It's complicated
- Ruata Lungchuang

On the morning of 1st February 2021, the democratically elected government of Mynamar was deposed by the Tamdaw Myanmar’s military, since then there has been a widespread civil war going on in Myanmar with civilians up in arms against the military junta while many more are fleeing the country. Unfortunately with the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the world’s attention has been shifted away from Mynamar, but the situation in the country is only getting worst by the day. As of September 2021, the events in Myanmar can be described as a full-blown civil war as many resistance groups across the country have teamed up against the Burmese military. With little condemnation and voice from the international community, the Military junta isn’t backing up either. As recently as the 14th of September locals that live along the Indo-Myanmar border have witnessed scenes of war on the Burmese side of the border with the Myanmar military government reportedly bombing its own citizens in an attempt to secure power in the fringe border areas.

A refugee family in Mizoram
As the country plunge down into utter chaos, northeastern states, particularly Mizoram have been seeing a huge influx of Burmese refugees within the last 7 months. Now, this is not a new thing for Mizoram or other northeastern states, Northeast India in the last 5 decades have become a hotspot of illegal immigrations from Nepal. Bangladesh and Myanmar. There are several reasons behind this refugee crisis in the Northeast, Mizoram is a recipient of both Bangladesh and Burmese refugees but in today’s video, we will be taking a look at Mizoram’s dealing with Burmese refugees and how much of a headache it is for the state as well as the central government.
How it all started
Mizoram first experienced a huge influx of immigration from Burma in the ’60s. In the year 1962, after the military took control of the government of Burma, there was a great civil war in the country and many Burmese citizens fled the country and landed in Mizoram. Mizoram at that time was experiencing its own problem, there was a Mautam famine going on in Mizoram and it was on this year that The Mizo National Army started their separatist movement. Neither the Mizo District council government nor the government of India had the resources nor time to deal with the refugee crisis of that time as both were busy dealing with the MNF independence movement. The MNF movement lasted for another 30 years, and the situation in Mizoram greatly deteriorated.
As situations in Mizoram went from bad to worst many of these Burmese refugees returned to their homeland as Burma at this point was a safer option considering the raging war in Mizoram, many Mizos also fled to Burma during these troubled times. Finally, on June 30th 1985 the Mizo National front signed a peace accord with the government of India which ended the bloody separatist movement of Mizoram. As peace resumed in Mizoram the liberalization of the Indian economy followed and soon India was once again becoming attractive and easiest to get destination for impoverished Burmese citizens who were living under a ruthless military government. The late ’90s saw an increasing influx of Burmese refugees into Mizoram as well as other northeastern states, driven mostly by infighting between underground outfits in Myanmar and the military government.
Now if you see recent any statements by the people of Mizoram including CM Zoramthanga concerning Burmese refugees, you would often hear them claim that the people are their brothers and sisters and that Mizo people have no choice but to host them into their state considering the dire situations in Myanmar. There is a reason behind this and we will be coming into that eventually, however, we do need to mention that this brotherly feeling towards Burmese refugees by Mizo people is a very recent phenomenon and it has not always been the case in the past. Especially in the 90’s Burmese refugees in Mizoram weren’t living the best life, they were often heavily discriminated by the society at large, they occupied the lowest place in the society and were viewed by many Mizos as how many Americans viewed Mexican immigrants, a nuisance and a threat. The Burmese refugees on their part were no saints either as many of them got themselves into illegal activities like drug smuggling and money laundering, most communities in Mizoram would not accept anyone from Burma settle inside their area. The peaking point of Mizo people soured relationship with the Burmese refugees was reached in the year 2003 when a Burmese national allegedly raped a minor girl in Aizawl. This caused a massive uproar and civil societies called for the mass deportation of Burmese refugees from Mizoram. This led to a great exodus of Burmese refugees from Mizoram.
After the 2003 incident relationship between the Mizos and the Burmese refugees weren’t recovering and was getting worst, this was a great cause of concern for the Mizo think tank and some large Mizo civil societies. You see, the reason why most Mizos today refer to Burmese refugees as brother and sister is that most Burmese refugees in Mizoram are from the Chin ethnic community.
The Chin and Mizos are part of the wider Zo community whose homeland stretches from Chittagong hill tract Bangladesh to Chin state in Burma. Their land was partitioned into three different countries and the Chin occupied territory of this homeland, unfortunately, falls inside the modern-day country of Myanmar. Though Mizo language is not mutually intelligible with many chin languages and though there are cultural differences between the two communities, the Mizos and Chins were still part of a bigger people group who had a commonality, it is like how Odia and Bengali are different but still similar. Hence the treatment of Chin Burmese refugees by the Mizos was unacceptable and heartbreaking to many Mizo nationalist and civil societies.
Ever since the 2003 incident, the Mizo think tank has been trying to promote brotherhood between the Mizos and the Chin refugees but it didn’t seem to yield much positive result for a very long time. Burmese refugees were accused of setting up their own unauthorized villages along the border and often came into conflict with Mizo citizens throughout the late 2010s and in the year 2013, it reached a tipping point when tension erupted between Vaphai villagers and Saikhumphai alleged Burmese refugees which resulted into the burning down of Saikhumphai village. The efforts of various civil societies as well as the Mizo think tank however finally seemed to have paid off this time, the incident received widespread condemnation in Mizoram, and a powerful Music video was released in which artists downed in Chin and Mizo traditional dresses call for unity and a change of heart. The video was a hit and became viral within the Mizo media circle. This was a turning point for Mizoram. There was a great ethnic awakening in Mizoram and this coincided with the rise of BJP in 2014 which made Mizo people even more so vulnerable. We need to understand that the rise of the BJP in 2014 fuelled the revival of ethnic nationalism in all Northeastern States. People started giving more emphasis on ethnic centrism as the threat of bills like CAB and uniform civil code was looming, Mizoram was not an exception, the rise of BJP greatly boosted Mizo nationalism and the youth especially were calling for the rekindling of emotional reunification among Zo people including the Mizos and Chins across the border.
With this comes a new interest in other Zo ethnic communities that lives outside of Mizoram state and Mizo media started exploring Burma and Chin state in their programmes and were able to give first-hand accounts of just how dire the situation in Myanmar was, this further pushed even more sympathy towards the Chins of Burma. Mizo NGOs who once used to call for the deportation of Burmese refugees were now handing out donations and aid to the Chin people of Burma.
Though things for Burmese refugees in Mizoram is not all bright and sunny at the moment, opinions and perception towards the group by Mizo people have largely taken a U-turn. Yes, there still exist a certain degree of resentment, not everyone in Mizoram is happy about Mizoram taking in refugees from Myanmar. Since the second influx of Burmese refugees into Mizoram, there have been few incidents of minor conflict and vices between the Mizo people and Burmese refugees. As recently as last week, a Burmese national has been charged with murder in Mizoram, but Mizo society today have managed to look beyond the generalization of the Chin people.
It cannot be denied that Ethnicity plays a big role, but the main reason why Mizoram tolerates Burmese refugees is due to the simple fact that in spite of what you hear in the news about the state, Mizoram has always been a place where various people have sought and received humanitarian refuge. Mizoram though often portrayed as xenophobic is ironically the only state in Northeast India where refugees from both Bangladesh and Myanmar have found not only new nationality but have also wielded great political power. Mizoram has gone through a terrible famine, devastating war and political instability throughout the 20th century, it might not be wrong to suggest that great hardships have moulded Mizo society to become more sympathetic towards repressed ethnic groups.
Since India is not a signatory of any refugee convention, Mizos are left at their own device, as there hasn't been much help from the government, Mizo communities have to come together and deal with this ongoing refugee crisis on their own. The Covid -19 situation in the state is making it more challenging.

The Mizos

The Mizos is a one-man team news blog, that brings you news and stories from Mizoram, Northeast India and the rest of the World.

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