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Memories and Memorials of the Mizo National Front Movement

Problems and Politics of Memorialisation

Roluahpuia (roluahpuia90@gmail.com) is with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.

The narrative of peace in Mizoram has become a part of national memory, but it is also embedded in larger politics of erasing a violent past. This is, in part, associated with the state agenda of presenting a “successful” case of conflict management, along with its refusal to acknowledge its violent actions. Tension over the issue of memorialisation continues to resurface at the local level, across political spectrums and local organisations—a consequence of the purported exclusion of violent memories in the official narratives and the neglect of “other” voices within the narrative of the movement. In this regard, the construction and contestation of the narrative of “peace” in Mizoram and the politics associated with its commemoration, merit further examination.

On 30 June 1986, the Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) or the Mizoram Accord, was signed between the Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Government of India (GoI), which resulted in the conclusion of the MNF’s armed struggle, as well as the cessation of the demand for separation from the Indian Union. It is against this backdrop that today, across Mizoram, 30 June is observed as remna ni or day of peace.

There is a general consensus that the resolution of the MNF movement is an exception in the North East, or in the words of Lawrence E Cline (2006: 138), “one of the few apparent
success stories for the Indian government in the North East.” The MoS is considered a historic agreement, at least in the context of North East India, as it successfully brought an end to the armed struggle. The case of the MNF movement, therefore, is interesting for it is the only movement that has successfully ended with the signing of the MoS in 1986. It is, therefore, often hailed as a “success” in India’s counter-insurgency efforts in the North East.

The narrative of “success” dominates the larger discourse of the MNF. This is greatly embedded in the state discourse—both at the central and Mizoram state level—with the Mizo experience now often acclaimed as the “peace model.”1 Of course, there is no denying the fact that Mizoram has become relatively peaceful in the post-settlement period, at least when compared with other north-eastern states. The Mizo case is widely considered to be a case of successful conflict management amidst the failures of peace accords in other Indian states of the region (Hassan 2008; Goswami 2009). However, what is remarkable is how this narrative of “peace” and “success” has become the lens through which the movement is remembered. This paper, therefore, analyses the nature of memorialising the movement, and the struggle itself, which is now strongly associated with the idea of “success.”

Narrative of ‘Peace’

Memorial sites are largely considered to be public spaces. They have the power to influence people’s understanding of the past and shape public opinion on various issues. The same applies to the observance of various events. An event such as remna ni is not merely a commemoration of the peace settlement signed between the MNF and the GoI. This is because the observation of remna ni conceals more than it remembers. It selectively focuses on the celebration of the Mizo peace settlement and hence, on “peace,” while ignoring the sufferings of the generations that lived during the movement. This is associated with the state agenda of presenting a successful case of conflict management on the one hand, and its refusal to acknowledge its violent actions on the other. Hence, memorial events and sites of the MNF movement are entangled with the issue of remembering and forgetting, and of inclusion and exclusion. In addition to this, the dominant trend is that the memorialisation excludes those Mizos outside of Mizoram, particularly Manipur and Tripura, who lent their support and participated in the movement.

As far as the memorials of the MNF movement are concerned, the observance of remna ni, and the construction of the martyr thlanmual (cemetery) are important sites of memory. Despite their significance, such memorials are not without contestation, particularly in the local. This is because memorials and memories of the MNF movement are “multi-sited” in the form of texts, diaries, cemeteries, etc (Chopra 2010: 124). As such, I locate the politics of memorialising the MNF movement, keeping in mind its contested nature in local situations (Radstone 2000). For communities who have experienced violence, the very experience has become embodied into their collective existence, their identity, and even their beliefs. This is evident in the increasing usage of the term rambuai (troubled land) to denote the period of the movement. As noted by Pachuau and Sadan (2016) in the context of Mizo buai (period of hardship),2 memories related to conflict and experience of violence are shaped by local specificities and contemporary needs. Pachuau (2014), in the context of the movement, specifically notes that there has been a silence on the public experience of the buai years even today. This silence, Pachuau (2014: 132–34) notes, is a significant marker to how the Mizos have negotiated themselves with the larger Indian state and most importantly, how the issue of peace is used as a tool of political sloganeering by the two dominant parties of Mizoram, the MNF, and the Congress respectively.

This paper is, therefore, interested in highlighting how the narrative of peace has become embedded into the memorialisation of the MNF movement. In the national memory too, Mizoram is a case of India’s success of counter-insurgency in the conflict-ridden North East. Rather than questioning the peace, the paper is interested in examining how this narrative of peace has dominated the discussion about the Mizo experience of counter-insurgency. The contemporary discourse of Mizoram has largely centred around “peace” and it is this discourse of “peace” that is the recurrent theme in major events in the state.3

Nation, Memory, and History

With peace becoming the dominant narrative, what this also implies is that we are, as usual, “seeing like a state” (Scott 1988) where the state embraces a selective vision (re)presenting Mizoram as a successful case of counter-insurgency or as peace model. Behind this grandiose idea of peace, are memories that remain unsettled, and tensions that remain unresolved. In other words, while it appears easy to talk about the peace Mizoram attained following the MNF movement, the fact that its memorialisation remains contested, disrupts various assumptions of it being a “peace model.”

National histories are closely tied to nation-building and integration processes. The literature on nations and nationalism also stress on the idea of a collective shared past (Smith 1999). Throughout his work, Smith emphasised the role of pre-modern ethnie4 in the formation and emergence of the modern nation-state. In this, memories constitute an important element to the construction of national identity, an imagined nationhood that centres on common beliefs, values, etc. As Smith (1999: 9) notes,

[W]hat gives nationalism its power are the myths, memories, traditions, and symbols of ethnic heritages, and the ways in which a popular living past has been, and can be, rediscovered and reinterpreted by modern intelligentsia. It is from these elements of myth, memory, symbol, and tradition, that modern national identities are reconstituted in each generation, as the nation becomes more inclusive and as its members cope with new challenges.

A significant aspect of national past and history, is that it is presented as a “collective memory” (Halbwachs 1992: 38). There is already this conjecture that national past and national memory are shared. For the nation state, it is this past that unifies and ties communities who inhabit the nation state. This can be sacred and symbolic, but is often imbued with myths. Apart from this, national pasts commemorate important historical events making them a living memory. The banality of such nationalist expression confirms the state agenda of controlling public consciousness through statues, museums, etc (Billig 1995). These form a collective reminder of the nation’s great past. It is through them that national past is converted into living memory in the present. As Halbwachs notes, the past is remembered to suit the needs of the present.

In the context of nation states, war memorials, for instance, are one of the most common forms of commemoration. This is not surprising since most nation states across the world are products of war or violent conflicts. This is evident in the proliferation of war memorials, which coincided with the emergence of new nation states in Europe post-World War I (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Memories of war, in the form of statues or cemeteries are therefore closely related to the formation of modern nation states. In fact, war memorials serve a strong social purpose, and in most cases, they also serve practical purposes of profitability and utility (Mayo 1988: 64) to the extent of misrepresentation, invention, and manipulation (Brubaker and Feischmidt 2012). They carry a narrative of sacrifice, courage and valour, but also of loss. They give credence and legitimacy to the existence of the nation state not merely as a territorially defined space, but as a sacred landscape. The same is true of post-war society across Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America among others. An end to this commemoration is not in sight. In fact, Nora (1998) terms this an “era of commemoration.”

In the context of nation states that were under colonial rule, the narratives of “freedom struggle” remain pivotal to the construction of an “imagined community” (Anderson 1991). The memories of “freedom struggle” formed part of the broader effort towards creating a national history. Even in the context of India, the narrative of freedom struggle is presented as a struggle that unites the diverse groups of communities against colonial rule. The events associated with the struggle are legitimated. For instance, in India, the case of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, has become a part of the narrative that legitimised the construction of the “national” and hence “national history,” or the “first war of India’s independence” (Zachariah 2014). There is a nationalisation of history created around “freedom struggle” that gets transmitted in institutions, events, statues, etc. Some noteworthy examples are Raj Ghat dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, the National Gandhi Museum, and the Parliament Museum in New Delhi, which display state-sponsored memorialisation of freedom movements and the individuals associated with it. The remembrance of freedom struggle becomes pivotal to the existence of India as a nation state, which is central to the construction of a unitary and coherent version of the national past. As Smith (1986: 18) notes, it is through common experience and shared memories that a sense of nationhood is imagined and constructed.

The commemoration of events remains a significant part of nation states across the globe. Such commemoration, for instance, through annual observation not only animates remembering the event per se, but also infuses attachment and loyalty among citizens. National commemorations, therefore, are the most staged and ritualised events, legitimised by the state that is ultimately responsible for enacting them. There is a circulation of this memory, its regeneration, and recycling, year after year, so that future generations will not only forget the valour and sacrifice of previous generations, but also remain indebted to them. This is what Nora (1996) refers to as “duty to remember,” since “commemoration is a way of claiming that the past has something to offer the present, be it a warning or a model” (Olick 1999: 381). Commemoration, therefore, plays a key role in national memory politics, which further contributes to the shaping of collective memory.

As much as remembrance is becoming an important part of commemoration, forgetting too exists almost as a necessity. As Ernest Renan (1990: 11) notes, “Forgetting, I would even say historical error, is an essential factor in the creation of a nation …” As much as the state remembers, it is also engaged in an erasure, in an act of forgetting. This is particularly evident in cases related to conflict and violence. The unitary and coherent version of what is presented as a nation’s past remains far from unchallenged. In fact, the past of any nation state remains contentious (Olick 1999), hegemonic (Guha 1997), fragmented (Chatterjee 1993), and gendered (Yuval-Davis 1997). Notwithstanding the possible changes that take place, there are certain aspects of history that remain ignored, submerged, and silenced. Memory politics, therefore, restore and repress.

Glaring examples of this can be seen in the attempts to delink India from its colonial past or to erase the colonial past altogether past. One of the ways this has been done is through the continual renaming of places, particularly in urban cities such as in Delhi. While the task of creating new memory through such effacement proved easy, it became more difficult in cases that involve violence. Take for example the partition of British India. Though partition was constitutive of the nation-building processes of India and Pakistan, and even Bangladesh, it remains trapped in the statist discourse of nation-formation that ignores the violence and suffering accompanying the event (Pandey 2001). The renewed interest in partition has unearthed various discomforts of India’s national past but at the same time bespeaks of how the state is engaged in purported disremembering of the eventful tragedy. Over the years, the silence over the violence that accompanies independence has been gradually broken (Butalia 1998).

The postcolonial agenda of nation-building and integration was met with resistance and at times even armed conflict. North East India is considered to be one such region that has shown the stiffest opposition to this (Misra 2000). Since independence, India’s north-eastern region has been on the radar of the state. The region’s incorporation into the Indian Union has been contested by numerous ethnic communities, resulting into violence and militarisation. So far as the north-eastern states are concern, it is Mizoram that is considered to be an “exception” due to the successful peaceful settlement. In the section that follows, the paper will look at the question of how certain memories become part of the national past and how the state is engaged in the sustenance of such memories? As such, it will outline how the Mizos’ experience of counter-insurgency as a case of “success” has become part of the official discourse. This is because, although aerial attacks, village groupings, physical torture, etc, were used in the name of counter-insurgency, the narrative of “success” is used to overshadow this violence. Before proceeding, the paper gives a brief account of the MNF and the counter-insurgency measures undertaken in the erstwhile Mizo hills.5

The MNF Movement and Its Aftermath

The MNF-led armed struggle was long in the making. Prior to its declaration of independence on the midnight of 28 February 1966, it was engaged in a hefty mobilisation of volunteers. This mobilisation took place across state borders covering present-day Mizoram, and the Mizo-inhabited areas of Manipur and Tripura. The success of the MNF was reflected in its ability to induct early Mizo educated youth into its organisational fold. Most importantly, it was able to spread to and infiltrate village areas, which later culminated in the formation of the Mizo National Volunteers (MNV) across the Mizo hills and beyond, in 1963.

On the political level, it became the main opposition of the already established party, the Mizo Union.6 The aspirations of the MNF and the Mizo Union clashed, with the former clamoring for self-determination and the latter aspiring to statehood. The emergence of the MNF and the demand for statehood, or an independent Mizo state, was a response to the apathy of the Assamese government towards the famine, and was further hastened by the imposition of Assamese. This resulted in widespread anger and alienation among the then hill districts within Assam, including the Mizo hills (Chaube 1973; Nag 2002). The MNF soon emerged as the political alternative to Mizo Union, which was bolstered by the party’s electoral victory in the by-election in 1963.7 These political developments clearly signal the changes that were sweeping the Mizo hills.

On the midnight of 28 February 1966, the MNF declared independence, which was followed by an armed assault on all major security outposts within the Mizo hills. Except for Aizawl, MNF volunteers were successful in capturing major security outposts across the hill districts. The MNF established its own government known as Mizoram sawrkar (government) with proper functionaries comprising of a civil and military wing. While for the leaders of the MNF, it was indeed a chaotic situation as they scrambled to organise young volunteers, for the public, there was a sense of bewilderment at the events unfolding before them.

The immediate aim of the GoI to retake control of the Mizo hills. The objective was thus, to “flush out”8 the MNF militants, regain control of the administration and restore order. The counter-insurgency operations, therefore, were aimed at flushing out the MNF from areas they controlled. The first response was made through air raids across the Mizo hills, and the second was through village groupings known as khaw khawm in local parlance. These two strategies, in fact, marked out the Mizo experience in terms of India’s counter-insurgency strategies. Apart from this, the Mizo hills were declared as a “Disturbed Area,” with the subsequent imposition of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958.

The air raids succeeded in flushing out the MNF rebels from the major district headquarters, while the village grouping resulted into their loss of local support. The air raids were conducted for three consecutive days starting from 5 March 1966, and targeted areas that were under the MNF control. The raids were justified as a legitimate response in order to support security forces through supplying rations and to protect them from the MNF rebels. After a year, village groupings were undertaken as another counter-insurgency measure that affected the entire Mizo hills areas except the southern areas inhabited by the Lai, Chakma, and Mara tribes. An estimate places the Mizo population affected by the groupings at 80% (Hluna and Tochhawng 2012). The impact was massive and felt in all areas of life: social, economic and political (Nunthara 1989).

National Memory

National memory in India and elsewhere is sponsored by the state, with state-sponsored monuments performing the “traditional function as a self-aggrandising locus for national memory” (Young 1993: 21). In fact, events, statues, names of streets, schools, universities, museums and other institutions have been one of the common ways in which certain versions of the past are given official recognition. Official recognition is state-sponsored and considered to be legitimate. Various historical monuments become pivotal to the construction and imagination of national identity (Nora 1989; Young 1993). As a region, North East India remains marginal when it comes to state-sponsored spaces (Guite 2011). What is central to this is how certain memories become “national” and are officiated, while others get relegated or are completely effaced. It is this that makes memory, particularly national memory, contentious.

These contentions are significant in cases involving violence or conflict. In post-independent India, two events that are worthy of attention are the National Emergency in 1975 and the attack on the Sikh sacred temple in 1984 (or Operation Blue Star as it is commonly known). What is interesting about these two events has been the way in which the state tried to immediately efface them from the public domain. Studies on both events have brought out the narratives and experiences of the people who lived them (Tarlo 2003; Chopra 2011). These two events are marked by similar peculiarities, for they were both directed during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi. In both the cases, attempts were made to efface them from the memories of the people. Following her death, Indira Gandhi was honoured with the same reverence as that of her legatees. Her residence has been turned into a “national museum,” depicting her sacrifice and contribution to the nation.

The Sikh case is interesting as it occurred while the MNF movement was still underway, with both the communities experiencing the brunt of state violence that continues to shape their perception of the state. The memorials of Indira Gandhi to the Sikhs remain contested given that her assassination was seen as an act of resentment against the attack on the sacred temple. As such, her memory is soaked in blood, as can be seen from the preservation of her blood-soiled sari in the museum (Tatla 2006: 76). There is complete silence on the two acts, which are considered to be a blot in the history of democratic India. However, in the Sikh case, numerous initiatives have been undertaken apart from the public apology and the quick rebuilding of the temple immediately after the attack. Of course, this does not ameliorate the “hurt” (Chopra 2011) or the “wounds” (Kaur 2014) that were caused by the attack on the temple.

Even today, the Mizo experience receives little attention from Indian leaders. The aerial attacks, as well as subsequent village groupings were carried out in response to orders given by Indira Gandhi in her first year as Prime Minister. As noted above, the air raids were carried out as a response to clear the major security outposts, which were under the control of the MNF rebels. The aerial attack, as it is now known, remains an exception where India is the only country to use air bombing upon its citizens (Pachuau and van Schendel 2015: 305). Today, for the larger Mizo public, the air raids and the experience of village grouping remain a scar. Of late, student organisations in Mizoram have taken up the issue of the air raids demanding a public apology from the Indian state. However, there has been no attempt to acknowledge the mistakes committed, let alone address the question of justice.

National memories, therefore, are rooted in the power relationship existent in society. Of course, Indira Gandhi will be remembered as a national leader, but the remembering involves selective acts, which are intertwined in power relations. The issue with power is not only about enforcing a certain memory, or the power to remember, but is also equally related to the issue of erasure. It is this power relationship that determines what is introduced into the collective memory of the national community and what gets repressed (Trouillot 1995; Mitchell 2003: 443). Even today, the case of the aerial bombings and village groupings remain an issue that the common majority in India remains unaware of (Sundar 2011).

Remna Ni or the Day of Peace

Remna ni is one of the main events that is commemorated in Mizoram. While the MNF party has observed remna ni since the time of signing the settlement, it was elevated to a state-level event in 2006, to commemorate 20 years of successful settlement. This was also at the time when the MNF was the party in power in Mizoram. The event was supported by the North East Council (NEC) too, apart from being granted a peace bonus by the GoI. While remna ni does commemorate, or even celebrates the end of the conflict, it actually celebrates the idea of “peace.” Of course, Mizoram’s stability in the post-settlement period is worth noting, considering the experiences of other north-eastern states. However, the celebration of remna ni clearly outlines the state’s agenda of ignoring the public experiences and memories of the period.

The celebration of remna ni is now a state-wide event with a message to other north-eastern states to “give peace a chance.” The year 2016 saw the active involvement of organisations such as the Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA), and the church, among others in making the celebration a state-wide event. To mark 30 years of the settlement, the CYMA took the initiative of commemorating the day, consolidating the event in public memory and collectivising its commemoration. On the morning of 30 June 2016, at 8 am, every YMA branch across Mizoram played the Mizo hnam hla (national anthem), Ro Min Rel Sak Ang Che (rule over us we plead thee) composed by Rokunga. There was a state-wide commemoration of the day for the first time. In Aizawl, the day was observed at the Assam Rifle Lammual (parade field) where the then Governor Lt Gen (retd) Nirbhay Sharma hoisted a flag coloured black and white, modified from the traditional Mizo ngotekherh,9 which bears the map of Mizoram and a sketch of two hands intertwined in a handshake, while a dove—the universal symbol of peace—hovered above the flag (Frontier Despatch 2016).

This narrative of peace, of course, is questionable considering the ethnic unrest and increasingly strained relationship between the state and the people. This was evident in the demand for autonomous councils by the Bru tribe resulting in massive displacement and also the increasing tension between the Mizo and Chakma communities over the question of indigeneity (Roluahpuia 2016). The Hmar tribe mobilisation in the post-settlement period is also an issue that Mizoram is contending with even today (Roluahpuia 2015). Tension over the demand for autonomy continues to simmer within the state and remains unresolved. What seems evident is that the state concern of peace is directed towards settling a movement that challenges its authority or legitimacy. This is far more evident in the way the Indian state too endorsed the celebration of remna ni, while local politicians tried to use it as a means to siphon off funds from the centre’s coffers.

One can observe a pattern in terms of erasure involving the state. Again, this is on the question of the violence committed. This time, the question is not only about the aerial attacks and the village grouping, but the everyday violence and the military excess throughout the movement. Here, it is important to specify that it was not only the Mizo hills that were affected but also Mizo-inhabited areas of Manipur and Tripura. These were suspected of harbouring and supporting the MNF rebels, and as a result, bore the brunt of violence. The MNF were also seen to inflict harm and violence against those considered to be opposing the movement. There was an uneasy relationship between the MNF rebels and other communities such as the Lai, Mara, and Chakma communities within Mizoram, and between the Mizos and the Hmar, Paite, etc, in Manipur. As such, the experience of violence was largely multilayered, depending upon the positioning of the communities and their relationship with the movement.

The Mizo public experience of violence came to the fore almost a decade after the outbreak of the movement, with the formation of Human Rights Committee in 1974 by Thenphunga Sailo. A former general, he was disheartened with the conduct of the armed forces in relation to the Mizo civilians, and forwarded a letter of disenchantment to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in this regard. The narrative of peace, by and large, overshadowed the violence and trauma suffered by the people. Also, though much of the Mizo-inhabited areas, even outside of Mizoram, have been equally affected by the movement, celebration remains confined to present-day Mizoram alone. Therefore, the celebration of peace is concomitantly connected to the success of India’s counter-insurgency campaign in Mizoram.

Martyr Thlanmual

The most visible monuments constructed in relation to remembrance is the martyr thlanmual (martyr cemetery) in Aizawl. The cemetery is for ex-MNA (Mizo National Army) members, who lost their lives during the movement. The idea of the cemetery was conceived during the MNF rule in Mizoram. The MNF party invited the suggestions of various civil society organisations and formed the Martyr Thlanmual Siamtu Committee (Martyr Cemetery Construction Committee) in 2000. The foundation for the cemetery was laid in 2001 and it was formally inaugurated in 2008 by the then Chief Minister Zoramthanga (Vanlalruata 2011). The martyr cemetery is one of few public memorial sites constructed in relation to the MNF movement.

Monuments are one of the most common sites of remembrance. The purpose of such monuments is to make “people feel connected to a collective past, a common tradition, and shared experience” (Brooks 1997: 11). Similar is the case with the MNF purpose of constructing a martyr cemetery to serve as a memorial for all those who have lost their lives due to the movement (Vanlalruata 2011: 167). The cemetery produces the historical narrative of the MNF struggle as an act of heroism, equalising death to “martyrdom.” Like any other war memorials, the sacrifice of the ex-MNA members are extolled and exalted. There is an equivocal relationship between “martyr” and “hero.” They are revered and honoured, and their sacrifice justified as a just cause. The MNF party commemorates “martyrs’ day” on 20 September each year.

The MNF as a party continues to harp on Mizo nationalism even in the electoral politics of the state. While the construction of a memorial for their lost comrades is, in a way, an act to remember their sacrifice, the construction of such a monument is “political in itself” (Mitchell 2003), particularly for a political party that continues to seek political legitimation and support on the basis of the movement and the struggle. However, there is a sense of exclusiveness, tied with the understanding of Mizo nationalism by the MNF. In fact, even in the case of the martyr cemetery, although the cemetery was intended to include all those who lost their lives during the period of the movement, it, however, is exclusively for MNF members and ex-MNA members.

The construction of the cemetery fixed the meaning of the movement, assigning it a single interpretation of heroism and sacrifice. This has suppressed alternative voices and contested pasts of the movement. The nature of remembering the movement is far from linear, even among the leaders and members of the party, as well as the army. Pachuau and Sadan (2016) note the divergent narratives of the movement by those who once were part of the movement. This has been made evident with the increase in vernacular writings from those who were associated with the movement and also from individuals who have lived through the movement.

It is worth noting that a separate martyr monument was constructed under the initiative of the state Congress party in Mizoram. The intention was to construct an inclusive memorial, which would include all those who lost their lives in the movement (Vanglaini 2016). While there is a doubt over the list, the other issue is how the issue of remembering the MNF movement is creating a political tussle between the two main rivals, the Congress and the MNF. The Congress party since the post-MNF period has been engaged in denouncing not only the MNF movement but also in delegitimising the struggle. This is despite the fact that many former MNF leaders and armies joined the Congress party. What is more central to understand is that there is no real discussion on who deserves to be a “martyr.” The MNF notion of martyr is not only restrictive, excluding those martyrs who were not part of the MNF movement. It considers itself as the legitimate voice of the movement. The intention of the state Congress party on the other hand, is to defame and delegitimise the MNF, without any interest or engagement on the question of people’s experiences or justice.

In the Churachandpur district of Manipur, under the initiative of the ex-MNA association of the district,10 a memorial stone was erected in Ngathal village as a marker of remembrance to those who have sacrificed their lives for the Mizo national cause. While the construction of memory has its own political dimension in Mizoram, in Manipur, the issue is vexed with anxiety and unease even among the Mizos. This is due to the opposition and countermovements that the MNF witnessed in Manipur during the period of the movement. The fear is that it would refresh old memories of conflict and tension in the area. However marginal they may be in the larger discourse of the MNF movement, it brings back the repressed memories of struggle and sacrifice of the Mizos’ of Manipur. At the same time, these contrasting memories and memorial sites indicate the fragmented nature of the movement interspersed within the “sub-ethnic differences.” Such initiatives are counter-memorial to the dominant memories of the MNF movement and unfold the contestations that surround the movement.

Rambuai or Troubled Land

The period of the MNF movement is now commonly referred to as rambuai (troubled land). A noted Mizo historian Joy Pachuau (2014) refers to it as simply buai and contends that the term is neutral and denotes a specific time period that the Mizos collectively experienced. This is significant for it does not apportion any kind of blame to groups when referring to the buai period. However, there has been an increasing usage of the term rambuai which also coincides with the growth of writings on the subject. Hence, we have rambuai literature (Hrangbana College 2014; Vanchiau 2015) as a genre of writings that addressed various aspects of the movement.

However, not all agree with its usage. For instance, Lalkhawliana, a former leader and member of the MNF, notes that the term rambuai could not fully capture the MNF movement.11 Hence, he prefers to call it MNF movement in place of rambuai (Lalkhawliana 2011: 11). Lalkhawliana himself was part of the blue group, which defected from the party and the movement by the pro-Laldenga or the hardliners during 1971 (Zamawia 2012: 796–801; Vanlalauva 2015: 80–82). It is prudent for one to ask what Lalkhawliana means when he says that the term rambuai is an incomplete representation of the MNF movement. There can be two broad ways of looking at this. First, it is a term that is best suited to describe only the period for it encompasses the struggle and the experience of the people. Second, it can be considered a simplistic reduction of the MNF movement that only sees it as mere conflict.

Of course, there is no agreement to how the MNF movement is studied. Scholars have pursued it from different vantage points such as insurgency (Nag 2002), regionalism (Lalchungnunga 1994) and even as a struggle for statehood (Lalrintluanga 2008). The use of the term rambuai ignores the complex issue of conflict and the nationality question that the MNF was posing. Also, the MNF movement emerged at a period when nation-building was in its infancy in South and South East Asia. There was a postcolonial nationalist movement that challenged the legitimacy of new nation states (Emerson 1971). Such struggle can be seen among the communities within the north-eastern region that foreground the question of self-determination and claims of distinct identity. Whether or not they achieve the objective is a different matter. However, there is no question of the fact that there exists a national consciousness separate, or even alternative to the dominant idea of nationhood. Conversely, such derecognition are reasons of the conflict and the crisis that constructs national identity in a homogenous and monolithic way (Oommen 2005; Bhargava 2010).

Another is that, of course, the period of the MNF movement was no doubt, a turbulent period for the people who have lived through it. However, the use of rambuai also denotes a separation of two periods in Mizo history, the period of the rambuai and the peace period. Rambuai therefore is the “the dark years” in Mizo history (Chawngsailova 2012). Time and again, one is reminded of the “peacefulness” of Mizoram within North East India, which is suggestive of statism involved in thinking about the North East as a whole. It is noteworthy to mention here that there has been no effort towards demilitarisation of Mizoram or towards complete withdrawal of AFSPA from the state. Rather, AFSPA remains a “sleeping act,” which could be reintroduced (Hluna and Tochhawng 2012: 157).

Previously, accounts of the MNF movement have been caught in the binary narrative of the MNF perspectives of resistance and the state narratives about the movement. As of now, writings on the MNF have increased considerably over the past few years, particularly in the vernacular. Such accounts provide multilayered, critical and complex narratives of the movement that were hitherto unavailable. This has greatly shaped the way in which the MNF movement is understood at the local level, but more importantly, it shows the complex interplay of memories surrounding the movement, which go un-captured in the singular narrative of “peace.”

Conclusions

Since 2010, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo Student Federation) has been observing 3 March as the Zoram Ni (Zoram Day). The day is to revive and remind the GoI of the political injustice meted out to the Mizos through aerial attacks, particularly the bombings of Aizawl and other parts of Mizoram. This, of course, is a step towards reviving “buried histories” and an attempt to hold the GoI accountable for its action (Sundar 2011). The demand is for an acknowledgement of the mistake and a public apology. At the same time, it is to remind the younger generation of their history, which is gradually being, erased from their collective memory.

Memories of the MNF movement are highly fragmented and scattered. Different stakeholders and organisations are engaging in constructing a narrative depending on their sociopolitical position in the contemporary period and their relationship with the movement during the period. However, by and large, it is the narrative of peace that has found resonance across the political spectrum. The discourse of “re-remembering” the MNF movement remains confined within the boundaries of Mizoram. The site of memory, the memorials and the events are all constructed within the territorial borders of Mizoram. While the commemoration of Zoram Ni and the construction of martyr thlanmual invokes the sacrifice of the “martyrs,” they are also equally sites and events of “un-acknowledgment.” This is because they exclude those killed at the hands of the MNF as well as those civilians who lost their lives in Tripura and Manipur. In short, they “de-grieve” the sacrifices of those Mizos situated outside of present-day Mizoram.

By and large, the memorialisation of the MNF movement is deeply embedded within the discourse of peace. While there are contrasting and competing memorial sites, there is no contestation on the question of “peace” in the context of Mizoram. The silence over the violence and atrocities committed upon the civilians both by the Indian security forces and the MNF rebels, therefore, appears manufactured. This is clearly evident in the officialisation of commemorating remna ni. Yet, local memories, though fragmented and scattered, challenge such dominant memorial sites. Such memorials are indicative of the tensions and the contestations associated with the movement, and consequently, the memories surrounding it.

Notes

1 Sirnate and Verma (2013) taking the experience of the MNF, for instance, argue that “successful channeling of insurgency into manageable electoral competitions is a model that can be emulated in other States of the North East.” However, the problem remains that unlike the Mizo case, other states of the North East such as Manipur, Assam, etc, face much more complex problems when it comes to the armed groups representing ethnic-based interests.

2 This is a translation by Joy Pachuau (2014).

3 For instance, after his appointment as President, Ram Nath Kovind during his visit to Mizoram on 29 November 2017 hailed the Mizo Accord of 1986 as a role model for the world in terms of the peaceful resolution of political disputes. Such claims are, in fact, routine when it comes to Mizoram, particularly by dignitaries of the central government. For the full address by the President, see Kovind (2017).

4 Smith (1986: 32) defines “ethnie” as “a named and self-defined human community whose members possess a myth of common ancestry, shared memories, one or more elements of common culture, including a link with a territory, and a measure of solidarity, at least among the upper strata.” See also, Smith (1999 and 2009).

5 Lushai hills, Mizo hills and Mizoram will be used interchangeably according to the period they are used. For instance, Lushai hills were used by the colonial administrator or during colonial period until it was changed to Mizo hills in 1954. Their usage will therefore be in accordance with the time period being referred to.

6 The Mizo Union was the first political party in present-day Mizoram. Established in 1946, the Mizo Union fought for the abolishment of the chieftainship and received massive support from a majority of the Mizos. As such, it remained politically dominant until it merged with the Congress in 1974.

7 The by-election was conducted as a result of the resignation of the members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) of the Mizo Union in protest against the response of the government to the famine of 1959. The Mizo Union was then an ally of the ruling Congress government.

8 Chopra (2010) notes that “flush out” is a part of common vocabulary deployed in civic and policing contexts, where the intention is to clear or get rid of dirt. Chopra’s usage of the term was in the context of the Sikh experience, whereby the Indian state attacked the Golden Temple to “flush out” the Sikh militants from the temple.

9 Nghotekherh is one of the Mizo traditional puan (shawls).

10 The Ex-Mizo National Army functions as an association and has its headquarters in Aizawl. The association also has various sub-headquarters within and outside of Mizoram.

11 Lalkhawliana stated Rambuai tih tawngkam erawh chuan MNF Movement chu a phawk chhuak zo lo. A translation of this has been provided.

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