Population issue – more often – has more complexities than it could be comprehended effectively. In far-flung northeastern state of Mizoram, a large number of tribal Christians believe their numbers are dwindling vis-a-vis other ethnic communities and hence they should have more children.
A local influential Baptist church has endorsed this view and announced that the local Mizo couples would be given “cash incentives” if they have four or more babies. The episode could be dramatic for the national mainstream but in the northeast and especially among tribal Christians, the issue is an age-old vexing matter as they do apprehend that their declining numbers can lead them to ‘minority status’ vis-a-vis “outsiders”. In Mizoram, Nagaland or in Meghalaya – all predominantly tribal states cherishing Christian values – the word ‘outsider’ has various socio-political connotations.
In Nagaland – outsiders are called ‘plain manu’ (people from the plains–rest of India), in Meghalaya they are addressed as ‘Dhwakers’ and Mizos call them ‘Vai Naupang’. This fear of being swamped by ‘outsiders’ is nothing new and at least in Tripura – a longtime Marxist-ruled Tripura – the native tribals have been reduced to ‘minority’ numerically as against the Hindu Bengalis – who had mostly sneaked into the state during the turbulent days of 1947 partition and a huge number of them also came around 1971 – when Bangladesh fought for its own liberation from Pakistan.
The Mizos feel the Brus have been trying to ignite an “insurgency” movement in Mizoram.
“The ivory tower policymakers in New Delhi do not understand all the complexities. That is the crux of the problem,” says Pranab Roy, a Dimapur-based LIC official in Nagaland. In Mizoram, he says there is apprehension among Mizos that the outsiders like Chakmas from Bangladesh and Reangs or Brus from neighbouring Tripura are trying to ignite an “insurgency” movement in Mizoram.
“The apprehension has been that if the Reangs are allowed to settle down and also vote “from the relief camps” in Tripura, it would only lend “legitimacy” to the intent of the Reangs or the Brus about strengthening their toehold on Mizo land,” he says.
Others agree readily and many northeast watchers would admit that a malignant atmosphere of ethnic and inter-tribal clashes is certainly a reality of northeast India.
The incentives announced by Lunglei Bazar Veng Baptist Church, not far from international border, that couples who have four children will get Rs 4,000 cash dole and Rs 5,000 for the fifth and so on – is thus not surprising.
In fact, others have endorsed this announcement. The influential Young Mizo Association (YMA) has backed the announcement of the local Baptist church and said even others should emulate the move as Mizos seriously face dwindlingpopulation problem.
YMA president Vanlalruata told this magazine: “Even our association has in the past given small recognition to couples who have more children. We might have given cash awards of Rs 1,000 given our limitations. But this Rs 4 k or Rs 5 k scheme is innovative and encouraging.”
Vanlalruata, however, clarifies that the YMA stance on dwindling population number is not driven by any parochial consideration. “We have not raised these issues just to drive people from rest of India or even Chakmas. But our Mizo population numbers are dwindling and this is a matter of concern.”
Official sources in Mizoram capital Aizawl say the decadal population growth is low. The general refrain in the state among native Lushai and Hmar tribals – who combined together call themselves Mizos along with few smaller ethnic groups – is that per square population density is hardly 52. “We will turn either like Tripura tribals or like Parsis. As against our 52 people per square km, Bihar has one thousand of them. Where would we stand in future?”, says a government employee unwilling to be identified.
Statistics seem to support this argument in a way.
Mizoram’s population, according to 2011 census, was 10,91,014. At present it has risen to around 11 lakh only. Mizoram is the 2nd least populous state in the country and the state has a landscape of 21,087 square kilometres.
Therefore, it is not without good reason even other Christian bodies have endorsed in principle the ‘cash dole’ offer of the local church in Mizoram.
Lalramleina Pachuau, senior executive of the Mizoram Synod of Presbyterian Church, says his organisation is directly not in favour of announcing any cash incentives, but it is a fact of the matter that Mizos have the problem of ‘dwindling population’.
THE FACT OF THE MATTER
- Outsiders bashing is a regular feature in northeastern states. Lately, say in a decade or so, there have been huge ‘outflow’ of non-tribals from states like Meghalaya and Nagaland.
- In Mizoram, even tribal and ethnic group called Brus or Reangs faced the anguish of locals, it is alleged. Since October 1997, an estimated 40,000 Brus fled Mizoram following ethnic violence and took shelter in neighbouring state of Tripura. But Mizoram government has always said – “there was no ethnic riot”.
- For their part, Mizos have complained that the Brus had demanded creation of an autonomous district council in Mizoram and also tried to create a powerful political and administrative base for the Bru/Reang population in Tripura.
- In Manipur and parts of Nagaland, the conflict between Nagas and Kukis (an essentially nomadic tribal group) saw enough blood bath in 1990s.
MANy OLd-TIMERS IN NORTHEAST SAy THAT pOpULATION REMAINS A cOMpLEx ISSUE IN NORTHEAST ANd HENcE EvEN IN THE pAST TwO cHILd NORM wAS OppOSEd
Pu Lalruprui Lushai of Lungeli town says, “The dwindling number issue is more for Baptist Mizos. Among 11 lakh Mizoram population, Baptist numbers are around 2 lakh only. Hence, we suppose the announcement made by the Lunglei Bazar Church is justified.”
Many old-timers in northeast say population remains a complex issue in northeast and hence even in the past – Naga leaders for example have opposed “two children” norms once prescribed strongly under the Family Planning policy of the government of India. “This small family policy has failed in northeast especially among Nagas and Mizos. As Christians we also believe, your womb is not a grave yard,” says Khasito Sema, a Kohima-based educationist.
However, in the midst of several of these local voices sharing their grievances on dwindling population, there is another school of thought which tries to argue that the church or students’ lobbies move is essentially on wrong presumptions.
In terms of global standard, they say, the per square kilometre graph in Mizoram is fairly normal. The argument being such parameter in no way presents poor figures of human resource development graph.
In Norway for instance, there is a population density of only 13.2 people per square kilometre. Even countries like Australia and Canada have much lower population density. Mizos, however, would outright reject such logic and pinpoint that the issue is more intense – the survival of an ethnic community and not mere physical yardsticks of infrastructure development or otherwise.