Co-Written by Shyamal Bikash Chakma & Asem Chanu Manimala
The construction and articulation of identity and nationalism is not a new discourse in the North-East India. This discourse has also succeeded in suppressing the voices and narratives of the margins. Recently, the state of Mizoram have been in constant news for the denial of MBBS seats to the four Chakma students, demands to sack the Chakma minister and barring of Chakma candidates from contesting state elections, by the Mizo Joint Action Committee, to the demands for justice against harassment of the non-Mizos traders, especially the Bengali speaking folks (Hindu, Muslim and others). However, such cases of injustice, discrimination and protests are not a new development in Mizoram. The Hmar tribes’ struggles for autonomy, the historical event of a 24-hour bandh by the Hmar People’s Convention (HPC), ambush of the member of legislative assembly (MLA) convoy by the Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) [HPC (D)] and the refugeenization of more than 30,000 Brus (Reangs), are some of the examples that reflects the state of affairs of Mizoram. In the process, violence gets naturalized in everyday life of the people, in the name of identity and ethnic nationalism.
The intense intra-ethnic violence in the Northeast India is grounded in the assertive self-articulated ethnic and cultural identity which fails to accommodate and excludes the Other, what Biswas and Suklabaidya (2008) refers to as the multi-ethnic, lingual, and cultural identities. In such assertion, there is a continuous process of identification and persecution, of both internal and external enemies, to fortify the promised ethnic identity and nationalism. Thus, violence is introduced as means and ways to execute the project of ethnic nationalism and identity which in the process gets naturalized in the life-world of people, like a routine (Alfred Schultz 1973) In the state of Mizoram in North-East India, violence became a mechanism to assert domination of the Mizo identity and nationalism. The episodic violencehas become a discourse of everyday life for the non-Mizos, imbricated in acts of denial, demands, barring and harassments. Such violence is thus taken for granted in the very nature of common sense attitude, and hence, the whole discourse of naturalizing violence in the name of identity and Mizo ethnic nationalism gets sedimented in the Everyday.
As Schultz articulates on everyday life, the affairs of Mizoram state is never questioned or problematized. Such unquestioned outlook on the part of the state has forced the margins to suffer, voicelessly. Indeed, the episodic violence in Mizoram against the non-Mizos is not even perceived as a pejorative act by the general Mizo society. The non-Mizos is defined as a public secret. Domestication of such notion becomes absolute and singular in the discourse of everydayness. The Mizo nationalism and identity project are led by the political leaders, politically ambitious non-state actors, and the state itself by playing as the guiding force in shaping, advancing and exploiting the project. The actors have successfully structured the project within the whole paradigm of defining non-Mizo as an enemy, and violence is repetitively introduced over them. It has made Everyday a site of chaos and injustice in the state of Mizoram.
The denial of medical seats to the four Chakma students, an ongoing case and also in burning of houses and schools, deleting from the electoral rolls, displacement from their villages, and physical violence in the 1990s and 2000s are the few other instances of violence. Indeed, it has also travelled from socio-political spaces to distribution of state services, whereby the margins gets excluded and discriminated. Thereby, the Mizoram state is becoming another space where the oppressed is becoming the oppressor, as Shyamal B. Chakma argues elsewhere. The rhetoric of Mizo nationalism has become a mechanism to retain and come into political helm of the state, as pointed out by Suhas Chakma. In such state of affair,violence is justified and naturalized in the name of identity and nationalism. In fact, Mizoram is one of the space where the revolutionary spirits against discrimination and injustice took birth in the North-East India. It is also known as the ‘land of peace’. The question is; has colonisation been rooted indefinitely? Or, is it the further development of the colonial discourse, with different actors?
Historical narratives show us that Mizos and Chakmas were residing in communion and have defended themselves together; such as, in 1830 in the western belt of Mizoram, the Mizos and the Chakmas fought together against their considered enemies (C. J Shakespear, 1912). Though there were myriads of inter-intra-tribal conflicts in the pre-colonial times, but such conflicts were dynamic in nature. It was only after the advent of the Britishers in the North-East India and Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh, the whole discourse of conflicts has changed. Hence, the nature of conflicts got institutionalised and the social boundaries of enmity and friendship were drawn. The case of Mizo-Chakma conflicts illustrates one of such classic case of intra-tribal conflicts. For example, the tension started when the Chakma queen Kalendi Rani started negotiating with the British, after several battles against them (Talukdar, S.P, 1988). Talukdar further narrates that the negotiations were openly revolted by leaders like Nilo Chandra Dewan and also allegedly hatched conspiracy against her. This made her to take help of the Kookies (Mizos) to crush the revolt, which led to the murderof hundreds of Chakmas at the hand of the Mizos. According to Chakraborty P and Prasad R. N (1994), during the colonial and post-colonial era, the animosity between these two communities grew even deeper on the ground of religion. The Lushai accepted Christianity and the Chakmas refused it strongly. SubirBhaumik (2009) further adds that, the introduction of Roman script also played an important role in the deepening of the ongoing conflicts. He states that the promotion of the Roman script was crucial, for the Mizo language has never been challenged by other smaller tribes in Mizoram as an official language. On the other hand, Chakmas resented the imposition of the Mizo language because they had their own language and script.
Violence in everydayness can be understood in many categories. It is not only with the eruption of conflicts or killing in the name of ethnicity, but it is also when people uses words like ‘Hughi’,‘Takkam’, ‘Foreighners’ and ‘Bangladeshi’(derogatory terms) in day-to-day interaction. The ongoing ethnic or Mizo and Non-Mizos conflicts in Mizoram revolves around ‘insider-outsider’ framework whereby the ‘we’ are the dominant Mizos and the ‘others’ are the Chakmas, Reangs, Hmars or even the Bengali migrant workers which has framed an absolute ethnic tension in everyday life. In this process of violence, clear social boundaries of exclusion and discrimination are drawn based on jignoisticMizo nationalism and identity. Hence, issues such as ‘illegal migrants’, ‘illegal immigrants or ‘foreigners, presentation of manufactured population numbers, ‘son of the soil’ are at play to profile and persecute non-Mizos in the state of Mizoram. These allegations are constantly constructed and deployed not on the basis of their falsity or genuity as what Anderson (1991) argued, but by the style in which they are imagined. However, due to the presence of violence in everydayness, people in general are tormented, both mentally and psychologically, which have larger detrimental consequences in the state of Mizoram. Therefore, the state of Mizoram instead of exploiting the project of identity and nationalism, they must build an environment where humanity thrives and uphold the identity of ‘land of peace’.
Shyamal Bikash Chakma, PhD Scholar in Development Studies at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London
Asem Chanu Manimala, Independent Scholar on Northeast India