The story out today refers to a Myanmarese village called Tiao.
A large part of the trade between Mizoram and Myanmar flows through two villages – Tiao on the Myanmarese side, and Zokhawthar on the Indian side. The rest flows between these two countries through smaller trading villages, like one in Saiha. Or through illicit trading routes across this poorly protected border. This, incidentally, is one of the striking aspects of Mizoram. While we are creating a massive fence on the Bangladesh side to keep – depending on how you look at it – the Indians in or the Bangladeshis out — all you have on the Myanmar side are concrete pillars.
See for yourself.
The Indo-Bangladesh fence at Borapansury village, Chakma Autonomous District Council. A river separates India and Bangladesh here. The quality of roads is – surprise – dismal in this area. Especially during the rains, people use boats to travel from southern reaches of the council to the north. As the fence comes up on the Indian side, villagers are finding it harder to use the river for fishing, travelling, or farming or sand mining on its banks. There was also a healthy amount of cross-border trade where Bangladeshis would sell produce in the Indian side. That too is affected now. As are families with relatives on the other side.
The border at Zochachhuiah village where the Kaladan highway enters Myanmar.
Other data. Like the other out today says, even in its unfinished state, the Kaladan highway is much better than existing roads in Mizoram. That is because the existing roads look like this.
That is what the road between Mamit district and Aizawl looks like. A separate story will look at the amazing reason why these roads are so parlous. For now, as you can see, most roads are single-laners. Cars and jeeps can generally squeeze past each other. But trucks cannot. At those moments, one of the vehicles has to stop and gingerly reverse. Something whichI saw, was always done with good humour and grace. This is what you notice evenin the hills vending up to Ladakh. The quantum of mutual concern is always greater in tougher conditions.
In contrast, the Kaladan was smooth with large banking curves designed to accommodate container trucks.
As we moved down the road, we entered an increasingly degraded landscape. Hill roads in India are always prone to landslides. And so, here, workers were chipping away at the slope till all that was left was the rockface. The debris was being pushed off the edge.
This is why, I remember, a friend working in Arunachal Pradesh used to say our manner of road building in the hills is very destructive. At the same time, towards the end of the journey, a larger part of the surrounding hills appeared to have been cleared for jhum.
There were other changes. Two villages, Dumzau and Darnamtlang, have climbed down from their traditional perch atop the hill and settled next to the highway.
This snap, I think, is Dumzau. One reason, a local tells me, is easier access to the world outside. Not to mention newer livelihood scattering to the vehicles moving along the highway. Even as it takes shape, the highway is already changing Mizoram.
And then, we near Zochacchuiah. Three kilometres beyond this village lies Myanmar. The village is a poor advertisement for India after all these years of independence. The nearest doctor is 20 km away. There is no power. The school is a cement hall with plywood partitions and little in the classrooms. Some benches in one room. That is it.
That is the question. Can the highway change the lot of people in the landlocked state tucked away in one corner of India?