Mizos & Their (Non-Existent) Culture of Protest

As the Union Home Minister recently reaffirmed the centre’s intention to pass the hugely controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, protests have once again erupted in Manipur and Nagaland wherein thousands came out to renew their opposition to the draconian Bill.

One must think that Mizoram will surely follow suit as one of its staunchest critics of the Bill during its earlier run in the Parliament. The visit by Amit Shah to Aizawl on 5th October had been the perfect opportunity to do the same.

In fact, plans were being made to come out in demonstration by wearing Mizo pawndum (a traditional attire that denotes grieving) and by using placards, the most peaceful and least aggressive form of demonstration one can possibly think of.

However, the NGO Co-ordination Committee that assigned itself that task had surprisingly decided not to proceed in the last minute. The change in plan was at the behest of government authorities that requested them to not carry out the demonstration, their press statement reads. Instead, they decided to talk (instead of protest) to Amit Shah and voice their concerns to him as the latter reportedly was willing to give them audience.

While the decision to abruptly cancel even the for-namesake-only protest demonstration, that too in the last minute, in exchange of ‘peaceful talks’ disappoint opposition parties like PRISM and ZPM that decided to launch their own protests, the larger public appear to go along with it, even commend it as an even better strategy to engage in dialogue with the central authorities.

To be fair, this isn’t exactly the first time that the NGO Co-ordination Committee consulted with the government and get persuaded by the latter to back down from a planned protest. In any democratic country, peaceful dialogues should be indeed the ‘go to’ method of engagement among relevant stakeholders.

However, it is equally important to ensure citizens’ rights to lodge peaceful protests and non-violent demonstrations against laws and policies that go against their collective interests. Mizoram too has recently seen an upsurge in protests on various issues culminating in the ‘Hashtag Shashank Out, Support Chuaungo’ movement which was unprecedented in the level of interest and involvement by all sections of the society.

However, it is also true that Mizoram’s protest culture in general is relatively non-existent and on the dull side taking into consideration the number of issues increasingly plaguing the former and also the wider context of rampant protest movements in India and the northeast in particular.

So why did the all powerful Joint NGOs ‘easily’ compromise on their intention about the demonstration at the slightest persuasion and opted for a much less confrontational dialogue-based approach despite the seriousness of the CAB issue and the outrage it has caused during the previous tenure of the BJP?

Could there be underlying reasons for such seemingly cowardice act of passive aggressive submission to the ‘power that be’ that anyway seems hell-bent on passing and implementing the CAB, whether the northeast people like it or not?

The relative invisibility of the Mizos in the national spheres aside, such de-escalating decisions appear to regress them further toward the back side of the room, making them appear uninterested and even complacent about the issue at hand.

After 33 years of political peace and stability, Mizos often emphasize on the importance of sustaining their hard-earned peace and social harmony and would eagerly put the days of violent bloodshed and insurgency against the almighty Indian State well behind them.

The goal now appears to be pursuing development and prosperity and maintain an undisturbed conflict-free life. In short, maintain the status quo of more than 30 years. But this often comes at the cost of neglecting or half-ignoring burning issues and problems of the day which would be usually taken up by the leaderships of student organizations or civil bodies from time to time. Short-term mobilizations and protests in the form of bandhs, marches and sit-ins do appear on the scene, but they are mostly temporary and called off on the same day in most of the cases.

Rather than shouting slogans in some fiery protest marches, the average Mizo seems to prefer to sit back and relax and talk about them online with like-minded netizens or perhaps over tea at the safe places of homes. ‘Inphun lungawi’ they would say in local dialect, meaning to verbally complain till one’s satisfaction (and take no concrete action) appears to be the common trend.

Thus it is quite commonplace for the Mizos to be angry and even feel wronged at times but still remain mere observers, say, in the case of the Mizo Vs Chakma ethnic issue, the biased news and propaganda-ish materials making rounds across social media platforms wherein the Mizo side of the story is hardly told or represented, especially in languages other than the vernacular Mizo.

It’s no wonder than that a society that has achieved high literacy and success in education, that has a dynamic youth and a progressive human capital at its disposal has not produced any political or social activist worth the name although not discounting the few lesser known local activists.

A common strand of self-cultivated decency and neutrality, a cultural norm solidified by a mix of the traditional system of courteous social relationships along with the values and ethos of Christianity in Mizoram seems to be embedded in the mindsets and practices of the common public in general and the urban middle class in particular.

The need to show restraint, the importance of giving the benefit of the doubt, the emphasis on mutual understandings, the strong belief in non-assertive peaceful resolution and reconciliation, the Bible-inspired ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ mantra often times invoked have all played a role in the soft stances or ‘no stances at all’ taken by the Mizos on political issues affecting them.

But it could backfire. It could be perceived as weakness and/or sheer passivity especially in the current political context that we live in, wrought with protests and strong assertion of rights and aspirations by different groups and communities. The non-assertive contemplative Mizos would fall short in a politically charged atmosphere wherein arguments and counter arguments, verbal and non-verbal articulations of ideas and opinions on and off media are the rules of interaction and for presenting and defending one’s case.

The soft tactics of a simple peace-loving people would not always work at the face of bull-blown confrontations and at times where genuine grievances needed to be demonstrated so as to be seen and heard, loud and clear. In this case, the Joint NGOs decision to backtrack on their planned demonstration- most likely deliberated upon and voted on consensus- could be a bad precedent for the difficult futures to come with its difficult battles, if the country continues on this path.

Of course Mizos are possibly the easiest to mobilize due to the homogenous nature of their society if it comes down to it. But there needs to be a culture more keenly attuned towards not only protests per se but practices of in-depth debates and discussions induced by a strong sense of political awareness on issues of local, national and global significance.

This will in turn create a conducive environment for carrying out meaningful protests and demonstrations by an emboldened and confident citizenry that have all the intellectual capabilities and technological equipments to challenge even established norms and patterns including corruption in government places. Such actions also make a healthy democracy at its core.

Perhaps the new generation of the Mizo youth with their advanced educational experiences and exposure to various political trends and protest cultures around the country and the world, thanks to the widespread use of internet and social media, will take cues and start diverting their attention from trivial and mundane things toward pressing political issues.

Than a fearless protest culture with an unapologetic integrity may as well emerge that takes proactive interests and firm stands on important issues without hesitation if and when needed.


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C.V. Lalmalsawmi Written by:

PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

One Comment

  1. Holiram Terang
    October 13, 2019

    I think the present Mizoram or the erstwhile Lushai Hills has or had the least influence of different streams of Indian politics. This can be reason such behaviour of the Mizo society despite being one of the most educated community.

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