Monday, April 26, 2010

Cyclone hits Mizoram, 1 killed, hundreds left homeless

Merinews.com, 26 April 2010, http://www.merinews.com/article/cyclone-hits-mizoram-1-killed-hundreds-left-homeless/15805214.shtml

By Paritosh Chakma

ANOTHER CYCLONE has hit the western Mizoram and this time too it hit hard the common people, damaging hundreds of houses and other government buildings. In the early morning of Wednesday (April 21), when the villagers were fast asleep, high velocity wind swept across destroying 236 houses including 138 fully and 98 partially at Digilibagh village under Lunglei district of Mizoram.

One Chakma tribal identified as Chandra Kanta Chakma (53 years), son of Udongya Chakma died on the spot after he was reportedly hit by flying CGI sheets. Local sources informed that three persons have been seriously injured and hospitalised at nearby Demagiri (Tlabung) hospital.

They have been identified as Lokki Loda Chakma (52 years), wife of Porok Dhan Chakma; Porok Dhan Chakma (55 years), son of Muni Chakma, and Lokki Math (50 years), son of Jedhera Chakma. At least three others including two girl children suffered minor injuries. They have been identified as Daya Devi Chakma (5 years), daughter of Atul Chandro Chakma, Prisha Chakma (7 years), daughter of Lalmalswami Chakma and Nakki Chakma (22 years), daughter of Dharak Chandro Chakma.

A number of government buildings have been damaged at Digilibagh village. These include Delbachhua Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) School, Health sub centre and the community hall. Sugurobasora sub-village and Ugudosury sub-village under Digilibagh Village Council have also been affected where 11 houses and 15 houses were damaged respectively. However, no casualty has been reported from these two sub-villages.

On April 24, 2010, a five-member relief team from the Central Young Chakma Association (CYCA) visited the Digilibagh village and distributed Rs 50,000 to the cyclone victims.

The cyclone has once again brought to the sharp focus the lackluster response of the Mizoram Disaster Management and Rehabilitation authorities. When similar cyclone wrecked havoc at Silsury and Hvaha villages under Mamit district on March 30, 2010, the affected Chakma villagers have been left to fend for themselves and till date the education and healthcare facilities in these villages have not been restored.

This time too, little relief has been provided to the victims at Digilibagh village and its neighbourhood sub villages. All that has been done is the visit of Lunglei Additional Deputy Commissioner who reportedly provided a relief of Rs 10,000 to the deceased’s family of Chandra Kanta Chakma, Rs 1000 each to the three hospitalised persons and Rs 400 each the three persons who suffered minor injuries.

According to the local sources, the villagers are facing the hostile weather in temporary shelters which have been built with the help of Young Chakma Association, a community voluntary organisation. No step has been taken to immediately restore the education and health facilities in the affected villages. Ironically, Digilibagh village and Sugurobasora and Ugudosury sub-villages under Digilibagh Village Council fall under the constituency of the incumbent Minister of Disaster Management and Rehabilitation Nihar Kanti Chakma. Yet, Chakma has failed to visit the affected areas to take stock of the situation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ignorance about Mizoram?

By Paritosh Chakma

The ignorance of North Eastern states and its people among the general public in “mainland” India needs no introduction. The scenario was worst in the last decade. Mr Swaraj Kaushal, who was governor of Mizoram from 8 February 1990 to 9 February 1993, during a Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) debate on 17 May 2000 made the following statement -
"Much has been said about the ignorance of the North-East. I remember when I was the Governor I used to visit Delhi. I am very sorry to share with this House that some of the Ministers used to ask me--I was the Governor of Mizoram--"how was Mr.Gegon Apang?", little realising that Mr. Gegong Apang was the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh. Sometimes, I was told that I was staying at a beautiful place called Shillong. Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya and I was the Governor of Mizoram."
After a decade has there been any improvement in the knowledge about the North Eastern states? No doubt that there has been.

But, from a report appearing in India’s one of the most credible newspapers, The Hindu  on 19 April 2010, I am once again startled.

In its report, “Lapang willing to step down” by Sushanta Talukdar, The Hindu published the picture of Mizoram Chief Minister Mr Lalthanhawla and identified him as “D.D. Lapang” (see the report) while reporting on the possible change of guard in Meghalaya.

Was it a human error, or an error of knowledge? Certainly, ignorance cannot be a human error and the inability to identify Lalthanhawla from D D Lapang cannot be an excuse for The Hindu, which is known for its impeccable reporting of the truth. Just imagine, Nitish Kumar is identitied as Ashok Chavan. However, given The Hindu's record I am willing to believe that it was an error.

Nonetheless I am very angry. Even if a mistake, it has been committed by an intellectual community concerning a renown personality like Mr Lalthanhawla. Only a day earlier, The Economic Times (18 April 2010) had boasted about Lalthanhawla's image. Introducing Mizoram's Chief Minister The Economic Times stated-
“When Lal Thanhawla seeks an appointment with an Union minister in New Delhi, no one disappoints him despite the fact that he is the chief minister of one of the small, far-flung North-East states. After all, he first became Mizoram’s CM when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister.”
(http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/features/the-sunday-et/policy--you/I-wish-we-had-larger-number-of-MPs-Lal-Thanhawla/articleshow/5827094.cms )

My anguish over the ignorance about the NE region can be measured from this. A few months ago, a Hindi daily published the picture of Sharmila Tagore in the news piece that reported the arrest of Manipur’s iron lady, Irom Sharmila by the police! (I have been trying to trace that news clipping , but unfortunately I lost it)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bizu 2010 celebrated by Chakmas in Delhi

By Paritosh Chakma
On 13th April 2010, three social organizations namely, Mizoram Chakma Development Forum, Chakma Welfare Society, Noida and Arunachal Pradesh Chakma Students’ Union organized “Bizu 2010” celebration at Ashok Buddha Vihar, Rajghat, New Delhi.

“Bizu” means the Chakmas’ New Year. As a matter of tradition, the Chakma community follows the Bengali calendar, and hence, their Bizu coincides with Bengalis’ Pohela Boishakh. The Chakmas, although of Tibeto Mongoloid stock, have intrinsic similarities with the mainstream Indian culture in several ways. Prominent among them is that they celebrate their New Year not on the 1st January but in the month of April as celebrated by several Indian communities across the country: Bihu by Assamese, Bwishagu of the Bodos, Bishu in Kerala and elsewhere, Baisakhi in Punjab, Pohela Boishakh by Bengalis etc.

The Chakma people are found mostly in CHT in Bangladesh, Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. As a people, they had been betrayed during the 1947 Partition, and henceforth forgotten. Despite their rich history and culture they are too fragmented by political borders and marginalized everywhere. Struggle is their daily bread and butter. No surprise that they have been called the “Palestinians of South Asia”.

Yet, they as a community are proud of their past and present. They share a spirit that is indomitable and unparallel amidst the circumstances in which they live. This spirit was once again on display during the “Bizu 2010” celebration by the Chakma community in Delhi.

The stage was set at Ashok Buddha Vihar near the famous Rajghat. It was 8-30 in the morning. Chakmas, with broad smiles in their faces, began pouring in. Girls and women were dressed in traditional phinon-hadi (The Chakma ladies are identified by their phinon-hadi attire) and some of the boys and men were in white kurta (I got myself one, Bizu being a pious day). The Chakma songs provided solace to the ears and instilled immediate pride to the heart. You would immediately like to yell aloud – “This is the place where every Chakma should be today”. But I restrained my emotions on that and didn’t yell.

Refreshments were served. The programme was already running one hour late (it’s Delhi, so excuses are evident). Soon, arrangement was made for the Buddha Puja (Worship of the Buddha). The religious act was over in nearly one hour and the monks concluded by blessing every body.

The welcome song “Oh aisye aamaa Bizu din/ Aisye aamaa Bizu” (oh, today is our Bizu) was sung. It was followed by speeches by leaders from the civil society organizations and student body. They exhorted the audience to do what is good for the society and enjoy the Bizu in the right spirit.

Then came what we were all waiting for: cultural programmes. First came the group dance performed by boys and girls from Arunachal Pradesh. It was received by the audience with thunderous applause. This was followed by a dance by two young “couple” who received “engkur” (a tradition in Chakma community to loudly utter this word if you liked the performance and like to present some money to the performers. In turn performers shall perform the act once again). A spectacular dance was presented by four girls from Mizoram, followed by another dance by boys. The performances were so enthralling that “engkur” followed after every dance. The audience erupted in thunderous applause, laughter and gaiety.

No wonder, today is our Bizu.

The cultural programmes were followed by “Gile Haaraa”, a traditional game of Chakmas played during Bizu. Four teams were formed – two of boys and two of girls. The decision was taken the girls will challenge the boys. Hence, two games. Two empires were quickly nominated. It was extremely entertaining to see both boys and girls trying their hands at the game that is fast fading away from Chakma society. And behold, these girls were surprisingly not that bad in the game! However, despite spectacular show by the girl teams, they lost to the boys.

Another round of refreshments followed by award ceremony. The prizes and certificates were awarded to all those who have participated in the cultural events and Gile Haaraa.

By this time, it was around 2 PM. Every body was hungry. The food came. It was cooked by some of our boys and girls. Believe me, the taste of the food like this was nowhere to be found but here.

Such was the Bizu that was celebrated in Delhi on the occassion of Phul Bizu on 13 April 2010. Of course, the main Bizu is a day after, April 14th. On this day, Chakmas go house to house in groups to celebrate and wish Happy Bizu. Even in metros like Delhi, Bizu is by no means a small affair as you can see hundreds of boys and girls going in small and big groups to one Chakma house (or room rented by Chakmas) after another throughout the day. They sing Bizu songs and dance in each house.  

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mizoram villages devastated by cyclone

By Paritosh Chakma

Last week the entire Mizoram has been ravaged by heavy rain and cyclone. According to sources, about 4,826 houses have been destroyed displacing about 20,000 people.

On 30 March 2010, at least two Chakma villages namely Silsury and Hnahva under Mamit district in Western part of Mizoram have been affected. Silsury village has been totally devastated. Out of 615 total houses, 558 houses were damaged including 393 fully damaged and 165 partly damaged. A total of 14 government infrastructure suffered the brunt. With all the village’s schools (primary school and middle school and the SSA schools) damaged, education came to a standstill. The village’s only health sub centre has been blown away, severely affecting healthcare services given that a number of the villagers have been injured. Even the Buddhist temple, the community hall and the Bazaar shed have been blown away.

The Border Out Post of the Border Security Force in Silsury village also suffered the brunt. I have been informed that one BSF soldier died while another was seriously injured in the cyclone. A number of villagers were also injured.

In neigbouring Hnahva village, at least 67 houses were fully damaged.

Hundreds of Young Chakma Association (YCA) volunteers from Marpara village (20 km away) rushed to Silsury village for relief and rescue operations. The state government has claimed to have sanctioned Rs 2.74 crore for rehabilitation of those affected but assistance is yet to reach the two affected Chakma villages in Mamit district. I have been informed by credible local sources that the authorities visited the affected areas and provided only Rs 69,000 for the damage of 558 houses in Silsury (that is, average of Rs 123 per affected family) and Rs 40,000 for damage of 67 houses in Hnahva (that is, average of Rs 597 per affected family)!

The mobile towers have been damaged and phone lines cut off. This made flow of information difficult.

The affected villagers have been living in temporary tent houses made of bamboos with the help of YCA volunteers. “There are hardly 10-12 houses standing intact after the cyclone,” an YCA volunteer informs me from Silsury. Some of the villagers are already starving and helpless.

Friday, April 2, 2010

RTE Act: A boon for “the most illiterate” community in Mizoram

By Paritosh Chakma
On 1st April 2010 India became one of the few countries in the world that have guaranteed elementary education to the children. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009 has made free and quality elementary education a Fundamental Right of every child aged 6-14 years.

Fundamental Rights are enforceable in the court of law. This is the best thing that could have happened to the Chakmas in Mizoram who have been officially recognized as the “most illiterate” community in the state in 2001 census. As the people can sue the state government for its failure to provide education up to Class VIII under the RTE Act, I consider this law as a potential tool against institutional discrimination that denies the right to education.

Over 8% of the total population of Mizoram the Chakmas are the second largest ethnic community after the Mizos who form the majority. That the largest minority (Chakmas) is the “most illiterate” community in Mizoram (the second most literate state in India) itself should be enough to indict the state government of Mizoram for not taking enough care of its minorities. The education officials have admitted that over 15,000 children mainly belonging to Bru and Chakma minorities do not go to schools. Yet the state government has not roped in the minority community NGOs to spread awareness like it did by signing education MoUs with Mizo NGOs namely, Young Mizo Association, Mizoram Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (apex body of Mizo women), Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church and Salvation Army, another Church body.

On the other hand, the education officials have cited “nomadic nature” of these tribes as the chief reason for inability to educate them. The explanation however is flimsy. As a matter of fact, there are more number of Mizos who are engaged in shifting cultivation (jhum) but primary education has effectively reached their children.

According to an independent survey conducted by the Mizoram Chakma Development Forum (MCDF), out of total 111 Chakma inhabited villages in Mizoram, at least 75 villages (i.e. 83%) do not have Middle School and the children have nowhere to go. A neighbouring village having a Middle School could be 20 kilometres or more away separated by hilly terrains without road connectivity. The demands of the Chakma villagers for Middle Schools went unheeded for years. While the state government of Mizoram has shifted the blame on scarcity of funds required to open and run new schools, the primary problem is exclusion of the Chakmas from the state’s policies.

Under the RTE Act the state governments and the local bodies will have to establish primary schools “within a walking distance of one km of the neighbourhood” and one middle school “within a walking distance of 3 km of the neighbourhood” (Model Rule 4). This is a boon for the Chakmas who have consistently alleged to have been discriminated by the state government.

The RTE Act gives the Chakmas of Mizoram and several other such disadvantaged communities across the country the power to hold the government accountable. If nothing else work, people can drag the government to court to ensure the enjoyment of their fundamental right to education.