The Mizo National Front (MNF)

Indian politics is a like a smoking cauldron filled with varied interests and a successful leader as far as India is concerned is a leader who manages to keep a lid on the cauldron. To borrow a phrase from the arthashastra, a successful leader is a leader who manages to keep the nation intact.

In order to understand Indian politics we not only have to look at the two major parties, Congress and the BJP, but we also need to take a look at the smaller regional communal parties to try and understand their concerns. Communalism remains one of India’s most pressing problems and it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Even today the Kuki National Army, though there is a long standing ceasefire agreement with the Indian army, is asking for a separate state and it is an example of how ethnic aspirations, if unaddressed, can divide a nation.

Mizoram was a British colony and post the independence of India in 1947, the state was given a choice of being either a part of India, Pakistan or Burma and subsequently chose to join India and became a district of Assam.

The Mizo National Front (MNF) which spearheaded the move for a separate state was formed in 1966 but its roots date back at least 11 years earlier and it evolved from the Mizo Cultural Society which was an organization that was established to advocate for Mizo rights. The most pressing problems at that stage were communal problems but that was superseded by the mautam famine of 1959-1960.

Between 1959-1960 Mizoram was struck by a natural disaster that led to a humanitarian crisis of extreme proportions. The bamboo that grew wildly in the state’s dense forests began to flower and fruits of the bamboo plant became food for the rats and that in turn led to an increase in the rat population which quickly spiraled out of control and led to the destructions of crops which in turn precipitated widespread famine.

According to the MNF the government of Assam was warned that the bamboo would flower and that it would lead to famine but the government played in down as tribal superstition and refused to intervene and when the famine eventually did hit, there was widespread anger.

The Mizo Cultural Society changed its name to the Mautam Famine Front in 1961 to not only help with relief efforts but to also demand for a separate state which would at the very least give the Mizos partial self-governance. The organization was founded in 1961 by Pu Laldenga who subsequently, many years later, became Mizoram’s first chief minister. The Mizo Famine Front was later dissolved and changed its name to the Mizo National Front and in 1966 it launched a separatist war.

The combatants were trained by former members of the 2nd Assam Rifles, Pu Laldenga himself served as a sergeant with the army prior to entering civil service and from all account the combatants were trained in exactly the same manner that the members of the Indian Army were.

The separatist war started on the 1st of March 1966 with an attack on an army outpost in Aizawl and escalated from there. The war not only involved ground troops but also included air raids by the Indian Air Force (5th and 6th of March).

The Indian Air Force raid, in retaliation to the uprising, on Aizawl was extremely damaging and under normal circumstances the air force may not have been called in but for the fact that on the 24th of January 1966 Indira Gandhi, India’s iron lady was elected the prime minister of India and she dealt with the situation in the manner that she always did when the security of the nation was threatened, with force.

The question would later be raised as to why the government used such excessive force to deal with its own citizens and New Delhi would deny it, claiming that the raids on Aizawl were in fact routine supply drops.

The ensuing struggle would force members of the Mizo National Front to go underground and the war was fought from hideouts in jungles in and from across India’s borders. It was a desperate struggle that would compel many government and non government organizations to try and seek a peaceful solution.

However, because Mizoram was a predominantly Christian state and still remains so, some 87% of its population is Christian, church leaders, at the request of the then governor, intervened on behalf of the people of Mizoram and peace negotiations were started. In 1974 selected church leaders began to act as mediators in talks between the government and the MNF.

Talks also later began with Rajiv Gandhi who wanted an unconditional surrender but the church argued on behalf of the Mizos. Things went back and forth during which time Pu Laldenga and the Mizo National Front remained underground and finally 20 years after the MNF launched its separatist war, in 1986, a peace accord was signed and Mizoram became a separate state.

The MNF’s armed struggle is a thing of the past. It remains a political party but support for it appears to be waning with new parties like PRISM (People’s Right to Information and Development Implementation Society of Mizoram) emerging and contesting parliamentary seats and it is difficult to say how the MNF will fare in the future but things appear to be changing for Mizoram and the state appears to be heading in the right direction.

India’s Waning Vulture Population

India’s waning vulture population has set its Zoroastrian community on edge and in response the government has provided 5 million in aid to help built aviaries to help increase the number of vultures in the wild. There are nine specific vulture species that are native to India, Pakistan and Nepal and seven of those are found in the Thar desert.

An ailing vulture population wouldn’t normally pique the interest of most people and it is something that even the most ardent wildlife advocate wouldn’t too zealously pursue but the fact remains that these bald-headed scavengers do perform a very important function, a function so important that some writers have even dubbed the fall in the vulture population a national crisis.

The number of vultures in the wild has dropped dramatically from the early 80’s when the vulture population was estimated to be at about 4 million, a rather healthy total when compared to the 100,000 it stands at today.

Interestingly enough the prime cause for the fall in numbers is not urbanization due to a booming population but rather a drug called diclofenac that is used as a pain killer for cattle and when the vultures feed on the remains of dead cattle the residues of the drug that remain in the carcasses seep into the bodies of the vultures and that in turn kills the vultures. Fortunately, the drug has been banned and that should help somewhat in reviving the vulture population of India.

In 2016 the Union Environment Minister Shri Prakash Javadeka launched Asia’s first Gyps Vulture Reintroduction Program aimed at restoring the vulture population to what it was in the early 80’s i.e. to approximately 4 million.

The decline in the vulture population is especially distressing to India’s Parsi or Zoroastrian community because vultures are part of the Zoroastrian funeral rite and it is obviously something that the community wants to preserve and see continue.

Parsis who are Zoroastrians by faith neither bury nor cremate the remains of their dead but rather leave the body under the scorching heat for the sun to absorb the liquid in the body and for the vultures to feed on the flesh. From all accounts, it is over within a few hours but obviously it is very dependent or reliant on the vulture population.

According to the Zoroastrian faith upon death or once the soul leaves the body, the body becomes impure and evil spirits come to attack the flesh of the dead and these spirits precipitate disease and pestilence.

From a more contemporary or scientific perspective this believe is not wrong because decaying and decomposing flesh does promote sickness, disease and pestilence. By allowing vultures to feed on the flesh, the possibility of the decomposing flesh precipitating any type or sort of disease or illness is reduced and the vultures because of their strong beaks not only eat away at the surface flesh but also gnaw away at the bones, and consume the marrow and whatever remains inside and thereby not only arrest the spread of disease and any other forms or sickness and pestilence that may result from decaying and decomposing flesh but from a religious perspective also allow the soul to continue with the journey thereafter.

It is a common believe that as long as the body remains the soul may be prohibited from continuing with the after-death journey. In some Zoroastrian cultures the remains or what is left, though it is difficult to see vultures leaving anything behind, these scavengers normally do an extremely good job at eating away at carcasses, is thrown into a pit and left to turn to dust.

Similarly, vultures also eat away at carcasses of other animals especially remains that most people would ignore, and that further reduces the risk of plagues and disease outbreaks. All in all, these vultures perform a very important task.

It is fairly easy to see why a drop in the vulture population would be distressing to the Zoroastrians of India and hopefully with renewed attempts at reviving the population we will see a boost in numbers and even if it does not get to the 4 million it was at in the early 80’s, it should hopefully in the not too distant future get to at least half that number.

Dowry

The issue of dowries has long dominated the Indian wedding scene and despite the passage of time there seems to be no respite for girls born in below average income families. Parents who want to marry their daughters off are forced into making payments that is often beyond their means and a failure to do so often leads to abuse and other forms of mistreatment in the hands of husbands or in laws. In some parts of India and in certain communities’ dowry appears to be an accepted norm.

Approximately 8,000 deaths are recorded each year as being dowry related, some as a result of suicides and others as a result of abuse in the hands of husbands and in laws but it is fair to surmise that the figure is in reality much higher because many cases of abuse go unreported.

A lot of these women are educated, professional women, who are more than capable of bringing home a decent wage but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in some communities because despite the fact that the wife is able to bring home a decent wage or contribute equally towards the household expenses, she is still required to make some sort of a lump sum payment prior to getting married either in terms of cash, jewelry, chattels or property in order to be bestowed with the title of a good daughter in law.

Sounds like a business? Well in some instances it is. In some communities the prevalent attitude seems to be that a boy can make demands prior to marriage and there are many instances where even when then the demands are met; the girl is still abused and mistreated and despite the passage of time and the advent of modern technology and the advances in many other fields there appears to be no escape for women born in lower income families.

Let’s go back to the basics. Is it illegal to ask for dowry in India? Well according to the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, with the exception of Jammu and Kashmir, it is illegal to ask for dowry in India. The act goes on to define dowry as any property or valuable security given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly prior to marriage.

However, it is not illegal for obvious reasons, to give gifts and these gifts could be gifts of cash, jewelry, chattels or property. The act itself isn’t entirely convincing and while it says that would-be grooms cannot demand items of value as a precondition to marriage it does not say anything about giving gifts and in all instances, it only becomes an issue if the aggrieved party makes or lodges a complaint. If no complaint is made then nothing else is ever said about the matter and even if the marriage breakdowns at a later date there is nothing to compel the husband to return any items of value that he received prior to the marriage.

Obviously, no one gets married or enters into the ceremony of marriage expecting it to breakdown but nothing is certain and there are many compelling stories that suggest that the law should somehow make these gifts returnable if the marriage breaks down.

However, the penalty for accepting dowry is quite steep and if convicted the accused can be jailed for a term that is no less than 5 years so the law does to some extent protect women but then again it is a matter of these women stepping up and lodging a complaint but in most instances, many of them just put it down to hard luck.

Likewise, parents can refuse to give dowry but in most cases most parents if they can afford it and some even if they can’t afford it agree because it is a social and cultural norm and a lot of families are just happy to marry their daughters off regardless of whether the daughter is happy or not.

Now I’m not saying that these marriages don’t work, they do, but it is a 50 – 50 chance. Some are lucky and others are not. There is nothing really wrong with arranged marriages as long as they don’t put any additional strain on girls and their families.

The way things stand at present, it is not only important to give a girl an education, but it is also important to make sure that there is enough left in the kitty for her wedding and that can be quite strenuous especially considering the fact that education is not cheap and a good college degree is quite costly. It is a vicious cycle that women in the subcontinent get trapped in.

Is the situation going to get any better in the near future? From all accounts no. With the exception of a handful of writers and the occasional rhetoric from aspiring politicians no one really seems to want to address the matter.

ELCA World Hunger: DIKO Marie’s story (extended version)

 

 

Years ago, Diko and her family had no alternative but to drink from contaminated water sources. Now, with access to a newly constructed spring box, Diko is stronger, healthier and enjoying a better quality of life. This extended version offers additional interviews and highlights the role of the community in this important work. View the short version at http://bit.ly/VtlYHj.  Your gifts to ELCA World Hunger support this work in the Central African Republic and programs in nearly 50 countries around the world. For more information, visit http://www.ELCA.org/hunger.