Red Guards of Mizoram

Kanbawza Win

August 10, 2002

Even as India was pre occupied in the West vis a vis Pakistan over Kashmir and Jammu, its Northeast Frontier was not as peaceful as it seems. The Northeast militant like the NSCN, the ULFA, the PLA and the UNFL are still there, and off and on are making their presence felt. Currently the Assam Rifles is keeping it vigil over the 400 km of common border with Burma’s Chin State where the Chin refugees, in fleeing from the persecution of the Burmese army, used to cross to a save haven in the state of Mizoram. This is the latest phenomenon, which every interested party should handle with care.

Due to the ethnic cleansing policy, every Burmese ethnic nationality, if given a chance, flee to the neighboring countries including India where they will be save from arson, pillaging, rape (which has become so prominent that the US is forced to take action), forced relocation, forced labor and religious persecution. Obviously these unfortunate Chins are not recognized as refugees, as India would not hear of inaugurating another UNHCR office in the Northeast frontier (one in Kashmir is more than enough). This attitude gives a free hand to the Mizoram State government in Aizawl.

At first the Mizos welcome this Chin influx as they belong to the same tribe, same language and same religion. The common reminisce was that because of the British colonial division the Chin are forced to be on the Burmese side while Mizos are on the India side when in fact they were one. But the Burmese refugees whether they are Chin or Burmese (from Sagaing division), are hard working, more intelligent and have an economic vision and within a couple of years began to dominate the Mizo economy. Soon a black market thrives supplemented by a newly constructed road on the Burmese side given by the Indian government. The Burmese refugees knowing the plight at home began to engage in manual labor, hand looming, small business so much so that in Aizawl big market (Bara Bazaar) every shop can speak Burmese. Obviously jealousy began to creep into once a peaceful Mizoram society.

The problem became more confused when the bad elements of Mizo joined hands with the bad elements of Chin refugees and started the moon shining business. Consuming liquor is a big crime in medieval Mizo where an orthodox churches still wields much power. These became more complicated when the politicians from influential political parties such as Mizo National Front, Congress Party and the likes began to woo the Chins, promising them citizenship provided they vote for them in the elections. The winning candidate was happy but the loser now began to point its finger to the Chin refugees. Obviously patience runs out and the situation became to such ahead that mass repatriation of Chin refugees was enforced.

The driving forced behind the Mizoram State Government was the Young Mizo Association. (YMA). How come that this darling of Mizo, the YMA has transformed itself into the Red Guards of Mizoram is of interest. Initially it was a non-political, voluntary organization established since 1935 but soon it members rose to 250,000 having over 700 branches in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura. They initiated several social projects such as literacy campaigns, ecological drive, and residential quarters for poor, the guardian angel of Mizo cultural and heritage, cleanliness drive and most important fighting drugs and liquor. They also organize sports and social activities and see to it that the elections are free and fair so much so that the Indian Central government has to award them Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award in 1986 and the Indira Gandhi Paryanvara Purushar Award in 1993. In other words they are a perfect organization in their own tiny medieval world. Visiting Aizawl, I recollect the Cramford Society of England who was all quite satisfied staying in their own cocoon.

But the world is changing, it has reached a modern era where globalization has come knocking at it doors and may come in whether invited or not. One cannot stay like an ostrich that bury its head on seeing a storm approaching. Maybe an episode like Commodore Perry with his black ships came forcing the doors of the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan, is needed. On this side of the border the persecution of the Burmese Junta, especially the religious persecution meted out to the Chin Christian had hit hard on Mizoram. Forcing the Chins to become Buddhist and imprisoning the Christian pastors and priests or preventing the young Chin from attending the Christian seminaries compounded with the four cut policy of burning the barns of the Chin farmers compelled the Chins to flee en masse into Mizoram. The Mizo did not know that it is a crime to take in the Bible into Burma if it is written in Burmese or any ethnic languages.

Of course all these will be very hard for a Miozo to comprehend as the chairperson of YMA explain it to me “This is our land, our culture, our heritage and we have our own laws and it is our historical duty to protect them.” That is exactly “the monarch of all I survey” attitude, which Alexander Selkirk has described. Nobody will be fool hardy enough to argue that hypothesis. But repatriating these unfortunate Chin refugees en masse into the waiting jaws of the Burmese Army tantamount to human rights violations which itself is against the accepted norm of a civilized society.

Even if the YMA cannot comprehend the International Law and Universal Declarations of Human rights at least they should take a leaf out Mao Zedong’s Red Guards of the 60s, which is now going down as the darkest chapter of modern Chinese history. After all China is their neighbor and the leaders of the YMA should refrain themselves from becoming Red Guards such as replacing the town and village administration, taking the law into their own hands and uprooting the people. The Mizoram churches, as any medieval Church seems to forget the Genesis that God created everybody including the Chin condone this business of forced repatriation.

It has to be remember that the Mizo state economy crop up very much not only from the dole out of the Indian Central Government in New Delhi (and yet the Mizo regards the Indians as foreigners and refused them to let them in, unless there is an inner line permit) but also because of the Burmese refugees especially the Chin who took up all the hard work which are 3Ds (dirty, dangerous & degrading works) which no Mizo would do with half the pay of an average laborer. Indeed a young Mizo should thank the Chin for implementing this work.

This darling of Mizo should maintain its darling status and let not power corrupts them. At least they should not be carried on with the Mizo society where corruption is so rampant that Johnny Walker whisky is easily available in Aizawl, when every body knows that the Chins are not sophisticated enough to distill that category of liquor. Truckloads of foreign liquors and cheap Chinese consumer goods are driven from Burma, thanks to the road constructed by India, while the customs and the police look the other way. Perhaps the YMA should. read a chapter of power corruptness of what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel Laureate has beautifully written in her, “Freedom from Fear.” Besides they should recollect that Chins are their brethren who will live side by side in perpetuity because of geographical proximity and that Burma will not be forever under the military dictatorship. One day when they go back to their own land we want them to have fond memories of Mizo and not the Red Guards of Mizoram who forced them out of the frying pan into the fire. If that day ever arrived, I am sure the Mizo will be happy to live in their own cultural pond pretending to have never heard of the vast ocean outside.

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