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 The Chakma names have been replaced by Mizo names ; all without any discussion with the concerned Chakma villagers.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.

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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.

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