By Dilip Chakma
(Source: MizoNews.net, http://www.mizonews.net/op-ed/chakma-law-forum-replies-to-laltanpuia-pachuaus-open-letter-on-indigenous-issue-in-mizoram/213243/ )
Dear Laltanpuia Pachau,
I have read your ‘OPEN LETTER’ titled OPEN LETTER TO CHAKMA LAW FORUM ON INDIGENOUS ISSUE (published at Mizonews.Net, available at http://www.mizonews.net/op-ed/open-letter-to-chakma-law-forum-on-indigenous-issue/ ) with great interest.
Firstly let me applaud you for your courageous stand that Chakmas of Mizoram must get their full rights and protection due to them under the constitution of India. We need many more liberal Mizos like you to openly speak up for the rights of the minorities, given the highly polarized situation now prevailing. The jingoism which some Mizo organizations and political parties have adopted vis-à-vis Chakmas is as dangerous for Mizoram as the claim of the Hindutva forces in India that “India is a Hindu Rashtra” and “all Indians are Hindus”. In Mizoram, certain Mizo groups and political parties went a step further to announce that “Mizoram is for Mizos only”. This is dangerous for Indian democracy. We hope that the general public has the wisdom to reject and defeat such fundamentalist forces and restore the values of peaceful co-existence of all communities with mutual respect for each other.
Your ‘Open Letter’ has broadly raised two issues, which I am most happy to reply.
1. ‘Time immemorial’
The Chakmas have been living in present day western and southwestern parts of Mizoram bordering Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) from time immemorial. The Chakmas ruled over a territory named CHADIGANG, a part of which is now known as Chittagong Hill Tracts (now, in Bangladesh) for centuries.
The Chakmas established contacts with the Mughal administration for the purpose of trade in 1715. The Chakma King agreed to pay a tribute in cotton for enjoying trade privileges with Mughal territory. The Mughals did not claim territorial jurisdiction over the hills (Selections from the Records of the Bengal Government, No. XI, Calcutta, 1853, 77.)
Then came the mighty British. The Chittagong district had been ceded to the British East India Company under Lord Clive by Mir Kasim in 1760 and the cotton tribute was transferred to the British. But the British did not directly interfere into the administration of the Chakma Kingdom until 1860. The British fragmented the Chakma kingdom and reduced the Chakma king into a chief.
In 1763, Harry Verelst, the first chief of Chittagong, proclaimed the jurisdiction of then Chakma King to be “All the hills from the Pheni river to the Sangu and from the Nizampur Road to the hills of the Kuki Raja”. Now who was the Kuki raja and to what extent his territory was towards the Chakma kingdom in the year 1763 is a subject matter of further research. However the recorded history of Mizo/Lushai in the Lushai Hills is very recent compared to the Chakmas’ in CHT.
In “Lushai Chrysalis” , Anthony Gilchrist MacCall, Superintendent of Lushai Hills, recorded that:
“In about the year 1780 the strong Sailo migration commenced moving from the south in a northerly direction driving before them the HRANG KHOL, BIATE, THADOR, and other kindred tribes of the Lushai Hills until the Sailos, with their Lushai clans, in 1810, chiefly under Lallula Sailo, had consolidated their internal position by occupying most of the country between Champai and Demagiri northwards up to the borders of Cachar and Sylhet. This migration was probably caused by the Zahaos and Burma clans such as HUALNGOS, TLANG TLANGS of FALAM, FANAIS, and others becoming so strong that the Lushais, under their Sailo overlords, were compelled to give way and establish themselves in the area known now as the North Lushai Hills.” (Pp 35-36)
The Lushei Chiefs are descendents of one Thang-ura, who is believed to have lived early in the eighteenth century at Tlangkua, north of Falam. From him sprang six lines of Thang-ur chiefs: (1) Rokum, (2) Zadeng, (3) Thangluah, (4) Pallian, (5) Rivung, and (6) Sailo. Of them, the Thangluah went to the west of Lushai hills and penetrated as far as Demagri where Rothangpuia (Ruttonpoia) became known to the British. But his settlement near Demagiri could not have been earlier than year 1780 as the Lushais (New Kukis) were the last one to enter Mizoram amongst the Mizo tribes. It is clear from “Lushai Chrysalis” (quoted above) by Anthony Gilchrist MacCall, Superintendent of Lushai Hills from 1932-1942. The Mizoram government website also states, “The earliest Mizos who migrated to India were known as Kukis, the second batch of immigrants were called New Kukis. The Lushais were the last of the Mizo tribes to migrate to India.” See, http://mizoram.nic.in/about/history.htm
Therefore, since Ruttonpoia’s settlement near Demagiri dates back as far as only 1780 or even later, the territory of the Chakma King undoubtedly extended far beyond Demagiri in present day Mizoram as per the 1763 proclamation of Harry Verelst, the first chief of Chittagong.
Further even during the time of Captain Lewin, the borders between the Lushai Hills and CHT were undemarcated. In “A fly on the Wheel” while describing the area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Lewin stated thus, “The district is bounded on the north by the independent state of Hill Tipra, on the south by the Akyab district, and on the west by the Regulation district of Chittagong. The eastern boundary was at that time undefined, but might be considered as extending just so far as British influence could make itself felt.”
But British made it clear that Demagiri (the name itself indicates chakma settlement) was not in Lushai hills. The provincial gazetteer of India Volume V at page 413 states that:
“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”.
On 1 April 1898, the South Lushai Hills together with Demagiri areas of CHT in Bengal province was merged with the North Lushai Hills to form the Lushai Hills which was placed under the administration of Assam. Therefore, “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.” (Sir Robert Reid, History of the Frontier Areas Bordering on Assam 1883-1941). So, the Lushai Hills (now, state of Mizoram) was formed by combination of South Lushai Hills, North Lushai Hills and Demagiri and other areas curbed out of Chakma chief’s territory and placed under Assam Province.
Further, in “Encyclopedia of North East India” Col. Ved Prakash writes: “Early history of their (Chakmas’) settlement on the bank of River Karnafulee, and around the confluence of Karnafulee, Tuichang and Thega can be traced to the year 1763 when the East India Company by a Proclamation demarcated the Chakma territory as spreading over “all the hills from Pheni River to the Sangoo and from Nizampur Road in Chittagong to the Hills of Kooki Raja” (Page 1812). Moreover, Mizos lived in the ‘higher ridges’ of the hills whereas the western part of Mizoram is more of river basins/valleys ideal for Chakma settlement.
Therefore, there is no doubt that Chakmas lived in the western parts (region) of present day Mizoram from time immemorial (i.e. before the immigration of Lushais in the Lushai Hills and colonization by British). And, when a part of Chakma chief’s territory was transferred to the Lushai Hills in 1898, they became the natural citizens of Lushai Hills.
It is believed that both Chakmas and Lushais/Mizos originally came from present day Burma at some point of time in history. As Lt-Colonel J. Shakespear (who was the first Superintendent of united Lushai Hills from 1898-1899) in The Lushei Kuki Clans (1912) writes, “Among inhabitants of the Lushai Hills are found a very considerable number of immigrants, or descendants of immigrants from the Chin Hills, who are found living among the Lushais under the Thangur Chiefs or in villages under their own chiefs.” Chakmas shaped Burmese history there in many ways. One such incident is described by Captain Lewin in “The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the Dwellers Therein”, Page 65:
“Whatever opinion may be formed of the primal origin of the Thek, or Chukma tribe, no doubt can exist as to their having been at one time inhabitants of the province of Arracan, from whence they have migrated to these hills. The Radza-wong, or History of the Arracan Kings, gives the following account of them. It is there written that King Kaumysing, the son of the King of Baianathi, having been assigned by his father, as heritage, all the country inhabited by the Burman, Shan, and Malay races, came to Ramawati, the ancient capital of Arracan, near the modern town of Sandoway. He there collected men from the different countries of Western Hindoostan, having a variety of languages. They then asking for subsistence— to the first who so applied, he gave the name of Thek ; and their language being different from the rest, they lived separate. The Thek tribe appears afterwards to have played a part of some importance in the annals of the kingdom. King Nya-ming-nya-tain, with the help of the Tsaks, is said to have gained the throne in the year 356 of the Arracan Era. Again, in 656, King Mengdi is said to have undertaken an expedition against the Shans and Tsaks, who had become very troublesome (Phayre’s History of Arracan, J. A. S., 145 of 1844). The tribe is also mentioned by Buchanan in his paper on the religion and literature of the Burmese (Asiatic Researches, Vol. VI., p. 229).”
Lastly, you have stated that the first Chakmas to set foot in Lushai country were as coolies in the year 1872. I regret to say that your reading of Mizoram history is very limited to writings of Mizo historians or government of Mizoram who are often found to be biased and conveniently ignored/omitted facts.
The fact is that a combined force of Zadeng, Sailo, and Chakmas attacked and destroyed the very big village of Purbura, a very powerful Pallian chief at Pukzing (now in Mamit district, west Mizoram) in 1830. Purbura rebuilt his village, but died soon after. (Lt-Colonel J. Shakespear, The Lushei Kuki Clans, Macmillan And Co. Limited, St. Martin’s Street, London, 1912, P 5) “These Kukis were allies of the Chuckmahs”. Further, as far back as 1777, Chakma King’s general revolted against the British by refusing cotton revenue and called in his aid “large bodies of Kookie men, who live far in the interior parts of the hills, who have not the use of fire-arms, and whose bodies go un-clothed.” (T H Lewin, “Wild Races of South-Eastern India”) Surely, Chakma and Lushai contacts were very old.
2. ‘Indigenous peoples’
The definition of “indigenous peoples” as “natives or first inhabitants” is extremely narrow understanding of the concept and meaning of “indigenous peoples”. First , there is no universal and unambiguous definition of the concept of ‘indigenous peoples’, but there are a number of criteria by which indigenous peoples globally can be identified and from which each group can be characterised. The most widespread approaches are those proposed in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention no.169 and in the Martinéz Cobo Report to the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination of Minorities (1986). Furthermore an approach suggested by the Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations Mme. Erica-Irene Daes is widely used.
The ILO Convention no. 169 states that a people are considered indigenous either:
- because they are descendants of those who lived in the area before colonization; or
- because they have maintained their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions since colonization and the establishment of new states.
Furthermore, the ILO Convention 169 says that self-identification is crucial for indigenous peoples.
Martinéz Cobo’s working definition
According to the Martinéz Cobo’s Report to the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination of Minorities (1986), indigenous peoples may be identified as follows:
“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.”
This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present, of one or more of the following factors:
- Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;
- Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;
- Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.);
- Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language);
- Residence in certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;
- Other relevant factors
Self-identification as indigenous is also regarded as a fundamental element in Martinéz Cobo’s working definition.
Mme. Erica-Irene Daes’ identification
The identification outlined by the Chairperson of the United Nations’ Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Mme. Erica-Irene Daes designates certain peoples as indigenous,
- because they are descendants of groups which were in the territory of the country at the time when other groups of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived there;
- because of their isolation from other segments of the country’s population they have preserved almost intact the customs and traditions of their ancestors which are similar to those characterised as indigenous; and
- because they are, even if only formally, placed under a State structure which incorporates national, social and cultural characteristics alien to theirs.
Therefore, Chakmas who have been living on the western and southwestern parts of the British Lushai Hills from time immemorial have “historical continuity” in present day Mizoram in independent India and does not lose their “indigenous” character just because their lands have been transferred in 1898 by the British from CHT to Lushai Hills under Assam province (now state of Mizoram) for administrative purpose.
To say that only the first people to arrive at a certain territory is indigenous to that territory, and all other groups are non-indigenous, is a total misunderstanding of the concept of indigenous peoples. More than one indigenous community can exist in a particular territory or country. That is why, the CHT (Bangladesh) has 12 “indigenous” communities, namely Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tanchangya, Chak, Pankho, Mru, Murung, Bawm, Lushai, Khyang, and Khumi. Please note that Lushai, Pankho, Bawm who are part of Zo are also indigenous communities in CHT where Chakmas are the majority. So, it is ludicrous to say that because Chakmas are indigenous in CHT, they cannot be indigenous in Mizoram!
I hope this will suffice to dispel your doubts. If you have anything more, kindly let me know.
Dilip Kanti Chakma
CHAKMA LAW FORUM