North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Mizoram’s bond with people fleeing Myanmar


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Chin ethnic community

Mains level : Myanmar coup and its impact on India

Mizoram CM has expressed his sympathies for the people fleeing areas bordering Mizoram. These areas are inhabited by Chin communities who are ethnically Mizo.

Map reading: Note all NE states bordering Myanmar.

Who are the Chin communities?

  • The Chin Hills, or the Indo-Chin hill ranges as they are often called, are a mountainous region in north-western Myanmar.
  • At an elevation of 2100-3000 metres, this heavily- forested mountain region was the home of numerous tribes that fall under the Zo umbrella.
  • The Zo people include all the tribes that come under the Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group spread across Myanmar, India and Bangladesh.
  • They include a host of tribes, sub-tribes and clans such as Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Zomi, Paitei, Hmar, Lushei, Ralte, Pawi, Lai, Mara, Gangte, Thadou etc.

Their ethnic origin

  • Believed to have originated in China, the tribes migrated through Tibet to settle in Myanmar, and speak a group of the Tibeto-Burman languages.
  • But constant feuds among clans of different tribes and their kings (chieftains), drove many of the clans westwards, towards Mizoram and some parts of Manipur, in the 17th century.
  • Here the tribes set up new villages and colonies, but even with their new identities, they remain socially and emotionally tied with the Chin tribes of Myanmar.
  • When British rule extended towards the Northeast, Mizoram was denoted an “excluded area” and remained outside the administration of the British, governed only by the Scheduled District Act.

Nature of the bond with Mizos

  • While they are separated by a 510-km India-Myanmar border, they consider themselves “one people’’ despite past conflicts: the Indo-Chin people.
  • Besides the shared ethnicity, what binds these two peoples together is a shared religion.
  • Mizoram is predominantly Christian, as are the Chin people of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
  • Mizoram officials refer to the refugees’ status as a Christian minority people in seeking asylum for them, and also the fear of persecution by the junta.
  • Rih Dil in Chin state, Myanmar, is a cultural and spiritual lake for the Mizos, deeply revered in folklore, shaping pre-Christian belief of traditional Mizo views of life after death.

How well are the two sides connected?

India’s Look East, Act East policy and greater interactions on the border have strengthened an already strong connection between the people on either side of the border.

  • The Mizoram-Myanmar border is porous, with very little fencing, if any.
  • While the latest influx has been driven by the coup, Myanmar residents have been crossing this open border for decades.
  • It is understood that the actual number of refugees is much higher, with more arriving every day.
  • In the early 20th century, Mizos from Champhai district and elsewhere migrated to Myanmar, setting up villages in the Kalay-Kabaw valley.
  • Many are believed to have joined the Myanmar army for lucrative employment.
  • Many Mizo families also migrated to Myanmar in 1966 and 1986, when the Mizo National Front sought secession from India, to escape counter-insurgency operations from the Indian government.

The Free Movement Regime

  • The Mizo social fabric spans across the border, which now separates families.
  • The two countries have an arrangement called the Free Movement Regime (FMR) that allows locals on either side to go up to 16 km on the other side and stay up to 14 days.
  • Thousands regularly cross over on either side for work and to meet relatives, often unofficially and for extended periods.
  • Marriages are often arranged across the border.

Trade dependency on Myanmar

  • In border trade, Mizoram depends to a large extent on Myanmar for many essential commodities including beef, pork, good quality rice, fruits, and household utensils.
  • Mizoram sends across items scarce in Myanmar such as medicines or fertilisers.

What is India’s policy on asylum seekers?

  • India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and it does not currently have a national law on refugees.
  • In 2011, the Centre circulated to all states and UTs a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claimed to be refugees.
  • An illegal immigrant can be a foreign national who enters India on valid travel documents and stays beyond their validity or a foreign national who enters without valid travel documents.
  • Cases can be justified on grounds of well-founded fears of persecution on account of race, religion, sex, nationality, ethnic identity, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
  • They can be recommended by states or UTs to the Home Ministry for a long-term visa (LTV) after due security verification.

Note: LTV-holders are allowed to take up private-sector employment and enrol in any academic institution.

What is happening in Mizoram right now?

  • The Mizo Zirlai Pawl, the apex Mizo students body, on February 3 held a sit-in demonstration in Aizawl in solidarity with the people of Myanmar.
  • Several Mizo village council authorities have issued letters and statements affirming their willingness to accommodate Chin refugees.
  • The CM gave an assurance in the Assembly that the state government would be ready to provide assistance to civilians fleeing the Myanmar regime.

Way ahead

  • With the swell of sympathy among Mizos for the fleeing Chin people and increasing pressure on the state government, it is unlikely that Mizoram will back down any time soon — unless the Centre devises a way out.

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