On May 18, the Mizoram Assembly unanimously passed a bill to create a register of all households in the state. While introducing the Mizoram Maintenance of Household Registers Bill, 2019, Chief Minister Zoramthanga said the bill was necessitated by “the influx of foreigners into Mizoram through its porous borders”.
“In many cases the benefits of development and welfare programmes are found eaten away to a large extent by such foreigners,” reads the bill’s statement of objects and reasons, signed by the chief minister.
“The main threat of foreigners,” the state’s information and public relation minister Lalruatkima told Scroll.in, “comes from Bengali Muslims and Buddhist Chakmas.” Christians account for over 87% of Mizoram’s population.
Following in Assam’s footsteps
Lalruatkima said the register would be similar to Assam’s National Register of Citizens, which is being currently updated. This is in line with a promise that the Mizo National Front, which stormed to power in the state in December, had made in the run-up to the polls: if elected to power, it had promised, it would emulate Assam’s National Register of Citizens.
Assam’s citizen register seeks to separate citizens from undocumented migrants living in the state. Mizoram’s household register, which would contain the names and photographs of every resident of the state, seeks to seemingly achieve a similar purpose. The register will also be divided into two parts, one bearing the names of “citizen residents”, the other with details of “non-citizen residents”.
The bill defines citizenship on the basis of the Citizenship Act, 1955 as in the rest of the country except Assam.
Under the Act, Indian citizenship can be acquired by birth, by registration, by naturalisation, and by descent. A person can acquire citizenship by naturalisation on completion of 12 years of residence in India.
For the purpose of the register, “every householder”, the bill decrees, would be required to “furnish all information” as “required by the registering authorities”. The information submitted would be “verified and counter-signed by the president of the local branch of the state-level NGOs as may be prescribed by the state government”, the bill states.
Lalruatkima said “state-level NGOs” referred to “civil society groups” such as the Young Mizo Association, Young Lai Association, and the Mara Thyutlia Py, representing the three dominant Christian tribes of the state.
Mizo groups against ‘infiltrators’
Mizoram’s majoritarian non-governmental organisations or pressure groups wield considerable influence in the state. They have, on several occasions in the past, expressed concerns similar to the ones articulated in the chief minister’s statement on Monday: that large-scale migration of non-Mizos from neighbouring countries and states was putting a strain on Mizoram’s resources and obliterating local populations. At the centre of these allegations is the largely Buddhist Chakma community, which lives in the state’s south-western parts and is often branded as “infiltrators” by Mizo groups.
While most Chakmas have been in Mizoram for centuries, many of them also came down from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of eastern Bangladesh in the 1960s after their land was submerged by the Kaptai dam. As practising Buddhists, they also reportedly fled Bangladesh to escape religious persecution.
The Young Mizo Association, which has been at the forefront of several anti-Chakma agitations in the state, said the passing of the bill marked the fulfillment of one of its long standing demands. “We had submitted a resolution to the previous government also to implement a village population register,” said Lalhmachhuana, the group’s general secretary. “If a proper register is maintained, it is going to be very easy to detect foreigners.”
Lalhmachhuana reiterated that the “main threat was definitely the Chakmas” but also “Myanmar nationals who have come down”. According to a 2009 report by the United Stated-based non-profit Human Rights Watch, Mizoram is home to around 10,000 Chin refuges from Myanmar.
Meanwhile, the bill has made the state’s Chakma population anxious. “The bill’s statement of objects and reasons clearly says it seeks to detect foreigners, and in the prism of the Mizos, Chakmas are foreigners,” said a Chakma activist who did not want to be identified. “So, we are concerns that we will be targeted.”
BD Chakma, a Chakma legislator from the state, tended to agree. The bill, he said, was “very dangerous for the state’s minorities, especially the Chakmas and the Brus”. Chakma said he feared that the state government would be arm-twisted into leaving Chakmas out of the register by Mizo pressure groups. “In 1994, thousands of Chakma voters were left out of electoral rolls under the pressure of student groups,” the Bharatiya Janata Party legislator alleged. “It is nothing but harassment for Chakmas.”