Aizawl/Imphal, July 2 : The Manipur violence has added to Mizoram’s refugee burden as the tiny northeastern state since 2021 has become a sanctuary for Myanmarese and Bangladeshi tribals.
Since the ethnic violence began in neighbouring Manipur on May 3, the displaced tribals have started taking shelter in Mizoram and their number has crossed 12,200.
After the military takeover in Myanmar in February 2021, thousands of Myanmarese fled to Mizoram with around 35,000 men,women and children from that country staying in the mountainous state.
Over 7,000 tribals have also sheltered in Mizoram after trouble broke out in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of southeast Bangladesh.
The tribal refugees have fled from their native villages in the CHT after an armed conflict started in mid November last year between the Bangladesh Army and the Kuki-Chin National Army (KNA), also known as Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF).
The KNA is an underground militant outfit, demanding sovereignty for the Chin-Kukis residing in Rangamati and Bandarban districts of mountainous CHT and to protect the tribals’ tradition, culture and livelihood.
The leaders of the Bangladeshi tribal refugees said that after the armed conflict with the KNA started in November last year, the Bangladesh Army accompanied by Myanmar’s Arakan Army raided many villages, and assaulted and arrested many tribals while some were forcibly sent to jail. They were prevented from going from one village to another.
After the Army’s crackdown, many tribals are missing, one of the tribal leaders said, adding : “We were totally unsafe in our villages. The Muslim people are boycotting us socially. We used to sell our agricultural and horticultural produce in the markets but the Muslims refused to buy anything from us.”
In Christian dominated Mizoram, the tribal group is unified under one banner called ‘Mizo’, while in Bangladesh they are referred to as Chin-Kuki and Chin or Laimi or Zomi in Myanmar.
The Chin-Kuki tribals and the Mizos in Mizoram belong to the Zo community and share the same culture and ancestry besides they are all Christians. The Kuki-Chin community in Bangladesh belongs to the Mizo community and the Mizo tribal communities, which consist of different tribes, are sometimes known as Zofate or descendents of Zo.
Belonging to the Zo ethnic community, the tribals began trickling in after ethnic strife broke out in Manipur, where so far 125 people have been killed, 450 injured while property including houses, vehicles and shops have been either burnt or damaged in the two- month-long ethnic hostilities.
The Mizoram government has been asking the Centre to recognise the Myanmarese, sheltered in Mizoram, as refugees and grant funds to provide food and relief to all the people from Manipur, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
But the Central government is yet to provide any financial assistance for the displaced people from Manipur and the refugees from the neighbouring countries.
The people from Manipur, Myanmar and Bangladesh are lodged at relief camps in all the 11 districts in Mizoram, while a large number of them live outside the relief camps — in relatives houses, rented houses, church complex, community centres.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga has written two letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 16 and May 23 and sought financial support of Rs 10 crore to provide relief to the displaced people from Manipur.
Mizoram Home Commissioner cum Secretary H. Lalengmawia said that a delegation from the state led by Tourism Minister Robert Romawia recently met officials of the Union Home Ministry including Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and requested them to release Central funds to provide relief to the displaced people.
“The response of the MHA officials’ was positive. But we are yet to receive any financial support. We are expecting funds from the MHA,” said Lalengmawia, who was also part of the delegation.
Amidst tribal Kuki communities, various organisations and 10 MLAs in Manipur are demanding to create separate administration (equivalent of a separate state) for the tribals, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga said that the Mizo National Front (MNF) has been working for the unification of all Zo tribes for over six decades.
Zoramthanga, who is the president of the ruling MNF, while addressing party members at Saitual last week, said that he recently told Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh that his party has been sincerely trying to integrate all the tribes of the Zo community under one administrative set up since 1961.
After coming overground in 1986, the erstwhile militant outfit MNF was converted into a political party and was recognised as a state party by the Election Commission.
After the signing of the Peace Accord in 1986, ending two decades of strife and insurgency spearheaded by the MNF, Mizoram became the 23rd state of India on February 20, 1987.
The MNF supremo said that the question of unification of Mizo inhabited areas of Mizoram’s neighbouring states to form one administrative set-up under the concept of “Greater Mizoram” was one of the demands of the MNF, and the issue was raised during the peace parleys with the Indian government before signing of the agreement 37 years ago.
“The unification of all ethnic Zo or Mizo tribes in India and bringing them under one administrative unit was one of the main aims of the founders of MNF, including Laldenga, who was the Chief Minister of Mizoram from August 1986 to October 1988”.
The Mizoram Chief Minister, however, said that the state (Mizoram) cannot directly interfere in the internal affairs of Manipur on the issue of ‘Greater Mizoram’ or unification of Zo or Mizo tribal inhabited areas in Manipur with the state.
“The unification initiatives should come from ‘our kindred brothers’ in Manipur as the issue of unification of Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Hmar-Zomi tribes should not be imposed,” he observed.
Zoramthanga’s statement came close on the heels of the separate administration demand, raised by 10 Kuki MLAs of Manipur (seven of them belong to the ruling BJP), the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) and Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM).
The Kuki-Hmar-Mizo-Zomi-Zo ethnic group shares close ethnicity with the Mizo people in Mizoram..
Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the Manipur Chief Minister have on a number of occasions rejected the separate administration demand and categorically said that the territorial integrity of Manipur will be protected and under no circumstances it will be compromised.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at email@example.com)