Sunday, May 17, 2015

Debunking the Theory of Abnormal Chakma population growth in Mizoram

By Paritosh Chakma

Mizoram’s largest circulated daily, Vanglaini on 11th May 2015 reported that the Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA)- Mizoram’s largest voluntary organization – has decided to go ahead with its proposal to conduct a census on Chakma minority community of the state. Earlier the CYMA had to shelve this illegal “Chakma Census” because the Union Home Ministry reportedly ticked off the Mizoram government after a high level delegation of Chakma National Council of India led by Tarun Vijay, senior BJP leader and Member of Parliament met the Union Minister of State for Home Shri Kiren Rijiju in New Delhi.  

In this regard, the Mizoram government took a logical stand with Home Minister R. Lalzirliana categorically telling CYMA leaders that “ it would be against the Constitution to conduct a census for one particular community within Mizoram”. But it appears that the YMA leadership is not impressed.

Last month (April, 2015), the Mizo Zirlai Pawl submitted a memorandum to BJP national president Amit Shah during his visit to Aizawl. The memorandum pointed out to alleged “abnormal increase” of Chakma population in Mizoram “due to immigrants from the neighbouring Bangladesh”.

Such allegations of Chakma influx are not new. Such allegations were investigated and rejected by the Government as early as 1955.

Shri S. Barkataki, the last Superintendent of Lushai Hills, in his letter vide D.O No. II-7/50/56-8 dated Aijal 11th October 1950 to R.V. Subrahmanian, Secretary to the Government of Assam for Tribal Affairs brought to the notice of the Government about alleged Chakma influx from Chittagong Hill Tracts in then East Pakistan. His Inspection Note on Lunglei SDO’s office dated 21st November 1949 stated that new passes were being issued to Chakmas and Tripuras. He contended that “These peoples are foreigners and I do not see any reason why they should not pay at the foreigners’ rate of Rs 5/- each. Taxes must be realized at this rate from 1950-51.” But Mr Barkataki himself admitted that prior to writing this Lunglei Inspection Note it was not known to him that his predecessor Mr A. Macdonald, Superintendent of Lushai Hills, in his Order No. 734-47G of 29 April 1946 had declared the Chakmas to be natives of Lushai Hills just like the “Lushais” or Mizos and with effect from 1946-47, Chakmas were needed to pay house tax equal to what Lushais paid, that is Rs 2/- and not Rs 5/- which was what the foreigners paid.

The order of Mr A.  Macdonald, Superintendent Lushai Hills is worth producing here below:

Order No. 734-47G of 29-4-1946
With effect from 1946-47, the following races will be deemed to be a “Lushais” for the purpose of House Tax assessment under Notification 4973 of 16-7-1934.
This order does not affect any restriction on immigration into Lushai Hills District from other areas.
Copy to S.D.O., with reference to your 273/D.C.VII.4 of 15-4-1946.
Copy in Lushai to all Rahsis. The race will still be named in the House Tax Registers, but all the races above named will pay House Tax at the same rate as if they were Lushais.

Sd/- A.Macdonald, 29-4-1946
Superintendent, Lushai Hills”

But Mr Barkataki totally misinterpreted Mr Macdonald’s order. Mr Barkataki wondered “on what principle Mr Macdonald included the Chakmas with Lushais. The Chakmas are an entirely different race having little in common with the tribes of Lushai Hills.” If only Mr Barkataki utilized a bit of his brain and senses he would have known that Mr Macdonald did not identify Chakmas as an ethnic group belonging to Lushais but only notified that with regard to payment of House Tax Chakmas and other tribes such as PAWI, PAIHTE, HMAR, LAKHER, RIANG (Tuikuk), MATU, CHAWRAI, HRANGKHAWL, LANGRAWNG will pay as much house tax as the Lushais paid at that time. (Clear this from Macdonald’s order “The race will still be named in the House Tax Registers, but all the races above named will pay House Tax at the same rate as if they were Lushais.”) In effect, Chakmas and other tribes such as PAWI, PAIHTE, HMAR, LAKHER, RIANG (Tuikuk), MATU, CHAWRAI, HRANGKHAWL, LANGRAWNG were not to be considered as foreigners (who are required to pay tax at the rate of Rs 5/- while Lushais paid Rs 2/-) but natives of Lushai Hills.

It is evident that Mr Barkataki’s concern was more of losing revenue due to Mr Macdonald’s order. He writes, “If the Chakmas are treated as non-Lushais they will be liable to pay house tax at the rate of Rs 5/- and also other taxes such as Court and Stamp duties which will bring in an additional revenue of over ten thousand annually. I am in favour of adopting this course.”

The government of Assam shot down Mr Barkataki’s absurd suggestion.

An investigation into Mr Barkataki’s allegations about illegal Chakma influx into Lushai Hills was also found to be incorrect. Mr Barkataki’s successor Mr KGR Iyer, IAS, Deputy Commissioner, Mizo District personally investigated the matter and submitted his report to the Government of Assam vide No. GP.21/55/56 dated Aijal the 27th October 1955. Relevant points of his findings are as follows:

“In order to ascertain whether there has been any increase in the Chakma population of 11435 in 1951 an informal census was held by me in 1954 and 1955 and it was found that there has not been any increase as shown below:-
Lunglei Subdivision                Population of Chakmas
Circle XII ..                                         1664
” XV                                                   36
” XVI                                                  173
” XVII                                                 8615
Total 10488
Aijal Subdivision (1955)
Circle X                                              840
” XI                                                     47
Total 887
Grand Total for whole District, 11375 against 11435 in 1951”

So in fact the Chakma population decreased by 60 souls from 1951 to 1956.

Mr Iyer, Deputy Commissioner of Mizo District further stated that “The report of the Chief Executive Member [of Lushai Hills District Council] about unauthorized influx of Chakmas from East Pakistan is not correct.” He further added that the District Council was “trying to blame the Government for the presence of the Chakmas instead of tackling the real problem facing the District Council. The view taken by the Chief Executive Member, District Council, Mizo District, is in my opinion, not sound as Government is sought to be blamed for the shortcomings in the administration established by the Council.”

The Chief Executive Member of Pawi-Lakher Regional Council, Lungleh, also rejected the contention of the CEM of Lushai Hills District Council on abnormal rise of Chakma population within the Pawi-Lakher Regional Council. In his letter dated 11 April 1955 to the Chief Minister of Assam, Regional Council CEM stated “First, the Chief Executive Member’s figure of Chakma and Riang families living in our area as stated by the Chief Executive Member is not correct. There are not “more than 1344 families” as the Chief Executive Member would have it, but only 831 families.”

The Lushai Hills District Council was always at loggerheads with the Chakmas and wanted to expel them forcefully. When on 26 July 1954, Executive Secretary of the Lushai Hills District Council wanted to know from the Deputy Commissioner of Lushai Hills whether there was any order from the Government to expel to Pakistan any Riang or Chakma residing without possessing passes after 15-7-1954, Deputy Commissioner KGR Iyer returned a stern letter stating that there was no such order from the Government and that “unnecessary correspondence may pleased be avoided.” (No.GP.21/54/58 dated 31.7.1954.)

Chakmas’ unique place in Lushai Hills

The Chakmas of British Chittagong Hill Tracts happened to be included within the British Lushai Hills when an eastern part of the Chakma chief’s (king) territory were transferred from Bengal province to Lushai Hills under Assam province in 1898. As the Chief Commissioner of Assam Mr W E Ward in his letter No. 149-P dated the 17th July 1897 written to the Government of India stated, “The station of Demagiri is not situated within the present area of the South Lushai Hills. It is topographically within the area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. But, under Sir Charles Eliott’s [Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal] orders, passed in 1892, it was declared that, for administrative purposes, Demagiri should be considered to be part and parcel of the South Lushai Hills” This proposal of the Chief Commissioner of Assam was accepted by the Government of India on 27th January 1898 and finally, the South Lushai Hills together with Demagiri sliced off from CHT was placed under the administration of Assam by a proclamation of the Government dated 1st April 1898. “The boundaries [of CHT] were revised, and a strip on the east, including Demagiri with a population of about 1,500, was transferred to the Lushai Hills.” (See, Sir Robert Reid, History of the Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam 1883-1941)

Prior to such transfer of Demagiri areas from CHT to Lushai Hills, wide consultations were held with the then Chakma Raja Bhuban Mohan Roy. Indeed, in a letter dated 19 October 1898 to the Chakma Raja, Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton, then Chief Commissioner of Assam stated that “We cannot prohibit your people from entering the Lushai Hills but have no wish to offer them any inducement to do so.” However, several Chakma families gradually migrated to Lushai Hills from CHT due to a number of factors, chief of them being availability of virgin forests for Jhum cultivation, extraction of wood etc which attracted them. But these settlements were neither illegal nor unauthorized.

The position of the Government of India with regard to Chakmas in the Lushai Hills is clear from this statement dated 27 October 1955 of Shri KGR Iyer, then Deputy Commissioner of Mizo District: “As the Chakmas are treated as Scheduled Tribe just like any Lushai or Mizo tribe they were allowed free entry into this District without passes before the introduction of Indo-Pakistan Passport system but they were not, however, allowed to settle without a pass. Since the introduction of the passport system no entry of Chakmas from Pakistan is allowed without Valid passport and visa and from July 1954 no new influx of Chakmas is allowed without the prior permission in writing of the Deputy Commissioner, Mizo District and a standing order to this effect has been passed.”

Therefore, entry of Chakmas from CHT into the Lushai Hills was never prohibited or sought to be made prohibitory during the British rule. Only rules were imposed if they wanted to settle down permanently. The Chakmas being tribals like the Lushais required no permit to enter the Lushai Hills, but to settle down they had to get written permission from the SDO and follow the rule of the Lushai Chief of the area.

Anti-Chakma campaign based on lies and rumours

The basis of anti-Chakma campaign by YMA, MZP or some political parties is based on lies, half-truths and rumours about abnormal growth of Chakma population and illegal infiltration from Bangladesh. These malicious campaigns can be easily debunked or exposed with facts that are already available in official records.

With regard to the MZP’s memorandum to Amit Shah, the CNCI has this logical response:

“This also bears significance to the memorandum submitted recently to Amit Shah, President, BJP by the MZPs wherein facts have been misrepresented deliberately regarding the growth of Chakma population in Mizoram with inflated figures about the Chakma population as has been learnt from a press report of the thenortheasttoday dated 17/4/2015. For instance it was claimed that Chakma population have jumped to 80,000 in 1991 against the fact that Chakmas were only 54,194 (as per census data)…. It was also conjured that the population of the Chakmas could be around 1,50,000. Whereas, the population of the Chakmas is only 71,283 by 2001 Census figure ( and as per a report of the Vanglaini issue dated 2/3/2015 the population of the Chakmas as of 2011 is only 96,972 (”

Therefore, MZP’s claim is highly distorted and does not tally with official census figures. It is ridiculous that the CYMA wants to go ahead with its socalled Chakma Census based on such false and distorted figures on Chakma population submitted by MZP. The Chakma population data available at Mizoram at a Glance 2001 published by Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Mizoram government makes the picture pretty clear:

Therefore, it is up to the leadership of CYMA which is a celebrated organization and has won national awards for its community service, to choose between facts and fictions, and to decide whether it can risk its credibility by engaging itself in an unconstitutional act like headcounting members of a minority community which is actually unnecessary. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Mizoram: creating unequal citizens and conflicts

By Paritosh Chakma

The Chakmas of Mizoram have often alleged a tacit understanding between the state government and some jingoistic civil society groups in their larger goal to suppress the minorities with an aim to keep them deprived as long as possible. But the recent act of the Government of Mizoram, at the behest of the state’s all-powerful student outfit the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP or Mizo Students Association), to remove the Chakmas from Category I for the purpose of selection in higher technical courses, has openly brought into public display how community NGOs like MZP are dictating the terms and the government has abdicated its constitutional responsibility to protect the minorities’ interests. The fact that the notified amendments to the State Technical Entrance Examination (STEE) Rules were drafted by the MZP and the government accepting them in toto, speaks volumes about the government’s intention to create unequal citizens, which in turn lead to acrimony and conflicts.

The Mizoram (Selection of Candidates for Higher Technical Courses) (Sixth Amendment) Rules,
2015 notified on 24th March, 2015  provides for three categories: Category I for Zo-ethnicity people who are “indigenous people”, Category II for Non-Zo ethnicity who are “non-indigenous people”, and Category III for Central government and other state government employees who are not permanent residents of Mizoram. Since Chakma is a non-Zo community, they are excluded from Category I, and instead included in Category II along with, probably, Brus and Gorkhas/Nepali and other permanent residents who are not “Zo”. Earlier, under the Principal Rule of 1999 all the “local permanent residents” of Mizoram were together put in Category I along with the Mizos. The removal of Chakma and other non-Zo Scheduled Tribes from Category I is not merely administrative but has political overtones with far-reaching impacts on the minority communities. The message from the Mizoram government is loud and clear: Chakma cannot be equal to Mizo; Chakma are unwanted in Mizoram.

Fight for limited opportunities

The problem started after as many as 38 Chakma students qualified, including 25 in medical and 13 in Engineering, in the STEE 2014 by dint of their merit and hard work, and were rightfully placed in Category I under the existing rules (Rules of 1999). The selection of so many Chakma students in engineering and medical seats alarmed the MZP, and it launched protests demanding amendments of the STEE Rules to the disadvantage of the Chakmas. The question is: are the Mizo students afraid of Chakma students in a free and fair competition?

Surely, it is all about fight for limited resources. But the Mizo students body has chosen a short cut way to access these limited resources and opportunities: by depriving the Chakmas through wrongful means. Indeed, opportunities are limited in the state which does not have a single higher technical or medical college/institute. The Central Government made provision for allotment of seats for the State in different institutes of India for higher and technical education. But the number of seats so allotted is quite insufficient to meet the demands of the Mizoram students. This year, Mizoram has a quota of 176 seats in medical and 121 seats in engineering colleges. Hence, the MZP wants to keep the Chakma and other non-Zo students out of the competition by removing them from Category I, rather than giving them a tough fight in the examination halls. The method of selection as adopted now is unfair to non-Zo students, as it provides for “total reservation” of all seats in favour of Zo students.

Contempt of Court

The concept of “total reservation” for Category I candidates first espoused in the Rules of 1999 were declared as unconstitutional by the Gauhati High Court in September 2000 in Bhanu Choudhury vs State Of Mizoram And Ors. In its judgement the High Court stated, “...we find that the new Rules of 1999 to the extent as contained in sub-rule (3) of Rules 5 providing that selection shall be made from Category I first. In case sufficient number of candidates are not available from Category I remaining seats shall be filled up from Category II and III and likewise, is held to be ultra vires and is struck down.”

This forced the state government to amend the Rules in 2002, providing 85% reservation for Category I (Children of local permanent residents), 10% for Category II (Children of non-local permanent residents) and 5% for Category III (Children of Central government and other state government employees who have lived in Mizoram for the last two years). So, Chakma students, being local permanent residents of Mizoram, were required to compete with Mizo students and other local permanent residents for 85% of the total seats. This was fair enough – let merit alone decide the allotment of seats for local permanent residents of Mizoram, not community or ethnicity.

But the Mizoram government tweaked the Rules once again, and the 2014 examination was conducted by providing total reservation to Category I in contempt of the Gauhati High Court order. This is evident from the “Information Brochure 2014”of “Technical Entrance Examination for selection of candidates for higher technical courses” which stated,

“Method of Selection
On the basis of marks obtained in the Selection Examination, selection shall be made in order of merit from amongst eligible candidates from Category-I first. In case sufficient number of eligible candidates are not available from Category-I, the remaining seats shall be filled in, in order of merit by the eligible candidates from Category-II and Category-III likewise.”

In such a scenario providing for Absolute Reservation for Zo-ethnicity people, no one other than students of Zo-ethnicity will ever be selected, even if they top the entrance examination, as per the new Rules of 2015. Hence, the rules are illegal.

Antithetical to idea of Mizoram

The amended Rules, 2015 gives the political message that Mizoram belongs to the “Zo” ethnicity and all other communities who are non-Zo may live in the state but as “second class citizens”, or as “guests”, correspondingly, with lesser rights and privileges.  This violates the very idea of Mizoram which is peaceloving and God fearing. The Mizoram Peace Accord 1986 promised that “The rights and privileges of the minorities in Mizoram as envisaged in the constitution, shall continue to be preserved and protected and their social and economic advancement shall be ensured.” That promise has been broken prominently once again.

By creating “unequal citizens” you end up creating more conflicts. The Hmars and Brus have been waging armed movements against the State. Three other major minority communities having their own Autonomous District Councils (Chakmas, Lai and Mara) are up in arms against the state but through peaceful means, pressing for direct funding and even upgradation of their ADCs into the status of Union Territory to escape epic discrimination and neglect by the majority. Chakmas are worst targeted as minorities, but they remained committed to peaceful democratic means of struggle. This is the beauty of Mizoram that the non-Mizo minority community like Chakma have contributed. Mizos must acknowledge this. They should also realize that they (community and state) gain nothing by keeping the Chakmas deprived and backward; rather it harms the interests of the state. At the end of the day, a single community cannot take a state or country to its height of development or glory, if the condition of the other communities (minorities) living therein does not improve. A man may be healthy or well-built in all respects but if any of his body parts are deformed that man will still be considered as physically handicapped. By drawing a legal distinction between Zo and non-Zo among its citizens, what the Mizoram government has eventually done is to further divide the state along ethnic lines. The alienation of the minorities, who already face systematic discrimination, could only weaken Mizoram further.

All communities have wings of fire. The selection of 38 students from Chakma community in a single competitive examination says a lot about the rising aspirations of the Chakma youths. It will be a mistake to try to crush the aspirations of the youth, which is never possible. Further while the motive may be to keep the Chakmas oppressed, my reading is that it might have just helped the otherwise lethargic community to strengthen socially and politically. A few months earlier, the proposal by another leading NGO, Central Young Mizo Association to headcount the Chakmas had brought Chakma leaders of different political parties on a single platform to resist the illegal move. The STEE issue has shaken the Chakmas further, and an appropriate democratic response is bound to come in the coming days.

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