India's National Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 15 :: No. 15 :: July 18 - 31, 1998
'Reangs should co-exist with other citizens'
Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla speaks.
Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla is opposed to conceding Reangs' demand for an Autonomous District Council. Responding to a questionnaire sent to him by Syed Sajjad Ali, he maintained that the tribal community should learn to co-exist peacefully with other citizens of Mizoram. The questions and Lal Thanhawla's answers.
The Mizoram Government accepted the demand for the creation of an Autonomous District Council for Chakmas. Why is it against a similar demand from Reangs?
The Chakma Autonomous District Council was created by the Central Government in 1972 without consulting or taking into confidence any Mizo leader. The Mizo people were not consulted either. Mizos could not launch an agitation against it (the creation of the Chakma District Council) because of the disturbed conditions in Mizoram then: they were harassed constantly through means such as mass arrests, torture and curfews. Therefore, nobody could raise a finger against the creation of the Chakma Auto-nomous District Council.
Do you not think that Reangs too have a right to demand constitutional provisions to protect their culture, heritage and language?
Nobody, certainly not Mizos, seem to question the rights of the Reangs to raise their voice for constitutional protection, their right to protect their culture, heritage and language. Reangs entered Mizoram from the Maian hill in Rangamati in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh around 1954. In 1961, there were only around 1,000 Reangs in Mizoram. Their population increased to 9,829 in 1971, and the 1991 Census put their number at 31,921. If Article 5 of the Constitution and the Citizenship Act are applied to them, there would be very few Reangs left in Mizoram.
Reangs are no-mads; they are not Hindus but animists. They do not live in any compact area like Mizos or other citizens of Mizoram. They do not have a Hindu temple or mandir as claimed by them. Not a single Reang was killed; not a single woman was raped as alleged by them: or at least they did not report (such incidents) to the police or the Government. Of course, some houses were torched by some Mizo youth in retaliation for the killing of a Mizo forest guard. The police swung into action, arrested 39 youth and registered cases.
Does your Government have any proposal to seek a permanent solution to the Reang problem?
The Reang problem does not exist in Mizoram - except that some of them took to arms and killed some Mizos and ambushed the Mizoram Armed Police a number of times.
Reangs are looked after like any other Mizos, and for that matter like anybody else living in Mizoram, if not better. They asked their own people to leave Mizoram and those who refused were threatened with dire consequences and even branded traitors to their own community. A permanent solution to the Reang problem, as you call it, is that Reangs should co-exist peacefully with other citizens of Mizoram as everyone else does.
Your June 11 meeting with Bru National Union leaders was a failure. Is there a move to hold fresh talks? Has New Delhi sent any formula?
My talks with Bru National Union leaders yielded some positive results in that their false allegations and fabrications were discussed and a decision was taken for a joint on-the-spot verification. I told them that representatives of the Government of Mizoram and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Bru National Union leaders should jointly visit the sites to locate the temples that were allegedly burnt, to identify the persons killed and to identify the women raped. But the Bru leaders shied away. There is no fresh move for talks. New Delhi has not sent any formula. I have stated the formula for the peaceful co-existence of Reangs and other citizens of Mizoram.
Will you visit the camps to pave the way for the early repatriation of the refugees?
I have sent my Home Minister to the camps and he has met his counterpart in Tripura. Senior officials, including the Inspector-General of Police and the Deputy Commissioner, have visited the camps. We promised them compensation, security, free rations, but this has not yielded any positive result; only a few persons returned.
We are looking after about 8,000 Paite and Kuki refugees in Mizoram. No Chief Minister came to visit them and nobody took up their cause even in the print media at the national level.
Has the Bru National Liberation Front posed a threat to law and order in the State?
The law and order situation can be threatened even by a handful of anti-social elements. Insurgents and militants can certainly threaten law and order. However, the Mizo people, after experiencing 20 years of hardship and miseries from insurgency, are determined to maintain their hard-earned peace by all means.
What, according to you, is the root cause of the present crisis?
If by the present crisis you mean the problems created by Reangs, the root cause is that they resorted to arms, they killed a Mizo forest guard, they threatened their own people and indulged in disinformation and false propaganda. They made a demand which is not justified and cannot be considered. Reangs do not live in any compact area in Mizoram.
Your charge against the RSS is unchanged?
Yes. The RSS took up the cause of Reangs, claiming that they are Hindus, which they are not. It supported their false propaganda and blamed the Government of Mizoram, the Armed Police and the churches.... Their (RSS') open letter to me exposed their lack of knowledge about their own country. The secular character of the Constitution shall be maintained at all costs in the best interest of all citizens and to protect the integrity of the country.