Is It Not A Case Of Double Standards When Mizoram Opposes CAA But Wants To Welcome Refugees From Myanmar?

Is It Not A Case Of Double Standards When Mizoram Opposes CAA But Wants To Welcome Refugees From Myanmar? Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga.
Snapshot
  • Before the current influx of those fleeing from Myanmar, refugees into Mizoram have had to face antipathy, and even hostility.

Mizoram erupted in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last year even though it had been kept out of the purview of the act.

The contention of the Mizos, who are mostly Christians, was that non-Christian migrants from Bangladesh who would be granted Indian citizenship would flood the state and pose a threat to Mizo culture and religion (Christianity).

Passions ran so high in the northeastern state that straddles the Chin hills of the Patkai range that even the lone Lok Sabha MP from the state who belongs to the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF) had to face angry protests after he voted in favour of the bill.

Mizoram is once again facing protests and demonstrations against the Union government, but this time it is in favour of granting asylum to refugees from Myanmar who may be fleeing political persecution at the hands of the military regime there.

Mizoram wants to roll out the red carpet to these refugees from Myanmar and is stoutly opposing the Union government’s directive to disallow Myanmarese nationals from entering India.

Mizoram is welcoming those refugees now because the latter are Chin people and are predominantly Christian.

The recent military coup in Myanmar has triggered a small exodus of Chins from that country. According to this report, more than a thousand migrants have found refuge in Mizoram till now and their numbers are set to grow.

Many of those sheltered in Mizoram belong to Myanmar’s police or work for that government.

Mizoram Chief Minister Pu Zoramthanga has been asserting since the coup that Mizoram is morally obliged to provide asylum to people fleeing persecution at the hands of the military rulers of Myanmar.

The Mizoram Chief Minister also wrote to Prime Minister Modi stating that it is “Mizoram’s responsibility” to provide food and shelter to Myanmarese refugees “on humanitarian grounds”.

“It may be mentioned that the Myanmar areas bordering Mizoram are inhabited by Chin communities who are ethnically our Mizo brethren with whom we have been having close contact throughout all these years even before India became independent,” he wrote. “Therefore, Mizoram cannot just remain indifferent to their sufferings today.”

A delegation from Mizoram led by the state’s lone Lok Sabha MP met Union Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai, last week to urge the Union government to provide food and shelter to Myanmarese refugees sheltered in Mizoram.

But the Union government does not want any migrants from Myanmar to be given shelter in India.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to the governments of Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur (all these states share borders with Myanmar), and the Assam Rifles that guards the India-Myanmar border, to prevent Myanmarese nationals from entering India.

India has good ties with Myanmar’s military (known as the ‘Tatmadaw’) and does not want to allow illegal influx from the country.

New Delhi feels that such a step would be construed as an unfriendly act by the Tatmadaw, which is facing international sanctions, and push it to the embrace of the Chinese. The Tatmadaw has also helped India’s fight against North East militants.

Various groups and civil society organisations in Mizoram are now up in arms against the MHA directive.

The Mizoram Chief Minister held an online meeting with Myanmar’s ‘foreign minister-in-exile’, Zin Mar Aung, last weekend to talk about refugees from that country entering Mizoram.

Zoramthanga violated protocol since the online meeting was held without even the knowledge of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The Chin Hills are inhabited by the Zo people — tribes that come under the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group spread across Myanmar, India and Bangladesh including a host of tribes, sub-tribes and clans such as Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Zomi, Paitei, Hmar, Lushei, Ralte, Pawi, Lai, Mara, Gangte and Thadou, among others.

The Zo people owe their origin in China and migrated through Tibet to settle in northwestern Myanmar and other areas in India bordering Myanmar.

The Chins, despite being divided by an international boundary, consider themselves as ‘one people’.

Apart from their shared ethnicity, their shared religion — Christianity — also binds them together. The porous Indo-Myanmarese border has facilitated cross-migration of Chin people.

Many Mizos migrated to Myanmar between the late 1960s and early 1980s when Mizo insurgency was at its peak to escape anti-insurgency operations by the Indian Army.

A brutal crackdown by the then military junta on pro-democracy protests across Myanmar in 1988 drove hundreds of Chins to Mizoram. They have stayed back and have been integrated into Mizo society.

However, Mizos have been hostile to persecuted people from other ethnicities and religions seeking refuge in that state.

Mizos have a long feud with Chakma refugees from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh who have been brutally displaced by successive governments in Bangladesh.

The Chakmas, who are mostly Buddhists, have faced persecution in Bangladesh and successive governments in that country have embarked on a systematic policy of settling Bengali Muslims in the CHT to reduce the Chakmas to a minority in their own homeland.

Chakmas have also faced religious persecution and many Chakma men have been killed, their lands forcibly occupied, their womenfolk raped, abducted and forcibly converted to Islam.

Chakma refugees who had taken refuge in Mizoram were driven out and their hutments burnt, their meagre belongings looted during an agitation in the late 1990s that was spearheaded by influential civil society organisations in Mizoram.

Mizos number about 12 lakh, and barely a few thousand Chakmas had taken refuge in Mizoram. Even so, the Mizos drove Chakmas out of their state.

The plight of Hindus, who face persecution in Bangladesh, also face the same apathy in Mizoram.

In the face of this, it is difficult to identify the Mizo position on Chin refugees as a principled stand.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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