By: Paritosh Chakma
[In this article, Paritosh Chakma critically examines the position of the Chakmas of Mizoram – their social, economic conditions and political status. He delves into the tragic fate the Chakmas faced during Partition of India in 1947 and traces the struggles of this microscopic ethnic community since then, leading finally to the primary question – “Will the Chakmas survive in Mizoram?” This article is being published in a series.]
“What future do the Chakmas hold in Mizoram?” “Will they manage to survive and if yes, what will be their socio-economic and political conditions?”
Being a Chakma myself these questions are very dear to my heart. And, as human beings all of us should also be asking these questions after reading carefully about their pitiful plight in the tiny state of Mizoram in North East India.
I pose these two questions at this crucial juncture because I feel to explore the possibilities as to what the Chakmas, who are a minority, acutely impoverished, disadvantaged, discriminated, and marginalized in Mizoram, should do for themselves and more importantly, what are the measures the state government of Mizoram and the government of India should take – both short term and long term measures – to ensure equitable development and their existence in this world with all dignity a human person is entitled to under civilized laws, norms and customs.
How Chakmas lost a ‘homeland’:
Firstly, let me give a brief account of the modern history of the Chakmas. Let me begin by saying that Chakmas were proud citizens of undivided India. Their kings and queens fought against the Mughal invaders and the British Raj to protect the sanctity of their territory and for that matter, to protect India’s freedom and honour.
It is important to go back to history because had Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) been made a part of India in August 1947, as demanded by the Chakmas, their situation would have been completely different now. CHT would have been one of the biggest states of India and the Chakmas would have ruled their own destiny by themselves. But that did not happen, however.
During the 1947 Partition their homeland - the Chittagong Hill Tracts - was in the cruelest manner “awarded” to Pakistan although the Chakma and other ethnic tribes constituted 97% of the CHT's population. Muslims were only 3%. Chakma leaders passionately appealed to the India leaders and before the Bengal Boundary Commission headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British judge, to remain with India. Radcliffe did not hear them. Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy, cheated them. And, great leaders like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi did not keep their words. Sneha Kumar Chakma being a co-opted member in the Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas (Other than Assam) Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly of India did not help much.
There is enough evidence to establish that Radcliffe submitted his report to Mountbatten on 12 August 1947, but Mountbatten was ill-advised that if the Congress leaders come to know CHT has been allotted to Pakistan they would launch vehement protests and the grand ceremony of India’s freedom on 15 August 1947 would be in disarray. So Mountbatten concealed the Radcliffe Award to himself and his close confidants like V P Menon, his Reforms Commissioner. In fact, if Mountbatten is to be believed, it was V P Menon who suggested him against making public the Radcliffe's report before Partition. Thus, India and Pakistan celebrated their independence without knowing their national territories. On the dawn of 15 August 1947, like any other free Indians, the Chakmas too celebrated their freedom by unfurling the Indian tricolour at Rangamati (now in Bangladesh). The Marmas, the second largest ethnic group in CHT, raised the Burmese flag at Bandarban on the same day.
The Chakmas’ celebration of India’s independence was official. On the midnight of 14 and 15 August 1947, about then thousand people marched to the residence of the Deputy Commissioner Col. G.L. Hyde at Rangamati. The Deputy Commissioner gave them a warm reception.
"Sir, is not India independent now"?
"Yes, you are independent now and on".
"Is not, Sir, CHT a part of India under the Independence Act of India"?
"Yes, according to the Independence Act of India 1947 Chittagong Hill Tracts is a territory of Indian dominion".
"So, should we not hoist our national flag"?
"Yes, but we the British people generally hoist flags at sunrise. Please come at dawn and hoist the Indian national flag publicly in the football ground, and I will go and salute it. Thereafter I shall flourish the Indian flag in my office and residence where I invite you all. Please come here to attend my flag hoisting ceremony."
At sunrise on 15th August 1947, Sneha Kumar Chakma hoisted the Indian tricolor at an official function graced by the Deputy Commissioner Col. G.L. Hyde at Rangamati. Congratulatory messages were sent out and Chakmas and other tribal people celebrated their freedom. They were not given to know that they had been dumped to Pakistan much against their own will and aspirations.
After the bonhomie was over, Lord Mountbatten placed the Radcliffe Award and announcement was made on the All India Radio on 17 August 1947. The Chakmas and other ethnic tribes were struck by lightening to hear the news. On 21 August 1947, the Pakistan Army marched to Rangamati and pulled down the Indian flag and hoisted the Pakistani flag. Crackdown against Chakma leaders was launched. Chakma leaders convened emergency meeting and resolved to oppose the Radcliffe Award tooth and nail and to provide armed resistance if necessary. Sneha Kumar Chakma escaped to India and sought help from Patel and Nehru. Patel was willing to provide even military assistance but he said he was only “deputy” to Prime Minister Nehru.
It took Sneha Kumar Chakma fifty days to get an appointment with Prime Minister Nehru in his office in Delhi. He told Pandit Nehru that the people of CHT were ready to resist the “award” of CHT to Pakistan - they were ready to fight and India must help them. But the great Nehru forgot his promise and backed out. Perhaps, for him, as was for Mountbatten, the future of the indigenous peoples of CHT, was a “small” issue. In the words of Sneha Kumar Chakma, Nehru got up in anger and shouted – “Do you propose to bring India again under foreign rule?”
(Read the consolidated article at http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2009/08/will-chakmas-survive-in-mizoram.html )
. Sneha Kumar Chakma's memorandum to CHADIGANG CONFERERNCE - Amsterdam 10 - 11 October 1986