In the open letter written by seven Chakma leaders directed at JNU Professor Joy L.K Pachuau, Prabajan Virodhi Manch Convener Upamanyu Hazarika and Rajya Sabha MP Ronald Sapa Tlau, you could see the passion of the Chakma leaders for the future and welfare of their community. History will remember their effort to stand up for the Chakma people in their time of need. For that, they truly deserve recognition and praise but if they wish to see meaningful changes and results, not a protracted impasse, it would be in their interest to pause and think about the reasons for the Mizo people’s growing displeasure towards illegal Chakma immigrants from Bangladesh. Yes, Chakmas from Bangladesh who are not citizens of India and residents of Mizoram and also Chakmas from other states in India who are not bonafide residents of Mizoram.
Let us try to break down this open letter and see if we can make sense of it.
1) “The Chakmas in India are not foreigners”
To say “Chakmas in India are not foreigners” is like saying all Chakmas living in India are bonafide citizens. We know this has not been true because, in the past, the government has actually deported Bangladeshi Chakmas and under pressure from NGOs, it has been forced to delete names of illegal Chakma immigrants from the electoral roll. While there are many Chakmas in India who are not foreigners, there are also many unconfirmed Chakmas who are indeed foreigners just like there are many Mizos living in Mizoram who are not citizens of India. Mizos in Mizoram donot deny the presence of Mizos who are foreigners but Chakmas in Mizoram, on the other hand, donot ever admit that there are Chakma foreigners in their midst.
If Indian Chakma leaders continue in this denial, even bonafide citizens will be wrongly targetted by the growing body of Mizo hardliners.
2) “Following the adoption of the Constitution of India, the President of India notified the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 and Chakmas were listed as a Scheduled Tribe in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal simply because the Chakmas had been living in these areas. Therefore, the question of the Chakmas being foreigners in India does not arise.”
One thing Chakma leaders donot admit is the fact that Chakmas in Mizoram are the only Chakmas in the world with a Chakma autonomous administration and that if it wasn’t for the Mizo people’s willingness to accept them and the creation of the ADC four decades ago, they would be treated no better than how the people of Arunachal Pradesh treat Chakmas in their state.
It is true that there were Chakmas already living in Mizoram before 1950 and therefore, their citizenship cannot be questioned. But, the inclusion of Chakmas in the Scheduled Tribes list does not mean that there are no illegal Chakma immigrants in Mizoram. Ask a Mizo-speaking Chakma who is a genuine resident of Mizoram in private and he will tell you what Chakma leaders will not say in public.
3) “The Chakmas are natives and indigenous peoples (a term not recognized by the Union of India) like all other tribal communities in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal.”
It is equally meaningless for these Chakma leaders to use the terms “natives” and “indigenous peoples” to argue a point. Whether the western belt of Mizoram was part of the land of the Chakmas or whether it never belonged to the land of the Mizos, the fact is that the present State of Mizoram was formed primarily for the Zo people of Mizoram and any attempt to undermine the integrity of the State will always be met with uncompromising opposition. Yes, the NGOs are legally in the wrong by denying the Chakmas of Mizoram access to things like state quotas for higher education studies and a meaningful dialogue needs to happen between the Mizo community and the Mizoram Chakma community. But illegal Chakma immigrants are not and cannot be a part of this dialogue.
4) “It is also a fact that in order to escape persecution in East Pakistan, about 15,000 Chakmas who had migrated from East Pakistan were settled by the Government of India in the then Centrally administered North East Frontier Agency (present-day Arunachal Pradesh).”
It is sad that the mostly-Buddhist Chakmas in Bangladesh, willing to join India, were denied their wish to do so. It is also sad that thousands of Chakmas had to face evacuation from their land in Bangladesh but the situation they find themselves in today is not the problem of Arunachalees. Arunachalees cannot be blamed for their displeasure even though it would also be in their long term interest to find a way to co-exist with the Chakmas unless it is absolutely impossible. All human beings, including Arunachal Chakmas, have rights but we live in an imperfect world. Sometimes, it takes a lot of fight to secure rights.
5) “The proposed protest on 28th October 2017 is only against the Chakmas.”
Of course, it is against the Chakmas who are illegal immigrants! Why would Mizos welcome Chakma illegal immigrants from Bangladesh? There are Zo illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Mizoram but they belong to the Zo community. And there is a world of difference right there. While Chakmas argue that Mizos are biased, they need to realise that no community is unbiased towards their own. Remember, Chakmas leaders hardly ever speak out against Chakma illegal immigration in public because they are biased towards their brothers and sisters. Mizos know it and Chakmas know it. It is simply a fact.
6) “Discrimination against the minorities of Mizoram”
Where in the world are Chakmas given the most rights and privileges? Where in India is a Chakma able to contest in an election and become an MLA or even an Minister? Where in the world do Chakmas have an Autonomous District Council in their name? The only place one can think of is Mizoram. The only people that have allowed these things to happen are the Mizo people. Remember, in Arunachal Pradesh, the local people and the state government continue to deny them citizenship rights!
Forget about state quotas. In Arunachal Pradesh, Chakmas donot even have access to become Indian citizens even after Supreme Court judgements!
Chakma leaders often talk about “discrimination” of “minorities” by Mizos in Mizoram, but it would be much more helpful for them to focus on the positives rather than only ever talk about how bad the Mizo people are. Remember, Mizos are very kind hearted people but they are not perfect. They treat Chakmas in Mizoram pretty well but if Chakma leaders come up with seemingly endless complaints and not a word of gratitude, they will alienate even the moderate Mizos.
By the way, do you know how the Chakma majority community in Bangladesh treat the Zo minority community? Have you ever heard of a single Chakma leader talk about the Chakma-Mizo relationship in Bangladesh? If you ask a member of any of the Zo tribes from Bangladesh in private about the functioning of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council or the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board, you will have a much better understanding of discrimination and how the majority Chakmas treat the minority Zo peoples.
7) “No protests against immigrants belonging to Mizo community from Myanmar and Bangladesh.”
If the truth is not your friend, you really have a credibility issue.
Mizos in Mizoram, while generally accepting and kind-hearted, donot like bad people especially from across the borders. Mizos in Mizoram donot even like their own brothers and sisters from Myanmar if and when they cause problems in the state. Heck, they even burned down a whole village!
These Chakma leaders are wrong to claim that there are “no protests against immigrants belonging to the Mizo community” from across the borders because the opposite is true.
8) “Darshan Chakma, Nibir Chakma, Mini Chakma and Nibir Tongchangya”
These Chakma students who have secured the 4th, 9th, 17th and 23th ranks in the NEET respectively would most likely turn out to be good public servants if they could pursue their career through the state quota. But depending on the status of their parents, they may not even be eligible for citizenship let alone state quota!
Under the Indian Citizenship Act, “A person born in India on or after 1st July,1987 but before 3rd December, 2004 is considered citizen of India by birth if either of his parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth.”
Assuming that they were born around the year 2000, their birth in the soil of Mizoram may or may not confirm their citizenship because when they were born, either of their parents had to be a citizen of India. So far, no one knows if one of the parents of these four Chakma students was not a citizen of India. Well, actually, the parents should know but these seven Chakma leaders donot seem to know. To be fair, even the MZP leaders donot know.
8) Question time!
Before Chakma leaders pose questions such as, “Is Mizoram only for the majority ethnic Mizos and not for the minorities in the State? If Mizoram is to be accepted only for Mizos (higher technical education seats only for Mizos and not Chakmas despite being citizens and Scheduled Tribes like the Mizos), should India be also only for the majority Hindus?“, it would be better for them to ask themselves questions like –
a) We know the Mizo society is not perfect and we may not realise our rights fully at this point but where in the world do we have the best chance for our people to move forward?
b) We know that the Mizo people are increasingly becoming resentful because of our presence and the CADC even though things were different decades ago, but should we accelerate our demands and complaints thereby causing the Mizo people to become more resentful towards us or should we work with them and not appear to work against them?
c) We know that the Mizo people embrace those of us who have been in Mizoram since the days of our grandparents, especially those of us who can speak their language but what irks them most is perhaps the influx of illegal Chakma immigrants and Chakmas from other states. Should we decide to publicly support the Mizo people’s opposition towards Chakma foreigners and work towards eliminating the factors that cause enmity between us?
There are a lot of questions Chakma leaders can ask themselves first if they want to secure a long-term understanding with the Mizo community, their host community. But if they never publicly admit that Chakma foreigners and illegal Chakma immigration are the cause of problems in Mizoram between them and the Mizos, “what message are they sending to the future generation?” The message they are sending is something like – “We want to get the most out of the Mizos, we want to demand a lot and totally ignore what they say. We will use the Constitution and legal means to secure our claims and won’t care even if they are on the losing side because we care about ourselves and ourselves only.” Even if that is what they are not saying, it is what the Mizo people are hearing. Chakma leaders can change their approach if they want to advance their agenda with the Mizo people’s blessing. Otherwise, they will always face stiff opposition from not only the hardliners but from the general Mizo population.
9) Choice of leaders:
Of the seven Chakma leaders who wrote the open letter, Paritosh Chakma, Convenor, Mizoram Chakma Areas Single Administration Demand Committee and Victor Talukdar, Deputy Secretary General, All India Chakma Social Forum are former MLA candidates in Mizoram. While their fight for Chakma claims and rights is totally reasonable, their silence on the root-cause of the Mizo-Chakma tension is utterly unacceptable. Imagine if Paritosh Chakma beat Zodintluanga in 2008 and he became an MLA, would he oppose illegal Chakma immigration? (By the way, Thorang MLA Zodintluanga, even though he is a Mizo doesn’t seem to care much about illegal Chakma immigration!) What about Victor Talukdar? Had he been elected MLA instead of Dr BD Chakma, would he advance the interest of the Chakmas only and not the interest of the state of Mizoram as a whole? Mizoram MLAs are expected to work for the people of Mizoram. It is questionable that these two leaders will put Mizoram first because, for a start, we have never heard them publicly denounce Chakma illegal immigration.
It is a shame that the Chakma community embraces leaders like Dilip Kanti Chakma, President, All India Chakma Students Union to voice their concern because people like DK Chakma have a record of dishonesty. This year, Justice Michael Zothankhuma found him and his lawyer Joseph L Renthlei to have presented themselves in his court without “clean hands.” DK Chakma wanted to join the Mizoram Judicial Service and planned to sit for the exams conducted by the Mizoram Public Service Commission but was denied the Admit Card. When he went to court challenging the Commission’s decision, this is what Justice Michael Zothankhuma observed – “The petitioner’s counsel had submitted that the petitioner was in Aizawl on 09.05.2017 and had left for Delhi on the same day. The petitioner was now expected to arrive in Aizawl today i.e. 12.05.2017. In view of the fact that the execution of the affidavit and Vakalatnama having clearly shown that the petitioner had executed the documents on 11.05.2017 in Aizawl, which is not supported by the submission of the petitioner’s counsel, this Court finds another added reason, not to allow the writ petition, as the petitioner has not come to Court with clean hands.”
DK Chakma and his lawyer Joseph L Renthlei presented a document in court with a signature that could not have been signed by DK Chakma because he was not in Aizawl when it was signed. It is a punishable offence that carries jail time.
Section 193 of the Indian Penal Code states: “Whoever intentionally gives false evidence in any stage of a judicial proceeding, or fabricates false evidence for the purpose of being used in any stage of a judicial proceeding, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine, and whoever intentionally gives or fabricates false evidence in any other case, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
To be marginalised by a majority community is not a nice thing. In fact, it is a terrible experience but because we live in an imperfect world, we need to find ways to work things out. The approach of these Chakma leaders may not be the best approach. Some of them may not even be the best people to represent the Chakmas, especially Chakmas of Mizoram.