Mizoram: Women’s issues, development and migrants



Mizoram: Women’s issues, development and migrants Salome Phelamei

Whereas insurgency plays a crucial problem in other Northeastern states, Mizoram is the only peaceful region amongst the ‘seven sisters’ of the country. Predominantly a Christian populated state, it ranks first in India with a literacy rate of 91.1%. Bordering Burma on the east and south, Bangladesh and Tripura in the west and Assam and Manipur to the north, polling for the lone Lok Sabha seat would be held on April 16.
Besides, the state would also go for a by-poll to South Tuipui seat simultaneously on April 16.

It is being speculated that the election would witness a direct fight between the ruling Congress nominee CL Ruala and Dr H Lallungmuana, put forth by the opposition Mizo National Front (MNF) and Mizoram People`s Conference (MPC) combine. Other contestants are Rualpawla Independent candidate, leader of a hardly known organisation called the Israel National Front and Lalawmpuia Chhangte of the NCP.

In Mizoram, women voters outnumbered their male counterparts by more than 9,000 votes in the 6,29,155-strong electorate. But, not a single woman candidate, including those fielded by major political parties, were elected in the last state assembly polls held on December 2 last. Even this time, there is no woman among the four candidates contesting for the lone Parliamentary seat.

Women’s issues occupies a top spot in this year’s poll campaign besides other major current local issues such illegal immigration, unemployment, development, etc. The opposition Mizo National Front-Mizoram Peoples Conference combine is pitted against the ruling Congress led by Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla over women`s issues for not formalizing the Mizoram Divorce Ordinance, 2008 promulgated by the state government during the MNF rule.

The move was hailed by all women groups, including the Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (MHIP) or Mizo Women’s Federation, to improve the lot of the weaker sex in the strict patriarchal society. According to the Mizo Customary Law, a divorced woman does not have any claim over the family properties even if it is community properties, earned by the wife. The new Divorce Ordinance sought to change all that.

Illegal Immigration from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, which is a time bomb that will explode eventually, has shot up drastically in Mizoram and Nagaland. Latest reports put the illegal migrants at 10,000, but looking at sheer settlements of aliens, one can say the demographics of the land has been changed by Bangladeshis, as also those from other states who come here to find work. Mizoram’s neighbouring Assam saw some violence over migrants issue and has become an electoral plank for the local parties fighting for a separate state.

Unemployment is an acute problem in Mizoram. Although ranking first in literacy, many youngsters are jobless in the state. This is mainly because of the lack of local industry. The manufacturing sector, especially if it is labour intensive, provides for good deal of blue collar opportunities. Also, the service sector that has been a major growth driver in the Indian economy has also not developed sufficiently in the state.

Development is one of the main poll issues as more than 70% of the residents here are dependant on agriculture. And the main pattern of agriculture followed in the state is Jhum or shifting cultivation. Paddy, maize, mustard, sugarcane, sesame and potatoes are the prominent crops. About 30% of the state is covered with wild bamboo forests, bamboo chippings being used in paper mills, bamboo charcoal for fuel, and a type of ‘bamboo vinagar’ and also used as a fertiliser.

Although bamboo held a central role in Mizo life, the mauve and crimson flowers of the plant spell disaster. It so happened that in 1959, a famine called ‘Mautam’ was triggered by the flowerings of the plant, leading to rapid increase in the local rat population, which in turn resulted in the destruction of paddy fields throughout the Mizo Hills. To overcome this dearth, the Mizo National Front (MNF) was formed to bring relief to the people. The MNF approached the Indian government for aid, but unfortunately, their demand was unfulfilled. Then MNF fought for a separate state from the country due to its negligence to the assistance, triggering a twenty-year insurgency.

So, this naturally blessed plant is somehow said to have brought insurgency to the state. Therefore, the political leaders, particularly the government should adapt crucial measures and modernize farming, replace Jhum cultivation with horticulture and floriculture by introducing new land laws.

Perhaps Mizoram is facing cultural degradation due to immense influence of outside world, which has become a much talked about ‘ill’ for long. The state is also disturbed by the strife between different tribes and the dominant Mizos calling the shots, while a few smaller tribes feel insecure. The political parties need to take notice of the prevailing issues to get their act together and meet the needs of the people swiftly.