By Prof Lal Dena, Senior fellow (ICSSR), New Delhi.
(This is an extract of Prof Lal Dena’s forthcoming book Forthworld; indigenous Peoples Movement and India’s-North East Experience - Editor).
It is on March 1, 1966 that the Mizo National Front under the leadership of (late) Laldenga declared the ‘Independence’ of Mizoram by suddenly storming the two military installations at Aizawl and Lunglei. There ensued a kind of undeclared ‘war’ between the Mizoram National Army (armed wing of MNF) and Indian security forces which lasted twenty years resulting in loss of many precious human lives . As it always happened in any insurgency, the innocent were the worst victims. Many young Mizo girls including women were raped sometimes in front of their husbands. Mizo villages and hamlets even in the remote hills were burnt down and regrouped (Karkhawm) in crowded centres along an arterial highway under the strict vigilance and control of Indian armed guards. This continued for 20 long years. In 1986, the so-called “Mizoram Peace Accord” was signed and Mizoram was granted statehood. The Mizos thus paid too heavy a price for a mere statehood; while the people of Meghalaya got the same status of state without shedding even a single drop of blood. What a difference!
|The Hunter and Toofani jet fighters that bombarded Aizawl in 1966.|
In course of the many encounters during the trouble, many unforgettable incidents occurred and this is understandable. But most unforgettable one is the use of jet fighters by India for bombing Aizawl, capital of Mizoram on March 5, thereby turning it into flame and ashes. Why did she bomb her own people? This harsh action inflicted an irreparable injury into the young minds of Mizo (Zo) people. So the day, March 5 is observed as a “Black Day” every year since 2008 by even demanding an apology from the government of India.
The immediate impact of this incident is the rebirth of new ideology – Zo nationalism. Zarzosanga, a young Mizo scholar, asserts “the bombing of Aizawl did not deter or detach the heart of Zo nationalism. Instead it makes Zo nationalism more evident and alive and outside the interest and understanding of Indian nationalism. The bombing actually othered the Mizos from India and Indians. The blunder made by the government of India with its decision to bomb Aizawl was an affirmation and acknowledgement of Mizo (Zo) nationalism”. (David Buhril; History remembered, March 05.2016 & middot). What is very significant in this quotation is the phrase ‘othered’. The process of ‘otheringness’ of Mizos from mainland Indian people, whether we like it or not, is the hard reality that inspires, according to Lalremruata, a progressive member of the Zo Reunification Organization (ZORO), to secure Zo nationalism which is already crossing the national boundaries. To quote David Buhril again, “For the Mizos, Aizawl is the heart of their identity and belonging. During the fight for Indian independence (from British rule) Mizos had been left on the periphery. The bombing of Aizawl to secure the Indian nation state further paralysed the Mizos from sharing in the notion of Indian nationalism. The excessive action simply helped to cement the feeling of otherness within the Mizos vis-a-vis the rest of India. Was that the only option available to the union government at the time? Whatever the answer, it was clearly the military and political weapon used to assert mainland India’s dominance over the Mizos”.(Ibid). As a matter of fact, it was the Zo Reunification Organization (ZORO) which carries on the flame of Zo nationalism encompassing all Zo inhabited areas in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India.
The ZORO was founded at Chongchhim, Champhai, Mizoram on May 18-21, 1988 with the following declaration:
“Now with political consciousness gaining momentum,
And the spirit of nationalism quickening us
Come fuller realization of our human rights
And of our political prerogatives
We cannot but feel burdened
With the paramount importance of Zo reunification
For preservation and existence of Zo ethnic identity.
“Reasserting, therefore, our faith and confidence
In the code of comity of nations.
Though formed only in 1998, the ZORO used the so-called Chin-Lushai Conference at Fort William, Calcutta on the 29 January, 1892 as the basis of its unification movement. The members of this conference were Charles Alfred Elliot, lt.governor of Bengal, J.O.Dormer, commander-in-chief of Madras, Alexander Mackenzie, chief commissioner of Burma, W.R.Ward, chief commioner of Assam, E.R.H.Collen, secretary to the government of India, military department, and James Browne, quartermaster-general in India. The desire for bringing the whole tract of country known as the Chin-Lushai Hills under one administrative unit was not a progressive step but solely motivated by colonial strategic interest. There was no concern for the welfare of Zo people whom the colonial officials called ‘savage.’ It is therefore not surprising that no Zo representative was there in the conference. Resolution 2 of the conference clearly proves that it was not prepared to implement this proposal immediately, saying “as matters now stand, the difficulties of communication, of supply, and of transport are very serious, and it will in any cases be necessary to suspend action until after the close of the present cold season’s operation in the Chin and Lushai Hills”. What is this ‘operation’? It is a military operation. It is therefore very clear that the whole motive and contain of the said conference’s resolution is misread and understood wrongly.
The first thing ZORO did was to send a memorandum to Shri V.P.Singh, prime minister of India on 12 December, 1991 to seek his support for implementation of the Chin-Lushai Conference resolution passed almost hundred years ago. In July 29,1992, by way of congratulating Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma on his being the new president of India, the ZORO leaders implored his intervention for the reunification of the divided Zoland.
Being inspired by high-sounding and lofty political ideals, ZORO decided to celebrate the hundred year of January 29, 1892, the so-called historic day when Chin-Lushai Conference was convened at Fort William, Calcutta at Vanapa Hall, Aizawl on January 29, 1992. On this occasion, they sent another memorandum through the high commissioner of British in India alleging that it was the British colonial officials who were responsible for dividing Zoland in three different countries, namely, Bangladesh, Myanmar and India and it was the responsibility of the British government to bring them back under single administrative unit. How? Where? Even independent India cannot change even an inches of the existing domestic boundaries once confirmed by the British colonial authority before they left the Indian sub-continent. What to talk of the change of international boundary? The high commissioner was so polite enough to acknowledge receipt of the said memorandum and replied that it would be placed before the British authority.
Again in 1994, the Zoro leaders also wrote to the US president Bill Clinton by highlighting the resolution 2 of Atlantic Charter which says “those colonized countries or people should have the right to self-determination” and Zoland being one of the colonies of Great Britain, joined the Allied Powers during the Second World War (1939-1945) and came victorious. They therefore claimed that as per the Atlantic charter, the Zo people should get their right to self-determination. They thus implored the American president to take initiative in this matter.
In 1992, Boutros Ghali, UN Secretary General, declared that the UN would spare no pains to help liberate those nationalities which had been forced to merge with other nationalities against their will and those nationalities which had been divided against their will. To avail itself of this declaration, the Zo leadership sent another memorandum to Boutros Ghali on 1996 to help integrate the divided Zo countries.
Coming to the reality of the situation, ZORO did participate for the first time, in the international workshop and seminar on indigenous issues organized by the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP) at New Delhi on November 28, 1998. With the support of other UN-based Indigenous Peoples’ Organization s (IPO), ZORO had a chance to present its grievances and problems at international forums under United Nations Working Group of Indigenous Peoples (UNWGIP). Since 2001, the ZORO representatives attended almost all the sessions of the UN’s Working Group on Indigenous Peoples UNWGIP) and UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at Geneva and New York. All these delegates were led by Raphael Thangmawia, the life-time president who breathed his last while attending one of the last sessions of the UNPFII at Geneva last year.
In all those international forums, the ZORO leadership incessantly took up the issue of Zo reunification. It may be recalled here that the MNF fought for the ‘Mizoram independence’ for twenty years on the slogan of ‘Greater Mizoram’ covering the whole of Northeast India but it eventually had to content only with a tiny chicken-breast like Mizoram (erstwhile Mizo district) leaving behind their kindred brethren in neighbouring states dry and sundry History is made to repeat again here. When no single word was expressed for integrating Mizos in 1986 which involved alteration of domestic boundaries, what to talk of breaking international boundaries affecting three different independent countries (Bangladesh, Myanmar and India) just to bring back the Zo people under a single administrative head? Assuming that it is possible, under which country should this unified Zoland be brought about or should it be a separate sovereign state? No one doubt the genuineness of Zo nationalism which is the ideological foundation of Zoro but Zoro’s political goal lacks political realism and it will always remain a an EL Derado!. The emotional integration of Zo people only through ZOFEST is enough and not beyond this.