Monday, November 30, 2009

End Discrimination; take ‘Positive Discrimination’ Policy

(Note: This full article is being reproduced with permission from The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum. This article was first published in the November 2009 Issue of the MCDF’s Newsletter)

I. Introduction
Equality and non-discrimination are two of the main fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution of India. All are born equal, and the State cannot discriminate against any citizen on grounds of “religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them” (Article 15(1) of the Constitution). Yet this does not prevent the state government of Mizoram from resorting to flagrant discrimination against the minorities in particular the Buddhist Chakma tribals.

The most tangible proof of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and language in Mizoram is available in the form of various official Recruitment Rules (RRs), notified by the government of Mizoram, which prevent the linguistic minorities from availing jobs. The RRs make anyone ineligible for government jobs under Mizoram government if he/she did not study Mizo subject up to Middle School level. Although the RRs are application to even the Mizos the main intention is to target the linguistic and ethnic minorities. Even more outrageous is the denial of any opportunity to the Chakmas to learn the Mizo subject in schools. The government of Mizoram has deliberately failed to appoint any teacher to teach the Mizo language subject in any of the schools situated in the Chakma dominated villages. This is a well-designed policy primarily to prevent the Chakmas from learning the Mizo subject in schools and then, to deprive them from jobs under the RRs. The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum (MCDF) condemns this anti-minority policy of the state government in the strongest possible term.

II. Knowledge of Mizo is must to get jobs
One of the important safeguards guaranteed to the linguistic minorities in India is “No insistence upon knowledge of State’s Official Language at the time of recruitment” (see the website of the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, http://nclm.nic.in). This safeguard has been blatantly violated by the Mizoram government. The government of Mizoram has officially admitted that “knowledge of Mizo is a pre-requisite for recruitment”. This is available in the reports of the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM). There has been no public debate on the Recruitment Rules and the public have been kept in the dark. Even today, these RRs are little known to the Chakmas.

III. Mizoram govt prevents study of Mizo subject in schools
In a report the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) stated that although knowledge of Mizo up to upper primary standard is mandatory for jobs, “But in the visit to the Nepali school, it was found that Mizo was not taught there up to upper primary standard. Since they can then pursue higher studies through English medium, those desirous of joining the services are at a disadvantage” (43rd Report of the NCLM). This fact applies to the Chakma and other minorities who have been deprived of teaching of Mizo subject in English medium or Bengali medium schools.

Strangely the Mizoram government has made knowledge of Mizo up to Middle School level compulsory to get jobs but has not made any arrangement to provide the facility to the minorities like Chakmas to study the Mizo subject in school. The government has not appointed any teacher to teach the Mizo subject in any of the schools in Chakma dominated villages. Studying the Mizo subject by the Chakma children by themselves is out of question.

IV. Why minorities must oppose “study of Mizo” requirement
The Mizoram Chakma Development Forum agrees with the majority opinion of the Mizos that residents of Mizoram must be able to communicate in Mizo language. Surely, any public official if posted in Mizo dominated areas would not be able to function effectively if he can’t speak Mizo with the public who are Mizos. But there is a vast difference between learning (or knowing) the Mizo language and studying the Mizo subject in school. The Mizos in general and the Mizoram government in particular must realize this difference and take corrective measures as soon as possible.

While the Mizo tongue can be learnt at subsequent stage by the Chakmas (say even after completion of their graduation) but the fact that they have been deprived of studying the Mizo subject in school still deprive them of government jobs under the RRs. That is, even qualified Chakmas who know how to speak the Mizo language fluently do not qualify for competitive examinations due to the discriminatory RRs. The Mizos and the Mizoram government must appreciate the fact that the Chakmas, for example, can learn the Mizo language but they can never legally change their school certificates/ mark sheets when they have not studied the Mizo subject. More importantly, the RRs violate the rights of those students whose parents are Central government employees posted outside Mizoram. Surely, they have no chance to study the Mizo subject in schools. Therefore, a student may complete his graduation from prestigious Delhi University or Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) but still would not qualify for jobs in Mizoram under RRs because he had not studied Mizo subject up to Middle School. This is most absurd and constitutes flagrant violation of the fundamental right to equality and nondiscrimination.

Therefore, the MCDF does not think the Recruitment Rules of Mizoram (those providing for mandatory knowledge of Mizo up to Middle School level) will be legally sustainable in the Court of law if the Chakmas challenge the legal validity of these RRs.

V. Recruitment Rules deny jobs to Chakmas
According to the government of Mizoram, there are 546 Recruitment Rules which provide that the knowledge of Mizo is desirable or compulsory for direct recruitment for jobs under government of Mizoram. These RRs blatantly violate the fundamental rights of the Chakmas and other minorities as enshrined in the Constitution of India including Article 14 (Equality before law), Article 15 (non-discrimination), Article 21 (right to life, including right to livelihood) and Article 16 which states that “(1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State. (2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.”

In February 2008, a public examination was held by government of Mizoram for selection of primary Hindi teachers. In this very exam, 50% of the questions were asked in Mizo language, which, as any sane individual will admit, the linguistic minorities such as Chakmas, Nepalis or Bengalis or Gorkhas or Reangs, who are citizens of Mizoram, will find difficult, if not impossible, to answer. This is against the fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination in state employment. The audacity of the education officials to engage in such type of discrimination springs from the discriminatory law. According to the Recruitment Rules for Group ‘C’ posts in the Department of Education and Human Resources Development, 2007, the essential educational qualifications for recruitment of primary school Hindi teachers are “1. Hindi Prabodh/ Parichay/ Army First Class Certificate of Education or equivalent examination recognized by government of India. 2 Class VIII passed in general education 3. Working knowledge of Mizo language at least Middle School Standard.”

The government of Mizoram has officially admitted that “knowledge of Mizo is a pre-requisite for recruitment”. In response to this, the National Commissioner Linguistic Minorities (NCLM) rightly observed that “In such a case there s no chance for linguistic minorities to get Government jobs" (see the 41st Report). This explains as to why the representation of non-Mizos like Chakmas and Reangs in government departments is so negligible.

In the 41st Report the Commissioner Linguistic Minority recommended that "Mizo should not be essential for entry into services though it can be stipulated that it will have to be learnt in the prescribed period and before the end of probation period”. The Commissioner repeated this recommendation in the Forty Third Report 2004-2005 stating that the requirement of knowledge of Mizo should either be relaxed or should not be made “compulsory at the time of recruitment” but that “since Mizo is the Official language, the knowledge of Mizo must be acquired with a stipulated period after joining service.” The government of Mizoram failed to heed to these repeated recommendations but continues to insist “knowledge of Mizo language” as a qualification for jobs in Mizoram.

VI. Recommendations:
Majority of the Chakmas still engage in Jhum cultivation (shifting cultivation) but their life is increasingly becoming harder due to lack of green forests and dwindling productivity in Jhum cultivation. The Chakmas who form over 8% of the total population of Mizoram (2001 census) are one of the most backward communities in terms of social and economic development. Recently the government of Mizoram has even referred them as “primitive tribe” due to their extreme backwardness. Due to lack of jobs and insignificant representation of the Chakmas in the state government, the Chakmas are less empowered to deal with their own problems. For Mizoram to develop wholesomely there is a need to look after the needs of each and every community and the state government must therefore undertake some positive discrimination in favour of the Chakmas for their rapid socio-economic development. Only educated and developed Chakma society can contribute to the progress of the state.

Therefore, the MCDF fervently urges the state government of Mizoram to take the following measures:

1. Provide 8% reservation for the Chakmas in all government jobs including Mizoram Civil Services in proportion to their population as a positive discrimination towards the Chakma minority community who are one of the most backward tribes in the state;

2. Immediately abolish the discriminatory Recruitment Rules or suitably amend them by deleting any reference to the requirements for knowledge of Mizo; and

3. Appoint teachers to teach Mizo language in all the schools in Chakma inhabited villages. In such appointments Chakmas who are qualified to teach Mizo must be given first priority for appointment. In the absence of enough qualified Chakmas the government must train them by providing financial assistance and later appoint them as Mizo subject teachers.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

ACHR to visit Mizoram to investigate ethnic violence

ACHR accepts offer of the Mizoram government to visit the communal affected areas if security can be guaranteed

http://www.achrweb.org/press/2009/IND11-09.html

New Delhi: The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today accepted the offer of the Mizoram Home Minister Pu R. Lalzirliana to visit Mizoram. In a press held in Aizawl on 22 November 2009 in response to the press statement of the ACHR on the recent attacks on the Bru minorities, Home Minister Lalzirliana stated “ACHR representatives are most welcome to come to Mizoram and see the facts and ground realities by themselves.”

In a letter to the Home Minister of Mizoram, the ACHR welcomed the invitation as a positive step and expressed its intention to visit the State should “the government of Mizoram make necessary arrangement for adequate safety and security for the Fact Finding Team”.

ACHR stated that “In order to ensure “absolute independence, impartiality and objectivity”, it has constituted a team of five member Fact Finding Team chaired by Mr Miloon Kothari, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. Other members include Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR; Ms Dashalene Karbetang, Advocate and Human Rights Activist, Meghalaya; Mr Nava Thakuria, eminent journalist and General Secretary of Guwahati Press Club, Assam; and Mr Bamang Tago, Chairman of Arunachal Citizens Rights.

“The Investigation Team has representation from most North Eastern States and headed by a former United Nations expert from India. The members are well known in the field of human rights both in the North East region and the world.” – further stated ACHR.

The Fact Finding Team shall visit the affected areas and meet all sections including those involved in relief and rehabilitation, interview all the communities, representative of the civil society groups including the MZP and YMA and the officials of the government of Mizoram as well as those who recently fled to Tripura.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Attacks on Bru minorities in Mizoram

I. Press Release of Asian Centre for Human Rights (New Delhi), 20 November 2009
http://www.achrweb.org/press/2009/IND10-09.html

CBI investigation sought into the communal attacks on the Brus in Mizoram
- Congress is communal in Mizoram -

New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today urged Home Minister P Chidambaram to order an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the killing of one Mizo youth identified as Mr Zarzokima on 13 November 2009 and subsequent burning down of villages inhabited by the Brus also known as the Reangs in Mizoram since 14 November 2009. More than 500 houses were reportedly burnt and over 5,000 Brus were displaced and forced to seek refuge in Tripura and Assam. “As prima-facie evidence do exist to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that the State government and the some Mizo NGOs were behind the premeditated attacks to prevent the return of the Brus from 14 November 2009 and all the major attacks against the minorities took place under Chief Ministership of Pu Lalthanhawla, an inquiry by the CBI is indispensable” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

ACHR further asserted that in Mizoram, the Congress Party leaders have not been able to rise above their ethnicity and pursued policies against the minorities. All the attacks against the minorities in the State i.e. on the Buddhist Chakma tribals at Marpara in August 1992, deletion of thousands of Chakma citizens from the voters list in Mizoram in 1995 in violation of the 1955 Citizenship Act and 1986 Citizenship Amendment Act and the communal attacks against the Brus in October 1997 took place under the Chief Ministership of Pu Lalthanhawla. No relief assistance, including establishment of relief camps, has been provided to these displaced persons who took shelter in Tripura since 14 November 2009.

ACHR also urged the Centre hold a tripartite meeting consisting of the State Government of Mizoram, Central government and Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) to workout an agreement for return of the displaced Brus with guarantees for safety, security and proper rehabilitation and to send a clear message to the communal forces in Mizoram; arrest all the culprits and ensure their prosecution through speedy trial and provide assistance to the displaced.
[Ends]

II. Reply of Govt of Mizoram

Press Statement of Home Minister, Government of Mizoram in regard to the recent trouble between Mizos and Brus, 22 November 2009
[ Source: Department of Information and Public Relations, Govt of Mizoram]

It is deeply unfortunate that a highly regarded organization such as the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) has approached the Central Government with allegations that the Government of Mizoram was behind the recent communal trouble between the Mizos and the Brus. Before making such serious accusations, it would have been a wise move for ACHR to approach the Government of Mizoram to learn the facts and what steps the State Government took at the onset to prevent further violence from taking place.

I would like to make it clear here that when the State Government learned that 17-year old Zarzokima of Bungthuam village had been killed by alleged Bru militants calling themselves Bru National Army of the Bru Revolutionary Union on November 13, 2009, I made a statement to the effect that violence would be retaliated with violence, meaning the State Government would deal strongly with those threatening to disrupt the peace and harmony of Mizoram through violence.

The “prima-facie evidence” mentioned by ACHR to prove that the burning down of Bru villages were premeditated by the Government of Mizoram and “some Mizo NGOs” could stem from the accusations made by the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that my statement was provocative. As a responsible public leader and a long-time Congress man, I wish to strongly state that my statement was neither provocative nor meant to instigate communal violence.

I would be the first to admit that the Western and North Western belt of Mizoram has been a simmering pot of communal problems from as far back as 10-15 years ago and that the problems between the Mizos and Brus could escalate at the drop of a hat. As such, when the State Government learned of the November 13, 2009 killing of a Mizo youth in western Mizoram, the district authorities were immediately alerted to take action to prevent any communal trouble from flaring up while at the same time to vigorously pursue investigations into the killing of the youth. Moreover, police forces were sent from various parts of the state to Mamit district, the district where the killing took place, as reinforcements. The difficult terrain and inaccessibility of some of the villages made it impossible for the police personnel to reach these places and prevent outbursts of violence. Police, however, managed to prevent miscreants from committing arson at Damparengpui, the biggest Bru village in the area, although, unfortunately, they were unable to save five houses. Had not the police reacted swiftly, Damparengpui could have been razed to the ground and we consider it immensely fortunate that no lives were lost and no one suffered physical injuries from the Bru community.

At this point in time, the State Government is yet to establish whether any NGO is involved in the torching of villages and investigations are still on. Meanwhile, seven persons, four from Kawrthah village, two from West Phaileng village and one from Suarhliap village were arrested on November 15, 2009 in connection with the burning down of villages.

It is the State Government’s belief that the killing of Zarzokima was an attempt by some people with self-interests from the Bru community to prevent the repatriation process which was to begin from November 16, 2009 from taking place. The State Government had taken great pains to see that the repatriation take place as early as possible despite the reluctance shown by the Bru refugee leaders to be repatriated. This reluctance is clearly highlighted by some of the demands the leaders made, demands that are impossible for the state government to meet such as allocating each refugee family four hectares of land.

I would like to assure ACHR that the Government of Mizoram is in no way involved in the torching of Bru villages and that relief measures and protection for the victims are in place and have been carried out. Immediate relief measures carried out was to distribute four kg of rice to each adult and 2 kg of rice to each child, two blankets per family and a silpouline for temporary shelter. The district administration has also been instructed to provide cooking utensils and other necessary household items such as daos (big knife for cutting down bamboos and small trees) necessary for the construction of huts. The State Government has also announced ex-gratia of Rs 10,000 for each victim-family which is to be distributed without undue delay.

I would like to take the opportunity here to give a brief history of the relationship between Mizos and the minority communities of Mizoram. Mizoram has three minority communities namely Gorkhas (Nepalis), Chakmas and Brus (also called Reangs). Mizos have co-existed peacefully with these minority communities for more than a hundred years despite attacks and violence from them towards the Mizos. As anyone will know, when something goes wrong between two communities, things tend to take a turn in a communal way. As such, when a Forest Deptt. Game Watcher Lalzawmliana was killed by Bru miscreants in 1997, the first communal trouble flared up between the Brus and Mizos leading to thousands of Brus fleeing Mizoram despite urgings from the Mizoram Government not to leave the State and assuring them protection. These are the same Brus which the Government of Mizoram is trying to repatriate, the process of which was to have begun on November 16, 2009 if the incident of the killing of the Bungthuam youth had not happened. It may also be correct to mention that some of the Bru leaders living in refugee camps have become ensconced comfortably in the camps given their status as leaders and as such, are showing reluctance to leave the refugee camps since they would face great hardship making a living through farming once they come back to Mizoram.

Given the circumstances as mentioned above, it is the Brus themselves that are now causing problems in the repatriation program and not the Government of Mizoram and the Mizo community as the ACHR would have us believe. Therefore, I strongly urge the media to downplay the recent Bru-Mizo incident so as to enable the Mizoram Government to repatriate the Brus without any further problems and as soon as possible.