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.

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