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Quit Mizoram Notices

Fear of the Other

N William Singh (williamsnongmaithem06@gmail.com) teaches sociology at the Pachhunga University College in Aizawl, Mizoram.

Considered an island of peace in the conflict-ridden region of north-east India, the discrimination and harassment of the non-Mizos in Mizoram borders on xenophobia. Time and again, quit Mizoram notices have been served by non-state actors to minorities, creating an atmosphere of fear and persecution

On 24 March 2014, five major non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Mizoram staged a  rally in Aizawl to protest against the Election Commission of India’s decision to allow the Bru tribals to exercise their franchise through postal ballots in the 2014 parliamentary elections  from their relief camps in northern Tripura.

The Young Mizo Association (YMA), Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Mizoram Students Union (MSU), Mizoram Upa Pawl (Senior Citizens Association) and Mizoram Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl–Mizo Women’s Organisation (MHIP) broadcasted the following statement on  All India Radio Aizawl on 25 March 2014:

We sent a memorandum to the Election Commission of India in our opposition against Bru to cast their vote from relief camps in north Tripura. The joint NGOs demand that Bru should repatriate back to Mizoram before the Lok Sabha poll and those who refuse should be deleted from the electoral roll. The Bru relief camps are breeding grounds for armed goons indulging in series of abduction, kidnapping and extortion to disturb the peaceful nature of Mizoram.

Bru leaders accused these NGOs of attempting to deprive them of their electoral rights and urged the Election Commission of India to ignore their demands.

The Brus and the majority Mizo community have been embroiled in a long standing ethnic conflict. Following ethnic violence in 1997 [i] and then again in 2009,[ii] thousands of Brus fled their homes in Mizoram to the adjoining state of Tripura. Approximately 35,000 Brus continue to languish in six relief camps at Kanchanpur in northern Tripura till this day.[iii]

The Anti Non-Mizo Sentiment

Vai is the terminology used to refer to any non-Mizo residing in Mizoram. The Mizo community has shared a troubled relationship with Vai’s (non-Mizo people). For decades, Vai’s have worked and lived in Mizoram in constant fear due to a series of quit Mizoram notices issued by non-state actors over the last few decades. Quit notices are a common phenomena prevalent among the tribes of north-east India (See Laithangbam: 2012 and Goswami: 2014). Its history can be traced back to Nagaland, where they facilitated extortion through intimidation by Naga militants.

Between 1966 and 2014, several quit Mizoram notices have been issued to tribal minorities and people from other parts of India residing in Mizoram (the author could identify seven during fieldwork); four by the erstwhile militant Mizo National Front (MNF) before they signed the peace accord with India in 1986[iv] and  three by NGOs after Mizoram gained statehood in 1987.[v] These notices served as instruments of intimidation and were unconstitutional. The state government’s response to quit Mizoram notices has so far been inadequate, and it has not taken it any steps to stop these xenophobic actions.

In 1958, Pu Laldenga, secretary of the erstwhile Mizo Cultural Society, in several of his  public speeches repeatedly stated, “Mizoram is for Mizos only” (Nibedon:1980).  He later went on to establish the Mizo National Front in 1961, with the aim of establishing a sovereign independent state for the Mizos. On 28 February 1966, the MNF spearheaded an uprising against the Indian government, and in an operation codenamed Jericho, government offices and security installations were simultaneously attacked. To supress the armed insurrection, the Indian government carried out air strikes in its own territory, and the Indian Air Force fighter planes bombed Aizwal and several villages in Mizo district of Assam.

The Mizo insurgency continued over the next two decades. In 1986, the Mizo Peace Accord was signed between the Indian government and the MNF, and the latter became a legitimate political party. The union territory of Mizoram was granted statehood in 1987, and it became the 23rd state of the Indian union, and Laldenga became its first the chief minister in 1988. After becoming a mainstream political party in 1986, the MNF never served quit Mizoram notices again.

However, the deeply entrenched anxiety against non-Mizos and other minority tribes surfaced time and again in the form of quit Mizoram notices, served in the last few years by  influential NGOs–YMA, MZP, MHIP, MSU and MUP. Even village councils, which  have the powers to exercise power to mandate codes of conduct for areas under their jurisdiction under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian constitution, issued a quit Mizoram notice on November 14, 2010.

Quit Mizoram Notices by MNF

March 1966 -– In March 1966, armed MNF men, in the dead of night, entered  houses of non-Mizos in Vairengte (a small township close to the Assam–Mizoram border) and served them a quit Mizoram notice (Chatterjee 1994: 190). Oral threats were issued and pamphlets to quit Mizoram were circulated by the MNF cadres in other parts of Mizo Hills district.

Days before Operation Jericho was launched, many non-Mizos fled from Mizo Hills district to the plains of Assam. A confrontation between the MNF and the Indian military intelligence left sixteen persons (mainly informants and Indian intelligence personnel) wounded.  

R V Pillai,  a sub divisional officer based in Lunglei, was abducted during Operation Jericho. He was confined by the MNF for few days but was later set free. Pillai was abducted because he was a Vai and a government official. No killings of non-Mizos were recorded in the aftermath of this quit Mizoram notice. (Nunthara:1994).

December 1974 -- On 6 December 1974, the rebel town commander of the MNF distributed  handbills in Aizwal asking the non-Mizos to quit the Mizo hills by 31 December 1974. The MNF tried to intimidate non-Mizos and made it clear that those who flout the notice would have to face the consequences (Nibedon: 1980).

The aftermath of 1974 quit Mizoram notice was harsh. On 13 January 1975, a jeep drove straight into the Mizoram Police headquarters, and Captain Lalheia of the MNF along with three other gunmen sprayed bullets inside the conference room. The casualties were none other than three senior police officials–Inspector General of Police G H Arya,  Deputy Inspector General of Police L B Sewa, and Superintendent of Police P Panchpagesan. The message that the MNF was trying to convey was that no non-Mizo, however powerful, would be spared.

June 1979 — Another quit Mizoram notice was served by the MNF on 3 June 1979. This was the only notice which was openly challenged by a chief minister of Mizoram. Brigadier (retd.) Thenphunga Sailo, the chief minister, issued a strong warning to the MNF activists in his speech, which was broadcasted by All India Radio Aizwal on 4 June.

Some misguided elements have issued a notice under the caption “Non-Mizo’s” to quit Mizoram before 1st July, 1979; threatening them with dire consequences if they fail to do so. This is politically motivated by self-centred motives and is to prevent peace and prosperity from coming to Mizoram and therefore is not in the interest of Mizoram. I may sound a note of warning to those who either out of mischief or for imaginary political gains indulges in rumour mongering and false propaganda. It is the duty of all right thinking people to ensure the safety of their non-Mizo brethrens. People belonging to Christian faith having true faith in God will not allow such rancour to prevail (Sharma: 2006, 127-128).

Laldenga, who was trying to resolve the Mizo issue peacefully with India at that time, found it extremely difficult to handle the repercussions of the 1979 quit Mizoram notice.  In June 1980, Laldenga unequivocally repudiated the terror tactics employed by the MNF, which he felt were counterproductive to the advancement of the Mizo cause (Chatterjee:1994, 298). He disapproved the quit Mizoram notice issued by the MNF, because it disrupted the unity of Mizoram. He went further to suggest that the quit Mizoram idea was a stale and outdated one, borrowed from discredited outfits, and its application  was disastrous for the integrity of  the Mizo society.

May 1982 — From the MNF headquarters in the Arakan Hills of Burma, a quit notice was issued in May 1982. The order was signed by Zoramthanga,[vi] vice-president of the MNF who  a few years later went on to become a minister in the government headed by chief minister Laldenga in Mizoram. In 1998, he became the chief minister of the state himself.

All non-Mizos, including government officials from other parts of India, were advised to leave Mizoram by 21 June 1982. The quit order, however, came with relaxations for the first time. Gorkhalis who were settled and were born prior to 1966 in Mizoram, Christians who went to church and people from the mongoloid race could stay back in Mizoram.

Unlike government employees, non-Mizo teachers, mostly from Assam and Bengal, teaching in far flung villages in the hills had no security and felt very vulnerable when these quit Mizoram notices were served by the MNF. College teachers in Aizwal and Lunglei were also largely non-Mizos. A retired academic (name withheld) once revealed to me the nightmares he experienced when these notices were issued:

When the first quit Mizoram notice was served in 1966, I was not in Mizoram. I came to Aizawl in 1973 as a college lecturer to teach economics. When the subsequent quit  notices were served in 1974, 1979 and 1982, I still remember  the horrible threats which were issued. At one point in time, I was about to give up my job and leave for Jorhat, Assam. But, our Mizo colleagues stood by us. They invited us to stay and reside in their house during those difficult times.[vii]

Quit Order Notices after Mizoram Attained Statehood

November 2010 — Chin migrants from Myanmar were served a quit Mizoram notice on 14 November 2010 by a joint committee of the village councils of Aizawl South-III assembly constituency following the gruesome rape and murder of a minor Mizo girl by a Chin. The village councils, constituted under the Sixth Schedule, are empowered to make laws based on customary practices benefitting the local community, and these laws have to be approved by the governor of the state. Issuing threats or making laws to intimidate people is against their mandate.

Justifying its order, the committee said that eviction notice was issued to prevent such terrible incidents from occurring in the constituency in the future. Fearing retaliation, many Chins from Myanmar fled the area and few even went back to Myanmar.

The Chins were welcomed in Mizoram after the Burmese army crackdown against Chin militants in 1988. They were seen as ethnic cousins and were given food, shelter and options for livelihood. Currently, the Chin National Front guerrillas are active in eastern flanks of  the state. The Chin community, who have sought asylum in Mizoram, is often blamed for smuggling of drugs and alcohol in the state.

Though the Chins do not need a passport[viii] to enter India, they are permitted free movement in Indian territory within 16 kms of the India-Myanmar border.[ix]  But most Chins hardly follow this rule, and many of them can be found in Aizawl, which is more than 200 kms  from the border. Only a few abide by the law, obtain permits, pay permit fees, and deposit identification cards at border check points.

August 2011 – The YMA, the largest and the most influential NGO in Mizoram, issued a quit Mizoram notice to non-Mizo traders in Mizoram on 11 August 2011. The YMA urged all non-tribal businessmen engaged in illegal trade practices to leave the state by the end of August. In an interview, Central YMA (YMA Headquarter, Aizawl) President Lalbiakzuala said:

There is section of non-Mizo traders who are practising unregistered trade. There are traders indulging in benami transactions, which are illegal on every count. Since the state has not taken any actions against such non-Mizo traders,  the YMA took action against them. Further, non-tribal’s doing business with valid permits will not be touched, but illegal traders will not be spared. There are cases where trade is being conducted by non-tribals under Mizo names and that is harmful for the Mizo community and the state of Mizoram. Inner Line Permit (ILP) holders were engaged in businesses which they are not permitted to engage in by Indian law.[x]

April 2013 — The YMA again issued a quit Mizoram notice to Chin settlers in the two villages of Phunchawng and Rangvamual which are on the outskirts of Aizawl on 15 April 2013. 85% of the households in these two villages are inhabited by Chins from Myanmar. Out of the total 884 households in these two villages, 241 households were engaged in brewing liquor, which is illegal in Mizoram.[xi] The YMA set May 15 as the deadline for these illegal brewers to quit Mizoram.

There was outrage against the YMA since  it took the law in its own hands.  The YMA were criticised for allegedly taking away the livelihood of poor people and migrants from Myanmar. But the YMA asserted that “there are other ways of earning and living”.

The government of Mizoram has failed on two counts. Firstly, it has failed to counter non-state agencies issuing quit Mizoram notices. Secondly, it has failed to enact and execute laws to curtail illegal activities taking place in Mizoram, forcing NGOs and other non-state actors to take action against what they deem illegal. Until the state adopts a firm stance against intimidatory tactics used by these organisations, the non-Mizos will live in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear.


 

Notes:

[i]  For Bru crisis in Mizoram, See Indian Human Rights Reports: 2008 (New Delhi: Asian Center for Human Rights).

[ii] Also see Khangchin, Veronica: (2014), “India: Continuing Irritants in Mizoram – Analysis”, Eurasia Review, South Asia Terrorism Portal, available at  www.eurasiareview.com/19032014; accessed on 26 March, 2014

[iii] ibid

[iv] Mizoram Peace Accord was signed between the MNF and government of India on June 30, 1986 in  New Delhi. It ended 20 years of militancy and killings in Mizoram. The signatories of the Peace Accord were eader  Laldenga, the MNF leader, R D Pradhan, home secretary government of India, and Lalkhama, chief secretary, government of Mizoram.

[v]  Mizoram became the 23rd state of Indian Union on 20 February, 1987.

[vi] Zoramthanga was the vice-president of the MNF. He was a trusted associate of Laldenga. After the Peace Accord was signed and when Laldenga became the Chief Minister; Zoramthanga served as the  finance and education minister. In 1998; Zoramthanga became the fifth chief minister of Mizoram, when  the MNF won a landslide victory over the  Congress.

[vii] Personal interview given to the author; 23 June, 2012.

[viii] Gazette of India, Part II, Dated 1st July, 1968 stated: “Passport Entry Rules will be exempted to every member of the hill tribes, who is either a citizen of India or a Citizen of the Union of Burma and who is ordinarily resident in any area within 40 Kms on either side of the Indo-Burma frontier entering into India across the said frontier”. (The Mizoram Gazette 2003)

[ix] July 21, 2010 notification by Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India reduced 40 Kms benchmark to 16 Kms. The Gazette of India, Part II laid the following changes: “A permit issued by the Government of India or State government may specify for the purpose and he/she shall not on the basis of that permit move into the area in India which is beyond Sixteen Kms from the aforesaid frontier”. (The Gazette of India 2010)

[x] Personal Interview given to the author; February 14, 2014

[xi] Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition (MLTP) Act, 1995

References:

Bakshi, P M (2009): The Constitution of India, 9th Edition (Delhi: Universal Law Publishing).

Chatterjee, Suhas (1994): Making of Mizoram: Role of Laldenga, Vol I & II (New Delhi: MD Publishers).

Goswami, Namrata (2014): “Naga Identity - Ideals, Parallels, and Reality”, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, 16 June, available at http://www.thehinducentre.com/the-arena/current-issues/article6114531.ece, accessed on 19 June, 2014.

Hluna, John V & Rini Tochhawng (2012): The Mizo Uprising: Assam Assembly Debates on the Mizo Movement 1966-71 (London: Cambridge Scholars Press).

Indian Human Rights Reports (2008): Bru Crisis in Mizoram (New Delhi: Asian Center for Human Rights).

Khangchin, Veronica (2014): “India: Continuing Irritants in Mizoram – Analysis”, Eurasia Review, South Asia Terrorism Portal, http://www.eurasiareview.com/19032014-india-continuing-irritants-mizoram... www.eurasiareview.com/19032014; accessed on 26 March, 2014.

Laithangbam, Iboyaima (2012): “Rebels’ quit notice to migrants in Manipur”, The Hindu, 6 September, available at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/rebels-quit-notice-to-migrants-in-manipur/article3865515.ece, accessed on 19 June, 2014.

Manchanda, Rita & Tapan Bose (1997): States, Citizens & Outsiders: The Uprooted peoples of South Asia (Kathmandu: South Asia Forum for Human Rights).

Nibedon, Nirmal (1980): The Daggers Brigade (New Delhi: Lancers Publishers).

Nunthara, C (1996): Mizoram: Society & Polity (New Delhi: Indus Publishers).

Sammadar, Ranabir (2006): Refugee & the State: Practice of Asylum & Care in India (New Delhi: Sage publications).

Sharma, Suresh K (2006): Documents on North-east India: Mizoram (New Delhi: Mittal Publications).

Singh, N William (2014): “Tethered Ethnics: Chins across the borders of Mizoram and Myanmar”, Paper presented in Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Aizawl.

The Gazette of India (2010): Extraordinary, Part II, No.403, New Delhi.

The Mizoram Gazette (2003): Extraordinary, Vol. 32, Aizawl.

 

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