Aizawl: At around 5 pm on Sunday, the hills of Aizawl were ringing with an important announcement. As is the custom when there is an important announcement to be made by the Young Mizo Association, the microphones across all localities in Aizawl were turned on for every citizen to hear.

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While these announcements are usually concerned with news of a community member’s death or of ration shops opening, this time it was a new matter.

“Tomorrow at 12 pm, the Central Young Mizo Association has organised a community demonstration at Raj Bhavan to show our solidarity for our brethren refugees fleeing Bangladesh. Let us all gather to show that we share their pain. Our brethren fleeing their homes are being pushed back, which has even resulted in deaths. We appeal to all Mizo men and women as well as youth to gather together,” said the announcer. 

As a result of armed conflicts between the Bangladesh anti-terrorism unit, Rapid Action Battalion and ethnic insurgents, Kuki-Chin National Army(KNA), Kuki-Chin refugees from Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) in Bangladesh have started escaping their villages seeking safety in the border villages of Mizoram. The Kuki-Chin community in Bangladesh share ethnic ties with the Mizos.

The demonstration was called to protest the death of a senior pastor, Sawmkhup, in a jungle due to starvation after he was reportedly denied entry and ‘pushed back’ by the Border Security Forces. 

At 12 pm on Monday, people started gathering from across the city in front of Raj Bhavan. With the back of a pickup truck used as a stage, the heads of the apex NGOs in Mizoram, the Central Young Mizo Association and two student bodies, Mizo Students Union and Mizo Zirlai Pawl, sat in a row and delivered their speeches one by one. 

In his speech, the Central Young Mizo Association President R Lalngheta said the Central government has to change its outlook. “Our brother who passed away could not walk anymore. He struggled hard to make an escape and seek refuge in our state, but he was pushed back. The Mizo people are against this.” he said.  

“Amit Shah had promised us a BSF battalion made up of Mizo people. We want him to stand on his promise and give us a security force at the border that cares for the Mizo people,” he said.

The next speech given by MZP President Lalnunmawia Pautu focused on the Border Security Forces, where he challenged the Mizo youth by saying, “If the BSF continues to push back our brethren, we have to get ready to face them”.

The last speech was delivered by MSU President Samuel Zothanpuia. He said, “We dare not call them refugees as they are our brothers and sisters returning to their true home. The only possessions our brothers and sisters can give us are their hearts and the clothes they are wearing but inhuman service has been shown to them by the BSF.”

He made an appeal saying, “We are Mizo here living peacefully under the Indian union. If you wish, if you could, treat us like an Indian, treat us like the other states. We are Mizos living here peacefully in Mizoram. Because of British colonialism, we the Chin-Kuki people were separated into three countries. Help us unite our people, our tribe, and our nation. We are not cowards. We will fight till the end.”

Demonstrations were carried out across district headquarters as well. 

In 2018, a similar gathering was called by the Joint NGO Co-ordination Committee, also at Raj Bhavan, where thousands of youth gathered in protest. However, the gathering on Monday was relatively small compared to the previous protest, despite repeated announcements in localities. The majority of the people gathered were either political representatives or members of certain committees in their respective YMA branches. 

Lalngaihawma, a 26-year-old from the Tlangnuam locality told EastMojo, “There is fewer youth at the gathering. The way we show our concern is just by speaking about the issue. We fail to show our concern through our actions.”

59-year-old J Dengdailova from Hunthar locality echoed the youngster’s opinion. “Despite announcements being made in all localities, there are very few people. For important issues such as these, we have to leave our work behind and show up,” he said.

Despite the Kuki-Chin refugees fleeing to Mizoram since November, both Lalngaihawma and J Dengdailova had only come to know about the plight of the refugees fleeing Bangladesh after the death of Sawmkhup.

Opposition MLA, Lalduhoma told EastMojo that he believes such incidents could have been avoided if action had been taken at the right moment. “The state government is a part and parcel of the central government. They belong to NDA, so if they had taken immediate action right at the moment, right at the beginning, this would not have happened. Because the action was not taken at the right time, people had to come together,” he said.

He also suggested that BJP, by pushing back against these refugees, were acting against their main philosophy which is to be a ‘humanitarian’.

“We have been standing under the sun for a couple of hours over an issue of life and death that is taking place in the Indo-Bangladesh border. We know that these refugees are pushed back by the BSF and people are dying of starvation. I understand that India is trying to become part of the security council in the United Nations. It is unbecoming for such a country to act in the manner that it did. I hope the Government of India will not play diplomacy at the cost of the lives of the people. I hope they treat the refugees with respect and give them whatever is needed – financial or economic,” Lalduhoma said.

Congress opposition MLA also shared Lalduhoma’s viewpoint saying, “The Union government should take action on humanitarian grounds. The world pays heed to people who are fleeing for their lives. The government should be telling us not to stop them, but to let them in.”

Strong support for the refugees was shown by PAMRA (Peace Accord MNF Returnees Association). Their member, R. Lalhmingliani, the widow of Lalthanmawia who had been part of the MNF Army said, “When our men were struggling to survive in the jungle, the Bawm people had shown kindness to us and gave their food. Their pain today is our pain. They are our true brothers and sisters.”

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Apart from calling a demonstration, the Central YMA also took action by writing a letter to the Union Home Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday. In it, they stated that around 500 Mizo ethnic tribe communities entered Mizoram, “due to the recent military action of Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) against the Kuki-Chin National Army.”

They further wrote on the death of Sawmkhup, stating, “Therefore, in view of above cited unfortunate event/incident and inhuman act which caused loss of a precious human life due to the insensitive treatment of the forces, it is our sincere request to look into the matter on humanitarian grounds and to take urgent steps for stopping of pushing back of our brethren who have sought temporary refuge in our state for their immediate safety and security of their lives and to provide food, shelter and other interim necessary facilities to those displaced Mizo ethnic brethren within Indian territory on humanitarian grounds.”

Also Read | Mizoram: Senior pastor fleeing B’desh dies of hunger following BSF blockade

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