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Political Turmoil in Mizoram

Resolving the Hmar Question

Roluahpuia (roluahpuia90@gmail.com) is a doctoral candidate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati, Assam.

The seemingly intractable Hmar question in Mizoram has erupted again with the resuming of violent clashes between HPC (D) and the state government. Sporadic violence is becoming the norm in the state with the latest being the killing of three policemen by the Hmar militant outfits. Rather than looking at the logic of the struggle, the state government prefers to reply to such dissent through the use of force. 

On 29 March 2015, the convoy of three members of legislative assembly (MLAs) of Mizoram was ambushed by suspected militants belonging to Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) [HPC (D)] in which three policemen lost their lives. The ambush took place in the northern part of Mizoram bordering Manipur, mostly inhabited by the Hmar tribe. HPC (D) is reported to have active operations in this part of the state. It is here that several outfits are demanding for separate autonomous councils for the Hmar tribe within the state of Mizoram. In short, it is the imagined territorial homeland which the HPC (D) refers to as “Sinlung.”

The death of three policemen has caused wide uproar and resentment from the people of Mizoram. The ruling Congress government sent out a strong message to the outfit without delay and has promised to take stringent moves to counter such violent acts. The chief minister of the state, Lalthanhawla, stated that the Mizoram government had accepted the challenge of the HPC (D) and would respond to it.

Mizoram is one of the relatively peaceful states among the eight northeastern states. There has been sustained political stability after the Mizo National Front (MNF) gave up its armed struggle. However, recent political developments within the state of the kind highlighted above have now been a common occurrence in the state. The state government’s proposal to declare the northern part of the state as “Disturbed Areas” will exacerbate this violence. For the government, it is the HPC (D) who has compelled the state to adopt such exceptional measures. This proposal however needs serious re-thinking as conflict mismanagement will only further alienate the different ethnic groups in the state.

The Background

The Hmar problem is definitely not a new problem in Mizoram. After the emergence of HPC in 1987, the quest for autonomy continues to simmer to this day. The Hmar political aspirations can be traced back to the 1950s when territorial integration of all Mizo inhabited areas was the common political slogan. Led by Mizo Union (MU), the Hmar, including other cognate tribes of Mizo inside and outside of present day Mizoram, demanded territorial integration.

The aspiration received a fatal blow as the upgradation of Lushai Hills into autonomous district under Assam in 1952 did not include the areas outside of Lushai Hills. This caused bitter feelings among the Hmar in particular who had turned down the Regional Council offered by the then Chief Minister of Manipur, Shri P B Singh.

During the same time, numerous organisations which were founded on tribal lines emerged—Hmar National Council (HNC) and Hmar Mongolian Federation (HMF) prominent ones among them. They wanted to carve out separate homelands for protection of Hmar distinct identity. However, such political aspirations were put at bay with the rise of the Mizo National Front (MNF) movement which again echoed the idea of territorial integration under a single Mizo state.

The present demand extends to a separate Mizo nation-state which they put as “Greater Mizoram.” The Hmars were at the forefront of this movement. The scenario was quite different in the border areas of Manipur where the MNF was always looked with deep suspicion. There were cases of Hmar being recruited as village volunteer force (VVF) formed by the state government to counter-MNF movement. The 1986 settlement between the central government and MNF left out the Mizo by agreeing to statehood status for Mizo Hills[i].

The call for autonomy started with the formation of Hmar People Convention (hereafter HPC) in 1986. The Hmars demanded a separate Hmar homeland in the northern part of Mizoram. They demanded separate autonomous councils within Mizoram like the tribal groups of Lai, Mara and Chakma. This appeared in their memorandum which was submitted to the prime minister in 1987 which puts the Hmar as “subjected to all sorts of social, cultural and political discrimination and economic exploitation at the hands of the more advanced communities, and longed to be kept equal with their brethren—the Pawis, the Lakhers and the Chakmas in Mizoram (HPC Memorandum 1987).”

The HPC after a year of its formation launched an armed struggle to achieve their political goals. The area labeled “Demand Area” comprised villages which the HPC claimed to be Hmar majority villages. After five years of persistent struggle, dialogue for solution was undertaken between the HPC and the Mizoram government. This dialogue went on till 1994 and it was on the 9th meeting that an agreement was signed between the representatives of both parties.

Two important and salient features of the agreement included the plan to set up Sinlung Hill Development Council (SHDC) and to take measures to include Hmar inhabited areas and other non-scheduled area of Mizoram within the ambit of the sixth schedule. While SHDC came into being, the granting of sixth schedule gradually was largely forgotten.

Disillusioned with the way in which government was fulfilling its promises, the HPC (D) took to arms again and parted ways from the HPC. It demanded the government to fulfill the agreement signed in 1994 by granting separate autonomous councils under sixth schedule. The HPC (D) since then has been associated with most acts of violence including the last ambush.  

Clash of Aspirations

The HPC (D) in particular has been responsible for various attacks within Aizawl and other parts of Mizoram. They were reportedly involved in the bomb attacks of the police vehicle parked near the resident of the SHDC chairman, Hminghchungnung[ii]. Apart from this, the HPC (D) had issued diktats by issuing order against the functioning of Young Mizo Association (YMA) in their demand area. Apart from this, they boycotted village council elections causing the malfunctioning of democratic governance within their demand area.

In the recently concluded village council elections too, due to the boycott by HPC (D), 26 villages within the demand area were barred from the election process. There has been tension previously against the HPC (D) order for the dissolution of the functioning of YMA in their areas. Such acts of HPC (D) has created unwanted rift between the larger Mizo society and the HPC (D). Rather than backing down, both the HPC (D) and the Mizoram government are preparing for more aggression.

Way back in 2011, the home minister of the state clarified the standpoint of the government when he said that the “the Mizoram government would not support any demand of the creation of Autonomous District Council and other related demands; and the government does not have any will to give any Autonomous District Council in any constituency.” The HPC (D) on the other hand accused the Congress government, which was the party which signed the accord with HPC in 1994, of being reluctant in implementing the 1994 accord. It thereby remained firm to its demand of separate autonomous councils through the implementation of the 1994 accord.

The bone of contention between the Mizoram government and HPC (D) lay in the question of granting autonomous councils or the upgradation of SHDC to a sixth schedule status.  Apart from the Hmar, Mizoram is faced internally with the challenge of similar demands for autonomy by various tribal groups such as Paite and Bru. Those enjoying separate autonomous councils comprising of Lai, Mara and Chakma aspire for yet higher autonomy by demanding direct funding and Union Territory status. While there is a stalemate on such political aspirations, the past experience shows the vulnerability of the state towards incidents of violence which often erupt as a means to advance such demands.

Question of Identity

The current political tension also unlocked the question of identity in the state. This is partly because Mizo as a composite identity is still in the making. This is also due to the resistance of the process of “Mizoisation” by smaller cognate tribes such as Paite, Hmar, Lai and Mara in particular. Mizo identity is perceived to be Lushai centric and acceptance of Mizo is tantamount to accepting Lushai language and culture. However, the picture is rather complex as ethnic assimilation and resistance coexists when it comes to Mizoram. As a result of this, it is difficult to ascertain the question of identity and belonging as assimilation has been largely uneven in the state of Mizoram.

Lal Dena (2002) notes this when he distinguished Hmar into two types. The first are the Hmar who are satisfied to consider themselves as Mizo who he further refers to as completely “Mizoised”. The second category comprises Hmars who are partially assimilated into Mizo and therefore are still urging to protect and preserve their distinct identity. They are mostly Hmars outside of Mizoram and it is from this group that the demand for maintaining of distinct identity and political aspirations emerge. To an extent, one could agree to the above observation. Prior to this, Goswami (1979) has observed that even within the state of Mizoram, there are two types of Hmar—the ones residing in north Mizoram who claim to be autochthones while those who live in the central region identify themselves as Mizo.

Therefore it could be said that the Hmar living in the central region of Mizoram, particularly in the Aizawl, have adopted a Mizo identity. While Hmar enjoys a special recognition as scheduled tribe (ST), in most cases, Mizo identity supersedes tribal identity.  The ethnic anger that fills the atmosphere in Mizoram on the day of the ambush was often directed towards Hmar tribe. Due to fear of rise of ethnic tension, numerous organisations soon came out publicly denouncing the HPC (D) act of violence. The HPC itself was one among them expressing their disappointment towards the untoward incident.

As in the case of the present issue, while it has undoubtedly led to resentment among the Mizo people. The very attempt to declare “Disturbed Areas” was opposed by civil society bodies like PRISM and various Young Mizo Association (YMA)[iii] branches as it feared that it will create division and tension among the Mizo people themselves. People in general understand that such move of the government goes against the very spirit of Mizo unity.

The present Hmar struggle therefore is often portrayed neither as an attempt to disintegrate Mizoram territorially nor Mizo ethnic unity, but is an expression of smaller tribe aspirations to protect the complete loss of their culture (Neitham 2011). Contrary to this, the Hmar unrest is also posited to one of rejecting “the ideology of ‘assimilation’ propounded by the mainstream Mizo (or, more accurately Mizo speaking) (Liansimahnuna 2011:167).”

Furthermore, what drives the Hmar autonomy struggles is not a matter of identity question alone but also raises the question of survival and development. There exists a strong perception that the Hmars of Mizoram are lagging behind in overall development. It was also the feeling of being deprived, discrimination and feeling of neglect that resulted in the discontent. The HPC (D) in their memorandum clearly spells this when they gave the logic of their aspirations which is “to keep equal pace with the more advance communities on matters relating to development and advancement (HPC Memorandum 1997).”

The standpoint of a section of Mizos however is that politics based on tribal line and demand of separate autonomous councils should be completely discouraged[iv]. This is considered to be a threat to Mizo unity and the first step towards ethnic disintegration. What we have therefore is a very different assessment as well as perception on the Hmar question in Mizoram. The reconciling of these divergent and opposing views is what is necessary to mitigate further tension and escalation of violence in the state.

Revenge of the State

The government plans to declare HPC (D) as an illegal organisation as well as declare northern part of the state as “Disturbed Areas” and upgrade the training provided to Mizo Armed Police (MAP) under Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare (CIJW) at Vairengte, Mizoram. The government is then ready by preparing itself to engage in open battle with the militant group. One is however unsure whether the situation will deteriorate as repression against the militant continues.

After the establishment of HPC (D), Mizoram government is often engaged in counter-offensive against the militants. In the past too, MAP were found to make an entry into Hmar inhabited villages on the border side of Manipur. The villages bordering Mizoram covers a vast area which are predominantly inhabited by the Hmar tribe. They are perceived to be important hide-outs of the HPC (D) militants often using the Hmar public as a shield. However, the entry of MAP and their counter-offensive has resulted into an uneasy atmosphere widening the gap between the Hmar people in general and the Mizoram government. There are reported cases in last year of April where the MAP is alleged to have targeted ordinary Hmar civilians causing widespread anger and discontentment.

Mizoram is considered to be an example in maintaining peace—after the 1986 accord between the Indian government and the Mizo National Front (MNF). However sporadic violence has become a recurring phenomenon in the state. The friction between minority political aspirations and the state government continues till today.

The move of the Mizoram government to impose and declare the northern part of the state as “Disturbed Areas” will only derail the already political tension in the state. The government of Mizoram is blinded by the military solution forgetting that Mizo people are still recovering from the use of the heinous laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). While peace has returned in Mizoram after its establishment as a separate state, a lasting peace will only be guaranteed by promise of inclusive and equal development.

Notes

[i] Lushai Hills was changed into Mizo Hills in 1954.

[ii] For details of this see, The Sangai Express (26 July, 2014, HPC-D claims responsibility for bomb attack on Mizoram police. Accessible online at http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/page/items/41173/hpc-d-claims-responsibility-for-bomb-attack-on-mizoram-police

[iii]  Two YMA branches, Tuivai and Tuisual have come out raising their opposition against the state attempt to declare the northern part of the state as ‘Disturbed Areas’.

[iv] The dominant civil society bodies such Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA), Mizoram Upa Pawl (Mizo Elder Federation) and Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (All Mizoram Women’s Federation) pass a resolution on 5th Augusts, 2013 against the formation of organization on ethnic lines. They also oppose the idea of demand for separate autonomous councils within the state of Mizoram.

References

Dena, Lal (2002): “Unresolved Issues of the Hmars,” Indigenous World Journal of Indigenous People, pp 303-305.

Goswami, B B (1979): The Mizo Unrest: A Politicization of Culture, Jaipur: Aalekh.

HPC Memorandum (1987): Submitted to the Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Minister of Mizoram.

Liansiamhnuna (2011): Political Problems of Mizoram: A Study of Ethnic Politics with special reference to the Hmar People’s Movement, Saitual: Rose Pari.

Neitham, Lalremlien (2001): “Hmar Struggles for Autonomy in Mizoram, India,” accessed on 6 August 2015, http://www.ritimo.org/article889.html.

 

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