GROUPING OF VILLAGES IN MIZORAM
Lest we forget
For Zoram Ni
Mizoram was hard hit by a famine soon after the region was admitted into the Indian Union. The unsatisfactory remedial measures from Assam government resulted in a political disturbance that tormented the hills for about two decades spearheaded by the Mizo Famine Front, later transformed into a political unit called Mizo National Front (MNF). In February 1966 the MNF intensified its activities and the party decided to start an armed revolt.
The attack on the Aizawl Treasury began at midnight on 28th February, 1966 and the Lungleh Treasury was also attacked on the same day. Simultaneously the outposts of Lungleh, Tlabung, Champhai and Kolasib were attacked and captured whereas Aizawl was held out by the Ist Battalion Assam Rifles.
When the Government of India learnt of the outbreak, troops were sent to the area. By an Extra-ordinary Gazette Notification Published on 6th March, 1966, the Government of India declared the Mizo National Front an Unlawful Organization. Being satisfied that the MNF had been indulging in activities prejudicial to the security of Mizo District in the State of Assam and the adjoining part of the territory of India, the Central Government by effecting the necessary amendment of the rules ordered that Rule 32 of the Defence of India Rules, 1962 shall be applicable to the Mizo National Front.
The Defence Of India (Amended) Rule 32 of 1962
Rule 32 of the Defence of India Rules, 1962 as amended provides that no person shall-
a) manage or assist in managing any organization to which this rule applies.
b) promote or assist in promoting a meeting of any member of such an organization or attend any such meeting in capacity.
c) publish any notice or advertisement relating to any such meeting.
d) invite persons to support such an organization or otherwise assist the operation of such an organization.
If any person contravenes any of the provisions of this rule, he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 years or with fine or with both.
The Mizo District was subsequently declared ‘a disturbed area’ under the Assam Disturbed Area Act, 1955. The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Power Act, 1958 was also applied to the area by which the Government of India, under Article 352 of the Constitution, entrusted the responsibility of law and order in Mizoram to the Army and issued a strict instruction that the Army was to function as in war time but strictly in aid of the civil power. The matter was also discussed in the Parliament. Home Minister G.L Nanda made a statement in Parliament on March 3, 1966 saying, “the total number who took part in all those places- Lungleh, Aijal, Eayrengte (Vairengte), Chawngte and Chimluang (Chhimluang) who resorted to acts of lawlessness and violence were 800 to 1300 tribals… As a result of this, the army has been asked to deal with situation in Mizo Hills District. Transport of troops to Aijal by helicopters has been going on this morning and troops are also moving by road to Aijal and expected to reach by noon today.”
Grouping of Villages
Lt. General (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw, GOC-In-C, Eastern Command, Calcutta, recommended grouping of villages to facilitate effective military operations. The Governor of Assam, B.K.Nehru, opposed the idea and the Central Cabinet rejected the army proposal of grouping on October 20, 1966. The army lobbied for its case during the next few weeks and the scheme was finally cleared by the Government of India on December 5, 1966. In its 6 P.M news broadcast on January 3, 1967, the All India Radio announced the decision of the Government to group villages in Mizo Hills for security reasons. Lt. General Manekshaw and A.N.Kidwai, Chief Secretary, Assam announced the decision in a Press Conference held in Calcutta and Shillong respectively on the same day. Formal orders were issued by B.C. Carriapa, Commissioner of Cachar and Mizo Hills Division and Ex-officio Central Government Liaison Officer for Mizo Hills, under Rule 57 of the Defence of India Rules, 1962.
In forty-nine days between 4th January and 23rd February, 45,107 inhabitants of 109 villages were forcibly grouped into 18 group centres on the main road of Vairengte- Aizawl-Lunglei.
The villagers were ordered to move bag and baggage with whatever property they could carry to the centre. All the grains, fowls and pigs that could not be carried were burnt along with their houses so as to keep food and shelter out of the reach of the insurgents. There was absolute confusion everywhere. Women were wailing and shouting and cursing. Children were frightened. Young boys and girls held hands and looked at their burning villages with a stupefied expression on their faces. Pigs were running about, mithuns were bellowing, dogs were barking and fowls setting up a racket with their fluttering and cackling.
The Village Council Presidents and Elders were ordered at gun point to sign the document that said that they were being harassed by the insurgents, and because their own village did not have communications, educational, medical and other facilities, they had voluntarily asked to be settled in the Grouping Centres under the protection of the Security Forces. Another document stated that they had burnt down their own villages, and that no force or coercion was used by the Security.
V.F.Jafa, an IAS officer of 1965 Batch who served as SDO (Civil) at Lunglei in 1967 and Additional District Magistrate, Aizawl in 1968, who was involved in the task of grouping honestly confessed, “We had to protect ourselves with false certificates”
Second and Third Phase of Grouping
In course of time, public resentment against grouping mounted and it was found that the legal base for the forceful grouping namely, the Defence of India Rules was weak. In Nagaland, it was used and withdrawn again in 1956-57. The Governor of Assam consequently promulgated early in 1968, an Ordinance known as ‘ The Assam Maintenance of Public Order (AMPO), 1968’ which was to be used as the legal base for the continued grouping of villages by force, in preference to the application of the Defence of India Rules.
The Second grouping order for grouping of another 185 villages, with a population of 95,917 to 41 centres was issued by the District Magistrate of Mizo Hills under the Assam Maintenance of Public Order Acts (AMPO), 1968. This was followed by a third forced grouping of 63 villages by the Army with a population of 47,056 in 26 centres in 1969 without any order from the Government. The Government regularized this grouping by an ex-post facto order issued in 1970 under AMRO. By 1972, there were 102 grouping centres accommodating 240,000 persons, or more than 80 percent of the Mizo Hill population of 285,000. The remaining 45,000 people lived in Aizawl, Lunglei, Saiha and a few ungrouped villages in the Pawi-Lakher region in the South.
Purpose of Grouping
The immediate aim of the grouping was to facilitate effective military operation against the underground elements who had taken control of the interior villages by cutting off the sources of food supply and shelter to the MNF as was conceived by the Army authorities. In every grouping centre there was a military unit to control them.
High Court stopped the Grouping of Villages
While the last two phases of grouping of villages were being carried out, the general resentment against grouping mounted to such an extent that one Mizo namely Sub. K. Zahlira (Rtd) of Saikhamakawn Village challenged the orders in the Gauhati High Court as violation of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in the Constitution. The High Court directed the suspension of all further grouping and asked the Government of Assam to show cause as to why this order should not be made obsolete. The matter was dropped by the High Court on 6.1.1971 after the Government’s assurance that no further grouping of Villages was planned. Thus, the order issued for the third phase of grouping was cancelled. By this time, however, 80 percent of the population had already been relocated although the southern part of Mizoram was spared.
In spite of the grouping of villages in most parts, the intensity of the insurgency continued until about 1970. As a matter of fact, disturbances continued in a virulent form until 1980s.
To mention the atrocities committed upon the Mizos, during the first four months alone, the MNF Secretary, Publicity Department, S.Lianzuala said, “So far as my knowledge goes, in North Mizoram district alone, the Indian Army burnt down 21 Villages and gutted 2,133 houses, they raped 54 women, out of whom 2 adult women and a minor girl died due to excessive copulation by a number of soldiers. They burnt 17 churches, and looted many others, cooking, sleeping inside the churches while the villagers were not allowed to worship there. They cursed those homeless bewildered women and children, saying that, ‘we do not care even if you all die, and we don’t need you. What we want is your land’. They treated the innocent Mizo people with fearsome manners and as cruel as possible.”
Tlangchhuaka also emphatically highlighted, “Like the World War II stories of rapes indulged in by Marshal Thukov and his soldiers in Berlin, they (Indian soldiers) did the same in Mizoram. They spoiled many virgin girls… even married ones… some girls were forced to their camps for their own pleasures. There is no limit to their atrocities. The men were driven away towards the jails with no chance to mention their rights. Many were beaten to death, hanged upside down and they suffered all kinds of tortures and as a consequence many were deformed physically. They called the general public meeting in the Churches, and used them for torturing and killing the inmates. They even raped some girls in the churches, and in some churches they did not allow them to come out of their meetings.”
When the disturbance broke out in Mizoram, the Indian Security Forces often disrupted and even dispersed church meetings in many villages. Lalthangliana Philips blamed them (the Security Forces) for defiling the churches and sacred properties wherever they went and of robbing and camping in the churches. The soldiers cut and tore the Holy Bibles and Hymn books into pieces and did not allow regular church meetings in most of their occupied villages. He further alleged that some of the Indian Commanding Officers even said, “You bloody Mizos, call upon your God Jesus, and bring him here that we may defeat him along with you.” These vile challenges flared up the religious sentiments of the people and alienated them into becoming strangers” .
Hundreds of Mizo families therefore sought refuge in Shillong and other places in Assam and Manipur and also in Burma to escape the chaos at home, and a further and much larger Mizo population were caught between two fighting armies. There was scarcity of food and other essential commodities in the district. The convoys which were run to bring in foods and other goods under security force protection were few and far in between because of the frequency of ambushes and heavy security force casualties. The Border Roads Organisation, which had been building strategic roads in the district since 1964, was also finding it difficult to build and maintain roads under such insecure conditions. To add to the Government’s discomfiture, there were reports of serious human and civil rights violations and maltreatment of civilians in the hands of the Security Forces.
The MNF also understood the idea behind the grouping of villages and therefore, they opposed the grouping in their limited capacity. About 2,000 villagers of Keifang and Tualbung villages were successfully prevented by the Mizo National Army (MNF forces) from being grouped at Thingsulthliah Centre in January, 1967.
Life in the Grouping Centres
The manner by which the Indian troops carried this plan was cruel and treacherous. The Indian troops in battle dress marched in the night and surrounded villages before dawn to make sure that no villager escaped. The people were forced out of their ancestral homes with what they could carry in their hands. They were then driven like cattle to where nothing but torture awaited them. The Indian troops then searched vacated houses and took away any valuables they could find and then burnt the houses while the owners were still watching. As the Government of India thought that starvation of the MNF people will be one of the effective measures to crush their movement, they decided to burn the stores of grain of the people thereby inflicting suffering on the innocents too.
Many people compared the Grouping Centres with ‘Concentration Camps’. At the beginning, these centres were in the open air without any housing facility or even shade. The people had to sleep in open fields for days and nights. Children, even small babies, suffered under the scorching heat of the day and the chilly cold of the night while their parents were building thatched huts. Over and above, the people were given meager subsistence ration even while the troops forced them in fencing the grouping centres.
As they were not provided with housing facility all construction was to be borne by the villagers. Every movement of the people was under the strict vigilance of the troops and suspicion (of supporting MNF) had to be paid for with life. As such, at Thingsulthliah Camp, three boys who had gone to the jungles to cut bamboos for their house were shot dead on the mere suspicion of supporting MNF. Their bodies were covered with leafs and left at the spot. Their relatives, conscious of their unusual absence, went to the place and found their bodies.”
The Grouping centres were also used as forced labour camps. All the able persons were requisitioned to work in the military road construction, carrying water, fire woods, supplies of food items and ammunitions, clearing of jungles along roads, digging bunkers apart from fencing work with strict regimentation. They were forced to work as and according to the labour supervisors’ dictation. If a man raises any complaint he was paid with slashes of the armed supervisor’s whip.
The economic life of the Mizo people was greatly hampered. Jhuming cultivation was the main stay of the people but the people could not pursue their normal duty as they were not allowed to go out of the centre. Sometimes, the civilians were taken as a protection from surprise attacks of the MNF and used as human bunkers in the Army’s patrolling. With no means to earn a livelihood, there was starvation and dependence on the meager supplies.
Whenever there was an encounter between the security forces and the MNF, the aftermath was that the security forces either burnt down the village nearest to the place where the encounter took place or beat up the male members of the village or the first group of civilians they met. Such incidences generated bitterness and hatred in the public. In many of the encounters or ambushes, the security forces hardly ever caused casualty to the MNF but great harm did come to the innocent civilians.
The security forces also grossly abused the special power given to them, namely, arresting a person on suspicion. In many cases, they wrongly detained such persons for long periods and tortured them. Sometimes they used this method as a weapon of intimidation. For instance, if a villager reports to higher civil authorities against the wrong doing of the security forces in his village, the latter will arrest him charging him as a MNF sympathizer and threatened him with dire consequences.
Another instance of bitterness against the security forces is occasioned by their utter disrespect to the Church congregation. In some cases the security forces suspected some MNF or their agents as being present in the church congregation on Sundays. They came and drove the congregation of the Church in a most vulgar manner and herded them together in the open ground outside for long periods whether in rain or sunshine. There was a feeling that they were treated as aliens, worse than enemies.
Failure of Grouping
In spite of the grouping of villages, the intensity of the insurgency continued until 1970. As a matter of fact, disturbances continued in a virulent form until mid 1976. The main idea behind the grouping concept, that is to deny sources of food supply to the MNF, was thus belied. The desired results were never achieved.
The overwhelmingly harmful effect of Village Grouping on agricultural activities resulted in near famine conditions. The Government had no choice but to allow the villagers to go back to their old villages to enable them to work on their jhum. Thus, the grouping operations only caused untold sufferings and miseries to the general public resulting in the total ruin of the village economy and, more importantly, in the alienation of the minds of the villagers. The strange thing here was that the Government of India repeated the same measure in Mizoram in 1967 after it had failed miserably in Nagaland in 1967.