The Northeastern region of India consisting of seven states (or eight, if one is to include Sikkim) is a complex one. Over the last half century, it has remained one of the most marginalized parts of the country, economically, socially and culturally distant from what is sometimes called “mainland India”. The entire region faces a range of conflicts that partly result from this distance to – and difference from - the rest of India, but partly also from issues such as inter-ethnic rivalry within the region, and immigration, especially from Bangladesh.
Mizoram, a strip of land largely squeezed between Bangladesh and Myanmar at the extreme Southeastern end of the region, is one of the smallest states of India, with a population of about 1.1 million today. Mizoram has had a history of two decades of severe violent conflict. But it has also seen the conclusion of a successful peace accord in 1986 which – and this makes it distinct from other parts of the region – has proven stable, making Mizoram a rather successful example of conflict resolution in the Indian Northeast, different from other states of the region.
A new film “Rambuai, Mizoram’s Trouble Years” documents the story of armed uprising and violence in the state, how finally peace was made, and how people in Mizoram today talk (or decide not to talk) about this traumatic period of their history.
The film arose over the last two years as a project initiated by Centre for North-East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES), under the leadership of Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika who recently left Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University to become director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in India. The C-NES team traveled extensively in different villages of Mizoram to document stories. They interviewed more than dozen of people from different walks of life who lived during the traumatic period after 1959, when a famine took place in Mizoram; the experience of it, and the inability of the Indian state to properly handle the resulting crisis, led to the armed insurrection in 1966. Film preparation also included research on the literature of Mizo history specifically focusing on the Rambuai years; two well-known Mizo scholars, Margaret Ch. Zama, Mizoram University and C. Lalawmpui Vanchiau have compiled and edited a book of literatures on the contemporary history of Mizoram titled “After Decades of Silence: Voices from Mizoram”.
The inaugural screening of the film and discussion on the book was premiered in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram on 14th September 2016. The chief guest for the screening was Lal Thanhawla, Mizoram’s Chief Minister, who himself had been interviewed for the documentary where he talked about his own experiences as young men being arrested and treated very harshly by the Indian military.
The 45 minute-documentary aims to capture the essence of the insurgency period of Mizoram between 1966 and 1986. It looks not just at the years of conflict and disturbances in Mizoram but also at the transition in mind-sets that has enabled peaceful change to resolve the issue with the Indian state and the challenges that remain. The film also looks at how Mizo people were displaced from their villages by the Indian army by means of re-grouping of villages. In this traumatic period, many families were separated from each other; many women were raped and tortured by the Indian army. Lal Thanhawla, Chief Minister of the state recalled the re-grouping of hundreds of villages during the insurgency days in Mizoram, known as “Protective and Progressive Villages” (PPVs). But in reality, people were herded into the PPVs like as cattle and lived there miserably. The Chief Minister also emphasised that Mizo people should know about its past history about insurgency that they should records on the phase of the Mizo People’s history. Lal Thanhawla further pointed out that during the insurgency under the imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Indian armed forces committed heinous excesses and acted as if Mizoram was not part of India.
Some of these sad stories were narrated in the documentary as well. The film gives voice to younger people who have heard of the conflict only through stories told by family elders – if the latter talk at all about these events. The film raises questions about how ordinary people continue to struggle to cope with their experiences. It also shows the wide-ranging effects of violence, different approaches to peace and peacemaking in Mizoram. The documentary also covers some of the key questions which remained unaddressed in the last five decades; for instance, the March 1966 airstrike authorised by the Government of India that set part of Aizawl, capital of Mizoram on fire and remains stamped on the psyche of Mizos. However, there is very little literature and official records on the events of those years but some of it has been published in Mizo language either in the form of poems, songs, etc.
It is the first time that Mizo history during those troubled years and the atrocities that the common people had to undergo has been brought out in the form of a widely accessible, research-based documentary. The Mizo Peace Accord signed between the Government of India and MNF leaders on June 30, 1986 paved the way for the union territory to become one of the states of India in 1987. The documentary fills a vaccum and tries to voice the collective silence of the Mizos on the two decades of their troubles.