(Note: This short essay is my take on the "leaders" who have taken the role to lead the Chakma society in the 21st century, and where they have failed. First published in SOJAAK, September 2011)
“A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others see” - Leroy Eimes
WHEN we discuss leadership in the context of the Chakma community, often than not we are more likely to get two responses. First, we lack good leaders; and the second, we do not follow our leaders. It’s happening for centuries and has become a curse on Chakmas - we tell each other, and each one of us nods our heads in agreement.
This only means one thing: our problems are a two-way street: both the leaders and the led are at fault. But the leaders are expected to “see more than others see”, “see farther than others see”, and “see before others see”.
The crisis everywhere:
The lack of good leadership and the tendency to disobey our leaders have brought us to where we are now – be it in India or Bangladesh or elsewhere. Instead of focusing on education, development and building solidarity, we are at best in disunity, infightings, fratricidal killings (in the case of CHT only), and total lack of sense about what’s going to happen to us in near future. The fact that Chakmas have been entrenched with seemingly unresolved problems reflects one thing very clearly: more than lack of able leadership, the Chakma leaders are unwilling to lead the community from suffering to solutions, from darkness to light, from hopelessness to hope.
Consider the case of CHT. All that we have been witnessing is regular fratricidal killings between political groups instead of fighting our enemy—both political and societal. In this bloody war, we have lost a good number of able and foresighted leaders. Who has gained out of this? The result is that we have become too feeble to defend ourselves and fight for justice. Instead of becoming leaders of the whole community, we have become leaders of a faction or a group.
See the case of Chakmas in Mizoram. Even after enjoying “autonomy” for four decades, the condition of the people of Chakma Autonomous District Council is pitiable. The CADC Chakmas have the authority to govern themselves or to damn themselves. While the former flows directly from the Indian constitution, the latter may flow directly from our selfish souls. And, not surprisingly, the Chakma leaders do the second act in a more comfortable fashion than the first one. Governance is a tough job, to be done effectively by efficient leaders and administrators. Within the CADC areas, take the case of Kamala Nagar, the headquarter which still lives without regular water supply, electricity, proper roads, regular mobile network or unhindered landline phone connectivity, not to talk of the high speed internet that rules the world. Kamala Nagar is neither properly connected with Aizawl, the state capital, nor even with the second largest town within CADC, Baraponsury by road. People go to Parva (a village bordering Myanmar) through the Lai Autonomous District Council, because there is no road connectivity through the CADC. A Community Health Centre, without adequate facilities, is entrusted to save the lives of over 50,000 CADC population (of course, the rich ones go to Aizawl and beyond for treatment). The employees virtually survive on loans taken from Bengali traders/shopkeers at exorbitant interest rates, since the salaries are not paid regularly on time. Even the arrear of entire year of all employees can be snatched away and diverted for other purpose, without a murmur of protest.
Yet, surprisingly, the souls at Kamala Nagar live in peace with themselves. No one dares to raise a voice; only they murmur to themselves against their fate. Yet, any whisper of dissent is likely to be crushed if it falls into the ears of the political bosses or their cronies. The leader of a particular NGO has even spoken in support of corruption in the Council, albeit indirectly.
If this is the condition of people living at the headquarters, imagine the plight of the common man living in the remotest villages without access to the basic facilities. The saying goes, god helps those who help themselves. This holds true for Chakmas as well.
A fact finding team of Mizoram Chakma Development Forum early this year (this author was part of the team) found that social welfare schemes such as Public Distribution System, Mid Day Meal scheme, Integrated Child Development Scheme, Old Age Pension scheme etc have virtually collapsed in several parts of CADC. Yet, there seems to be no visible intervention from the CADC leadership.
Outside the CADC, Chakmas are losing their lands. Be it Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mamit district or Puankhai Forest Reserve in Lunglei district, Chakmas are losing their lands. Yet, no leader has spoken out against this kind of land acquisitions.
The Chakmas in Mizoram have been deprived of social, educational and economic benefits. Recruitment rules have been framed to bar Chakmas from getting employment which has resulted in huge educated unemployment. The state government has been willfully diverting the Central funds for Buddhist minorities to majority areas thereby denying development under various schemes. The state government has refused to take any measure for the development of Chakma language, script or culture and consistently scuttled the efforts of the National Minority Commission to set up a State Minority Commission to look after the welfare of the non-Christian minorities in the state.
Yet, the Chakma leaders have maintained a stony silence. They are invisible when it comes to raising the voice against injustice and for our development.
Tripura has a unique case. On August 18th, hundreds of Chakmas marched down the streets of Agartala, the state capital, demanding introduction of Chakma script in schools. The Tripura state government has refused to recognize the Chakma script and instead imposed the Bengali script. The defence of the state government is that the decision to use Bengali script by Chakmas was taken by Chakmas themselves at a 1998 meeting of government-appointed Advisory Committee for Development of Chakma Language. This means that the Chakmas have been pleading with Chakma leaders in the Advisory Committee for adoption of Chakma script. What an irony!
Three kinds of leaders
In Mizoram, you can find three kinds of (Chakma) leaders. First ones are the political leaders, who are too political and little social in the sense that they have no time for the public. The political class is cut off from the common people and the problems they face on daily basis. The village level political class thinks they are the kings, and they are more busy in misleading the people than finding solutions to the problems of their respective villages. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed is the king.
Second ones are the NGO workers, who are however not activists. They do humanitarian works, such as building houses ravaged by cyclones, construct village foot bridge, or clear the roads.
The third ones are the bred who survive on other's miseries. They are mainly stationed in towns like Aizawl/Lunglei (or even in villages) and often siphon off people’s funds through forgery and cheating. One such person recently allegedly borrowed Rs 10 lakh from a rich (Mizo) man claiming himself to be the president of a Chakma social organization! (This author has a copy of that agreement signed while borrowing the money). Otherwise, one wonders how do they manage to feed their families and educate their children without any job? However, I do not paint all in the same brush; there are good guys too.
Leaders out of sync?
In my analysis here, I am focusing on the first two groups of leaders (political leaders and NGO workers). The third group needs no introduction; its better to leave them alone.
The case of the Chakma villagers of Parva I in the Chakma District Council is symptomatic of the problems faced by the community in Mizoram on daily basis. Every year, people die of malaria, water borne diseases and other unknown diseases; yet the health sub centre in the village is an empty dilapidated house. It was not operationalized ever since it was constructed several years ago. There is no Anganwadi Centre for 1,359 people. The only High School in this area catering to over 7 villages has been lying defunct since 1998. The Public Distribution System does not work properly. The poorest of the poor have to starve during the monsoon but the food godown that was set up in 1997 is abandoned. Yet, the CADC administration did nothing to assuage their sufferings. I wonder whether the officials even know that the fundamental right to life also includes the right to food or is starvation treated as just a “normal” thing?
The lethargic manner in which our leaders deal with our day to day problems reflect that they are either incapable or are not willing. Or are they out of sync in the 21st century?
In Mizoram, our leaders did their best according to the situation in the 20th century. They walked miles for days in the absence of roads and were even thrown out of buses in the middle of nowhere during hostility days of 1990s. There were no telephones and waited for days to get a message passed to the other end or to receive information. Yet, they managed quite well.
However, the 21st century is the age of information technology with which our older generation leaders seem to be out of sync. The Indian government brought in a number of rights based laws, for example, Right to Information Act, the Right to Education Act, Forest Rights Act, job guarantee Act (NREGS) etc. But are we aware of these legal entitlements and how to ensure these entitlements, if denied? Or, how many of our leaders are pro-active in the defense of our rights?
In conclusion, I would say that Chakmas are facing leadership crisis which must be addressed. The political leaders must feel the pulse of the common man and solve their problems. NGO leaders must shift their focus to activism and raise their voice against anything which is not in the interest of the community. If we fail to do these, then, in the coming days we will witness increasing role of the “third kind” of leadership described by me above. Society would no longer be in safe hands.
(The views expressed are personal of the author)