I read with pain an article "An Insulated domain" by Patricia Mukhim, an eminent journalist, published in The Telegraph (India) on 22 March 2010 (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100322/jsp/northeast/story_12241610.jsp )
I am pained, not because the eminent journalist was wrong in the portray of my state, but on the contrary because most of the things she pointed out were actually true, in practice. “Mizoram is a fairly homogenous society where people speak the same language,” she writes and calls the Mizo society “insular”.
Being a Chakma who does not speak Mizo language well, I can understand why Ms Mukhim has called Mizoram “homogenous society” when it comes to speaking of language. It is not a fact that Mizoram state has only one language called Mizo (Dulian) but there are several indigenous ethnic communities who speak their own languages like Chakma, Bru, Mara etc. Chakmas who form 8% of the state’s population even have their own script called Arog and it is in use in Chakma Autonomous District Council. But sadly, Mizoram government has never ever tried to develop the Chakma script/language, which is actually a rare treasure it has. (It must be stressed here that not many tribals in India have their own scripts.)
One decade back, it was difficult for non-Mizo speakers to even buy a bunch of bananas, or anything for that matter, from road side stalls due to language barriers. Most Mizo shopkeepers did not know any other language except their mother tongue. Those who knew the languages were quite adamant to speak. As a student returning from Shillong to my native village via Aizawl, my only defence while roaming the streets were two words I coarsely learnt: when a Mizo passerby asked me anything which I didn’t understand, I would glance at him and ask him back “Eng Mo”? (wanting to know what he meant). Then, he would repeat the query and I would reply back: “Kaar Seilo” (don’t have any idea) and the fellow would walk away. It is funny actually. I would of course try to remember the catch word asked by the Mizo and try to know the meaning of it from my elders once I am back to my room. This way I learnt a few terms. For example, in a hotel, when the pretty lady asked something like “porem”?, I only smiled back, unsure of what she asked me. Later, my friend explained to me that she wanted to know if I had eaten stomach full. Now I know how to respond to this question, which is quite common in any hotel/restaurant in Mizoram. It is a matter of hospitality.
With commerce, education and exposure to other cultures, now Mizoram is transforming. It is now “ok” if you can’t speak Mizo. Earlier, you would get gesture of intolerance. They used to tell me, “being in Mizoram you must know Mizo”. It sounds pretty logical, but how would a Mizo feel if he or she is told in Delhi that being an Indian, he/she must be able to speak in Hindi? I feel that language can’t be imposed on others but it is always useful to know others’ languages. But there are creatures like me who are slow learners when it comes to languages. My friends know, I never could learn Bodo language (after nearly five years of stay in Bodo areas in Assam), except this useful sentence: Aang Nongko Mojaang Mano (I love you).
Ms Mukhim in the above article goes on to suggest that Mizos are so obsessed for their culture to the point of “the exclusion of others”. She warns that “The more we insulate ourselves from others the more likely we are to develop institutions that are oppressive and regressive.”
Of course, in reality Mizoram is not a homogenous society. Rather, Mizoram is a land of diversity. It is multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious. Mizoram has over half a dozen tribes each having distinct dresses, languages, folklores, dances etc. Although Christianity is dominant, there are Buddhists like Chakmas (photo: a Chakma woman, right) and Hindus like a section of Brus (photo:two Bru women, below). There is also an ancient Mosque at the heart of Aizawl. But sadly, Mizoram government has failed to showcase its cultural diversity to the world.
If official websites are the virtual doors of a State through which people of other territories will get the opportunity to understand the State, then Mizoram government’s two official websites, (www.mizoram.nic.in and www.mizoram.gov.in, I am afraid, have little to offer in terms of understanding its people and their rich and diverse culture. Going through the web pages (The People: http://mizoram.nic.in/about/people.htm , Custom: http://mizoram.nic.in/about/custom.htm and dances: http://mizoram.nic.in/about/dances.htm) the foreigner will get the impression that Mizoram culturally has nothing more than Mizos and their beautiful dances. For example, Chakmas, their famously traditional attire ("pinon-haadi") and their beautiful Bizu festival and dances have been totally ignored. (See a Bizu dance of Chakmas in Delhi, above - first photo)
Mizoram should learn from the examples of Tripura and Assam, among others.
The Assam government’s web page on culture (http://assamgovt.nic.in/culture.asp ) starts with the following introduction: “Assam is the meeting ground of diverse cultures. The people of the enchanting state of Assam is an intermixture of various racial stocks such as Mongoloid, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan.” “The state has a large number of tribes, each unique in it's tradition, culture, dresses and exotic way of life. Diverse tribes like Bodo, Kachari, Karbi, Miri, Mishimi, Rabha, etc co-exist in Assam, most tribes have their own languages though Assamese is the principal language of the state.” it proudly adds. Alongside “Bihu”, Assam government has included dances like “Bagurumba” dance of the Bodos and “Jhumur Nach” of tea tribes, among others.
Tripura’s website begins with the following sentence: “Tripura has rich cultural heritage of 19 different tribal communities, Bengali and Manipuri communities. Each community has its own dance forms which are famous in the country.” (http://www.tripura.nic.in/cul3.htm)
The website further highlights different folk dances with photographs like “Hozagiri dance of Reang (Bru) community, Garia, Jhum, Maimita, Masak Sumani and Lebang boomani dances of Tripuri community, Bizu dance of Chakma community, Cheraw and Welcome dances of Lusai community, Hai-Hak dance of Malsum community, Wangala dance of Garo Community, Sangraiaka, Chimithang, Padisha and abhangma dances of Mog community, Garia dances of Kalai and Jamatia communities, Gajan, Dhamail, Sari and Rabindra dances of Bengali community and Basanta Rash and Pung chalam dances of Manipuri community. Each community has its own traditional musical instruments. The important musical instruments are ‘Khamb (Drum), Bamboo flute, Lebang, Sarinda, Do- Tara, and Khengrong, etc.”
Instead of hiding its treasures, Mizoram should be proud of its cultural diversity, and protect and promote these. It must proudly show to the world its diversity in terms of ethnicity, religions, languages, dances and folklores. This will help foster integration, unity and feeling of oneness amongst its various ethnic groups. Mizoram therefore urgently needs a shift in its policy: from exclusion to inclusion of all category of people for the sake of a “modern Mizoram” that can meet all challenges and become a shining example in India.