ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tribals, Rats, Famine, State and the Nation

'Rat-famine' has followed a recurring pattern in Mizo history. Despite their ability to predict the occurrence of a famine, Mizo tribes have found themselves ill-equipped to handle such calamities on their own. The British extended help and support, which in turn helped alleviate suspicion on both sides. Unfortunately, it was the failure of the newly independent Indian government in extending support during the 1958 famine that alienated the Mizos and was largely responsible for the Mizo National Famine Front's turning against the centre.

While most parts of the country are experiencing phenomena like drought and inundation, the tiny north-eastern state of Mizoram is preparing itself to combat another kind of calamity resulting from natural ecological reasons. It is known as the rat-famine. Such famines are common to certain east and south-east Asian countries like Myanmar and Japan. It has been observed even in some regions of southern Africa. In India, the Indo-Myanmarese frontier tract of Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh has often been devastated by this famine. But nowhere does the outbreak reach the proportion that it does in Mizoram.

The circumstances that cause the tragedy is very interesting and even intriguing. The entire range of the Mizo hills are covered by thick bamboo vegetation, of two varieties. One of them flowers and sprouts its seeds in a cycle of every 50 years while the other every 30 years. The flowering and seeding of bamboo shoots triggers off a phenomenal increase in the jungle rat population. These massive number of rats eat up the entire standing crop creating a scarcity of foodgrains leading to starvation and deaths. The enormity of the problem can be understood if considered that each of these periodic famines have taken 10,000 to 15,000 Mizo lives whose total population was no more than a couple of lakhs at the time of Indian independence.

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