Thursday, June 4, 2009

Let the Chakmas live in peace; give them the respect they deserve

Border fencing: Fencing out Chakmas' happiness?
By- Paritosh Chakma

The situation in Mizoram of the Chakmas whose land have been acquired by the government to make way to border fencing along the Mizoram-Bangladesh border is very precarious at present.

As many as 35,438 Chakmas, i.e. 49.7% of the total Chakmas of Mizoram, would be displaced due to the India-Bangladesh border fencing. There have been great disparities in payment of compensations to the victims. In many areas, I have learnt, Chakmas have expressed their dissatisfaction with the compensation amount, which they say is very low. There were protests too but who cares when tribals protest in the remotest corners of the world where journalists would seem to be aliens for the locals because they haven’t seen any one in their lives.

Blame it on the extravagant habits of the tribals, majority of those who have received their compensation money are presently living in penury. It is back to the basic. These villagers had little in terms of material possession or wealth prior to the fencing money was doled out to them. But after nearly one year they have failed to save anything for their future and their children's future. Now, everything they had - the houses, land and other properties - had gone. Gone in the wind. They are penniless again as they were before. I hear that the price of rice in the villages is as high as Rs 20 per kg for those quality of rice which are priced about Rs 12 even in metros like Delhi, and poor are almost starving. They will be more prone to exploitation. Their lives and their children's lives will be more wretched than ever before. The catastrophe of the border fencing on their lives will be beyond their imagination.

This partly explains that wealth alone cannot make a nation or a society great and progressive.

“Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is ironic that there are people, even amongst the Chakma leaders, who think that the Chakma victims have been given more compensation than their deserved considering their barren land and broken huts. The land has no high market value while the fruit gardens are not too big to generate sufficient income and their huts are made of bamboos. So what? This is their land.

Their huts may be made of bamboos and may not fetch more than five thousand rupees if they sell to another villager. So what? The government must stop looking at them as saleable commodities.

Are their lives without any value? The remorseless officials have seen only their broken houses and barren lands for which they have been paid some thousands of rupees – not their future which is totally uncertain; not the blank faces of the children who do not know where they will study after their schools have been demolished; not the pitiful faces of the women who do not know where they are going to set up the hearth of the family to cook something under a safe roof; not the faces of the men who feel helplessly ignorant as to how to feed so many hungry mouths in the household without any livelihood opportunity.

After their lands and houses have been either destroyed or acquired by the government under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the state Home Department has stated that the government did not consider the out-fenced Chakmas as displaced. It is a bolt from the blue for the Chakma victims.

There is no plan to rehabilitate the displaced Chakmas who form about half of the state’s Chakma population.

On the other hand, the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel guarding the border have reportedly been preventing the villagers from constructing new houses or even to repair their broken houses. The Chakma houses in the villages are made of bamboo and the houses needed repair after every three or four years. Those trying to repair their house roof to prevent water coming in during this rainy season have been warned by the BSF personnel! Due to fear of the BSF the villagers have been forced to live in broken houses.

The Chakmas have been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. While the state government is not willing to rehabilitate them, our sentinels of the border are preventing the villagers from repairing their own homes.

I do not understand simply what is going on? Why are the state and its machineries who are to look after our well being trying to intimidate the Chakmas, who in the first place gave away their lands to build a fortress- like barbed wire fencing to protect India’s freedom, without any protests? Today, Chakma victims do not have freedom even to build fences around their own homes or put a bamboo on the roof without fear of assault or arrest. If this is the way peace loving citizens are treated in the largest democracy of the world, then I am sorry.

This cannot go on.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, and the state government of Mizoram must ensure that all the displaced persons – whether they are Chakmas or Mizos - must be properly and fully rehabilitated with due respect and dignity. They should enjoy all the human rights and fundamental freedom as enshrined in the Constitution of India, in various laws of the land and international laws.

Let them decide their own future. Let them taste the fruits of India’s development. Give them all the respect they deserve as equal citizens of this country. More importantly, let them live in PEACE.

1 comment:

david said...

The plight of the chakma victims who were evicted out of their lands is very high.Its very sad that chakma people are the ones who have been suffering right from the partion of india and pakistan. And now it is the fencing thing that is making them miserable. The chakma villagers are not ensured of a rehabilation site.
If the onlookers don't have sympathy then the victims are on the verge of disaster. It is sad that the innocent are always the downtrodden.