Two Years After Vehement Opposition To CAA, Mizoram To Admit Children Of Christian Refugees From Myanmar In Its Schools

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 3, 2021 01:08 PM +05:30 IST
Two Years After Vehement Opposition To CAA, Mizoram To Admit Children Of Christian Refugees From Myanmar In Its SchoolsMizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga.
  • Most of these ‘refugees’ are sheltered in the Champhai district and state capital Aizawl.

    The Mizoram government ignored objections raised by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and granted shelter to them.

Mizoram erupted in protests in late 2019 and early 2020 against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that seeks to provide shelter to persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from three neighbouring countries (Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan) in India.

Mizos opposed the CAA even though the state was kept out of the purview of the act. The Mizos contended that they feared they would be swamped by Hindus from Bangladesh.

Many of the protestors held up placards with secessionist slogans like "Welcome To Independent Christian Country". "Hello China, Bye Bye India", "Hello Independent Republic of Mizoram" and "Mizoram Opposes Hindu Nationalism".

No one was ever booked for these acts and Mizoram lawmakers, including former chief minister Lal Thanhawla (of the Congress), even participated in an anti-CAA protest where anti-India posters were displayed (read this).

But Mizoram opened its doors to refugees, almost all of them Christians from the Chin province of Myanmar, who started crossing over into the northeastern state to flee persecution by the military junta there.

The Chin people are of the same ethnic stock as the Mizos and apart from their shared ethnicity, the Chins are also predominantly Christians like the Mizos.

In June, the Mizoram police said that 9,247 Myanmarese nationals —politicians, government officials, police officers, businessmen and their families — had taken shelter in Mizoram. Their numbers would have gone up since then.

Most of these ‘refugees’ are sheltered in the Champhai district and state capital Aizawl. The Mizoram government ignored objections raised by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and granted shelter to them.

The MHA had sent an advisory to Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh (all these states border Myanmar) on 25 February to “stay alert and take appropriate action to prevent a possible influx into Indian Territory”.

This was followed by another letter in March asking the four states not to provide refuge to Myanmarese nationals. The MHA reminded the states that they “do not have powers to grant refugee status to any foreigner and India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol”.

In a show of hypocrisy, Mizos — who were vehemently opposed to providing shelter to persecuted Hindus from Bangladesh — staged demonstrations against the MHA’s orders and in support of providing refuge to Myanmarese nationals (Christian Chins).

Mizoram Chief Minister Pu Zoramthanga also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserting that it was Mizoram’s “duty to provide food and shelter” to the Myanmarese “on humanitarian grounds”. These noble sentiments are conspicuous by their absence when it comes to persecuted people of other faiths.

Zoramthanga explained: “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. Therefore, Mizoram cannot just remain indifferent to their sufferings today”.

Overriding the Union government’s objections, Mizoram went ahead and provided refuge to thousands of Myanmarese nationals.

A few days ago, the Mizoram education department wrote to district education officers asking them to admit children of refugees from Myanmar into schools from September onwards “on humanitarian grounds”.

Mizoram government’s director of school education James Lalrinchhanda wrote to district education officers: “I am to state that Chapter 2(4) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act-2009) mentioned that children aged between 6 and 14 years belonging to disadvantaged communities have the right to be admitted to school in a class appropriate to his or her age for completing elementary education. I therefore request you to take necessary action on admission to migrant/refugee children in your jurisdiction to school so that they can continue their schooling”.

The state’s School Education Minister Lalchhandama Ralte told reporters that the directives were meant for children of refugees from Myanmar. The decision, he said, was taken on “human and compassionate grounds”.

The minister also said that there are nearly 400 children between the ages of six and 14 years who belong to families that have fled from Myanmar. These children will be admitted to government schools from the current month.

The Mizoram government is already providing aid — food, cooking gas, clothes and shelter — to the Chin Christian refugees from Myanmar. Mizo social organisations also regularly raise money for them.

This is, however, not the first time that Chins from Myanmar have sought refuge in Mizoram. A brutal crackdown on pro-democracy activists by the then military junta in Myanmar drove hundreds of Chins into Mizoram. Many of them stayed back in Mizoram and became Indian citizens.

But Mizoram’s treatment of non-Christians has been shameful. 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 and continue to fiercely resist attempts by Chakmas to take shelter in Mizoram.

Mizoram is also very strict about Indians from the rest of the country entering the state to stay or work there. It is impossible for a non-Mizo to get a job in that state and there are severe restrictions on non-Mizos conducting any business in that northeastern state.

Mizoram, however, cannot generate its own resources to meet even a fraction of its expenses. It depends overwhelmingly on doles and grants from the Union government.

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