and debts; the poor have no basic medical facilities; we fight on grounds of castes and ethnicity and languages; women after six decades do not have freedom and get killed in the name of honour; and the majority still believe in the principle of “big-fish-eat-the-small-fish”.

I also became a bit of idealistic. Thinking of the condition of my own community (Chakmas) I thought our situation in India and Bangladesh would have been totally different had destiny had not cheated us then. The Chittagong Hill Tracts was “gifted” to Pakistan during Partition in 1947 by a man called Radcliffe despite the fact that less than 3 percent of the population was Muslim. Congress leaders like Nehru and Sardar Patel did protest later on but they did not act enough to see CHT in India. (For detail see

In Mizoram, minority rights are seldom respected. The rulers behave in autocratic ways and concede only what is impossible to deprive to the minorities. That is why welfare schemes have never been targeted at actual development of the minorities whether it is the Congress or MNF at the helm. The impact of the flagship programmes such as NREGS, SSA, NRHM, etc has been deliberately kept as low as possible. As pointed out by me several times, the Border Area Development Programme is yet to kick off in the border areas in Mizoram-Bangladesh sector but curiously the funds provided by the Centre was being spent by the state government. What is actually happening, there is no transparency and accountability.

In his independence day address in Aizawl, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla stated that poverty alleviation would be given top priority and promised a responsive and corruption-free administration. The Planning Commission is reportedly considering granting Mizoram a whopping Rs 2,500 crore over the next five years and these funds would be used under a revised New Land Use Policy (NLUP) for providing livelihoods alternative to unsustainable jhum cultivation.

But there are already fears in the minds of the general public who are non-Congress supporters or those who have not voted for the Congress. The Congress party came to power in the last Assembly Election riding on the promise of Rs 1 lakh to each family household under NLUP. “NLUP” is a household word among the rural people of Mizoram and they would go wild hearing it. But many Congress candidates, most of who have won, also added a rider in their election campaigns: only those who vote for the Congress will be beneficiaries of NLUP.

Now most of the Village Councils are governed by the Congress and as it always happens, the Opposition MNF has been sidelined as if the Opposition does not exist. The Congressmen in rural areas are already spreading the fearful message that only Congress “Chamchas, chelas and cronies” will get NLUP funds. Certainly, not all the citizens are Congress backers. Believe me, in villages which are small everyone knows who has voted for whom! Today, they are paranoid.

This would give a glimpse of how our socalled flagship poverty alleviation programmes are delivered throughout India, and partly expains why one-third of the globally poor people are still living in India, even after 62 precious years of independence and India's robust economic growth.

The rest I won't say much, it is for you, those who happen to read this, to think.

[Read my last year's thoughts at ]

Brief report on Chakma Bizu 2017 celebration with Gandhian institute in Delhi

For the first time the Chakma Buddhist Society (CBS) has organised Bizu Miloni programme in partnership with Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Sam...