Monday, April 25, 2011

Mizoram needs to be proud of its diverse culture and show it to the world


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.



Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why fighting corruption in Mizoram is difficult



Four-day fast by Gandhian Anna Hazare completely shook the Government of India which agreed to constitute a joint committee with equal representation from civil society to draft a strong anti-corruption bill. The civil society led by Hazare wants a Lok Pal who can investigate and bring to justice even the Prime Minister, judges, and every civil servant. The unprecedented support he got from across India shows that majority people want to root out corruption.

“Anna Hazare effect”, as it is called, was felt in far away Mizoram. Leaders from various social organizations gathered at Aizawl to support Hazare’s demand for a powerful Jan Lok Pal, citizens’ ombudsman against corruption. But the effect has not been felt beyond the glorious Aizawl city. In villages, people have not even heard of Anna Hazare or India Against Corruption movement.

It is a long off till we can hear the people of Mizoram say “Enough is enough” to the corrupt politicians and public servants. In fact, as per my understanding, these three words won’t be uttered in any near future. These are the reasons why -

First, it seems that the common people (don’t forget they are also voters) in Mizoram have a different perception of a leader. They think that a good political leader is one who can supply them money whenever they are in need. No matter how the leader does this. They won’t care. Certainly, an honest MLA or MDC would not be able to feed over a dozen of villagers from his constituency each day (almost throughout the whole calendar year) who camp in his house due to medical problems, education etc. Any leader who cannot provide his constituency people accommodation, food (remember, the daily menu must include non-veg) and help them financially is considered “useless”. They would rather prefer to vote for the leader who can provide all these things to them any time! So people won’t object to corrupt practices by their leader and the leader won’t mind siphoning off welfare funds.

Second, the general concept seems to be “Eat and let eat” (inspired by the concept “live and let live”?) where no one seems to mind corruption taking place as long as everyone is getting their share of the pie.

Third, the villagers feel the daily hardships due to lack of basic facilities such as schools, healthcare, drinking water etc but when it comes to making a choice about what they want, majority of the voters will choose “money” over facilities like a school. Money provides immediate solace to their greedy hearts and needy hands while only far sighted ones (who are microscopic minority everywhere) will see the value of a school in the area.

Fourth, there is total lack of accountability or transparency in public life. A BDO would think he is “the boss in his/her territory” and there is no thing called “democracy”. A Store Keeper of PDS godown thinks he/she is invincible. They try to “rule” the people instead of paying heed to what the people need. The ordinary people are voiceless.   

Fifth, the Village Council members think they are the king. They say that “the Ruling Party” can do “anything”, and pocket the welfare funds while the villagers actually believe that “the Ruling Party” can do anything. It is of no use to file a complaint.

Sixth, the role of the media has been weak. There is no powerful electronic media in the state which can sway public opinion. People in rural areas do not read newspapers.

Finally, it is often considered “politically incorrect” to expose corruption when the entire village or community is benefitting from the acts of corruption involving a particular scheme.

The entire country will benefit from the Anti-Corruption Law, if it comes into reality but in Mizoram a battle needs to be fought to take the baby step – that is, to create mass awareness about the negative consequences of corruption. Mizoram needs a “Hazare effect”.

Friday, April 22, 2011

My thoughts on direct funding of BADP to ADCs




The Ministry of Home Affairs has reportedly made a decision to transfer the funds of Border Area Development Programme (BADP), a central government scheme, directly to the three Autonomous District Councils in Mizoram, namely Chakma, Mara and Lai from this financial year. So far, all Central funds are routed to the ADCs through the state government resulting in a lot of problems like funds are not released on time, ADCs are provided inadequate funds and the state government implements various schemes directly without involving the ADCs. These are only some of the grievances the ADCs have aired in the past. They have even alleged discrimination by Aizawl controlled by the majority Mizos.

Considering the problem in this perspective, I think direct funding is a good policy decision. Recently, the CAG report on BADP in Mizoram found serious financial irregularities and termed the BADP a “failure” in Mizoram. The CAG report said the ADCs were not given any role in execution of the programme. Further, the CAG report has correctly pointed out the “inherent deficiency in planning and implementation of the programme”. Even before the CAG report came, this was well known to every Chakma leader in Mizoram whose ears and eyes are open. I think other community leaders along the Mizoram-Myanmar border too are well aware.

However, the fact remains that even the ADCs do not have good track record in matters of financial management or utilization of the public money. I must admit that I have no idea about MADC or LADC. But as for CADC, certainly nothing exudes any inspiration. No scheme is properly implemented. Corruption rules the root. The entire system is corrupt. The CBI is currently investigating multi-crore corruption in India-Bangladesh Border Fencing in CADC. I hear that the ACB is also investigating some forestry related scam. The picture in this article shows a signboard of Damdep I-Dursora (CADC) road constructed under BADP for Rs 15 lakh. But the signboard curiously does not mention the length of the road, for it is only 2 km! 2 km of kaccha road, Rs 15 lakh - clearly, it stinks of corruption!


This photo I took during my visit to CADC recently. During my visit to several border villages, I found no semblance of development there. I only found heart rending conditions of the people living along the India-Bangladesh borders, including within the CADC.  

The major flaws of BADP in Mizoram are as follows:

1.      No village-wise baseline surveys are prepared. This would have brought out the problems faced by each border villages which could have been easily solved.
2.      The District Plans remain unknown to the public and the leaders themselves
3.      The village councils are not involved in decision making, planning and implementation
4.      Total lack of accountability and transparency – there is no separate website for BADP either
5.      Most funds are spent on construction/repair of office buildings, residential accommodations and rest houses etc and the sectors like social development, education, health and agriculture are not given due importance. Therefore, there is no improvement in the living standards of the border people
6.      The fact that the border people are most backward in terms of access to basic amenities is not recognized by the state of Mizoram
7.      Border people along Mizoram-Bangladesh are mostly minority Chakmas. In the implementation of projects, villages closest to the international borders are not given first importance
8.      Discrimination against minorities like Chakma, Mara and Lais

Direct funding is all right but the golden question is- Can the Autonomous District Councils in Mizoram do wonders by uplifting the conditions of the people living along the international borders with the flow of BADP funds directly to their purse? Having been aware of the situation in CADC I am not much confident that they can do wonders. So, at present, I am hopeless but I would be happy if proved wrong in near future. But I am happy for one thing - that now I and many others like me can get the opportunity to blame our own leaders (be they Chakma, Mara or Lai) instead of blaming Mizo leaders always for the failure in BADP, and hold them (ADCs leadership) accountable for the miserable situation of people in the border areas in CADC, LADC and MADC.