Saturday, August 29, 2009

Will the Chakmas survive in Mizoram? - Section II

By Paritosh Chakma

The socio-economic conditions of Chakmas in Mizoram

The Chakmas of Mizoram are considered to be well off in comparison to their counterparts in other states of India on the basis that they have their own Autonomous District Council. This is not true. (Please see the myth I have broken about the CADC in Mizoram. Particularly note that more Chakmas are living outside the CADC than in the CADC) Look at the socio-economic development made by the Chakmas in Tripura. Today, they proudly occupy the posts of Sub Divisional Officers, Block Development Officers and high posts in the Education Department and various other departments in the state government. In Mizoram, there are none among the Chakmas who have occupied those high posts. Only one – late Nagendra Chakma, Mizoram Civil Service (MCS), was appointed as Deputy Commission of Saiha district for a short period of time on the basis of seniority. Unfortunately he had to step down because of his ill health. In Tripura there are several Chakmas who are serving as doctors in government hospitals. In Mizoram, we have none. And engineers? Chakma engineers in Mizoram simply have not got any jobs to use their engineering abilities for social good. There are few among Chakmas in Mizoram who are studying medicine or engineering, a yardstick to measure social development achieved by the Chakmas of Tripura.

While the pathetic socio-economic conditions of the Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh have rightly been highlighted (see for example, Frontline article “State of denial”), no journalist has ever ventured into the Chakma hinterland in Mizoram to tell the world about their plights.

Pathetic living conditions

First, let me tell you that the Chakmas in Mizoram live nearest to the border with Bangladesh (Mamit and Lunglei districts) and with Myanmar (in CADC). As one Chakma villager once told me, “The border people around the world are the unluckiest and most deprived souls on this earth. They always lived amid conflicts and problems of all sorts associated with the border and yet, no one cares for them”. How true he was. Whether it is Koreas, the West Bank, Indo-Pakistan and Indo-China borders, or Afghanistan-Pakistan borders, people living at the borders are the regular casualties to the war associated with the border conflicts or hostilities between countries. This apart, there are cross-border smugglings, illegal trade, and cross-border terrorism, and the border inhabitants are always the first casualties. This situation is made more miserable by denial of development and access to basic services such as health care and educational needs in the border areas.

Recently, the Chakmas of Mizoram have been facing the brunt of the border fencing. The India-Bangladesh border fencing has introduced new problems and challenges to the Chakmas – the challenges they will have to live with for ever.

The border areas inhabited by the Chakmas are undeveloped being the remotest parts of the state. Since Mizoram is a relatively peaceful state and Chakmas do not pose any threat to security, no one cares how the Chakmas are actually living their lives. The development of the border areas was never in the agenda of the Mizoram government and hence, although the government of India has pumped in millions of rupees every year under the Border Area Development Programme, the border areas in Mizoram have been left undeveloped.

The poor living conditions of the Chakmas are clearly visible by their dilapidated houses in the villages. The Chakmas live in their own communities and majority of their villages are separated from the Mizo habitations. Even in habitations where the Chakmas, Brus and Mizos live together, the houses of the Chakmas and the Brus are easily identifiable from their poor living standards.

Once we had to stop in a village in Lunglei district where we did not know any Chakma family. But we knew that the village was inhabited by Brus, Chakmas and Mizos together. So, we thought to find out a Chakma house to spend our night. Guess how did we do it? It is already dusk, and my friend suggested that we enter a house which had a broken wooden varanda. He contended that there was maximum possibility that any good house would most likely belong to Mizos. And we chose the house with broken varanda to many good houses. And lo, indeed the family belonged to a Bru, and he guided us to a Chakma family living nearby. Not surprisingly, his house too was broken and poorly roofed like many of other Chakmas. The next morning, however, we also saw that there also stood a few good and beautiful houses which belonged to the Chakmas alongside the beautiful wooden houses of the Mizos.

That is not to say all the Chakmas are poor. But my experiences tell me that most of the Chakmas have poor quality housing and living standards which are no match to the Mizos and it is also sometimes possible to identify which houses belonged to the Chakmas on the basis of looking at the houses (in cases where more than one community lived).

Majority Chakma people live impoverished lives. They are traditionally dependent on Jhum cultivation for livelihood. But now a days, the jhum produce is rapidly diminishing due to lack of virgin forests. Still the Chakma cultivators are forced to stick to Jhum cultivation and toil to make a Jhum field after borrowing money from money lenders on high interest rate. Under the terms and conditions, which is generally orally executed, the borrower has to pay double or more in the form of money or paddy. The hapless cultivator is forced to take loan to grow his Jhum field. His entire family toils in the scorching sun and incessant rain and, yet yield harvest that is hardly enough to feed the family for the entire year. He has to repay so as to keep the faith on him intact as he will again need the help of the money-lender the next year. After repayment, the farmer family is virtually left with little food. Hence, at the half of the year, they start their life in misery. They start to feed themselves by collection of vegetables in the forests and selling them in the local market to earn for the day’s bread. At hardest times, the family members are forced to live on wild but eatable potatoes available in the jungles or eating only one meal a day, saving something for the next day. The next year, the cultivator will have to again borrow to sow his Jhum field, the entire family toil in the burnt hill but end up with little produce. They again repay the money lender along with interests and they themselves live in penury. This is a vicious cycle in which the Chakma villagers have been caught. No one knows if there is an escape from that.

But recently, the Chakmas whose houses and properties have been destroyed/acquired to make way for the border fencing have received compensation, some in a few lakhs. That took off the burden for a while. But now I begin to hear that the same people who received compensation have grown poorer than they earlier were, as they spent lavishly and saved nothing. Now, they have become poorer as the price of the rice and vegetables are no longer the same as were in the pre-compensation days.

I am of the firm opinion that money cannot alone make a community rich. Give Rs 1 Lakh to each Chakma family every year, yet they will remain poor because they have no habit to save something for the future. Hence, what the government of Mizoram should do is to implement the pro-poor schemes by developing the rural areas in terms of infrastructure and facilities and provide them a source of income, alternative to Jhum cultivation. I am happy that the Central government is likely to grant Rs 2500 crore to the congress government in Mizoram for implementation of New Land Use Policy to gradually wipe out the Jhum practices by the farmers. The Congress party during their election campaigns has promised the voters to give Rs 1 lakh per family under NLUP. But I do not think that would change the future of the rural people. I do not know about the other communities, but certainly Chakmas won’t be able to develop this way. The government of Mizoram must implement the NLUP-2 by providing the seeds for alternative farming or livelihood but should not end up giving money in the hope that the villagers would themselves take care of their farming activities. This is one primary reason as to why NLUP-1 during the previous Congress regime in Mizoram failed. The Mizoram government used up the money but very few farmers were benefited in the long term: the farmers ate up the money and resorted to Jhum again!

Even the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) after 37 years has failed to bring much necessary development and change in the living standards of the common people within the CADC area. Unfortunately, the privileges are enjoyed by a few and the Chakma society in the CADC is rapidly turning into a capitalist model, where the poor are becoming poorer and the rich are getting richer. Yet, the CADC is making slow progress but that is even lacking in Chakma areas outside the CADC. The development is really stagnant. As a result, there is despair in the heart of each and every Chakma.

If the government of Mizoram does not change its policies vis-à-vis the Chakmas (e.g. the BADP implementation), there is no scope for the Chakmas to develop in areas outside the CADC. It is a fact that impoverished, backward and uneducated citizens contribute little to the progress of the nation. Their future becomes threatened.

To be continued.......>>>>

Read Section I here: http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2009/08/will-chakmas-survive-in-mizoram.html

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why and how Mizoram should promote multilingualism

By Paritosh Chakma

Let me begin by saying Mizoram is a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. In short, it is a pluralistic society in character. But the real problem is with the state government’s policy which favours a homogenous society or seems to project that way. Just take a look at the official website of the government of Mizoram, http://mizoram.nic.in/. Only the culture of Mizos is on offer. Anyone who has little knowledge of Mizoram will, after visiting the website, think that only Mizos are the residents of the state and the only language spoken is Mizo.

The problem is not only lack of official promotion of multi-cultural society. First, the majority (Mizos) will need to do away with their linguistic hegemony – both at personal level and governmental level. If we promote multilingualism, we have no loss but only to gain. I am in no way advocating that Mizos should not promote their language but only trying to say that other languages must be given space as well and we need to respect the differences. That is to say, Mizos must promote their own language but must turn bilingual or multilingual to promote communication and ties with other communities who do not speak Mizo tawng.

Language is not merely a means of communicating thoughts and ideas, but it helps build friendships, cultural ties, and forges social and economic relationships between communities. Language creates feelings of cultural kinship. If we cannot understand what another speaker is trying to communicate, how can we put in practice the ethics of Tlawmngaihna by which the Mizo society is well known?

I do not have any problem with Mizo being the only official language but I am pained at how the state treats other minority languages with glaring neglect. In turn, this creates hardships and remains one of the reasons for feeling of alienation among the Mizos and non-Mizo speakers such as Chakmas. Majority of Chakmas cannot speak Mizo and few Mizos indeed speak Chakma. The communication gap and lack of understanding of each other’s culture have created feelings of alienation, suspicion and mistrust among the two largest communities in Mizoram which is a stumbling block to the state's progress. Never has the Chakma culture been showcased in an official cultural programme outside the Chakma Autonomous District Council. It is critical that these gaps are filled for state’s integration.

Vis-à-vis the Chakmas, the state government can do this in two ways: by promoting the Chakma native tongue and helping the Chakmas learn the Mizo language. The rest will follow inexorably.

Promotion of Chakma mother tongue

One of the vital aspects is the preservation and promotion of the Chakmas’ scripts. Why should the Mizoram government promote the Chakma language and script? It must be promoted and protect because it is a unique language. With its death will die the identity of an ethnic group in the state.

The most fascinating thing about the Chakmas is that they among the rarest tribal groups in the world having their own scripts to write their language and literature (In India, most tribal groups express their literature in either Roman or Devanagari scripts in absence of scripts of their own). The scripts of the Chakmas are called “Aja Paat”. Chakmas’ folklore and folk music are inseparable from their culture and these are written in Aja Paat. The Chakma folk music includes romantic love songs known as Ubageet while the Genkhuli ballads narrate the bravery and romances of the Chakma princes and kings. These are played in blend with extraordinary traditional musical instruments. There are also epic poems like Radhamon and Dhanapati. These are orally passed on from one generation to another and have survived centuries. Buddhists books, translated into Chakma and written on palm leaves, are known as Aghartara. The Tallik is a detailed account of medicinal plants, methods of their preparation, and their use in the treatment of disease. These have also been written in Chakma script. All these exhibit the extremely rich and invaluable treasures of the Chakmas. But all these are very much on the verge of extinction today. That is why Mizoram must be proud to include, preserve and promote these treasures of the Chakmas in the Aizawl Museum. Even if Mizoram does not feel proud, it has the obligation to protect all tribal treasures – language, music, art, literature, architecture, science, medicine etc belonging to all tribal communities in the state.

Regrettably, Mizoram is not doing that for the Chakmas. While in the Chakma Autonomous District Council, the authorities have take steps to impart Chakma mother tongue in Chakma script in schools up to primary level, the Chakmas residing outside the CADC are being deprived. It is pertinent to state that more Chakmas reside in Mamit and Lunglei district than in CADC which is in Lawngtlai district and their cultural antiques including the scripts are neither protected nor promoted by the state government.

As a result, the Chakma script is in peril. Today, the script is almost dead. No one expect the Chakma traditional medicinal practitioners/healers in rural areas use it.

There is no economic incentive for learning the script by the Chakmas. Neither will the learning land us a job nor is there any scope for higher learning or research simply because the Chakma language is not rich enough for that. And, sadly, there are not many amateur learners among the Chakmas.

Once I tried to learn to read and write the Chakma “Arog” (script). After acquiring the preliminary knowledge of the script and returning back to Delhi, I remember having written a short letter to my father in the village totally in Chakma script. Bewildered at my adventure, my father, I am told, had to dash off to an elderly person, who could help him cipher my message.

One’s mother tongue is as important as one’s breath. The following poem by an Evenki poet, Alitet Nemtushkin summarizes this:

If I forget my native speech,
And the songs that my people sing
What use are my eyes and ears?
What use is my mouth?
If I forget the smell of the earth
And do not serve it well
What use are my hands?
Why am I living in the world?
How can I believe the foolish idea
That my language is weak and poor
If my mother’s last words
Were in Evenki?

I am happy that in the Chakma Autonomous District Council in Mizoram, Chakma language is taught up to the primary level. That is inevitable if the Chakma script and language are to survive. And, teaching the Chakma mother tongue to the Chakma children in areas falling outside the CADC must be high on the agenda of the state government of Mizoram. Otherwise, Mizoram will be seen as treating its own minorities with neglect and apathy. As the poem above notes, it is a “foolish idea” to believe that one’s language is superior to another.

Promoting Mizo among the Chakmas

I strongly suggest that the state government of Mizoram must take immediate and adequate measures to teach Mizo to the Chakmas. The idea is not to assimilate the Chakmas or to impose the ethnic/linguistic chauvinism of the majority over the minority but to promote integration. The teaching of Mizo should effectively begin at school level, may be from Middle School onwards.

The older generation of the Chakmas have been inclined towards learning Bengali as an additional subject on, according to me, two primary grounds: it is a rich language, and alienation from the Mizos (because the Chakmas live within their communities in habitations far away from the Mizos). But now there is shift towards the Mizo language due to various factors. First, a lot of Chakma students study in Aizawl, Lunglei and other towns and the youths have been instrumental in shift of attitude. Second, Chakmas are beginning to understand the Mizos better as there is now more democratic space given to the Chakmas. Third, there are social and economic incentives to learn the Mizo language in terms of social mobility and employment opportunities within Mizoram.

But, I must say, the state government of Mizoram has been doing a great injustice to the Chakmas. One, it has legislated Recruitment Rules making knowledge of Mizo prerequisite for employment. But on the other hand, it has denied the Chakmas any chance to learn the official language in schools. Simply no teacher has been appointed in Chakma village schools to teach the Mizo language. I cannot understand this paradox in the government’s language policy. Such ill planned policy does not help. Is it basically intended to deny the Chakma educated youths jobs in the state machinery? If true, this could be dangerous for the future.

Recommendations:

Today the Chakma script is in danger and Mizoram will suffer an irreparable loss if it becomes extinct. There is also need that all communities must come forward to forge unity amidst diversity for the betterment of Mizoram.

Therefore, I urge the Mizoram government to:

- Frame a language policy which would respect the Chakma and other minority languages and promote them with priority;

- Promote and protect the Chakma script and language, including by encouraging research and documentation;

- Take appropriate measures to teach Chakma language in Chakma script up to primary school level in Chakma dominated villages within Mamit and Lunglei districts in similar line as is being taught in Chakma Autonomous District Council;

- Do away with the language eligibility rules and therefore, suitably amend all such Recruitment Rules which insist on knowledge of Mizo at the time of recruitment. The selected non-Mizo candidates should be asked to learn the language during probation period or given some more time to learn the language; and

- Provide training and scholarships to such Chakma teachers who are willing to learn Mizo and appoint them as Mizo language teachers in Chakma village schools

-----------
Read this ARTICLE in the Merinews.com at http://www.merinews.com/article/need-to-promote-multilingualism-in-mizoram/15782190.shtml
-----------

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

India at 62: A few thoughts on Independence Day

By Paritosh Chakma

As India celebrated her 62 years of freedom on August 15, a few thoughts ran through my mind. Yet, I must confess I always become sad on this very day. As the residents of my building joined others to fly colourful kites, I pensively watched “The Legend of Bhagat Singh” in my TV set and asked to myself: do we really care how much sacrifice our freedom fighters made to win this freedom? Do we really care?

I don’t think majority of us care. That’s why we behave the way we behave – we are corrupt and insensitive to the needs of our fellow human beings; those at the helm of affairs ensure that welfare funds do not reach the ordinary people or to a particular section of citizens; the poor and vulnerable are further suppressed and exploited; farmers who produce food for the country die of hunger and debts; the poor have no basic medical facilities; we fight on grounds of castes and ethnicity and languages; women after six decades do not have freedom and get killed in the name of honour; and the majority still believe in the principle of “big-fish-eat-the-small-fish”.

I also became a bit of idealistic. Thinking of the condition of my own community (Chakmas) I thought our situation in India and Bangladesh would have been totally different had destiny had not cheated us then. The Chittagong Hill Tracts was “gifted” to Pakistan during Partition in 1947 by a man called Radcliffe despite the fact that less than 3 percent of the population was Muslim. Congress leaders like Nehru and Sardar Patel did protest later on but they did not act enough to see CHT in India. (For detail see http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2009/08/will-chakmas-survive-in-mizoram.html)

In Mizoram, minority rights are seldom respected. The rulers behave in autocratic ways and concede only what is impossible to deprive to the minorities. That is why welfare schemes have never been targeted at actual development of the minorities whether it is the Congress or MNF at the helm. The impact of the flagship programmes such as NREGS, SSA, NRHM, etc has been deliberately kept as low as possible. As pointed out by me several times, the Border Area Development Programme is yet to kick off in the border areas in Mizoram-Bangladesh sector but curiously the funds provided by the Centre was being spent by the state government. What is actually happening, there is no transparency and accountability.

In his independence day address in Aizawl, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla stated that poverty alleviation would be given top priority and promised a responsive and corruption-free administration. The Planning Commission is reportedly considering granting Mizoram a whopping Rs 2,500 crore over the next five years and these funds would be used under a revised New Land Use Policy (NLUP) for providing livelihoods alternative to unsustainable jhum cultivation.

But there are already fears in the minds of the general public who are non-Congress supporters or those who have not voted for the Congress. The Congress party came to power in the last Assembly Election riding on the promise of Rs 1 lakh to each family household under NLUP. “NLUP” is a household word among the rural people of Mizoram and they would go wild hearing it. But many Congress candidates, most of who have won, also added a rider in their election campaigns: only those who vote for the Congress will be beneficiaries of NLUP.

Now most of the Village Councils are governed by the Congress and as it always happens, the Opposition MNF has been sidelined as if the Opposition does not exist. The Congressmen in rural areas are already spreading the fearful message that only Congress “Chamchas, chelas and cronies” will get NLUP funds. Certainly, not all the citizens are Congress backers. Believe me, in villages which are small everyone knows who has voted for whom! Today, they are paranoid.

This would give a glimpse of how our socalled flagship poverty alleviation programmes are delivered throughout India, and partly expains why one-third of the globally poor people are still living in India, even after 62 precious years of independence and India's robust economic growth.

The rest I won't say much, it is for you, those who happen to read this, to think.

[Read my last year's thoughts at http://paritosh-chakma.blogspot.com/2008/08/india-at-61-what-freedom-means-to-me-as.html ]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Will the Chakmas survive in Mizoram? (Section I)

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"]

Introduction:

“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.

Part I

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 lightning 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?”[1]

Part II

Persecution under Pakistani Rule

As the CHT was unjustly “awarded” to Pakistan by Radcliffe’s Award, the Pandora’s Box opened and it has been an unending saga of sufferings for the Chakmas and other ethnic groups of CHT. Of a dozen of ethnic tribal groups living in CHT, the Buddhist Chakmas are numerically dominant and hence their sufferings are more visible. The other ethnic groups in CHT are Marma, Tripura, Tonchungya, Chak, Pankho, Mru, Murung, Bawm, Lushai, Khyang, and Khumi.

The CHT’s indigenous peoples had no faith in Pakistan’s secularism although Muslim League leaders assured that minorities would be protected. Days after the Partition, a large group of Chakmas crossed over into India fearing for their lives in Pakistan.

Under the British rule, CHT enjoyed relative “sovereignty” as the British role was mainly limited to collection of annual tax in cotton or in cash. In the words of Mr. Halbed, Commissioner of Chittagong (1829): “The hill tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are not British subjects, but merely tributaries, and we have no rights on our part to interfere with their internal arrangements”. In 1900, the British enacted the CHT Regulation Act 1900 (popularly known as the CHT Manual) to declare CHT as a “special area”. Subsequently, the Government of India Act 1935 designated the CHT as a “Totally Excluded Area” and restricted settlement of peoples from outside of the region.[2]

The first Constitution of Pakistan (1956) recognized the CHT region as “special area”. But in 1964, its special autonomous status was revoked and the region was opened up to economic exploitation. The influx of Bengali settlers formed a part of State Policy.

Most of the years of Pakistan’s independence up to 1971 (when Bangladesh was liberated) were spent under Martial Law where there was no rule of law. The rights of the indigenous peoples of CHT was severely curtailed and violated. They had no democratic space to raise their legitimate concerns.

In 1962, a large hydro-electric dam known as Kaptai dam was built over Karnaphuli river near Rangamati which submerged 40% of CHT’s agricultural lands belonging to the indigenous peoples. At least 54,000 acres of settled cultivable land, mostly belonging to Chakma farmers were lost in 1957 when the government acquired land for the construction of the dam. Some 18,000 families consisting of about 100,000 people lost their homes and prime agricultural lands. Of them, over 40,000 Chakma tribals crossed the border into India. The Chakmas call this event “Bor Parang” (the great exodus).[3] About 60,000 Chakmas and Hajongs are presently seeking citizenship rights in Arunachal Pradesh in India where they had been settled by the government of India after they fled East Pakistan.

Part III:

Chakmas under Bangladesh regime: Attempts at annihilation

This section provides a brief note on the situation of the Chakmas in Bangladesh, which emerged as a sovereign country, with India’s direct help, in 1971 following a nine month liberation war.

After the withdrawal of Pakistani army the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Forces of Bangladesh) began to unleash terror on the indigenous Jummas[4] in CHT. On 15 February 1972, a delegation of the Jumma people led by M.N. Larma (Chakma) submitted a four-point charter of demand[5] to Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which were rejected outright. The Jummas under the leadership of Mr Larma launched a political outfit, the Parbattya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (Chittagong Hill Tribal People's Coordination Association) to protest oppression and later waged a guerilla war against the state since mid-1970s to demand the right to self-determination. The Bangladesh regime responded with bullets, massacres; and in particular, used rape of indigenous women as a weapon of war. Since 1980 there have been 13 major massacres of the Jummas by the Bangladeshi settlers and the Bangladeshi security personnel. These are: Kaukhali-Kalampati Massacre of 25 March 1980 (300 Jummas killed), Banraibari-Beltali-Belchari Massacre of 26 June 1981 (hundreds killed), Telafang-Ashalong-Tabalchari Massacre of 19 September 1981 (hundreds killed), Golakpatimachara-Machyachara-Tarabanchari Massacre of June-August 1983 (800 Jummas killed), Bhusanchara Massacre of 31 May 1984 (at least 400 Jummas were killed and many women were gang raped), Panchari Massacre of 1 May 1986, Matiranga Massacre of May 1986 (at least 70 Jummas killed), Comillatilla, Taindong Massacre of 18-19 May 1986, Hirarchar, Sarbotali, Khagrachari, Pablakhali Massacres of 8-10 August, 1988, Langadu Massacre of 4 May 1989 (40 Jummas killed), Malya Massacre of 2 February 1992 (30 Jummas killed), Logang Massacre of 10 April 1992 (400 Jummas killed) and Naniachar Massacre of 17 November 1993 (about 100 Jummas killed).[6] No one was ever prosecuted for any of these acts of genocide.

The root of the CHTs crisis lies in the policies of the government of Bangladesh which seek to establish homogenous Bengali Muslim society. Hence, the response of Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman to Chakmas’ demand for autonomy was - “If you wish to stay in Bangladesh forget your ethnic identity and live as a Bengali”. This implies the destruction of the identity of the indigenous Jumma peoples. The successive governments at Dhaka stuck to this policy throughout. Since late 1970s, the government of Bangladesh sponsored a migration of plain Muslim setters into CHT in blatant violation of the CHT Regulation, 1900 for political purpose. Between 1978 and 1984, the government of Bangladesh reportedly transferred half a million poor Bangaldeshi settlers to CHT and provided them free ration, housing, protection and assistance to grab indigenous peoples’ lands to sustain the conflict and to annihilate the indigenous peoples.[7] Today, as a result of the aggressive settlement policy, the Chittagong Hill Tracts has a population which is almost evenly divided between Muslim homesteaders and the indigenous Jummas. As per the 1991 census, out of total 9,74,447 population of CHT, 5,01,114 were tribals (51.4%) and 47,3333 non-tribals i.e. Bengali Muslims (48.5%)![8] In 1947, the non-tribals constitued only about 3% in the CHT.

On 2 December 1997, the government of Bangladesh and the Jummas signed the CHT Peace Accord which ended the tribal insurgency, but the Bangladesh government has refused to fully implement the Peace Accord. For example, thousands of refugees who returned from India as per the agreement have not been resettled. In short, Bangladesh's policy towards the indigenous peoples is: "We want the land but not the indigenous peoples". The attacks continued with impunity. On 20 April 2008, hundreds of illegal plain settlers backed by Bangladesh army attacked seven indigenous Jumma villages and burnt down at least 77 houses of indigenous Jumma peoples and a church and two UNICEF run schools in Sajek area under Rangamati district (see a report: http://www.aitpn.org/Reports/Bangladesh-Sajek.pdf). The situation of the indigenous Jummas remains precarious.

Part IV:

Chakmas in Mizoram – Many myths to be broken

Myths are no realities; there is wide gap between them. We must spot the gap. There are several misunderstandings about the Chakmas or lack of proper understanding about their situation in Mizoram. In this Chapter, I intend to break some of these myths concerning the Chakmas.

Myth # 1: Chakmas are not sons of the soil in Mizoram

Many scholars while dealing with the Chakmas of Mizoram have stated, without much credible research done, that Chakmas are “recent immigrants” to Mizoram. Such claims provide the impression that the Chakma tribe did not have roots in Mizoram and hence, they are not the “sons of the soil” in Mizoram. Mizoram (Lushai Hills) was once a district of Assam and was made into a Union Territory in 1972 and attained full statehood on 20 February 1987.

Due to their systematic persecution under East Pakistan (since 1947 up to 1971) and under Bangladesh (since 1971) – as has been explained in previous chapters – thousands of Chakmas have undoubtedly fled to India to save their lives. They have been provided refuge and protection in India officially by the government of India. They were never “illegal immigrants” or economic migrants like the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh (primary Bengalis) who flooded Assam, Tripura, West Bengal etc. The Chakmas who fled to India are refugees just like the Chins from Myanmar, Tibetans from Tibet (under China), Tamils from Sri Lanka and Afghans from Afghanistan. They should therefore be treated as such and not to be bracketed with other “illegal foreigners” in this country. It is true that a group of these refugees also settled down in Mizoram and subsequently provided Indian citizenships.

There is little meaning to the claim that Chakmas do not belong to Mizoram. The fact is they are as much sons of the soil as the Mizos are. There is enough modern historical evidence to prove Chakmas have been original inhabitants of western and Southern parts of Mizoram bordering Bangladesh. The ancient trading centre called Demagiri (still a Chakma dominated area) and its surrounding areas were once part of the Chakma kingdom the Chittagong Hill Tracts in present day Bangladesh but were transferred under the Lushai hills for administrative convenience by the British. As the provincial gazetteer of India Volume V at page 413 states:

"The station of Demagiri is not situated within the present area of South Lushai Hills. It is topographically within the area of Chittagong Hill Tracts. But under Sir Charles Elliot's order passed in 1892, it was declared that for administration purposes Demagiri should be considered a part and parcel of South Lushai Hills.”

The boundaries of CHT were revised and a strip on the east including Demagiri was transferred to Lushai Hills in 1900. Lushai Hills later became Mizoram.

In “Encyclopedia of North East India” Col. Ved Prakash writes:

“Early history of their (Chakmas’) settlement on the bank of River Karnafulee, and around the confluence of Karnafulee, Tuichang and Thega can be traced to the year 1763 when the East India Company by a Proclamation demarcated the Chakma territory as spreading over “all the hills from Pheni River to the Sangoo and from Nizampur Road in Chittagong to the Hills of Kooki Raja” (possibly meaning the South Lushai Hills)” (Page 1812)

Unfortunately, majority Mizos see the Chakmas as “aliens” and “outsiders” – someone who do not belong to the state. This notion feeds to the political aspirations of many political leaders who needed a break and political parties played politics over this emotive issue which is quite dangerous. The Chakmas are a distinct tribe having nothing in similar to Mizos except their physical attributes. The Chakmas are Buddhists in strong contrast to Christian dominated Mizoram; they have their own distinct language, script, dress and culture-norms. On a positive note, such differences should provide a celebration of cultural diversity rather than a reason for any strife.

Myth # 2: Chakmas have Autonomous District Council – decide their own future

Whenever Chakmas allege discrimination by the government of Mizoram, often we get a typical reply from the Mizos: “Chakmas have been granted Autonomous District Council and what do they want more?” That comes as a rude shock to me every time I hear it. The one-line answer emanates from lack of understanding of the issues properly and the misconception the Mizos have that all the Chakmas have been empowered with an Autonomous District Council which allows them to decide their own future. There is a general feeling that the Chakmas have no right to complaint after they have been given a “territory of their own” within Mizoram to administer. The Mizoram government also often rubbishes the claims of discrimination citing the Chakma Autonomous District Council as a measure of empowerment provided to the largest minority in the state. When discrimination against minorities like Lai and Mara are pointed out, a majority section of Mizos would hit back saying Lai and Mara are Mizos and hence, the question of racial discrimination did not arise.

About the claim that there is no discrimination whatsoever against the Chakmas in Mizoram, I will debunk later in this article, but here I deal with the question of the Chakma Autonomous District Council. Let me begin by saying that the notion that entire Chakma population in Mizoram enjoys power and privileges under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution is a fallacy.

In 1972, consequent to the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, Mizoram became a Union Territory and honouring the demands of the ethnic minorities the Central government created three separate Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) – one each for the Chakma, Mara and Lai minorities. The need for political safeguards within Mizoram was felt by the minorities as strongly as was felt by the Mizos when they demanded a separate state to be curbed out of Assam. By granting an ADC to the Chakmas in Mizoram under the Sixth Schedule the Central government led by the Congress took a major step to correct the mistakes committed by the Congress leaders in 1947 when the Chittagong Hill Tracts was awarded to Pakistan. But the attempt to assuage the sufferings of the Chakmas was half-hearted. Another grave mistake was committed in 1972, again by the Congress leadership, when half of the Chakma population was not included inside the area of CADC. Strangely, the Chakma Autonomous District Council was carved out of the Chakma-dominated areas of the erstwhile Chimtuipui district but did not include the Chakmas living in Lunglei and Mamit districts. As a result, more Chakmas live in Lunglei and Mamit districts than under the CADC.

While demanding autonomy under the Sixth Schedule, the Chakma leaders argued that all the Chakma inhabited areas should be included on the grounds that the entire Chakma population lives in contiguous areas and they share the same ancestry, history, social and cultural bonds and speak same language and follow the same religion (Buddhism). But their aspirations were hunted down.

The impact of exclusion of over half of the Chakma population from the CADC has been horrible. For decades, the excluded Chakmas have been deprived of development of their areas, jobs, education and livelihood. They are neglected, impoverished and disempowered. The state government has totally neglected the Chakmas’ arts, culture and literature in areas falling outside the CADC while the CADC continues to preserve and promote the unique culture, folklores, songs, music of the Chakmas inside the CADC and have even produced documentary and commercial telefilms. The Chakma children in Lunglei and Mamit districts have been deprived of elementary education in their mother tongue, a positive measure which the authorities of CADC have been taking in schools under the CADC jurisdiction. As per my knowledge, the state government of Mizoram has not published even a single book in Chakma language. While the CADC continues to promote Chakmas’ art and culture, the excluded Chakmas are lagging far behind. Thus there is a wide gap being created amongst the Chakmas in Mizoram due to the separation in 1972.

There is a common resentment among the Mizos against the grant of political power to the Chakmas by the Central government. Immediately after signing of the 1986 Peace Accord, the Mizo National Front (MNF) led by Laldenga asked the government of India to abrogate the CADC. But the government of India did not agree. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi told a rally in Aizawl: "If the Mizos expect justice from India as a small minority, they must safeguard the interest of their own minorities like the Chakmas".[9] “Between 1986 and 2000, […..] there have been 21 private members’ resolutions submitted in the Mizoram Legislative Assembly by Mizo legislators, mostly belonging to the MNF, calling for abolition of the Chakma Autonomous District Council. Seven of these private members’ resolutions were rejected, 14 were admitted of which two were discussed and finally negated because of stiff opposition by the Congress”.[10]

The three District Councils of Chakma, Lai and Mara reflect the plurality of Mizoram. The government will do well by facilitating inclusion of the entire Chakma population under the Chakma District Council to enable the Chakmas to develop uniformly and preserve their own culture while removing the growing gap between the Chakmas and Mizos on the barometer of human development. The extension of the area of CADC should be seen as further decentralization for development of Mizoram and preservation of the cultural identity including language, script, tradition etc of the Chakmas. Growing together of all sections of the population indicates progress, and not otherwise.

Myth # 3: Chakmas participate in the decision making process

If anything, this could be only partly true. For, out of over 72,000 Chakmas only about 35,000 Chakmas are empowered to participate in the decision making process; this happens within the Chakma Autonomous District Council in Lawngtlai district and through their single Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA). A large section of Chakmas living under Mamit and Lunglei districts have been denied representation/participation in the decision making process of the state government, although such decisions decisively affect them.

Outside the CADC, Chakmas have only one MLA from the community to represent them. The Chakmas of the Tlabung Assembly Constituency, a Chakma dominated constituency, has always elected a Chakma leader to represent them in the State Assembly. But Chakmas also live in at least four other Assembly Constituencies namely, Thorang, Dampa, Mamit and Hacchek. They elect their MLAs (Mizos) but these MLAs have never taken up their interests in the Assembly House.

In the 40-member State Assembly two Chakma MLAs are microscopic minority and their presence are not felt. Moreover, they were never seen taking a stand inside the House independent of the wishes of their respective party bosses. As a result, none was sitting in the State Legislature who could raise the voice of protest when various anti-minority laws such as the Recruitment Rules were being passed. Various Recruitment Rules require that candidates must have knowledge of Mizo up to Middle School standard, i.e. candidates must have studied the Mizo subject in school to be eligible for government jobs in Mizoram. These Recruitment Rules were primarily targeted at the non-Mizos, in particular the Chakmas, for Mizo rulers know most Chakmas do not learn the Mizo subject. Alternatively, there are simply no teachers appointed in Chakma village schools to teach the Mizo subject.

More significantly, Chakmas do not have any government servant at officer level outside the CADC. This make them more disempowered to deal with the problems or to improve their situation. They live at the mercy of the Mizo officials to have access to basic needs and facilities. Decisions relating to livelihood, forest rights, access to facilities under the Public Distribution System etc– all are decided for the Chakmas by the Mizos without consultation of the Chakmas, let alone their consent. For example, the Chakmas who are the worst victims of the ongoing India-Bangladesh Border Fencing have no say in the project whatsoever. The state government has little interest to know their problems relating to the fencing. So, who decides for the Chakmas? Surely, by the state machinery, minus the Chakmas.

Myth #4: Chakmas are highly educated

The myth is that Chakmas are highly educated. The truth is: they are the ones who have been most deprived of education in Mizoram. The concern arises as Mizoram is placed at No. 2 in the country’s literacy map. It is good to know Mizoram is at second spot, but the real question is: how far literate are the minorities?

The outside world including the decision-makers in New Delhi tend to believe that the minorities enjoy equal access to educational facilities alongside the Mizos which make the state of Mizoram only next to Kerala in literary rate. But there is no grain of truth in it. Not at least in the case of the Chakmas who are the largest minority community in the state.

Without giving any personal remarks let me examine the latest findings of the Census of India on the educational status of the minorities. According to the Census of India 2001, “Chakma has registered the lowest literacy of 45.3 per cent, with male and female literacy at 56.2 per cent and 33.6 per cent respectively.” In contrast, “Mizo (Lushai) tribes is on the top having 95.6 per cent literacy. With male and female literacy at 96.8 per cent and 94.4 per cent respectively, the gender gap in literacy is small (among Mizo). Chakma, Any Kuki tribes, and Any Naga tribes exhibit higher male-female disparity in literacy.” (Census of India 2001)

That is to say, even official statistics reveal that more than half of the Chakma population in Mizoram is illiterate. However, if Chakma activists are to be believed, the actual literacy rate is much lower than the official estimate. There could be much amount of truth in this claim for the simple reason that many Chakmas (especially the older generation) are not educated in any other medium but have informal education in their mother tongue, which is not recognized by the state government of Mizoram. The National Literacy Mission considers any one a literate who has acquired the 3 R’s - reading, writing and arithmetic and can use them in daily life. This means that you are counted as literate if you do not put thump impression when asked to write your name. Interestingly, the Chakmas have their own scripts and the older generation Chakmas can read, write and sign their names in Chakma scripts. For this the state government has no contribution at all, as the state government does not facilitate teaching of the Chakma mother tongue or scripts in schools and has not recognized the language. In the absence of state patronage, Chakma literature is optionally acquired or inherited by the younger generation from their parents or grandparents or village elders. But due to lack of official patronage, the Chakma script is almost dead and is only used by some of our grandparents. If this generation dies, the invaluable scripts will be extinct in Mizoram.

The actual literacy rate of the entire Chakma population in Mizoram could not be more than 30%. It is as high as 45% in the official record only because even the elderly Chakmas (who have never attended a school in their life time) can sign their names in Chakma script.

The educational condition of the Chakmas is pathetic. There is increasing insecurity among the Chakmas about their future as they are not able to provide higher education to their children. The Chakma parents know that today graduation is the minimum qualification for getting jobs. But where will they get this degree? In Chakma villages, only SSA schools are available, where there is simply no quality education. SSA schools have effectively helped only to raise the number of enrolment of children – a parameter the state government can boast about in official statements and records. This in turn will paint a rosy picture about the educational status of the minorities in the state.

This in practice won’t help the Chakmas much. I have travelled across Mizoram villages where the Chakmas live and I can say with authority that most villages simply do not have schools beyond primary level. Wherever primary schools have been set up, these are under SSA Mission, meaning these were established just a couple of years ago. The question is what was the state government doing all these years? The state government had practically kept generations of Chakmas uneducated by denying them access to schools.

Till today, the educational ostracization of the Chakmas continues. Chakma children do not know where to go after passing primary schools or middle schools.

As a result, a few unscrupulous individuals have lately been taking advantage of this hapless situation of the Chakma parents by collecting huge amount in the name of providing nearly free residential education to their children in schools outside the state of Mizoram. But dozens of such children have landed in trouble, and ultimately had to return home – hopeless and more traumatized.


To be continued…….>>>>>

Footnotes:

[1]. Sneha Kumar Chakma's memorandum to CHADIGANG CONFERERNCE - Amsterdam 10 - 11 October 1986
[2]. Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission, http://chtcommission.org/?page_id=85
[3]. “The construction of the Kaptai dam uproots the indigenous population (1957-1963)”, The Internal-Displacement Monitoring Centre (IMDC)
[4]. Collective name for 13 indigenous non-Bengali ethnic groups in the CHT. The term “Jumma” is derived from the traditional method of cultivation practised by the hill people
[5]. The four demands were 1) Autonomy for the CHT, 2) Retention of the CHT Regulation 1900, 3) Recognition of the three kings of the Jummas and 4) Ban on the influx of the non Jummas into the CHT.
[6]. “Background of Jummas & CHT”, http://www.angelfire.com/ab/jumma/bground.html
[7]. “Undeclared War in the CHT (1972-1997)”, http://www.angelfire.com/ab/jumma/bground/udwar.html
[8]. Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Government of Bangladesh
[9]. “Internal Displacement in South Asia”, Paula Banerjee, Sabyasachi Chaudhury and Samir Kumar Das (Editors); Chapter 4: “India’s Northeast: Nobody’s People in No-man’s Land” by Subir Bhaumik, Page 164
[10]. “The Politics of Autonomy: Indian Experiences” – edited by Ranabir Samaddar, Page 228