Mizo Insurgency Vis-as-vis Human Rights

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The Mizo Insurgency was broke out in 1966 with the declaration of Mizoram Independence from the Indian Union by the Mizo National Front. The insurgency (Independence movement as called by the Mizo National Front) which lasted for two decades long period of years and the counter insurgency measures taken by the Indian government brought untold misery and sufferings for thousands and thousands of the people of Mizoram.

However, there is lack of studies on the matter and is still a matter of great challenge for scholars, writers till today. In this paper attempt will be made to highlight factors which urged the Mizo people to go for the resort of declaring Mizoram Independence.

Social condition, political drives, influence of the human rights movement elsewhere in the western countries as well as the United Nations, the inadequate treatment from the government of Assam to meet the scarcity of food grains caused by Bamboo flowering which resulted to severe famine will be dealt at some length. The human rights violations out of the counter insurgency measures from the Indian Army to subdue the uprising in the region will be focused.

Factors responsible for the movement.

1. Effects of Political Party ambition.

Amongst many other things, the beginning of political consciousness among the Mizo during the middle of the 20th Century was an important factor for the outbreak of insurgency in Mizoram. The first political party in Mizoram, Mizo Union (MU) formed in 1946 was largely supported by the commoners. The party right from the starting demanded for abolition of the traditional system of administration, I,e, the Sailo chieftainship.

The political party developed itself to a strong political party within a short period of its existence and thereby won the District Council elections in 1952, 1957 and 1962. However, the unprepared mind of the Mizo people for the operation of the democratic principle.

Moreover, rapid social developments due to the development in education, change in life style, adverse consequences of abolition of traditional chieftainship and many other things sowed the seeds of hunger for some radical changes among the youths. During this period, certain section of the population propagated cessation from the Indian Union. This radical political propaganda drove mainly Mizo youth and most of the followers of this ideology were anti Mizo Union. In such a situation, an abled leader, Laldenga started a movement in the form of social organization Mizo Cultural Society and Mizo National Famine Front. The Mizo National Famine Front was later converted into political party, Mizo National Front (MNF) on 22 October 1961.

As mentioned before, the formation of the first political party MIZO UNION in 1946 and its policy of abolition of Sailo Chiefs and its advocating of joining India attracted majority population. The Mizo Union stimulated the old sentiments of Mizo that they are under no control of others. The growing emotion was caught by the newly formed political party MNF and took the advantage of it and reached to the point that independence declaration became something a must. In other words, it can be said that the rise of political consciousness among the Mizo in the 1950s and 60’s contributed for the independence movement.

2. Influence of Human Rights Movement Elsewhere.

The birth of the United Nations in 1945, its efforts for the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 by the General Assembly had great influence upon the Mizo youth especially of followers of Laldenga. Having learned something from human rights movement in some western countries, leaders of Mizo National Front accused the Indian Government of doing injustice upon the Mizo in the form of illegal persecution, torturing, manhandling and murder, etc. They alleged the Indian Government of doing some measures of religious, cultural and economic assimilation of the Mizo as well. Most remarkably, they blamed the Indian Government for ruling Mizoram very much against the consent of the Mizo which in their opinion is very much in contravention of the law of nature/human rights. To regain these rights, fighting of Mizo independence from India became imminent to them.

Calling the Government of India unworthy and unfit to rule over Mizoram, as many as 50 party leaderships of MNF made vehement appeal to the Indian Government for independence thus finally declared Mizoram Independence. In the Independence Declaration, they explicitly highlighted certain points of criticism of the Indian Government as follows,

1. They (The Indian Government) have instituted Government to rule over us in our own country without any respect for human rights and dignity even in the face of the present candid world, which is committed to these rights and dignity.

2. They have been following a policy of exploitative measures in their attempt to wipe out Christianity, our sole religion and no consideration has ever been paid to our national way of life.

3. They have been preaching through the world as if they have instituted a separate administrative machinery in conformity with the principles of democracy to conceal their degeneration of our national morality and of assimilation while had been instituted for us is a pattern of colonial administration.

4. They refuse to not only procure supply food and arrange other form of assistance in times of famine, but also prohibited us from seeking and receiving assistance from friendly countries, which resulted in the death of many people.

5.They have instituted a multitude of officers, who lead an immoral life, cruelly appeasing to our womenfolk to commit immorality with them by taking advantages of their official capacity and of the position they occupy in the administrative machinery.

6. Taking advantage of economic frustration of the people, they subject us to economic slavery and force us to enter into the door of poverty.

7. Curbing freedom of expression, our patriot are arrested and kept in jails without displaying any form of justice.

8. The export facilities, which we used to enjoy during the pre-Indian domination, have been totally closed.

9. Without exploring our country’s economic resources in agriculture, industries and mining and giving no consideration for their development, they maintain suppressive measures against our economic rights.

10. Realizing the importance of our country to India in its defence strategy, the Government of India is establishing military base throughout our country and thereby creating an atmosphere of cold war while nothing is done for its economic and social development.

11. In spite of our repeated appeals for peaceful settlement of our rightful and legitimate demand for full self-determination, the Government of India is bringing exploitative suppressive measures employing their military might and waging war against us as done in the case of the Nagas and the Kashmiris.

12. Owing to absence of medical facilities in our country, our people died without having medical facilities and attention.

In the text of Declaration of Independence, it was expressly mentioned the concern of human rights thus,
They (Indian Government) have instituted Government to rule over us in our own country without any respect for human rights and dignity even in the face of the present candid world, which is committed to these rights and dignity.

The memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister of India by the Mizo National Front General Headquarters, Aizawl, Mizoram on October 30, 1965, also contained concerns on Human Rights, thus, “While the present world is strongly committed to freedom and self determination of all nationals, larger or small, and to promotion of Fundamental Human Rights; and when the Indians leaders are strongly wedded to that principle, taking the initiative for and for championing the cause of African countries even before the world body, particularly deploring domination and colonization of the weaker nationals by the stronger, old or new, and advocating peaceful coexistence, settlement of international disputes of any kind through the medium of non-violence and in condemning weapons that can destroy the world, and in general wishing a good will towards mankind, the Mizo people firmly believed that the Government of India and their leaders will remain true to their policy and that a they shall take into practice what they advocate, blessing independence per principle that no one is good to govern another man without that men’s consent”.

“…For this end it is good will and understanding that Mizo nation voices her rightful claim and legitimate claim and the government of India in their turn and in conformity with unchallengeable truth expressed and resolved among the text of human rights by the United Nations in its August Assembly that in order to maintain peace and tranquility among mankind, every nation, large or small, may of right be free and independent, shall set the Mizo nation to work out her own destiny, to formulate her own internal and external policies and shall accept and recognize her political independence…”

It is no wonder here that the Mizo during the Second World War made remarkable contribution for the British Government and were all well versed about the conclusion of the Second World War at the initiative of the United Nations. They were a bit enlightened about the UN dear objectives of the maintenance of international peace and the promotion of fundamental human rights and the recognition of the rights of self-determination of the nations, large or small. All these made the Mizo people to believe that the UNO would ever be ready to help Mizo people in getting independence at any time. Though MNF party not specifically mention goal of Mizoram independence as party aims and objective, it emphasized on –

  • Integration of all Mizo ethnic groups under one government possessing the highest degree of freedom.
  • Upgradation of the status, and the development of the economic conditions, of the Mizo people.
  • Safeguard of the Christian religion.

It is obvious from the above points that leader of MNF party was much influenced by the Human Rights concepts as well as the movement in the western societies.

Inefficiency of the Assam Government and Mizo District Council to handle famine hardship. Apart from the above points, it can be said that the social context at that time provided an ideal ground for the feeling of alienation from the Indian mainstream due to inadequate help from the Assam Government in the event of Mautam Tam (famine caused by bamboo flowering and subsequent devastating effect of rapid growth of wild rodents that destroyed crops in the jhum).

The famine during 1959-60 caused acute hardship to the population and at the same time Assam Government did not properly head most of the cries for help. As Lalchungnunga cited the situation, the general feeling of the people was against the District Council for its incapability of handling real situations, and against the Government of Assam for its step-motherly treatment and against the whole of India because they held a general opinion that India could not be different from Assam, though the Mizo had not had any direct relations with the Central Government.

Thus, maltreatment from the Government of India towards Mizo sowed the seeds of feeling of alienation, which took the extreme form and thereby decided to go for the resort/option-independence from India which in their opinion the most appropriate and inevitable.

As a matter of fact, the situation was tense enough that little was need to ignite the visionless youngsters who were thirsts for something radical change. Laldenga who earned strong support from the youth therefore declared Mizoram Independence on 1 March 1966 that immediately landed the region into two long decade insurgency problem. (1966-1986)
Counter Insurgency Measures and Human Rights Violations

Immediately after the Declaration of Independence by the MNF the Government of India condemned the movement as secessionism and insurgency and then launched counter insurgency operations in such rude and brutal forms bringing serious violations of human rights in the region. Here an attempt is made to highlight various sufferings, violation of human rights caused by the counter insurgency measures adopted by the Government of India.

1. Promulgation of Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958.

Immediately after receiving information about the outbreak of independence movement in Mizoram, Government of Assam sent a special team to study about the real situation in Mizoram and as per the recommendation of the team, the Government of Assam declared the Mizo District as a Disturbed Area on March 2. 1966.

The outbreak of armed rebellion in Mizoram that disturbed normalcy, law and order attracted attention of the Indian Parliament. The then Minister of Home Affairs GL Nanda on March 3, 1966 reported the matter in the Parliament as under; ‘There is enough evidence to come to the conclusion that these acts are part of a campaign by misguided extremist elements in the Mizo National Front to back their demand for independence. Governments are determined to put down the disturbances with utmost firmness and speed, and to restore peace and order. They are confident these will be achieved within a short period.

On March 6, 1966, MNF was declared unlawful. The Extraordinary Gazette Notification of the Government of India published in March 6, 1966 cited that the MNF activities are ‘prejudicial to the security of the Mizo district in the state of Assam and the adjoining parts of the territory of India”. The Government of India made Rule 32 of the Defence of India Rule 1962 applicable to Mizo District, which greatly enlarged the power of the Armed Forces.

Promulgation of Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958 in the area brought rampant violations of human rights of the people in the forms of committing atrocities like opening of houses and looting of properties or forcible burning of houses by the members of the security forces. Rape and other deplorable activities became common, not only in Aizawl town but throughout Mizoram.

The most unfortunate part of the context was that by virtue of the Armed Forces Special Power Act the army personnel were empowered with such an extreme powers and that they took the administration of the area and then launched the counter insurgency combing operation with almost no limits. They did whatever they feel necessary for curbing the situation because they were given enormous powers by the Act itself. For example, under section 4 of the said Act, (as amended, 1972) conferred the power upon any commissioned Officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or any other person of equivalent rank in the armed forces following powers,

a) If he is opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapons or of fire arms, ammunitions or exploitive substances.

b) Destroy any arms dump, prepared or fortified position or shelter from which armed attacks are made or likely to be made or are attempted to be made, or any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or utilized as hide out by armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offences;
c) Arrest without warrant, any person who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence and may use such force as may be necessary to affect the arrest;

d) Enter and search without warrant any premises to make any such arrest as aforesaid or to recover by person believed to be wrongly restrained or confined or any property reasonably suspected to be stolen property or any arms, ammunition or explosive substance believed to be unlawfully kept in such premises, and may for that purpose use such forces as may be necessary.

As equipped with such vast powers, the army in operation in the area undertook the counter insurgency operation. Various brutalities and inhuman treatment given to the general population was such shameful degree that the ideals of right to life, right to freedom of expression and question of justice never gain a ground. Arbitrary arrest, detention without reasonable ground, molestation of innocent women just on ground of suspicion of showing faith to the undergrounds, rape of Mizo women, inhuman treatment or torturing of innocent on ground of suspicion, etc were common incidents.

It was a fact that human rights were trampled upon during those days as the Act itself gives shelter for the unaccounted army personnel. Section 6 of the Act says, “No prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted, except with the previous sanction of the Central Government, against any person in respect of anything done or purported to be done in exercise of powers conferred by regulation. While the armed forces personnel were thus given a free hand without any accountability, the affected people were not provided any legal redress.

2. Village Grouping

Another harsh measure adopted by the Government to counter insurgency was introduction of the Scheme of Grouping of Villages. The government introduced the scheme to subdue MNF volunteers who had a strong control of the far-flung areas or the remote villages where the Indian Army could not maintain their upper hand. The scheme was carried out in different stages and the first phase was done under the scheme of “Protected and Progressive Villages” under the provisions of the Defence of India Rule, 1962.

The second category of grouping was done in 1969 under the scheme of, “New Grouping Centres, under the Provisions of the Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1953. The third category of grouping called, “Voluntary Grouping Centres” was ordered again in 1970 under the same provision of the Provisions of the Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1953. The fourth and last category called “Extended Loop Areas’ was ordered again in the same year of 1970 under the same provisions.

The main objective of introduction of Village Grouping was physical elimination of the MNF volunteers and of course to subdue the underground movement. In fact it was done to crush all the elements of zeal for independent and to show their superiority over the insurgents, which however, had brought untold sufferings to the people of Mizoram. About 5200 villages were affected by the scheme. The scheme caused acute human trauma to the villagers. In the process of grouping, the Indian Army would move and surround the notified villages before dawn, issue quick notice to the villagers to take their belongings, and move to the new site. The old abandoned villages with their granaries were then burnt.

Vumson clearly describes the situation, thus… “In many instances villagers were forced to move out of their old dwellings at gun-point because they were reluctant to leave what they had been their homes for generations. In most cases, the villagers had to leave on one day’s notice. There was no time to pack their belongings and it was not possible to carry everything at one time. Animals had to be killed and food grains had to be hidden in the forest. If there was no time to hide food grains they were burnt with the houses.

As soon as the people left the place, the army personnel ransacked the houses, keep the valuables for themselves and then burn them down. Hidden food-grains in the forest when discovered were taken away by the troops and hoarded or villagers were ordered to burn them.

Such forcible resettlement of villages greatly destroyed the traditional economic system that had adverse effects on the social structure. It brought severe economic stress and landed the rural populations to the verge of acute famine. There was no significant step for rehabilitations of the affected villagers. Everything was done arbitrarily and more sadly there was no system of seeking redress for the grievances. Villagers had no option but to comply with the orders of the army personnel. Thus, the period between 1966 and 1970 can be called as the darkest period in the course of movement as most of the human trauma and tragedies happened during this period.

During the course of the present study, one of the victims named C.Zakhuma, villager of Buhban, somewhere around 100 km away from Aizawl, now residing in Bethlehem Vengthlang, Aizawl informed the writer, that, “One day a group of army personnel on their return from their regular patrolling, angered by their failure to trace the underground, ordered the whole villagers to gather on the top of the hill lying in the middle of the village. All the men folk were forced to lie on the ground and forced them to slide around the Church building. People including himself  while moving on the ground around the hill were kicked and beaten by the army.

In the meantime, some army men forcefully separated two unmarried girls X and Y (real name not disclose) from the other and undressed them almost naked at the sight of others. The Village Council President of the village was hanged up side down on the tree in the middle of the open ground of the village street and beaten him up to unconsciousness. The Army not yet satisfied with their extreme behaviour then burnt all houses to ashes. The whole village was then forced to join Khawruhlian Grouping Centre and the village was deserted on 19th December 1967.” It all happened in the year 1967 and within this year the whole village was burnt to ashes three times. The sufferings of the villagers were that all their properties were burnt to ashes and atrocities done upon them were beyond account.

3. Army Excesses killing many innocent people.

Saihlupuii, blood relative of victim of Army atrocities during the insurgency, recounts a tragic event in 1975 which resulted to the death of innocent villager named Saizatawna, 45 s/o Saithuama, villager of North Chaltlang village of northern Mizoram. She narrated “One day, he (Saizatawna) father of three kids, a farmer, was on his return from the rice field carrying a country made gun made by him only for protection of his field from the attack of wild animals, he suddenly was about to meet army patrolling. Just before the army reaching at him, he could somehow manage to hide his gun which the army strictly prohibited.

Unfortunately he could not throw away the cartridge and bullets kept in his pocket. Meanwhile the armies were reaching at him immediately. The Army then caught him for keeping the cartridge inside his pocket and then arrested accusing him as an underground outfit. It was then his fate to breathe his last. He was confined the whole night getting every torturing up to dead. The villagers heard the sound of his suffering of unbearable torturing the whole night. No one was allowed to visit or see him during that whole night when they tortured him; his relatives were informed to collect the dead body the next morning. Everybody knew that he was neither underground volunteer nor has any connection with the underground movement”. Similar types of arbitrary arrest, detentions and even killing of innocent persons were common incidents during those days.

Another incident that came out of the exercise of military powers took place in Kolasib in 1966 is recorded. “In Kolasib, 50 miles of Aizawl, the army rounded up all the men folk of the village, about 500 of them. The Security Force gathered and made to lie them down on the ground on their stomachs and then were kicked, beaten, and confined for the night. At night groups of soldiers moved about the village. They broke into the houses, helped themselves with everything of value-clocks, sewing machines, clothes etc… and raped the women”.

he same shocking incident that took place in Kolasib at the same time as recorded was, “There was the case of a woman in an advance stage of pregnancy-Lalthuami, wife of a cultivator, Lalkhangliana. Five soldiers appeared in her house one night, took the husband out of the house at gun-point and then while two soldiers held the woman down, the third committed rape”.

The inhuman trauma caused to the Mizo by the Indian Army during the insurgency period resulted to the death of 2116 innocent people. Due to army atrocities countless number of men were made handicapped or physically disabled. Moreover, around 600 villages, more than 30000 houses were burnt to ashes and even the Church buildings were not spared in many villages. The army with no compensation arbitrarily confiscated around 4000 guns; the Mizo valued most among their possessions.

In all such incidents, the Mizo suffered silently as there was no any institution or agent to which the victims can resort to for the relief or seeking redress for their grievances. It was all a nightmare that the whole populations were made subservient to the power and authority of the Security Forces. All these things happened during all through the insurgency period which had lasted for two decades. There could never be the any other experience in Mizoram which can be compared with the sufferings, denial of basic human dignity and life, fundamental human rights. It will remain the saddest memory which the whole Mizoram can never forget.

References:

  • Text of the MNF Declaration of Independence on 1.3.1966
  • Ibid
  • MNF Pawl Thiltumte Hrilhfiahna (An explanation of the MNF’s Aims and Objectives) November 16, 1962, p.1
  • Lalchungnunga, Mizoram: Politics of Regionalism and National Integration. Reliance Publishing House New Delhi 1994. P. 81
  • Parliament Debates. Vol. 55, No. 10-22, February 28 march17, 1966.
  • Nunthara, C. Mizoram, Society and Polity. Indus Publishing Company, New Delhi. 1996. p. 201.
  • Sajal Nag. State Atrocities as History. Counter Insurgency Operations and Human Rights Violations in North East India. Human Rights and Insurgency in Northeast India. Shipra Publications. New Delhi 2002. p. 68.
  • Nunthara,C. Op. cit., pp 5.6.
  • Vumson, Zo History, Aizawl, p.p. 284-285.
  • G.G.Swell and J.J.M.Nicholas Roy, Suppression of Mizos in India: An Eye Witness Report. This report was submitted to the Govt. of India, 1966. A smuggled copy of which was later published in Pakistan by Freoze Sons, Karachi.
  • Ibid
  • Thangmura,C. Human Rights leh kan Khawtlang Nun (Mizo) (Human Rights and Mizo Social life) Chhinlung Vol. XII, Bangalore Mizo Association, Annual Magazine 2000-01. p.69.

By

Dr. C. Lalhmanmawia

Assistant Professor (Political Science

Government Kolasib College

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