Aizawl: The Chakmas have been in Mizoram for a long time now. But what is suddenly worrying the Mizos, with Assembly elections slated for 28 November, is the rapid spurt in Chakma population in the areas that fall under the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC).
The Mizos claim this increase is due to illegal immigration from Bangladesh. NGOs across the state have now raised the demand for scrapping of the CADC, with the Young Mizo Association (YMA), the largest of the NGOs, organising mass rallies across the state in October on this issue. These NGOs have also demanded a National Register of Citizens (NRC) be implemented in Mizoram.
But their demand that Chakma candidates be denied tickets by the Congress and the BJP has largely been ignored. The mainstream parties, even as they try to steer clear of voicing support for the minorities because of a fear of Mizo backlash, realise that the Chakmas are a strong vote bank, given that they form nearly 10 percent of the total state population of around 11 lakh. They are the second-largest minority group in Mizoram after the Brus.
Resentment against the Chakmas in Mizoram is not new. Vanlalruata, president of the Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA), in an interview said that the CADC had been created during the secessionist movement and had happened without a referendum or a commission being set up to go into the issue. “The October rallies were organised based on the decisions made at the general assembly of the CYMA,” said Vanlalruata. “It has been 46 years, and we will approach the court to scrap the CADC. We will also work on the ground to press our demands. After consultation with prominent citizens and retired bureaucrats, and examining Parliament and Assembly records, we will try and prove that some illegalities were involved in the creation of the CADC.”
The demand for an NRC stems from rising concerns among Mizo groups that the rapid growth of population within a short span of time in the Chakma council area could easily assimilate the Mizo population. Vanlalruata’s argument on this is that Mizoram is a small state, has a porous border with Bangladesh and Myanmar, has the second-lowest population in India and an extremely low birth rate. He urged mainstream media to give more coverage on the Mizo Chakma issue before “large-scale violence erupts. The rallies held on October 10 mark the stepping stone in preserving the Mizo identity and their rights as citizens of India."
None of the political parties have commented on the NRC demand. Inevitably, NRC is opposed by the Chakmas, who fear being excluded even if they are born in India. Dhana Kumar, secretary, All India Chakma Social Front (AICSF), emphasised that “all Chakmas in Mizoram are Indians". Johnny Lalthanpuia, co-convener IT and social media for BJP, said that legally settled Chakmas should be integrated into Mizo society but strong action should be taken against foreigners. “The Chakmas themselves do not support the illegal migrants. But fearing the Shanti Bahini (a Bangladeshi insurgent group comprising mostly Chakmas), they often do not voice their opinion regarding this.”
The presence of Chakmas in Mizoram can be traced back to 1871 when the Chakma queen Kalindi Rani provided 500 Chakma coolies to the British army who were fighting the Lushai (Mizo) chiefs in the Chittagong Hill tracts. This led to a small portion of land in these hill tracts, along with its inhabitants, becoming part of the Lushai Hills in 1900. But a lot more Chakmas entered the Lushai Hills during the Second World War, under the Labour Transport Corps, and most never returned to Chittagong. The British had made Lushai Hills, which became today’s Mizoram, a district of Assam and used to levy Mizos Rs 2 as hill house tax while the Chakmas paid a tax of Rs 5, the same as foreigners. The question of Chakmas being considered indigenous to Mizoram has been a contentious one among the ethnic Mizos ever since.
The Chakmas, calling the demands by the Mizo NGOs unfortunate and a move that can spoil the spirit of peace and brotherhood in the state, argued that the establishment of CADC in 1972 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution cannot be simply wished away. Suhas Chakma, director of Rights and Analysis Group based in Delhi, argued that the “Mizoram Peace Accord signed by the Mizo National Front with the Government of India provides that the rights and privileges of minorities in Mizoram as envisaged in the Constitution shall be preserved and protected and their social and economic advancement shall be ensured.” These guarantees under the Constitution and the peace accord cannot be abolished, he added.
How the protests by the NGOs will play out in the coming elections is not yet clear, but the BJP has already announced it will field two Chakma candidates, one being Buddha Dhan Chakma, a former Congress MLA who recently joined the party. The BJP has also asked its Tripura unit to campaign for Chakma votes in Mizoram. BJP and some regional parties have come together as the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
On 25 October, two Chakma candidates' names appeared in the final list released by the Congress — sitting MLA Nihar Kanti Chakma from West Tuipui, his home constituency, and newcomer Amit Kumar Chakma from Tuichawng constituency, earlier represented by now BJP’s Buddha Dhan Chakma. But probably in an effort to mollify Mizo voters, party spokesman Professor Maliana criticised ex-Home Minister R Lalzirliana (he had resigned to join the Mizo National Front and was expelled from the Congress) for not making enough effort to deport illegal immigrants during the last ten years.
The Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), an alliance forged by seven political parties in the region, have maintained that they will not be fielding any Chakma candidate, completely leaving out the Tuichawng constituency, which is Chakma dominated. On the other hand, the Mizo National Front (MNF), a key regional party in the state, is yet to decide its candidates for the two Chakma dominated constituencies, according to H Rammawi, a former MNF minister.
(Ezrela Dalidia Fanai is a Aizawl-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com.)
Updated Date: Nov 08, 2018 19:08 PM