[I] Lushai Hills: In the Lushai Hills, Khawtinkhuma and Vantuama signed the incorporation of Lushai Hills to India on the condition that the Lushai’s will be allowed to opt out of the Indian Union when willing to do so subject to a minimum period of ten years. In this regard, Lalchungnunga remarks thus:
‘The Mizo Union’s option to join India through Assam was not without conditions. They reserved the possibility of opting out again after ten years, if the future trends did not seem to favour the fulfilment of their aspirations.
Vanlawma did not accept the incorporation of Zoram into the Indian Union. He differed with the Mizo Union and formed the Mizo Cultural Society. In the 1950’s a famine called MAUTAM broke out in the Mizo Hills. This famine devastated the entire Mizo Hills. The Mizo Cultural Society did a yeoman’s service to combat the famine. They formed a special committee called MIZO NATIONAL FAMINE FRONT to render voluntary service to the people most affected by the famine. The Mautam of the 1950s was very severe and there was popular discontentment against the Indian Government over the poor tackling of the famine. The insensitivity of the Government of India revived in the people the dreams of their own independence.
In 1964-65, ‘independence’ became a burning issue among the Mizo intellectuals and college students. When the famine was over, on October 28, 1961, the Mizo National Famine Front was converted into a political party called the Mizo National Front (MNF) under the leadership of Laldenga. The original aims and objectives of MNF, according to a booklet published by the party include, ‘integration of the entire Mizo ethnic group under one government processing the highest degree of freedom.’
Laldenga, the MNF President, accompanied by Lalnunmawia and Saihngaka, went to East Pakistan in the first week of December, 1963. They were well-received and the Pakistanis promised them a base, arms and some money.
On 30th October, 1965, the Mizo National Front (MNF) submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India for granting freedom and aimed to fight it through non-violent means. The Memorandum was ignored by the Indian Government.
On March 1, 1966, the Mizo National Front (MNF) declared Independence and set up its own government. It had a President and a Council of Ministers, in charge of Home, Defence, Foreign, Finance and Public Information. The MNF frantically and secretly began preparing for taking over the military and civil administration of the Mizo District.
All the towns of Mizoram viz. Aizawl, Lunglei, Champhai, Vairengte and Chhimluang were encircled by a 2000 strong Mizo National Volunteers Force to strike at ‘zero-hour’ – One o’clock of March 1, 1966. They successfully struck at the appointed time. The engagement continued till March 3, 1966 when Aizawl fell to the hands of the MNF. After this heroic and momentous event, Mizoram became the centre of world attention.
On June 1, 1966, the MNA (Mizo National Army) successfully attacked the Burmese Army garrison at the four Zomi towns of Falam, Tedim, Tamu and Tuipang. However, the MNA returned to Mizoram at the request of Lt. Col. Ngozam, the Commander of the 23rd Burma Regiment, who was a Zomi.
A military campaign to crush the Mizo rebellion in Mizoram was carried out swiftly and brutally by the Indian government. The brutality and atrocities committed upon the Mizo/Zomi civilians – men, women and children – is said to be the greatest brutality the Indian Army perpetrated upon a civilian population in the Indian military history. Gen (Retd) DK Palit had remarked thus:
“… 5th March was the crucial day. At last, at 1130hrs came the air strike, IAF fighters strafing hostile positions all around the battalion area. The strafing was repeated in the afternoon… (6th March)… There was another air strike that day and that put paid to the investment. The hostiles melted away.”
Thousands of Mizos/Zomi died in the hands of the Indian Army while tens of thousands were rendered homeless in more than twenty years of MNF struggle for the re-unification and independence of Zogam. The misery, the suffering and plight of Mizos/Zomi in the face of Indian Army brutality and might for more than twenty years forced the beleaguered MNA leaders to seek a settlement with India, under the Indian Constitution.
On June 1986, Mizoram was granted full-fledged statehood. Thus, the re-unification movement launched by the MNF, under the leadership of Laldenga, ground to a halt midway, and the dream of full re-unification of Zomi/Mizos of the region remained unresolved once again.
[II] In Manipur: Manipur, a border state in the North East India, is contiguous to the rest of Zo country. In fact, the original Manipur was only the valley covering 730 square miles around Loktak Lake. The hilly regions around the valley became attached to Manipur only as a result of the British Colonial decision and the Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826. At the time, the Zomi in the hills were completely in the dark about the division of their homeland by the Treaty.
Capt. Pemberton, who represented the British in the Yandaboo Treaty, stated, “Any how the Chins (Zomi) never regarded the boundary at all binding on themselves and had never been consulted in the matter”. No Zomi was consulted. Their political future was not considered. Nor were they asked to express their opinion in any matter affecting them.
The Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, the Partition of Burma from India which divided their country in 1837, and the demarcation of the boundaries of Manipur, 1834 were unknown to the Zomi. Who made merry with their Zu (rice beer) and danced, singing:
“Tuan a pupa leh Khang vaimangte,
Tongchiam kangtui minthang aw,
Pu leh Pi leh kangtui minthang,
A tua Zota kual hi e.”
(Our fore-fathers had a promise with the Meiteis of Loktak; from the famous Loktak to Chindwin, it is the land of the Zomi).
The above song is based on oral tradition according to which the Sukte Chief, Sumkam son of (Late) Raja Goukhothang, had an agreement with the Maharaja of Manipur, affirmed by drinking wine from the barrel of a gun (During those days, any settlement or agreement made between two independent chief with the affirmation by drinking wine in the barrel of a gun, is the noblest peace settlement. Any breach of the agreement amounts to capital punishment). This agreement was made on March, 1873 where Col Thomson acted as the peace negotiator.
With India’s independence, the Zomi again realized that their land and all had been ceded to an alien master (Manipur) with whom they had no cultural, religious and linguistic affinity. What was worse was that they became a minority in their own land. Once again, they were subjugated without a battle, without their consent and without their knowledge. By the stroke of a pen they were separated from their kith and kin. Thus, the freedom of India, Pakistan and Burma was meaningless to them. The only meaning they woke up to was a deeper separation and a clever deceitful bondage.
After the British annexation, the administration of the hill areas of Manipur which had been looked after since 1907, by the President, Manipur State Darbar (Hills) was impressively transferred into the hands of the Manipur Hill Areas Committee, in which all the tribal MLAs (Member of Legislative Assembly) were members. In theory, it promised much, but in practice it had no power to protect the interests of tribal people in Manipur. The Committee hence had no authority to prevent the interest of the tribal. A few instances may be a pointed out, thus:
1) The introduction of the infamous Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act (MLR & LR) in the hill areas of Manipur. The Act is seen as a way of legalizing acquisition of tribal lands by non-tribal using the pretext of equality, freedom and development. The tribal in Manipur cannot help but see in all this a sinister design.
2) The recognition of Manipuri/Meiteilon language in the Eight Schedules was a remarkable achievement. However, all that it entails makes the tribal see ‘language imposition’ as the next inevitable step. This, true or not unfortunately, aroused a sense of fear, insecurity and mistrust towards the majority Meiteis.
3) The concentration of all important offices and industrial establishments:
In the field of Education and Technical Trainings - the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Manipur University (MU), the Board of Secondary Education, the Council for Higher Secondary Education, the Central Agriculture University, the Engineering College.
In the Field of Factories and Industries - the Spinning Mill, Sugar Factory, Fruit Processing, Poultry Farms, Dairy Farm, MANITRON, MANDTCO, MTDC and others.
Not one sports stadium or sports complex in any of the Hill Districts of the state.
Directorates of all Government Departments located only in and around Imphal.
This centralisation only adds to growing divide between the hills and plains.
4) The diversion of major portions of funds allotted by the Central government, for the development of tribal to the plain areas which obviously indicates negligence of tribal areas. This only adds fuel to the fire of discontentment.
5) the cleverly manipulated hopes and its dashing by dangling the carrot of Sixth Schedule for the tribal has snow-balled into great resentment against the majority Meiteis.
Consequently, re-unification has always been the cherished dream of the Zomi of Manipur region. Its most important town, Lamka has been visited by a number of leaders of Zomi political movements, viz. Lt. Col. Son Kho Pau, Son Cin Lian, Ralhmung, Roshang, Thualzen and Laldenga. In fact, Tunkhopum’s movement also started from Lamka.
Inspite of such urgency and need for having a common goal, the peculiarity of Zomi politics in Manipur has the difficulty of –(a) it may be said that the politics, especially of the tribes that do not belong to the Naga group, continue to be petty because the tribal are, willy-nilly, victims of a subtle divide-and- rule policy engineered by the powers that be; (b) the prevailing success of the cunning divide-and–rule and the cross-pull of Manipur’s intricate and volatile politics, make acceptance of a common nomenclature a very tricky and sensitive matter. But as proved earlier Lushai or Kuki or Chin are foreign words. Moreover, ample reasons have been given in the earlier discussion to make one arrive at Zomi as being more accurate, wholesome and meaningful.
Going back a little on the unification movement in Manipur, before Indian independence, Zavum of Thadou clan organized a meeting of most of the Zo tribes in Manipur. The meeting was not successful, as some leaders left because Zavum insisted that Thadou dialect be used as the medium of discussion. He asserted that Thadou were the real Kuki, and their dialect should be used as common language. The Kuki/Thadou rebellion 1917-1919 which was launched by the Kukis against the British in their protest on reluctance of sending Labour Corp to France during World War I do not receive the desired responses from the other Zomi tribes of Manipur.
Unlike Manipur, in Mizoram, in 1935, the YLA (Young Lushai Association) on the strength of reasoning, without much ado, switched over to a new name, YMA (Young Mizo Association), when they realized that the term Lushai/Lusei meant only one tribe of the Zo race. In Burma, the Baptist Convention held in 1953 at Saikah village in Thantlang Township unanimously adopted, on the recommendation by the Constitution Drafting Committee, ‘Zomi’ to be the national title for the new Baptist Organization. Hence Zomi Baptist Convention (ZBC) came into being. In 1966 (in Burma) the CIO (Chinland Independence Organization) was changed into Zomi National Front (ZNF). So now, both in the Chin State of Burma and in Mizoram state of India, the question of nomenclature, thought controversial, is not an insurmountable issue. The ZBC and CIO having decided in favour of Zomi it is left mainly to the Hmar, Kukis and Thadous to leave aside sentiment; apply reasons and look at the larger picture.
The leaders who walked away from Zavum’s meeting formed an organization called ‘Khul Union’ in the late 1940s. When the Khul Union broke up in 1946, the Zomi of Manipur too broke up. So much so that the Anal, Chothe, Maring, Monsang, Moyon and Kabui who populate the present Chandel District and Tamenglong District of Manipur have since joined the Naga polity and now prefer to be identified as Naga. The Aimol, Chiru, Kom, Purum and some other smaller tribes are still unable to decide although there are enough evidences that they are descendent of Zo. Whereas, some of the Thadou speaking tribes are still unable to accept any other nomenclature, except Kuki, in their intense desire to impose the name Kuki they have driven others away. The Thadou speaking tribes even took up arms to force other tribes to accept Kuki as a common nomenclature without considering the fact that the main objection by all to the term Kuki, is that, as a word, it was an imposed name and it does not exist in any Zomi dialect.
In fact, in the 1940s and 1950s almost all the ethnic groups formed independent and distinct organizations of their own. They appended the term ‘national’ or ‘union’ or ‘council’ to their organisations eg. Tedim Chin Union, Vaiphei National Organisation, Simte National Council, United Zoumi Organisation, Gangte National Union, Gangte Tribes Union, Hmar National Union, Hmar People’s Conference, Mizo National Front, Paite National Council etc. The coming into existence of all these organizations is proof enough of the rejection of the term ‘Kuki’.
The plain truth is that the Kuki nomenclature, which had all the advantages, that another nomenclature viz. Naga had, has been unable to gather under its umbrella the other tribes of Zo ethic origin who have so much in common. The aforementioned tribes, instead, desired a more meaningful, acceptable and indigenous nomenclature. Thus the profusion of organizations is but the search for an identity of their own, no matter how small. For each organizations projects and protect their shade of distinctiveness in dialect, dress, dance, custom, culture, and so on. This inevitable for lack of an attractive unifying factor has created complex and often leads to petty divisions in all spheres of tribal life. Cynically speaking, the most communalist has become the best politician for the community he belongs. Leaders at a Congress talk about unification and ‘re-unification’ but when they go back to their respective communities, they nourished their petty communities.
Today, things have changed – the feeling of Zomi nationalism is growing stronger and stronger among the Zo tribes. There is increasing awareness of their true national identity. The impending threat of extinction - unless they are united under a common platform for a common political objective, beckons them to come in the Zomi fold. The initiative taken by the Zomi National Congress (ZNC) for national awakening during 1970s and 1980s has crystallized into an organised unification movement, under the banner of Zomi Re-unification Organisation (ZRO). The Zomi Tribes who, in the past, rejected Mizo or Zomi as their nomenclature are now realising and accepting the strong historical grounds for calling themselves Zomi. They have thus gone to the extent of changing the name of their tribe-based organisations, viz. Simte National Council to Simte Tribes Council, Paite National Council to Paite Tribes Council, etc, this change has come about because they now accept ‘Zomi’ as their national name. Even those few tribes who have not yet taken to the nomenclature do agree that they are the descendent of Zo. Today, the ZRO is continuing its relentless efforts to bring all the Zomi tribes under a common platform for the ultimate objective of reunification. As of today, more and more tribes from Burma, India and Bangladesh are actively participating in the movement.