Saturday, June 6, 2009

Human rights situation in Mizoram during 2008

[The following is the "Mizoram" chapter in "2009 India Human Rights Report" brought out by Asian Centre for Human Rights, an NGO having Special Consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ACHR is the only human rights organization to publish Annual Report on Indian states' human rights records. The report on Mizoram may not be exhaustive one but nonetheless, it gives an insight into the realities. The footnotes have been omitted. To read the full India report, go to http://www.achrweb.org/reports/india/AR09/AR09.pdf ]

Mizoram

I. Overview

The ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) government failed to adequately address very high levels of human rights violations against the state’s minorities including religious, ethnic and linguistic communities. Ethnic minorities faced systematic discrimination in employment, accessing basic healthcare, education and development.

The Ministry of Home Affairs provided significant development assistance to Mizoram under the Border Area Development Programme to develop the areas near the international borders. ACHR visited the target areas and there is, at best, very limited development along the Mizoram-Bangladesh international border areas inhabited by the Chakma tribals who are minorities in the state.

The state government failed to provide a rehabilitation plan for the over 35,000 Chakma tribals facing imminent displacement from 49 villages due to the ongoing India-Bangladesh border fencing project. The Mizoram government took a bizarre stance on the issue stating that it did not consider people who were fenced onto the Bangladesh side to be “displaced”.

On 1 October 2007, Rev Chanchinmawia, former moderator of the Presbyterian Church Synod of Mizoram, was found dead. His body, with injuries caused by sharp and pointed weapons, was found at his Khatla Pastor’s official residence, Aizawl. However, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the state police concluded that he had committed suicide. While demanding a re-investigation, a human rights watchdog People’s Right to Information and Development Implementing Society of Mizoram (PRISM) on 27 May 2008 alleged that “The fact that Revd Chanchinmawia had received death threat mails several times due to his outright criticism of the Government, the circumstances of his death, the manner of the police investigation and the missing of the weapon of crime (found near the pastor’s body) indicated that his murder had been meticulously planned”. Public outcry forced the state government to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in August 2008.

There were some positive steps taken by the state government. On 1 June 2008 the state
Cabinet approved the government’s plan of separation of judiciary from the executive. In February 2008, Mizoram’s Director General of Police, Lalrokhuma Pachuau claimed that the state had the highest crime detection rate in the country. Mizoram’s crime detection rate increased from 93% in 2006 to 96.55% in 2007.

II. Violations of International Humanitarian Law by the AOGs

Insurgency related violence continued albeit at lower levels than in other North Eastern states.

On 2 September 2008, four Mizoram Armed Police (MAP) personnel including a Sub Inspector were killed in an ambush by the AOG, Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) near Saipum in Kolasib district. The security personnel were carrying monthly salaries and rations for their colleagues guarding the Serlui hydel power complex when they came under attack. Four policemen died on the spot and three were injured. While claiming responsibility for the attack the Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) warned of more attacks in the future.

III. Judiciary and administration of justice

In his budget speech for 2008-09 in the State Assembly on 13 March 2008, Chief Minister Zoramthanga announced that “We have completed the process of separation of Judiciary from the Executive by absorption and induction of the existing Judicial Officers into the Mizoram Judicial Service. Excluding the Autonomous District Council areas, Civil Courts have been established during the current year. It is the commitment of my Government that efficient functioning of the Judiciary for smooth administration of justice will always be ensured”.

On 1 June 2008, the State cabinet approved the separation of judiciary from the executive. The Cabinet’s decision followed a dialogue between Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga and Justice J Chalameshwar, Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court in Aizawl on 17 May 2008. The Cabinet also approved the Mizoram Judicial Service (Amendment) Rules. The separation of judiciary would also apply to the three Autonomous District Councils - Lai, Mara and Chakma which have some degree of autonomy under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India.

IV. Violations of the rights of women and children

On 20 March 2008, the government of Mizoram re-constituted the Mizoram State Commission for Women for a period of three years with the Chairpersonship of Mrs Rozami, President of the Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP), the apex body of the Mizo women in the state.

In 2007, 151 cases of crimes against women were reported from Mizoram, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Ministry of Home Affairs. These included 83 cases of rape, 66 cases of molestation and two cases of cruelty by husband and relatives.

The NCRB also reported 64 cases of crimes against children in 2007. These included 60 cases of rape, three cases of murder, and one case of “other crime”. Mizoram’s child mortality increased during 2007-08.

At least 608 children died during 2007-08 as compared to 258 during the previous year, according to Health and Family Welfare Department, government of Mizoram. Yet, many other cases went unrecorded, including in the Chakma-dominated areas along the Mizoram-Bangladesh borders. In capital Aizawl alone, the National Domestic Workers Movement Welfare Trust (NDWMWT) identified 1,832 domestic workers from 2005 to 2007 where Myanmarese migrants constitute 35.2 per cent. The Chin League of Women claimed that there were more than 3,000 Myanmarese migrant girls working as domestic helps in Aizawl.

Domestic helps were subjected to sexual and other forms of abuse. On 3 June 2008, the police arrested an employer following a complaint lodged by Mizoram unit of the NDWMWT with the Bawngkawn police station in Aizawl on behalf of a 16-year-old Myanmarese migrant girl, who was allegedly molested by her employer on 30 May 2008.

V. The Bru crisis

The state government failed to repatriate a single Bru internally displaced person (IDP) from Tripura by the end of 2008. The State failed to address the appalling conditions of the tribal Bru people living in relief camps in Tripura. Following a complaint filed by Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN), a tribal rights NGO, against the non-inclusion of 7,204 Bru internally displaced children in Tripura, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) on 8-9 September 2008 visited the relief camps in Tripura. The members of the NCPCR “were appalled by the sub human conditions under which the families had to survive…. There was none or little, if any, registration of births and deaths, marginal immunisation, no health facilities or primary health centres, no functional schools, no safe drinking water, poor sanitation and inadequate rations”. At least 30 Bru children died in the relief camps due to malnutrition and disease in August 2008 alone. The NCPCR made several recommendations to improve the conditions of the internally displaced children including the Brus sheltered in Tripura state.

A joint survey by AITPN and Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum reportedly found that 7,204 Bru tribal children had not been included in the relief ration cards which made them ineligible for basic relief like 225 gm rice, dal, and cash of Rs 1.45 per day, clothes and other facilities given by the Ministry of Home Affairs, government of India through the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department, government of Tripura. The adult Brus had to share the food quota and other facilities with their children.

Only 8,061 Bru IDPs were enlisted in the Mizoram voters’ list. Of them 6,479 persons who had been issued electoral photo identity cards (EPICs) were able to cast their votes in the last State Assembly elections held on 2 December 2008 through postal ballot.

VI. The status of minorities

The state government of Mizoram failed to address systematic discrimination against minorities – ethnic, linguistic and religious who constituted 27% of the state’s populations. Minorities complained of systematic discrimination in employment, accessing healthcare, education and development.

The Mizoram Accord of 1986 guarantees that “The rights and privileges of the minorities in Mizoram as envisaged in the constitution shall continue to be preserved and protected and their social and economic advancement shall be ensured.” The state government failed to honor these commitments.

In 1972, Chakmas, Maras and Lais were granted an Autonomous District Council (ADC) each in southern part of Mizoram. On 13 February 2008, during a visit to the state Mani Shankar Aiyar, Minister for Development of the North Eastern Region said he was shocked at the conditions in these ADCs. He told a gathering in Aizawl - ‘’It appears that only a very small proportion of funds have reached these people who constitute 15 per cent of the state’s population. I can now understand why the minorities are demanding Union Territory status. Mizoram should remain one, but it can remain united only when all the sections of the people feel that they are equally treated”.

Minorities excluded from the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) had to face more discrimination and neglect. In April 2008, ACHR visited the Mizoram-Bangladesh border areas in Mamit and Lunglei districts which are predominantly inhabited by Chakma tribals.

These areas are supposed to benefit from the very large sums of development assistance provided by Central government. The state government received Central funds under the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) for the development and welfare of the people living near the international borders (with Bangladesh and Myanmar). The main objective of the programme is to meet the special developmental needs of the people living in remote and inaccessible areas situated near the International border. The schemes/ works under BADP include construction/maintenance of roads, water supply, education, sports, filling gaps in infrastructure, security, organisation of early childhood care and education centre, education for physically handicapped and backward sections, etc. Preference is given to the villages/habitations which are closer to the border line. The Ministry of Home Affairs released Rs 1556 lakhs (10 lakhs = 1 million) during 2004-05, Rs 903.48lakhs during 2005-06, Rs 2262 lakhs during 2006-07 and Rs 2086 lakhs during 2007-08 to Mizoram under BADP. While Mizoram utilized all the funds released during 2004-05 to 2005-06, it failed to utilize Rs 991.83 lakhs during 2006-07.

During its mission ACHR found very limited evidence of development activities. The state government failed to provide Chakmas access to basic healthcare facilities. Most villages had no health care at all. In the absence of state provision villagers were forced to live at the mercy of “ojhas” (traditional herbal doctors) as they could not afford to go to hospitals in towns (like Aizawl or Lunglei) for treatment.

Child mortality rates were very high but these went unreported or undocumented. A government registrar of Births and Deaths in a Chakma village told ACHR that in a year only two or three death certificates were issued, although the infant mortality rate was quite high in the border areas. The villagers said over 100 Chakma children died every year in the border villages but these were not documented given the absence of proper mechanism.

Most villages inhabited by Chakmas along the Mizoram-Bangladesh border had no education provision. The Sarva Shiksha Abiyan (SSA) provided no benefit to Chakmas except raising the enrolment rate.

Non-local Mizo teachers were appointed in SSA schools in Chakma areas which created problems. These non-local teachers did not stay in the Chakma villages and were unable to teach the Chakma children who did not understand the Mizo language. Chakmas also faced discrimination in employment. The state’s Recruitment Rules of various government departments have made it necessary for a candidate (including a linguistic minority) to have studied (and passed) Mizo subject up to Middle School level to be eligible for government jobs. This is clearly in contravention to Article 16 (1) of the Indian Constitution which provides for “equality of opportunity” in matters of employment or appointment. The Mizoram government also failed to introduce the Mizo language subject in the schools in Chakma inhabited areas. Since Chakmas often did not study Mizo subject in schools, they faced regular discrimination in getting government jobs under state government. As a result, Chakmas’ representation in government services in Mizoram remained very negligible.

VII. Status of internally displaced persons

A total of 35,438 Chakma tribals from 5,790 families in 49 villages in western and south-western part of Mizoram faced imminent displacement due to the ongoing India-Bangladesh fencing project. Many of the victims had not been paid compensation. By the end of 2008 neither the Central government nor the state government of Mizoram had made public any resettlement and rehabilitation package for the fencing victims.

On 10 March 2008, Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN) filed a complaint with the NHRC against denial of timely compensation to the affected people. As expected, the state government of Mizoram submitted a standard reply: it denied that there was any delay in disbursement of compensation. What was more worrying was the fact that the government of Mizoram refused to acknowledge the victims as “displaced” although their homes and lands have fallen outside the fencing line. But the state government stated that they were not displaced as the “the Fencing Line is not the boundary of Indo-Bangladesh Border”.

The state government further stated that the villagers were to choose whether to stay outside the fencing line or to shift into India’s side of territory. This policy is fatally flawed. The border fencing is primarily being erected for national security and hence, if the victims are allowed to stay outside the fencing, they would be living at the mercy of the Bangladeshis and anti-India forces. Even the then Mizoram Chief Secretary Haukhum Hauzel stated in April 2008 that the Mizoram villagers who fell outside the fencing line feared for their security. He further stated that in Bindiasora village, about 80 families fell outside the border and the villagers were prevented by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) from getting sand from the river which used to be their main source of income.

In another case of displacement, the 12-MW Serlui B Hydel project was being constructed across the Serlui river near Bilkhawthlir village in Kolasib district. Upon completion of the project, Builum village would be submerged losing about 53 kms of cultivable land and 79 houses. Many villagers were shifted to Bawktlang village under Kolasib district but some 30 families refused to vacate their houses until the Mizoram government paid full compensation. The state government claimed that “adequate compensation and rehabilitation schemes have been provided” to the displaced people.

VIII. Status of refugees

There were more than 60,000 Myanmarese nationals living in Mizoram as “illegal migrants” because the government did not recognize them as “refugees”. On 1 April 2008, Mizoram Home Minister Tawnluia stated in the State Assembly that 43 Myanmarese nationals and 22 Bangladeshis who entered the state illegally were arrested and deported to their respective countries during 2007-2008. Following a brawl between the local Mizos and Myanmarese refugees at Tanhril village, about 20 km north of Aizawl, the Myanmarese refugees were served a “quit notice” asking them to leave the village by 4 October 2008.

The brawl reportedly took place after some Myanmarese refugees allegedly teased some
Mizo girls from the village while they were taking bath. But instead of taking action against the specific accused as per law, all the refugees were asked to leave. The decision was reportedly taken in a joint meeting of Young Mizo Association (YMA), Tanhril village council, Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (women organisation) and Mizo Upa Pawl (elders’ organization). At least 40 Myanmarese refugees reportedly left Tanhril village due to fear of attacks by the locals following the “quit notice”.

2 comments:

Maraland said...

Hi Paritosh, a very insightful analysis.. minorities face problems everywhere and I find the same thing was happening in Mizoram. But the new government is very hopeful. Things should improve.

On a serious note, frankly speaking Chakmas could never raise their voices under Mizo National Front (MNF) government, they didn't have the guts, it was a pity. Everyone was hobnobbing with MNF and in fact, MMNF Party even formed Chakma district council government. We felt Chakmas were really pleased with the state government. However, I read a news report recently, stating that all the MNF MDCs in Chakma ADC have now supported a congress led council, and there is only one MNF MDC left in the council. Meaning, the issue you've raised have little effect on the ground level. In the ground situation people are quite happy with the state government at Aizawl. If they are really serious why shouldn't they raise their problems in a democratic way instead of keep switching one party after another? That is my question. The grievances were not serious to be taken note by the central government.

I haven't seen villages in Chakma dominated areas in Mizoram, but have seen villages and towns within Mara ADC, people were very upset with the previous MNF government as they didn't care about educational facilities within Mara ADC. However, people hope that the present government which was voted to power with a thumping majority will not take them for a ride like the previous government. They just started to do their homework, why don't we give them some time before the hues and cries??

I hope you understood. Thank you, keep blogging..

Paritosh Chakma said...

@Maraland, I thank you for submitting a comment. But first a clarification: the post above is NOT MY analysis. It is the Mizoram chapter in "India Human Rights Report 2009" brought out by Asian Centre for Human Rights, an NGO. I have just posted verbatim.

Anyway, you r right, Chakmas have no voice. It is pity that even in Mara ADC people suffer lack of basic education. Fortunately, the Mizoram government has set up a Education Reform committee recently. Chakmas are also hoping for better treatment during congress rule at Aizawl and Delhi. The central govt is promising to easing sufferings of the people by working for agricultura, rural jobs, healthcare and infrastructure in the rural areas. Hope there is no discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity and each community gets development during the congress rule. I am sceptic though but i am also hopeful at change.