Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The great game behind the names

By: Paritosh Chakma

In my last post, I have written about how the Chakma minority people have been discriminated in state employment in Mizoram. Here, I want to focus on another important aspect which has not been raised anywhere, even by the Chakmas themselves in Mizoram. It is the state government’s uncanny way of changing names of the Chakma villages. In recent times, the Chakmas have seen their villages abruptly having different names in the official records. The Chakma names have been replaced by Mizo names ; all without any discussion with the concerned Chakma villagers. In most cases, the consent of the Chakmas has not been taken at all prior to such name changes. Chakmas have not protested either.

The Chakmas have fondly called their Autonomous District Council Headquarters “Kamala Nagar”. But the Mizos changed it into “Chawngte”. I have not known any kind of protests – verbal or written – from the Chakma Autonomous District Council authorities against change of their headquarters name. “Chawngte” has slowly crept in into the Chakmas’ vocabulary and acceptance. In the CADC, where the Chakma minority community enjoys some degree of political autonomy, all other traditional village names have been kept intact but the Chakmas have failed to defend their capital. In this intense battle of languages, the fortress of the Chakma kingdom has already fallen.

It is however important to note that most name changes took place in areas outside the CADC, which in turn indicates their vulnerability.

How will you feel if you wake up one fine morning to know that you are living in the same village but with a different name? Below are some of the villages whose original (Chakma) names have been changed officially.

Original name of villages (Chakma) Mizo name
Kamala Nagar ----------------------------Chawngte
Demagiri ---------------------------------Tlabung
Amsuri -----------------------------------Tuipuibari
Malsuri ------------------------------------Luihausa
Eirengsuri --------------------------------Phainuam
Bogahali ----------------------------------Sachan
Nuo Bogahali -----------------------------New Sachan
Huzuruk Bui -----------------------------Hruiduk
Kau duor---------------------------------- Kauchhuah
Matiasora ---------------------------------Belpei.

---------- ----------
---------- -----------

The list is not exhaustive. Yet the list could be much longer, after a few years. So, I have left some rows blank, you see.

As I said before, the consent of the Chakmas have not been sought or their consent had been taken in an arbitrary manner. Chakmas should have the right to know the reasons behind the name changes. But no Chakma has dared to ask why? Neither is any Mizo official willing to devolve any answers. They are happy the Chakmas are mum.

I personally wonder what could be the reason or reasons behind this policy of the state government? Is it acting like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra which has passionately changed the name “Bombay” to “Mumbai” with a warning to all who use the old “colonial” name. Or is it merely because the Mizo officials find too difficult to pronounce the Chakma names and hence, are not able to conduct enough development activities in the Chakma villages? Alas, the developmental activities in the Chakma villages have not been yet started even after the name change.

Certainly, development is not the motive. But what it could be then?

What is that (agenda) which is behind the names? Names are not for nothing. Often, a name tells a history and has cultural significance. Perhaps, it is this cultural attachment the Chakmas have with their village names which the Mizo officials are willing to erase? But there is something more serious than this. It is an act of hegemony by the majority - which thrives the culture to impose something symbolizing the majority upon the minority.

The new Mizo names at first held strangely to the ears of the Chakmas as perhaps in a similar way the Chakma names sounded to the ears of the Mizos. But now the Chakma villagers have been accustomed with the new name imposed on them, and they are not complaining.

Quietly, the objective of the state government represented by the majority has been achieved.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Outright discrimination against Chakmas in Mizoram

(Discrimination on the basis of language)
By - Paritosh Chakma

There are 71,283 Chakmas in Mizoram, according to the Census of India 2001 which also states that “Chakma has registered the lowest literacy of 45.3 per cent, with male and female literacy at 56.2 per cent and 33.6 per cent respectively.”

The people of Mizoram, including the Chakmas, are proud that Mizoram is the second most literate state in the country and is still improving its record. But honestly there is also nothing to cheer about when it comes to the conditions of the Chakmas who are living outside the jurisdiction of the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC). In these areas, in particular in the border areas near the India-Bangladesh border, education does not receive any importance from the state government of Mizoram. I have myself visited these areas and have seen with my own eyes how difficult it has become to receive education beyond what is being provided under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). There is simply no middle school, not to say of high school. SSA education in the Chakma areas is nothing but only an official record that the state has reached to the masses and the state is progressing towards full literacy.

The goal of education is to make a man with capital letter M, as Swami Vivekananda has said. Education allows one to have a decent job and bring stability, progress to the family and to the society at large. But this is not to happen to the Chakmas of Mizoram, especially for those who are living outside the CADC.

To make the matter worst, the state government of Mizoram, it seems, is determined not to provide government jobs to the Chakmas, the largest minority community in the state. With clear evil design in mind, the state government has framed such rules under which candidates must pass Mizo subject up to Middle school level to qualify for state government jobs. It is needless to say that the representation of the Chakmas in the state services has been very negligible in Mizoram.

I do not doubt of the fact a public servant must be able to communicate in the state language (Mizo in case of Mizoram) to be able to provide better and efficient services to the public. Hence, one may argue that a state government official, even if he is from minority community, must be able to speak in Mizo. I do not debate the merit of this argument.

But the truth lies deeper, which needs proper examination. The state government of Mizoram has passed several Recruitment Rules where “working knowledge of Mizo language at least up to Middle School standard” has been either made a compulsory requirement of educational qualification or as a “desirable qualification”.

The following are just a few of the Recruitment Rules which have provided that Mizo subject is a necessity for qualification for the jobs:

- MizoramPublic Health Engineering Department (Group A' posts) Recruitment Rules, 2008

- Mizoram Public Health Engineering Department (Group B post) Recruitment Rules, 2006

- Mizoram Public Health Engineering Department (Group D post) Recruitment Rules. 2006

- Mizoram Transport Department (Group 'B' post) (Non-Gazetted) Recruitment Rules, 2006.

- Mizoram Industries Department (Group 'B" post) Recruitment Rules, 2006.

- Mizoram Education and Human Resources Department (Group 'C' post) Recruitment Rules, 2007.

- Mizoram Home Guard Department (Group ‘C’ post) Recruitment Rules, 2007

- Mizoram Home Guard Department (Group 'B' posts) Recruitment Rules, 2007

- Mizoram Health & Family Welfare Department (Group 'B' posts) Recruitment Rules, 2008.

Mizoram Rural Development Department (Group 'B' posts) Recruitment Rules, 2008.

- The Mizoram Administrative Training Institute (Group B post) Recruitment Rules, 2008

- The Mizoram Rural Development Department (Technical Wing) Recruitment Rules, 2008

All of these above Recruitment Rules have set “working knowledge of Mizo language at least up to Middle School standard” as a qualification for the job. In cases where this requirement has been mentioned as “desirable qualification” this is just to hoodwink the world because past experiences tell that it is nothing short of an eligibility requirement for the job.

One of my friends was harassed by the Chairperson of the Interview Board when he appeared for the interview for Hindi teacher in 2008. My friend is a graduate in English medium but he had studied in Haryana, which is a Hindi belt and hence is fluent in both speaking and writing Hindi. Even the BSF personnel in his village are awestruck by his ability to speak Hindi so well. Now, you tell me what is that he is lacking to be eligible for Hindi teacher job. But because he did not study Mizo in school it became an obstacle for him.

The interview board in stead of sticking to their mission to judge his Hindi abilities and character to know whether he is suitable for the job, began to question him on his inability to speak Mizo well and for not studying Mizo subject. He was asked to sing a Mizo song and translate into Hindi an old Mizo proverb. He could sing a small Mizo song but could not understand the Mizo proverb (we all know, proverbs in all societies are difficult to understand as they always carry a history with them and a deeper meaning). My friend was almost asked to get out of the room when he annoyed the Chairperson after he answered a question somewhat funnily. The Chairperson asked as to how he (my friend who is a Chakma) will teach the Mizo students if he is appointed in a Mizo village after his selection to the Hindi teacher post. My friend answered this way, “Sir, I shall teach as the Mizo teachers are teaching the Chakma children when posted in Chakma villages”. This angered the interview panel. But my friend was trying to convey a message that the Mizo teachers who are not able to speak or understand Chakma language are not doing justice to their jobs and hence doing injustice to the Chakmas.

Hence, the question is not whether Chakmas should also learn Mizo language (they should definitely learn) but whether or not these Recruitment Rules are discriminatory against the linguistic minorities like the Chakmas.

Article 16 of the Constitution of India provides 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.”

The incident I have mentioned above clearly shows that the Chakmas are discriminated in matters of employment on the ground of religion (Chakmas are Buddhists), race, caste, and language.

The European Commission's anti-discrimination website gives the following example of a more subtle form of discrimination: "An example of indirect discrimination is requiring all people who apply for a certain job to sit a test in a particular language, even though that language is not necessary for the job. The test might exclude more people who have a different mother tongue."

Certainly, the requirement to speak and sing Mizo songs by non-Mizo candidates in an interview for the job of Hindi teacher in Mizoram ("even though that language, i.e. Mizo, is not necessary for the job, i.e. Hindi language teacher) is an act of racial discrimination.

In other states, of course the state language could be one of “desirable” requirements for the job and the candidates are sometimes specifically given preference in selection based on their ability to read, write and speak the concerned state or regional language if the profile of the job so demands. But in the case of Mizoram it is different and discriminatory. Let me explain.

Most of the Chakma students complete their education (Middle School onwards) outside the state of Mizoram. They study in institutions where the expenses are low and affordable, say in Shillong (for example, Ramakrishna Mission), in different towns of Assam, Kolkata (for example in Bodhicarya School which is a charity institution), in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Mumbai, Mysore (in Hindu and Christian missionary schools) etc.

So, they do not have the opportunity of studying Mizo subject in school because the Mizo as a subject is certainly not taught there. But as per the Recruitment Rules, the candidates must study Mizo subject up to Middle School (or Class VII) standard to qualify for appointment. I wonder how the Mizo students who have done their Middle School studies outside Mizoram qualify for these jobs of Mizoram government.

Legally, by “Working Knowledge of Mizo at least up to Middle School standard” it is meant that one must possess the academic passing certificate of Class VII wherein it is shown that he or she has passed the Mizo subject. Here lies the basic problem.

A Chakma graduate can learn the Mizo language at later stage but it is impossible for him to change his Class VII certificate, can he? Hence, the eligibility criteria should have been ability to speak the Mizo language to the extent that the candidate can communicate with the general public in Mizoram.

The problem also is, the government of Mizoram has failed to introduce the Mizo subject compulsorily in schools in Chakma dominated areas. When laws have been framed, there must be also facility of Mizo teachers teaching the Mizo subjects to the Chakma and other non-Mizo children in schools.

Only if Mizo teachers are appointed to teach the Mizo language in Chakma village schools that the problem could be solved to a large extent. Till then the Chakmas will continue to suffer discrimination because of the wrong policies of the state government towards the minorities in Mizoram.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The fish bone that stuck in my throat!

I cannot do without writing about what happened to me yesterday (14 May 2009). We were having launch in the office at around 1-10 pm. There were several delicious dishes including fish, which my friend brought from home and chicken which we ordered from the hotel nearby. I almost finished my launch – and probably I was putting the last mouthful of rice mixed with fish curry, when a fish bone got stuck in my throat. It felt horrible. Since childhood, I am afraid of fish bones and hence, I am not an avid fish eater, though I like it.

As I felt the pain, I abandoned my meal and rushed to the toilet basin (as I did not want to make noise which could make others having meal fishy and embarrassed).

I was advised to eat bananas, which would take the fish bone down to the stomach. In fact, generally people eat bananas, or bread, or hot rice – without chewing – to get the fish bones eradicated. I tried all of these, but the fish bone seemed adamant.

I tried to vomit out. I did it for at least 15 minutes, almost, I felt, I emptied out my stomach. But nothing worked. I felt so weak.

It was then I decided to go to the doctor. Smiling, I explained to the doc what had happened. He checked my mouth, sprayed a small quantity of local anesthesia which made my tongue heavy and throat numbed.

Then, he easily removed the fish bone with the help of his instrument. "There it is", he exclaimed as he plucked out the fish bone. It was a tiny one, which the doc handed over to me. The entire exercise hardly took five minutes. It was an easy process but then he charged me a fat fees – Rs 500/- bucks. He also prescribed some medicines.

My friend mocked me saying a small peice of fish cost me rupees five hundreds (given that in Delhi, one kilo fish cost around Rs 70-80). Relieved that I felt, I did not think of the monetary loss.

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