Mizoram's strong preference for its own and Mizo society's insularity was evident on the streets of the state capital, Aizawl, on Friday (20 October).
Thousands of people marched down the streets of the picturesque city to express their opposition to a Mizo woman contesting the upcoming Assembly elections. The reason for their opposition: she is married to a 'non-Mizo'!
The lady, Meriam L Hrangchal, has been fielded by the Congress from Lunglei South constituency. Her husband, Dipen Zoliana, is the son of a non-tribal man (Niraj Singh) and his Mizo wife (Kawlhmingliani) and was born in Mizoram.
Dipen Zoliana, like other Mizos, is a Christian and follows the Mizo way of life. He possesses a 'Scheduled Tribe' certificate, speaks Mizo fluently, and considers himself to be a Mizo. His mother's family is a prominent one in Mizoram.
But according to Mizo customary law, a Mizo woman who marries a non-Mizo is no longer considered a Mizo. Children born to a Mizo lady with a non-Mizo husband are also not considered Mizos.
Hence, argues the influential Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), the apex body of students' associations in Mizoram, Dipen Zoliana is a non-Mizo, as is Meriam L Hrangchal (the Congress candidate) since she married a non-Mizo. The MZP holds that Meriam Hrangchal stopped being a Mizo the day she married Dipen Zoliana.
The MZP, which often acts as the conscience-keeper of Mizo society and wields enormous influence, had written to all political parties in December last year and again in August this year, appealing to them to field only 'Mizo' candidates.
"We held meetings with leaders of all parties and explained to them that only Mizos should be given party tickets to contest the Assembly elections. Mizos are few in numbers and it is important that only Mizos represent us in the state Assembly in order to safeguard our culture and heritage," said MZP president Lalthianghlima.
The Congress, which announced its list of candidates on Wednesday, argued that the family of Meriam L Hrangchal's husband (Dipen Zoliana) has deep roots in Mizoram. "He (Dipen) possesses a tribal certificate and should be considered a Mizo," said Congress leader Lalthanzara.
But the MZP is not impressed and has strongly condemned the Congress' defiance of its appeal. "According to Mizo customary law, a Mizo woman who marries a non-Mizo is no longer considered part of the Mizo family," asserted MZP president Lalthianghlima.
The MZP called on students and other civil society organizations to participate in a protest rally in Aizawl on Friday. The turnout at the rally was impressive, with thousands marching down the streets of Aizawl.
Participants at the rally spoke passionately about the need to protect Mizo identity and prevent non-Mizos from entering the state Assembly.
Hrangchal is one of the two women candidates fielded by the Congress for the elections scheduled for November 7. A defiant Congress has said it will not ask her to withdraw from the fray.
The MZP has issued an appeal to the people of Lunglei South Assembly seat to boycott the Congress candidate and ensure she does not get a single vote.
This is not the first time that sentiments against non-Mizos, who are pejoratively referred to as 'Vai', have surfaced in Mizoram.
Non-Mizos living, working, and conducting their businesses in Mizoram are generally shunned and face official and unofficial discrimination.
Even non-Mizos who are born in Mizoram or have stayed there for generations face discrimination.
The discrimination faced by Brus (also known as Reangs), who were finally driven out of the state during the communal strife in 1977, speaks of the antipathy in Mizoram towards non-Mizos.
The Brus, who belong to a different ethnic stock and have been staying in southern Mizoram for centuries, resisted all attempts to convert them to Christianity. They faced discrimination and terrible persecution at the hands of Mizos, who finally drove tens of thousands of Brus out of the state in the late 1970s (read this, this, this and this).
The ethnic cleansing of Brus and the horrific conditions the thousands of Brus continue to live in at refugee camps in Tripura remain a dark chapter in the history of Northeast India. Mizoram refused to take them back.
Chakmas, another indigenous group who are spread over southern Mizoram, parts of Tripura, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh, have also faced discrimination in Mizoram. There are frequent demands by Mizo organizations to expel all Chakmas, who are mostly Buddhists, from Mizoram.
Chakma and Bru community leaders say that the widespread and strong ‘Mizoram is exclusively for Mizos’ sentiment drives such insular and parochial tendencies of the Mizos (read this).
This is in stark contrast to Mizos opening their doors to about 40,000 Chin refugees from Myanmar, or the 12,000-odd Kukis displaced from Manipur. That’s because Mizos, Chins and Kukis belong to the Zo ethnic group and share close cultural and linguistic affinities. Also, they are all Christians.
Friday’s protest rally in Aizawl is symptomatic of the deep malaise of parochialism that afflicts Mizo society.
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