~ Maria Pa

Three policemen, all belonging to the 1st Battalion of the Mizoram Armed Police (MAP) – Sub-Inspector Zoramthara Khawlhring, Driver Lalchuailova and Constable Hmangaihmawia are killed and 5 others injured when the Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) ambushed them between Tinghmun and Zokhawthiang in Aizawl district of Mizoram, bordering Manipur on March 28, 2015. The Police team is accompanying the local MLA and Chairman of the Mizoram Assembly Committee on Government Assurances, RL Pianmawia and two other members of the Committee, Lalthanliana and the lone woman legislator of the state, Ms Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu and concerned department officials who were on official tour of the area.

The incident may be one of the major and fatal strike of the HPC(D) after their September 2, 2008 ambush of the 1st India Reserve Battalion near Saipum village in Kolasib district, also along the border with Assam in which 3 police personnel were killed and the same number injured. Killing of any form and anybody has to be denounced and condemned; all the more so, when it is between brethren sharing the same history, custom and culture but with little difference in dialect and political leanings and affiliations. Life is given by God, and there is no spare part to replace it. It is always agonizing to hear when young women are suddenly turned into widows and innocent young kids to orphan for no fault of theirs.

It may be noted here that from 1986, the Hmar peoples of Mizoram under the banner of Hmar People’s Convention (HPC) led a peaceful and latter an armed struggle for an Autonomous District Council for the Hmar peoples of Mizoram settled mostly on northern side bordering Manipur and Assam. A Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) with the government of Mizoram was signed on July27, 1994 and a formal Home Coming ceremony for the HPC armed cadres was also held alongside the MoA. However, significant numbers in the party refused to accept the term of settlement and continued the struggle for autonomy under the Sixth Scheduled provision of the Constitution of India under the banner of Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic). The July 27, 1994 MoS results in the formation of Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC) with its headquarters in Sakawrdai which however is still in Aizawl. The MoS also clearly mentioned that, there will be ‘an interim period of TWO years after which election to the members of the council will be held’. The main objective of the MoS is to give adequate autonomy to the SHDC for social, economic, cultural and educational advancement of the people under the jurisdiction of the Council.

The said MoS further states that, “With a view to satisfying the desires and aspirations of Hmar community in Mizoram, the State Government will initiate measures for use of Hmar language as a medium of instruction upto Primary level and recognition of the Hmar language as one of the major languages of the State of Mizoram”.

The SHDC, as per the MoS was to be headed by the President of HPC and was to have any of the 3 sitting MLAs (of the Council area) as the Vice Chairman and the rest of the MLAs as Members besides 17 Nominated Members from the area (14 members by Chairman of the Council and 3 members by the Govt.). It was also stated to have representatives from Finance, Planning, Rural Development Departments as well as the Deputy Commissioner concerned and, Development Officer (Sr. IAS or MCS Officer) was to be the Member Secretary of the Council. For reasons that can be best explain by the Mizoram government, the 2 YEARS INTERIM period still continue even after 20 years has past and none of the Chairmen of the Council whimsically appointed so far is President of the HPC. There is no specific tenure for them and are made to sit in the chair as long as they please those who appoint them. The SHDC is also for name sake run from a rented building in Aizawl with a meager amount doled out occasionally by the government. The Chairmen, who are appointed by the government in power, need not bother to undertake any tangible development programs as the fund provided to them are not enough to do so and above all, there is no proper audit mechanism of its use or misuse. Non-implementation of such a high level agreement is no doubt the main grievance of the Hmar peoples of Mizoram in general. On Sept 27, 2013, few months before the last Assembly election of the state, an order was issued by the GA Department of the state government which states that, election in SHDC area will be conducted during 2015. However, the said order is put under the carpet and there seems to be no substantial steps initiated to pursue and make it happen till date.

The reaction of the state government of Mizoram on the March 28, 2015 incident was prompt and forceful. The Chief Minister, Lal Thanhawla audaciously stated that, “We’ve accepted the HPC(D)’s challenged and we will root out all their cadres and their support system”, while the Home Minister, R. Lalzirliana, may be in his attempt to rouse the sentiments of the Mizo peoples claims that, “the HPC(D) are not even hesitant to kill all our MLAs and their parties, but by the grace of God, that does not happen”. The Chief Secretary of Mizoram was immediately sent to Manipur to convey the stated position of their state and their plans and programs with regard to the HPC(D). The government also contemplates to declare the Hmar’s ‘Demand Area’ as ‘Disturbed Area’ and the HPC(D) as unlawful organization by initiating the necessary official formalities. Needless to point out here that, declaring any area of a state as ‘disturbed’ by the state automatically makes the area under coverage of the dreaded and redundant Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) 1958. To turn ‘words into deeds’ the Mizoram special police team in collaboration with the Assam Rifles arrested the Commander-in-Chief of the HPC(D) and two of his associates on April 16, 2015 surprisingly, not in Manipur but in Silchar, Assam.

The charges and counter-charges in the social media, Facebook in particular is disgusting and indigestible and not at all encouraging as it immediately goes on communal lines. Inspite of the repeated appeals made by the Administrators of the groups, reckless youths using fake IDs are hurling humiliating and hurtful vocabulary on communal lines as if the whole Hmars are at war with the Mizos. This has led to a huge chasm between the Lushai speaking Mizos and those speaking Hmar and will definitely led to further enmity if the trend is not arrested. It may be mentioned here that the Lushai (Mizo) dialect are so close that outsiders will hardly be able to differentiate between the two in the first place. Many Hmars of Mizoram has already identified themselves as Mizos and are now deadly against Hmar political autonomy whereas there are also Lushai (Mizos) who identify themselves as Hmars and main proponents of Hmar political movements in Mizoram. It all depends on where one settles.

On the other side, The HPC(D) while claiming complete responsibility for the March 28 incident has boldly stated in their official Press Release that, they are not for disintegration of Mizoram or the Mizo society but only struggles for the Hmars of Mizoram to have an Autonomous Council like the Lai, Mara and Chakmas of Mizoram. They have also officially stated before that, their movement in Mizoram has never aimed to break up Mizoram or disassociate Hmars from Mizo ethnic nationhood. Rather, it aims to strengthen the ethnic Mizo nation as a whole, to preserve and develop Hmar’s distinct cultures and traditions, customs, dialects and languages, and to protect its ethnic interests, identities, land and natural resources. The same press handout also states that, “the HPC(D) never challenge Mr. Lalthanhawla led Mizoram government but only have demand like a son have to his father. The son can never challenge the father but can always make demands. If a father, instead of providing what his son asked for, beat him mercilessly, nobody will justify his action”.

The HPC (D) however, minced no words while clarifying on the accusation made to them by the Mizoram Home Minister with whom they seems to have grudge from before. While stating that their main intention in the particular occasion, they daringly said that, “Had our sole intention is killing the entire team, we could have very much accomplished it. But, as the small demand we have placed to the Mizoram government has not been given a patient hearing, we are only making our voice heard in that manner. We laid our hands on some of them just to show that we can kill all of them and snatch away all the arms and ammunition under their possession. That was not at all something which we are very enthusiastic and we do feel sorry for the bereaved families who lost their near and dear ones in the incident”. The outfit’s press handout further nonchalantly mentions that, “After collecting few arms, we shook hands with our MLAs and others and, we part with them and leave the area calmly. We never touch any of their properties and money in their bags. We however warned them that, if the plea of a son to his father is being ignored again and again, we will not always remain silent but shout. We don’t want to shed blood and make trouble. Give us what is due to us and let us all leave happily and peacefully in Zoram”. This statement is somewhat corroborated by the statement of one of the injured policeman, one Lalkhawngaia who narrated the incident to his friends from his Aizawl Civil Hospital bed on March 29, 2015.

The HPC(D) go further by declaring its boycott of the upcoming Village Council election slated to be held on April 30, 2015. The diktat is being unquestioningly obeyed in 31 villages across their Demand Areas as nobody came forward to file their Nomination Papers and those few who did withdrew it again during the stipulated time.

The state government has no other choice than to postpone election in the area and extend the term of the present Council Members indefinitely. It may be noted once again that such similar call has been given in the past and election of the Village Council were postpone more than twice and were held with the intervention of the Hmar civil societies.

The war of words did not stop. The HPC(D) in new statement while thanking the people of their demand area for abiding them not to participate in the ensuing Village/Local Council election also states that, ‘the arrest of their C-in-C will not deter them in their movement for what is due to them. They assert that their demand for Autonomous Council under the Sixth Scheduled is valid and justifiable in every aspect and that they will continue to do so until the last drop of their blood. Incidentally, the 1994 Mizoram-HPC MoS also clearly states that, “The Government of Mizoram have appreciated the concern and pressing demand of the HPC delegation, particularly regarding political safeguard as available under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India. Accordingly the Government of Mizoram will take immediate measures for inclusion of an area to be specified within the HPC Demand Area of Mizoram and the other non-Schedule to the Constitution of India so that the above-mentioned areas are safeguarded under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India”.

It is now unlikely that the Mizoram government will have any formal or informal talks to resolve the issue with the HPC(D) in the immediate future. The HPC(D) on the other hand is also unlikely to be deterred by the arrest of their leader or the likely man hunt to be carried out by the Mizoram elite police force in the near future. They may always cite that, though they have ceasefire and tripartite talks are already underway in Assam and also, the HPC(D) under the banner of United People’s Front are under Suspension of Operation in Manipur, there is no such arrangement in Mizoram. Hence their activities in Mizoram.

It will definitely be impossible for the HPC(D) to consistently strike to make their voice heard in Aizawl as they are up against a full-fledged state government with unlimited resources. But whether or not the Mizoram state government can completely crushed the HPC(D) leaders along with their roots is for all to see. One persistent question that will always keep ringing from neutral watcher is that, when many of the its other neighboring states can bring forward armed groups whose demands range Sixth Schedule to Statehood to Independence why can’t the Mizoram government do so with HPC(D) whose only demand is Autonomous Council under Sixth Scheduled provision of the Constitution of India? The Union Government of India is also already convinced of the futility of going heads and tongs with most of the Northeast India militants. It therefore managed to lure most of them to have a Ceasefire or Suspension of Operation and is in the process of having a tripartite talks one after another. The demand, strength, resources and influence of the HPC(D) is very minor when compared with other armed militants of the region. Hence, solving their problem might not be that difficult provided there is a political will to do so.

It is also time for the Mizoram government as well as the chauvinistic Mizos, NGOs and political parties to admit that as much as they want to protect and promote Mizo nationhood, it is their responsibility to also think of measures on how to bring physical, emotional and spiritual development of the minority tribes like the Hmars who feel that they are being deprived of their dues and shares in the state. The Hmars will feel so as they always proudly asserts that they are one of the first settlers in the present Mizoram state. Many villages of Mizoram which includes, Thiak, Zote, Chawnchhim, Khawzawl, Khawbung, Biate, Darngawn, Keivom Zo, etc still bear the name of a Hmar clan or sub-clan is a living testimony of this undeniable fact. The active participation and contribution of the Hmars of Mizoram and its adjoining states of Manipur and Assam for the birth of Mizoram as a District Council in the 1950s, Union Territory in the early 1970s and finally to a full-fledged state under the Union of India in 1986 is also something every Mizo historian, academician or politician cannot simply ignored. Within the Mizo society, Hmars are one of the biggest clans in terms of population. It is only that majority of Hmars in Mizoram do no longer speak Hmar dialect as they are already absorbed the Lushai (Duhlien) speaking Mizos. All those who put ‘Hmar’ as their surname do not speak the dialect necessarily. However, needless to point out here that many Hmar leaders of the state are also Lushai speaking Hmars. These groups of Hmars may ultimately be the game changers of the fragile politics of Mizoram where search for one’s identity is prevalent and valid as much as it is in this wide, wide world.

The state government will definitely have the power to chase down the present set of armed or unarmed leaders who fight for the Hmars’ cause in Mizoram, put them behind bars, killed or left alone to meet their natural death; but it is unlikely that they will uproot the movement altogether by using brute force and intimidations. Even if the Lal Thanhawla led Congress government stood firm and feel that conceding to the demands of the HPC(D) at this juncture is not viable it can atleast try to appease the Hmars of Mizoram by making the SHDC fully functional and fulfill the promise and commitments it officially made its 1994 accord. Else, the most peaceful state of the region is likely to lose its character with some parts of the state coming under the dreaded AFSPA 1958. If at all, the Mizoram government, political parties and prominent NGOs of the state think that the issue of the Hmars is similar those of the non-indigenous Chakmas and Brus, it is upto them.

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