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E-Pao! Essays - Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here?

By L. Keivom IFS(Rtd) *



Introduction
Ours is a proto-nation, a nation in-the-making, in a cocoon. Our ethnic group living in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh is conservatively estimated to number about 2.5-3 million with a rare distinction of having two full-fledged federated states, Mizoram in India and Chin State in Myanmar.

Though we claim to have our ancient roots in China and elsewhere, our modern history began barely a century ago after the advent of the British colonialist in our then undefined region where we lived independently in our city-state-like villages with little or no contact with the outside world except when we raided our neighbors occasionally. The British stopped all these for the better, imposed law and order and introduced administrative system. Then, the missionaries entered our lands to sow the seeds of the Gospel and education that quickly germinated all over. Soon, majority of our people became Christians, learned the magic Roman alphabet and came to possess a script through which we could penetrate the world of knowledge. For good or for bad, our encounter with the British and the new religion turned our world upside down and opened up new vistas. Many of the good things we have inherited as also the many ills our society has been suffering from are the outcome of visible and invisible imbalances created by this abrupt change.

The greatest harm the British Raj did to us was the bifurcation of our inhabited areas into different administrative units under their divide-and-rule policy. This arrangement seemed to matter little until formal borders were drawn up by them when we suddenly found ourselves all divided up as we are today in three different countries. On the eve and immediately after India's independence, strong voices were raised against this unholy divide by the newly formed political parties with common agenda to bring our ethnic group under one roof in the form of 'Greater Mizoram'. In what way and shape this vision will continue to evolve is any body's guess. However, we can assume that the strategies and modalities we have to adopt in realizing the dream, and what will be its final manifestation, and most important of all, our very own survival, will be determined by various internal and external factors within and outside our control. Whatever be the case, cultural unification will have to precede any form of political realization. The latter cannot be achieved without the former. This calls for a common name and a language, the fevicol of a nation.

With this haphazard introduction, let us briefly survey our present situation and suggest some possible steps that we should consider and take, with special reference to Manipur, whenever appropriate.

Political Scenario
Our ethnic group has been variously known as Chin, Kuki and Mizo/ Zomi (Chikumi), the first two being assumed names given to us by others and the last by ourselves. But there are many tribes within these groups who have preferred to be identified as a distinct tribe and accordingly registered themselves as such in Government of India's Scheduled Tribe list, thereby further complicating the meaning and interpretation of the generic terms given above. This is a divide and rule policy applied by us to ourselves because of ignorance and lack of political vision. It is a lethal dose for self-destruction. Small is not beautiful in national politics and survival. Thinking small and acting foolish is courting disaster. But why did we do it?

After our dispersal from the Chin Hills some 400 years ago, our forefathers in batches moved out and settled in clan groups in different hill locks. Because of lack of communication, each group started developing their own form of speaking and gradually formed themselves into new dialect groups. Consequently, they began to treat each other as belonging to another tribe and therefore different from each other. This tendency to highlight and give more importance to our dialect affinity than our ethnic oneness is our national curse that has been afflicting us. We have become worshippers of our respective dialect group at the expense of the growth of our ethnic unity with a common language and purpose.

Now let us turn to Manipur. What is our politics today? It is dialect politics at the ethnic level and election politics at the party level. Both have as their backbone underground elements, the Frankenstein monsters we have created but do not have the magic wand to control them. We have been caught in our own folly and hoisted in our own petard! Self-centeredness has consumed us. Like Cain, we say "Am I my brother's keeper?" Madness has taken over us. We fight and kill each other and make a public spectacle of ourselves. What a shame! If we cannot be our brother's keeper, we do not deserve to survive as a nation.

What do we do then? So long as we love to embrace our folly, we will continue to head for destruction. But the moment we realize the futility of our folly and decide to face evil bravely by placing the common interest of our ethnic group over clannish considerations, things will change for the better. We can then unitedly face the dangers lurking around us and save ourselves from being swallowed up. We must stop ourselves from remaining instruments to preside over our own funeral at the grave dug out by our foolish hands.

Socio-Economic Scenario
We have no means to support ourselves economically. Like most states in the north-east, we are depending on the center's largesse. But whatever fiscal support we have received so far from Delhi, a large chunk of it is ploughed back to the mainland India from where we get almost all our essential and critical supplies. The rest has gone to different educational institutions outside the state where many keep their children for studies. The outcome is that we have become more indebted, more dependent, more corrupt and more restive day by day.

Besides, Manipur state has no capacity to absorb the hundreds of graduates we have churned out every year. Successive ministries in the past had wasted most of their precious terms to form ministry after ministry but had little time to run the government and look into the explosive socio-economic situation. Political leadership is totally bankrupt and the moral fabric is in tatters. So what do the educated unemployed have to do? They either have to go outside the state to find jobs or remain in the state to indulge in senseless agitation and crimes to bring more misery to the people who are already groaning under the weight of our own folly.

The crux of the matter is that whether we like it or not, we have to look increasingly beyond our state for education and employment. In this regard, persons who have studied outside the state have, in terms of linguistic ability and competence, a much better chance of getting employment than the one brought up at the State's corrupted educational institutions.

It is high time we realize that the small states of the north-east with little or no economic and industrial infrastructure have very limited capacity to absorb its unemployed youths and that they have to find employment for them elsewhere. However, this realization is not enough. We must prepare the youths so that they can compete others, if not excel them. This naturally calls for revamping and reorientation of our educational system and curriculum contents to suit the job market.

Cultural Scenario
We now come to the most sensitive part of the scenario. Given the fact that for economic compulsions our youths and all the capable hands have to chance out to advance their prospects, what guarantee do we have they will continue to maintain their distinct identity and culture and that they will not get lost in the ocean of more progressive and established cultures?

We are a people highly susceptible to stronger cultural influence and even while rooted at home in our poorly lit thatched roofs, many of our youths love to ape western, if not the Bollywood, style of living, dress and music, speak in degenerated English, dabble in drugs and all forms of addiction and think and act like zombies. If they get lost so quickly even while at home, how will they survive an onslaught of city life and culture? How many generations of the children of officers studying and living outside our community survive culturally and continue to speak, read and write in our mother tongue and value our culture? We do not last even one generation!

The prognosis
This is where the danger lies. The ten tribes of Israel who formed the Kingdom of Israel had a bitter taste of this experience after their Assyrian exile in 722 BC and got lost, completely assimilated and submerged in a matter of few generations. But the tribes of Judah and Benjamin helped by the Levites who established the Kingdom of Judah at Jerusalem survived the Babylonian exile of 608 BC, returned in two batches after 150 and 164 years numbering about 125,000, rebuilt their Jerusalem and till this day stand proudly in the comity of nations. But remember this, they lost their Hebrew in the process! When they returned from exile, they came back with a Syrian-based language called Aramaic, the lingua franca of all South West Asia those days, a language spoken at the time of Christ in Israel. It does not take more than 50 years to bury a language into oblivion.

What was the magic key to their survival? Could we also draw useful lessons from their experience? The first Israeli nation, more than a million strong, was born and brought up during their 430 years sojourn and exile in Egypt. How did they survive? As we move out of our hearths and homes because of economic and other compulsions to work and live in different stations amongst a sea of strangers and exploiters, we must remember that we step into a mine of extinction and therefore be careful. If we have to survive as an ethnic entity and a nation, we must sink our petty squabbles for the common good and take a cue from the Israeli experience. If we do, we survive, if not, we perish.




L. Keivom IFS(Rtd) writes regularly to e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at keivom@vsnl.net
This article was sent by Isaac L.Intoate < isaac_intoate@yahoo.com >
This article was webcasted on February 11, 2005.


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