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Mon, 30 Mar 2020

Northeast Today

AMIDST CAA PROTESTS, BJP EYES CHAKMAS TO KEEP ITS HOLD IN MIZORAM

AMIDST CAA PROTESTS, BJP EYES CHAKMAS TO KEEP ITS HOLD IN MIZORAM
February 18
13:10 2020

In a recent turn of events, villagers belonging to the Chakma community were forcibly evicted from Kamalabagan, a village situated near Demagiri (Tlabung) in Lunglei District of Mizoram  on  11th December 2019 by officials of state machinery at the behest of non-state entities. Seeking the Governor’s intervention, various members from the community wrote a stringent letter to contain the injustice meted out to the Chakma minorities. The ethnic tension between the Mizo and Chakma communities has been a long one. Though, the stand-off between the two communities has emerged on the basis of indigeneity. The tussle is now taking a new colour with the politics of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, CAA. Mumeninaz Zaman writes.

 

Who are the Chakmas?

Despite the varying views about the historical origin, ethnic identity and migratory route, the Chakmas are a community professing Buddhism and residing in North East India, namely – Tripura, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram; the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in Bangladesh and Arakan in Myanmar  (Burma). It has been also discussed that following religious persecution, partition, social, political and economic insecurities they have migrated to the Northeastern region of India. This also includes the construction of Kaptai  Hydro  Electric   Dam  in Bangladesh which flooded large areas of Chakmas compelling them to migrate from Bangladesh to Mizoram. Being ethnically, religiously and linguistically different from the local people they have suffered racial discrimination time and again.

The stand-off

The relationship between the Mizo and the Chakma has been a hostile one.  The  Chakmas are a minority Scheduled Tribe in Mizoram. The Chakma Autonomous District Council, CADC was formed under the Sixth Schedule in 1972. This created resentment among the majority Mizo community. After   the   Mizoram   Accord of 1986 was signed, the Mizo National Front, MZF under the leadership of Laldenga pressed the government to dissolve the Chakma council, but to no avail. In the 1990s, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl, MZP a Mizo student organisation, launched an agitation against the Chakmas. The Young Mizo Association (YMA), the most powerful of all Mizo civil society groups, passed a resolution demanding that the CADC should be abolished. They were treated as non- citizens and were devoid of basic rights  including   cancellation of trade license, denial of right to employment, removal from electoral rolls, withdrawal of health and educational facilities since the 1980s.

In 2017 Mizo nationalist groups protested against four Chakma students who had cleared the National Entrance and Eligibility Test but were denied seats in medical colleges. The protests ignited a major political issue in the state, ultimately forcing Mizoram’s lone Chakma minister BD Chakma to resign from his ministership.

Organisations such as All India Chakma Students’ Union (AICSU), batting for the rights of the community, have taken the issue to Delhi while urging the Mizoram government to end   “oppression and racial discrimination” against indigenous Chakma minorities. Various Mizo organizations demanded the political parties to refrain from fielding ‘Chakma’ candidates. While most major parties ended up defying the diktat, the BJP has aggressively campaigned in Chakma areas, sending some of its most high- profile names in the North East, to canvass for votes.

For Chakmas the BJP has emerged as the party upon whom it can rely in the face of Mizo majoritarianism. The party has been successful to some extent as evident from its winning five seats in the CADC election in April 2018. That was for the first time that the BJP had won a seat in any election in Mizoram.

Threat of CAA in Mizoram

In a report published  in The Indian Express, the Chakmas are present in parts  of the Northeast, and the CHT of Bangladesh, with which Mizoram shares an international border. While Christians form 87% of Mizoram’s 11 lakh population (2011), Chakmas number about 1 lakh. Certain sections in Mizoram blame Chakmas for illegal migration from Bangladesh, which the community denies. The main concern for  the  people  in Mizoram is the influx of Chakmas who have illegally migrated from Bangladesh. Following the implementation of the Act, they will become legal Indian citizens which at some point may threaten their indigeneity.

Recently the MZP observed a “black day” to protest against the CAA. Coming down heavily on the BJP-led government at the Centre MZP general secretary Lalnunmawia Pautu said that Mizoram was still vulnerable to influx despite being exempted from the purview of the  law.  He alleged that Chakma people would migrate to neighbouring states and later come to Mizoram after obtaining citizenship. He further alleged the Chakma people in Bangladesh are always ready to come to Mizoram since an autonomous district council exists in the name of the community in the southern part of the state.

BJP’s hold in Mizoram

The BJP who have earlier failed to make in-roads in the Christian dominated Mizoram maintained a cordial relation with the ethnic communities. The sitting legislator from Tuichawng, BD Chakma quit Congress and joined BJP. He was already hailed as  a  hero  for his stand against the state government following  the racial discrimination  against the medical students. In August 2019, three elected members from Congress in CADC and six former Congress councilors along with their supporters joined the BJP. Moreover to appease the Northeasterners various   financial    packages are announced for several development related projects in the region.

Conclusion

While the Chakma people are working hard to get a peaceful and better life, and are urging the state government to consider them as indigenous people. They are seeing a ray of hope in the BJP. Meanwhile, the Mizo people are apprehensive about the government’s  move  of implementing CAA which would not only bring more people from across the border but also provide citizenship to those who have been residing illegally in the state.

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