The Congress party has fielded two Chakma candidates in Mizoram for the upcoming Assembly elections going against a directive by NGOs demanding that political parties not field Chakma candidates. Opposition parties Mizoram National Front and the BJP are expected to field Chakma candidates as well.
An umbrella body of civil society organizations, the NGO Coordination Committee of Mizos, including the Young Mizo Association (YMA), Mizoram Upa Pawl (MUP) or Mizoram Elders’ Association, Mizo Hmeichhia Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP) or Mizo Women Federation, Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and Mizo Students’ Union (MSU) had issued the diktat citing that “Chakmas are Bangladeshi foreigners” and therefore, have no right to contest elections.
The Chakma-Mizo conflict is not a recent phenomenon. In 1972, the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) was created under the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution which created simmering resentment among the Mizo community. After the signing of the Mizoram accord of 1986, leader of the Mizo National Front (MNF), Laldenga, had demanded that the CADC be dissolved but his demand was rejected. Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had even said during a rally in Aizawl, “if the Mizos expect justice from India as a small minority, they must safeguard the interest of their own minorities like the Chakmas”.
The core aspect of the inter-tribal conflict is the issue of the nativity. The Mizos claim that only their community is indigenous to the state of Mizoram which is contested by the Chakmas by their own version of the matter. The matter is further escalated by the fact that there are certain regions in adjoining areas of Bangladesh that the Chakmas have been inhabiting for long. The Mizos allege that the Chakmas are infiltrating the country through illegal immigration.
The issue of nativity has direct consequences for the inhabitants of the state. For instance, last year in 2017, four students were denied seats after intervention by the state government despite being selected to pursue bachelors’ degrees in medicine and surgery in Indian colleges due to the fact that they were Chakmas.
The intervention came after the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo Students’ Association, or MZP) threatened to launch a statewide indefinite bandh if medical seats were allotted to anyone but Mizo students. Buddha Dhan Chakma, the only Chakma minister in the state cabinet, had submitted his resignation citing discrimination towards members from his community.
In 2016, a primary school was torched and a house was vandalised at Tuichawng Chhuah village in Mizoram’s Lunglei district, a village that is dominated by Chakmas. The Chakmas had alleged that they were being harassed and attempts were being made to evict them since the month of November, the previous year.
During the 1990s, it is reported that the names of hundreds and thousands of Chakmas were removed from the electoral list on the basis of complaints filed by a few individuals. The same civil society organizations are said to be responsible for the removal of Chakmas from the electoral list. In 1992, 380 Chakma houses were burnt by organized mobs.
Organizations have frequently demanded the expulsion of Chakmas who entered Mizoram after 1950. Earlier in October as well, the YMA demanded that the CDAC be scrapped claiming it is a safe haven for Bangladeshi infiltrators.
Victims of Mizo aggression aren’t Chakmas alone. Over 30,000 Bru tribals were forced to flee the state in 1997 as a consequence of ethnic clashes following the murder of a forest official by Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF). The BNLF was demanding an autonomous council for Bru tribals after Mizo organizations demanded that Brus be removed from electoral rolls claiming that they were not indigenous to the state. Repatriation of the Brus began only in July this year and thus far, only a couple of dozen families or so have returned to Mizoram.