By Veronica Khangchian
A 20-year insurgency, in what was then the Lushai Hills District of Assam (after 1972, the Union Territory of Mizoram) came to an end on June 30, 1986, with the signing of an accord between the rebel Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Government of India (GoI). The accord resulted in the creation of Mizoram as a State in February 1987. The end of the insurgency, however, only solved the ‘Mizo’ (Lushai speaking people’s) issues, leaving out the State’s minority tribes, such as the Hmars and the Brus. Nagging issues continue to feed cycles of low grade strife, and the ‘silent’ activities of the Hmar (a Mizo tribe who trace their origin to Sinlung, the location of which is unclear) militants, under the Hmar People’s Convention-Democracy (HPC-D), and the issue of Bru (Reang) refugees, remain unresolved, more than two-and-a-half decades after peace was restored to the State.
On May 24, 2012, the Hmar Peoples Convention (HPC), the main Hmar political party in north-eastern Mizoram, headquartered in the Sakawrdai area of Aizwal District, alleged that the Mizoram Government had failed to implement the Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed on July 27, 1994, between the HPC (till then an armed group) and the State Government. The 1994 Peace Agreement, which resulted in the formation of the Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC), was signed, inter alia, with the assurance that the SHDC would be elevated to a full-fledged Autonomous District Council (ADC) for the Hmars, after an interim period of two years. The matter has, however, been constantly deferred. Indeed, Hmar leaders allege that not a single assurance of the MoS has yet been fulfilled, and add that they will not continue to wait indefinitely. The HPC also accused the Young Mizo Association (YMA – Mizoram’s biggest and most influential civic organisation) of interfering in the HPC’s demand for an ADC under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, and promoting centrifugal forces among the Mizos, rather than unifying the community.
Bringing issues to a head, on April 18, 2012, the HPC-D served a ‘dissolution order’ to all YMA branches in the HPC-D demand area [the projected area of the proposed ADC] in north and northeastern Mizoram. The HPC-D accused the Central YMA (CYMA) President T. Sangkunga of making derogatory remarks against the Hmar community, and of opposing the upgradation of the SHDC to ADC status, and asserted that CYMA did not accept non-Lushai-speaking people as Mizos. Subsequently, at least 16 branches under YMA’s Tuisual tendered their resignations on April 25, 2012 – the deadline announced by HPC-D. The Tuisual group is located in Aizwal, the heartland of HPC-D’s demand area, while three other YMA groups – Tuivai, Serlui and Chalfilh – in the District, have a few branches falling under the demand area.
Meanwhile, Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana, rejecting the Hmar’s ADC demand, reiterated, “The Mizoram Government would not support any demand of the creation of ADC and other related demands; and the Government does not have any will to give any ADC in any constituency.” Lalzirliana had earlier stated, on April 25, 2012, “Three ADCs had been created in Mizoram without our consent. As Mizoram was a Union Territory at that time, we could not do anything. We are not giving any more ADC for any tribe.” The Lai Autonomous District Council had been formed on April 29, 1972; the Mara Autonomous District Council, on 29 May 1971; and the Chakma Autonomous District Council, on April 29, 1972.
The HPC-D, an armed insurgent group formed in 1995, is an offshoot of HPC. HPC entered into an agreement with the Government of Mizoram in 1994, resulting in the formation of SHDC in North Mizoram. Dissatisfied with the peace accord, some HPC leaders formed HPC-D to continue an armed struggle for Hmars autonomy. The outfit’s ‘commander-in-chief’ is Lalrupui; its ‘chairman’ is H. Zosangbera; its ‘vice-chairman’ is Elvis L. Hmar; and ‘secretary’ is David L. Hmar. The outfit is active primarily in Mizoram, the Hmar inhabited areas of Churachandpur District in Manipur, and the Cachar (with base camps in the Bhuban Hill range) and North Cachar Hills (Dima Hasao) Districts of Assam. The purported objective of the group, over the years, has changed from an independent Hmar State (Hmar Ram) consisting of the Hmar inhabited areas of Mizoram, Manipur and Assam, to an ADC covering north and northeast Mizoram. The group is now agitating to involve the Centre, so that provisions of the 1994 Peace Agreement can be implemented.
The HPC, on the other hand, is a political group launched in 1986, which went underground in 1987, after the 1986 Peace Accord failed to create a ‘greater Mizoram’ (to integrate Hmar inhabited areas of Assam and Manipur into the new Mizoram State). HPC came over-ground after the agreement in 1994.
The HPC-D entered into a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the Government of Mizoram on November 11, 2010, for six months. The SoO expired on May 11, 2011, and was not extended by the Mizoram Government on the grounds that the HPC-D was violating SoO ground rules. Peace talks with the group were supposed to start in January 2011, but the Government refused to resume talks on the grounds that HPC-D had involved a foreigner, a US citizen (Rochunga Pudaite), as interlocutor. Again, on July 27, 2011, the Mizoram Government alleged that some HPC-D militants were still engaging in illegal activities. Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla stated that the matter had been notified to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) for appropriate action.
On the same day, HPC-D declared that the SoO no longer existed, in view of the absence of any proactive interests on the part of the Government of Mizoram. On March 31, 2011, HPC-D had alleged that repeated attempts had been made by the Government of Mizoram to dictate terms and conditions outside the purview of SoO Agreement, in attempts to ‘sabotage’ the peace process.
On August 25, 2011, people belonging to different political parties took out peace processions in three villages in the North Eastern part of Mizoram, adjoining Manipur, demanding resumption of peace talks between the State Government and HPC-D militants, to find a lasting solution to the Hmar problem, and end the pall of fear under which they were living. On March 4, 2011, the Chairman, Vice Chairman and 16 members of SHDC tendered their resignations in a demonstration of support to HPC-D.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, HPC-D has been involved in 34 incidents of violence within and outside the State, since 1998. In the worst incident in the State, HPC-D gunned down four security personnel, including a sub-inspector of the Mizoram Armed Police (MAP) and injured another three in an ambush at Saipum village in Kolasib District on September 2, 2008. Following the killing, an HPC-D statement declared, “Political reasons were behind the ambush and we warn the Mizoram Government that it was only the beginning”. HPC-D has been involved in widespread extortion and intimidation, even after the signing of the SoO Agreement in 2010. A May 30, 2012, report suggests that HPC-D cadres murdered one Lalfellien (25), after abducting him on May 22, 2012. Earlier, on February 22, 2012, the State Election Commission postponed civic polls in 15 villages, following HPC-D’s alleged diktat to vote for HPC-D backed HPC candidates. All 15 villages, two under Kolasib District and 13 under Aizawl District, fell under the HPC-D demand area for the Hmar ADC.
On January 6, 2012, in an initiative to push the issue towards resolution, UMHA urged the Mizoram Government to resume dialogue with HPC-D. The Centre fears that if immediate steps are not taken, HPC-D may resume underground activities. Indeed, on January 11, 2007, when the Mizoram Government had initiated talks with the outfit, HPC-D had asked for the involvement of the Union Government, declaring, “If there is any negotiation to discuss the fulfillment of the provisions of the 1994 accord signed between the Mizoram government and the HPC, the Centre must intervene.”
Mizoram also continues to be plagued by the Bru Refugees issue. The fourth phase of repatriation of Bru refugees from Tripura to Mizoram ended unsuccessfully on May 15, 2012. Reports claimed that the Brus had raised a fresh demand for the creation of an ADC on their return to Mizoram. Significantly, on April 26, 2012, the first day of the fourth phase, Bru refugees had refused to return without a written assurance guaranteeing security, livelihood and other facilities from the Centre and the Mizoram Government. Of the 669 Bru families proposed to be repatriated in this phase, only seven returned to Mizoram.
Some 35,000 Bru refugees fled Mizoram and took shelter in six relief camps at Kanchanpur in North Tripura, following ethnic-violence of 1997. The immediate cause of the conflict (between ethnic Mizos and Bru tribesmen) was the demand for an ADC in the Bru-dominated areas of western Mizoram by the Bru National Union, a political organisation of Bru tribesmen formed in 1994. Repatriation started in May 2010, for the first time, and a total of 231 displaced Bru families consisting of 1,115 persons, returned to Mizoram. The second phase of repatriation occurred in November 2010, in which another 53 Bru families returned to Mizoram. The third phase began in April 2011 and continued till May, with more than 600 families restored to Mizoram.
There are growing apprehensions of violence by the HPC-D in Mizoram. On May 14, 2012, Security Forces (SFs) stepped up their vigil after an intelligence report indicated possible HPC-D violence. Deputy Inspector General of Police (Northern Range) Zorammawia told reporters, “Security forces led by Superintendents of Police have been conducting flag marches in various parts of the mountainous State, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh. We have asked all the Police Stations to remain vigilant over the prevailing situation, so that the tribal guerrillas do not create any violence or any kind of disturbances.” On May 11, 2012, State Home Minister Lalzirliana disclosed that a ‘large number’ of armed Police personnel were sent to the north eastern part of Mizoram adjoining Manipur to reassure the people of the area, inhabited mainly by the Hmars, that they should have confidence in the Government, despite intimidation by the HPC-D. Intelligence reports further suggested that HPC-D was planning to bomb important power lines, such as the Manipur to Mizoram line, the Loktak Hydel Project, and bridges along National Highway-54 connecting Aizawl and Silchar (Assam).
Fortunately for the Government, none of these ‘intelligence inputs’ has been realized. Nevertheless, as long as the rankling issues of the minority tribes remain unresolved, the potential for recurrence of violence in the State will remain.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management