Saturday, February 12, 2005

The separate in separatism - 2

Mizoram is one of the few states in the north-east (or indeed, anywhere in the country) where internal conflict was 'successfully' resolved, twenty years after it first began to give grief to the central administration.

I haven't been to the state myself, and nor was I born when the insurgency flared up, around 1966, I believe, but from all accounts, the 'putting down' of the rebels in Mizoram was a brutal business.

Activists recall, with much unconcealed distaste, the whole business of ensuring 'peace' after the peace treaty was signed (in 1986) by the Mizo National Front.

This rebel outfit, incidentally, started out as an NGO, called the Mizo National Famine Front, providing relief during the terrible Mautum famine of 1959.

Laldenga, the leader of the MNF, started out by demanding complete sovereignty for Greater Mizoram, but later piped down and settled for separate statehood (Mizoram was carved out of the hill districts of Upper Assam).

Laldenga, they say, was smart. He realized, (or so they say) after two decades, armed resistance wasn't much help. The army would always be bigger and stronger, and always on their trail. The rebels would always be running, living underground and their people would continue to suffer, on account of both.

So, he signed the peace treaty. And became Chief Minister of the newly formed state.

After the agreement, the army moved into Mizoram and 'brutally' (not my words, the locals says so) broke up all the clans and tribes. Villagers were rounded up, sent to temporary camps and then broken up and sent off to different corners of the state.

In the process, many families were ripped apart. Insensitive, we'd say. But, the army likes to point out, very effective.

The community, you see, was essentially a tribal one. The clans held together, and allegience to the clan was more important to them than the sovereignty of India. The smashing of social system quashed the movement very effectively, and prevented quick regrouping and reorganisation.

However, despite being uprooted, the Mizos have done well. The state is sometimes referred to as a 'model state' nowadays.

It is said at least one-third the population lives in the capital city, Aizwal. And one-third of the working populace is in some form of government service.

Notwithstanding the breaking up of the clans, the traditional social system is in place in rural areas, even now; as far as I'm concerned, it is a model system indeed.

This is based only on hearsay, but this is what I've heard -
In times of crisis, like a famine, a person goes to the immediate neighbour, for help. He is welcomed and lives with them, as long as they can support him. When, and if, this family also runs out of supplies, they go to the next household. This pattern continues. If it so happens that the whole village faces a food crisis, they send a message (a smoke signal, in ancient times) to the neighbouring village. This new village will support the crisis-struck neighbour (a whole village, imagine!) until the crisis blows past.

In short, people came to each others’ help. (The Mizos are known as a close-knit society, with no class or caste discrimination, and despite it being a patrilinear system, the women enjoy tremendous freedom.)

If all this is possible with clans, I'd say we should introduce the clannish sentiment all over the country, instead of smashing the system and renting the clans' socil fabric!

PS - I can't help but wonder - if the central government had the ability to send in troops to crush armed rebellionsand to break up clans, why could it it not use the same troops to provide relief during the great famine (and now, during floods in Assam)? The MNF would never have been needed...

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