By M. A. Athul*
On March 18, 2019, the Mizoram State Assembly unanimously passed the Mizoram Maintenance of Household Register Bill, 2019, which aims to create registers containing the names, details and photographs of every resident of the State, on a household basis, in an effort to detect ‘illegal foreigners’.
The Bill states,
|It shall be the responsibility of every householder as well as every member of household in the State to furnish all such information, particulars and passport-size photographs of the members of the household as may be required by the registering authorities.|
The Bill further states that once the information prescribed by the State Government is received, the concerned registering authority will compile the details in two distinct registers – one for citizen residents and another for non-citizen residents of a village/area/town.
Talking about the bill, Mizoram Chief Minister (CM) Zoramthanga stated,
|Influx of foreigners into Mizoram through its porous borders has remained a serious concern for several decades. In many cases the benefit of development and welfare programmes are found eaten away to a large extent by such foreigners who clandestinely stayed back and got assimilated among the people of the State by taking advantage of the mistaken identity and of difficulties in detecting them.|
He also added that “large scale influx of foreigners and their mala fide assimilation” with the permanent residents in the villages of Mizoram has led to an “abnormal increase in the population” and poses a law and order threat.
Significantly, on March 15, 2019, Minister for Local Administration K. Lalrinliana informed the State Assembly that immigrants had set up at least 25 ‘illegal villages’ along the international border with Bangladesh and Myanmar and State border with Manipur: 16 villages in Lunglei District, four in Aizawl, three in Champhai and two in Mamit. The Minister added that, besides illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar, people from Manipur and Tripura were also residing in these villages, though he gave no estimate of the number of such people.
Though the ramifications of the Bill are still to manifest themselves, its passage clearly shows that the issue of illegal immigration is of urgent significance for the people in Mizoram, as in all other areas of the region.
Not surprisingly, the State had vehemently opposed the attempted introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019. In a significant incident which indicated the deep-rooted apprehensions regarding CAB, Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), the apex students’ body, and the Young Mizo Association (YMA), the apex Mizo youth organisation, boycotted Republic Day (January 26) and forcibly prevented two officers of the Indian Administration Service (IAS) from attending Republic Day functions in Aizawl. Moreover, no member of the general public attended Republic Day related events throughout the State as a boycott call was given by the Mizoram Joint NGO Coordination Committee, an umbrella group of civil society organisations and student bodies.
Additionally, on February 13, 2019, former Chief Minister of the State Lal Thanhawla, while attending an agitation program against CAB, held a banner which read ‘Hello independent republic of Mizoram’. Earlier, on February 12, the State observed a ‘black day’ protesting the CAB proposal. Protests were held in Aizawl and all seven District Headquarters of the State to protest against CAB. Many protesters in Aizawl held placards with statements such as ‘Welcome Independent Republic of Mizoram’ and ‘Hello New Christian Country’.
While the issue of illegal migration continues to haunt the State, the repatriation of Brus is another concern. About 30,000 Brus (5,000 families) had fled from Mizoram to Tripura in the wake of ethnic clashes with the dominant Mizos in September 1997. According to a January 2019 report, out of 5,000 refugee families who were to be repatriated to Mizoram between August 25 and September 25, 2018, following the meeting, only 150 members of 42 families actually returned.
Drug use in the State is also a serious issue. With a population of just over a million (1,097,206 according to the 2011 Census), Mizoram recorded 36 deaths due to drug abuse in 2018. According to the Mizoram Excise Department, at least 60 people died of drug abuse in 2017; 59 in 2016; 27 in 2015; and 38 in 2014. The number of drug related deaths had peaked in 2004, with 142 deaths. In 2017, the then State Health Minister Lal Thanzara had stated that there were about 25,000 drug users in Mizoram.
According to a 2014 Narcotics Department report, Mizoram makes for an attractive drug trafficking route. Vanlalruatna, President of YMA, which is also involved in actions against drugs, noted that a large proportion of drugs smuggled to the rest of the country pass through Mizoram. According to Mizoram Excise and Narcotics Department data, heroin recovery between 2013 to 2018 increased from 0.827 kilograms in 2013 to 3.126 kilograms in 2014 which climbed to 4.088 in 2015 and 4.039 kilograms in 2016. In 2017 the recovered quantity of heroin was 6.186 kilograms; and in 2018, 8.716 kilograms. (Recoveries are a tiny proportion of the total traffic and local use).
The border region of the State has also periodically faced the spill over effect of insurgency from neighbouring Myanmar. On March 11, 2019, a man from Bangdukbanga village located along the border was wounded in a landmine explosion near boundary pillar number two on the Indo-Myanmar border. Earlier, on January 15, 2018, one Indian was wounded in an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by Myanmar militants in Lawngtlai District along the Indo-Myanmar border. Separately another civilian was wounded in a similar incident along the Myanmar border.
On February 17, 2019, two additional companies of the Indian Army were moved to Lawngtlai District along the Indo-Myanmar border following fresh clashes between the Myanmar Army and the rebel Arakan Army (AA). Troops were deployed to prevent the militants from entering India and also to facilitate processing of refugees. In November 2017, around 1,750 people from the Arakan area in the Rakhine State of Myanmar took refuge in Mizoram, following clashes between AA and the Myanmar Army. On February 19, 2019, Mizoram Inspector General of Police (Intelligence & Law and Order) L. H. Shanliana disclosed that about 230 Myanmar refugees from 60 families out of 1,750 people, who entered Mizoram in November 2017, were still in Hmawngbuchhuah village in Lawngtlai District. He also added that no fresh entry of refugees into Mizoram from neighbouring Myanmar had been reported.
Amidst these irritants, through 2018, Mizoram continued to consolidate the established peace further. For the third consecutive year, the State did not register any insurgency-related fatality. The last militancy-related fatality had occurred on March 28, 2015, when three Policemen were killed in an ambush by the Democratic faction of Hmar People’s Convention (HPC-D) near Zokhawthiang in Aizawl District. Moreover, the last insurgency-related incident in Mizoram was reported on April 16, 2017, when three militants of the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram (BDFM) were arrested in south Mizoram’s Lawngtlai District, while trying to enter Mizoram from Bangladesh.
Significantly, after the signing of the Mizo Accord between the Mizo National Front (MNF) and Government of India (GoI) on June 30, 1986, the Mizo insurgent movement died out. Though no data is available for the period between July 1, 1986, and December 31, 1991, according to data available with the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) website there have been a total of 49 fatalities (15 civilians, 25 civilians and nine militants) since then (data till March 22, 2019). The groups responsible for these fatalities primarily included the United Democratic Liberation Army (UDLA), National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isaak Muivah (NSCN-IM) and Hmar People’s Convention – Democracy (HPC-D). The other groups that became active after 1991 include the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF), formed in 1996; Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram (BLFM), formed in 2003, and surrendered in 2005; the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram (BDFM), formed in 2008. Though BDFM has not surrendered, it has no noticeable presence.
Meanwhile, peace talks between the Mizoram Government and BNLF began on September 7, 2001. At least 12 rounds of talks have been held between 2001 and 2005. The Mizoram Government and BNLF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on April 26, 2005, and the group surrendered. However, in April 2018, the surrendered militants requested the Mizoram Government to implement the provision of the Peace Accord they signed with the State Government. There is no further news on this development.
In a significant development the Mizoram Government and the H. Zosangbera faction of the Hmar People’s Convention-Democratic (HPC-D-Zosangbera) on April 2, 2018, signed a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS).
The irritants which have been allowed to linger for a long time need to be addressed, lest they manifest themselves in a more serious form in the future. Given that identity politics has been rejuvenated as a result of the CAB protests, the possibility of identity-based agitations getting further momentum in Mizoram is likely.
*M. A. Athul
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management