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.


Banjam said...

This is totally unconstitutional and uncalled for Act of the Mizoram Government. This must be challenged for its constitutional validity by filing petition in higher courts. It tantamounts to violating Fundamental Rights of Right to Equality, Right to Freedom guaranteed by the constitution of this land. This absurd Act must be challenged.

hira prakash chakma said...

Central leaders must immediately look after it

Brief report on Chakma Bizu 2017 celebration with Gandhian institute in Delhi

For the first time the Chakma Buddhist Society (CBS) has organised Bizu Miloni programme in partnership with Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Sam...