Citizenship Bill: Decoding ‘Chakma Threat’ Behind Mizo Protests
As Mizoram witnesses massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), it’s not Hindu immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan that Mizos fear, but rather a Buddhist minority from Bangladesh – who are already causing a headache to Mizo organisations.
The Chakma tribals, who are mostly Buddhists, are believed to have originated from greater Arakan Yoma North area – presently Chin State in Myanmar – before they migrated to Chittagong Hills Tract (CHT) in Bangladesh in the fifteenth century.
Their migration to India took place when the Radcliffe Award of Bengal Boundary Commission awarded Chittagong Hills Tracts to Pakistan during the Partition in 1947.
The construction of the Kaptai Dam and Karnaphuli reservoir in 1962 also triggered their large scale migration to India, especially in Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.
In fact, the Young Mizo Association (YMA), the largest and most influential civil society organisation in the state, has launched a campaign to abolish the said ADC. The Mizoram organisations also allege that the Chakma ADC harbours illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
“It is a fact that the Chakma ADC harbours thousands of illegal Chakmas from the neighbouring Bangladesh. If the Citizenship Amendment Bill is enacted, all these illegal Chakmas will automatically become citizens of India. That would bring severe religious and demographic impact on the indigenous Mizos,” L Ramdinliana Renthlei, president of the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Mizoram’s apex student body, said.
Vanlalruata, president of Young Mizo Association that spearheaded the anti-CAB protest, shared the same view.
“Granting citizenship to illegal Chakma immigrants will further encourage influx from Bangladesh,” he said.
Both leaders, however, asserted that the Mizos are not against the Chakmas who have been legally residing in Mizoram for decades, but those who illegally entered into Mizoram through the porous India-Bangladesh border.
Both the MZP and the YMA allege that there has been an “abnormal growth” of the Chakma population, which clearly indicates an “influx” from Bangladesh.
They allege that population of Chakmas has increased from a mere 198 in the first ever census in 1901 to 80,000 in the 1991 Census. According to the last Census of 2011, the Buddhist population is 93,411 or 8.51 percent of the state’s total population, they said.
MZP president Renthlei said his organisation has submitted a memorandum to the Centre on a number of occasions to highlight the “abnormal growth” of Chakmas in Mizoram, “but (they) have fallen on deaf ears so far.”
However, Chakma leaders strongly denied this. Refuting Mizo NGOs’ allegations of “abnormal growth” of Chakma population in Mizoram, the Chakma National Council of India (CNCI) referred to an information booklet published by the state directorate of economics & statistics titled ‘Mizoram at a Glance 2001’ in which the growth of Chakma population was normal – when compared to that of other tribes in Mizoram.
According to this booklet, the Chakma population in Mizoram was 71,283 in the 2011 Census figure, against the NGOs’ claim of 1,50,000 people.
Going by historical records, the MZP president stated that Chakmas have never lived in Mizoram and have never been considered as indigenous people of Mizoram.
“During the British rule, the Lushai hills (Mizoram) administrators issued several orders time after time to control foreigners, and the Chakmas were one of the foreigners mentioned in those orders,” he said.
‘Hello China, Bye Bye India’
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which the Northeast people perceive as the central government’s apathy towards the region, has stirred up a feeling of unbelonging among the youths of Mizoram – the same factor that makes Northeast a region of insurgencies.
Protesters, during the massive anti-CAB rally in Aizawl on 23 January, were seen holding placards that read: “Hello China, Bye Bye India” and “Remember 1966”. (It may be recalled that Mizoram Independence movement led by legendary leader Laldenga broke out in 1966).
“The slogans were intended to convey that we are not safe in India, that the government of India has been giving us step-motherly treatment,” said Lalhmachhuana, general secretary of the central committee of the Young Mizo Association.
MZP representative to the North East Students Organisation (NESO), Ricky Lalbiakmawia, said that there is a strong feeling among Mizos that India does not listen to them, does not care for them, and favours illegal migrants over Mizos.
It may be recalled that the Mizo National Front, led by Laldenga, had allegedly received military assistance from China when it declared war against India in 1966, that had led to the bombing of Aizawl in March that year by IAF – making it the first and only air raids by India on its own soil.
MNF Faces the Heat
The ruling Mizo National Front is facing the heat of the CAB protests for it is a part of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance.
Amidst criticisms against Mizo National Front for supporting NDA at the Centre, state Chief Minister Zoramthanga said that his party would withdraw support from NDA if the BJP goes ahead with the Citizenship Bill.
Zoramthanga’s Cabinet had adopted a resolution opposing the proposed legislation. The chief minister had also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, to inform them about the opposition to the legislation.
(Sanga is a senior journalist based in Aizawl. The views in this article are the author’s own, The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)