A state under siege: Social distancing and lockdown in Mizoram
For my parent’s generation, the word “curfew” has haunting and traumatic memories than the present lockdown entails. Mizoram, during its period of insurgency, was under frequent lockdowns and curfews, more stringent than the present one. It was also marked by fear of the known, violence in its many avatars and the prospect of dim future. You don’t know how the situation was going to turn out. You can only hope and pray for a better future.
The present lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, is a different tune from those troubled days. Mizoram government itself ordered a partial lockdown before the announcement from the Centre. Local Task Forces were created taking manpower and administering from the local councils/village councils and the YMA to bolster the manpower of the state administration. Each local task force has jurisdiction within its own local area and created manned posts in various places.
The difference from the past is that this time, the enemy is not a person, it is an organism. Because of this, the fear psychosis is also different. First, everyone in the world is fighting against it. It is not state against state, it is not man against man. Rather, it is man, whole civilisation against the virulent forces of nature in its most deadly form. Secondly, the fear is against the unknown. Whether it has invaded our land, whether it has reached our hills, perhaps my neighbour who recently returned from abroad may have it. All these are worrying thoughts running rampant through our mind and our daily waking existence. Because of these, the fear is shallow in certain ways and deeply rooted in many other aspects.
In Mizoram, when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, life suddenly changed. Like other Northeastern states, Mizoram is marked by a social life that is deeply rooted in community life and relations. Akin to Durkheimian mechanical solidarity, the social relationship is still based on community life, a relationship that spans clans, tribes, social organisations like the church, YMA/YLA/MTP and other organisations. Friendship networks and other intricate interlocking relationship make it a problem to a large extent. Social distancing is an anti-thesis to a close-knit society like that of the Mizos where friendship and daily interactions form one of the hallmarks. However, this was taken in stride by the Mizos. Churches were closed (first time in my memory), weddings and other social gatherings were cancelled. Curfew began to be in places.
Of course, the lockdown is not without its share of heroes/heroines, bad guys and the occasional jokers. Since the lockdown, the local task forces have been on duty in each locality. As the lockdown has been on for some time, people started running out of daily essentials. Besides ensuring that people do not break the law, the local task force also took initiatives in providing daily foodstuff to the households. Food items are strictly rationed and distributed equitably. Many daily-wagers who run out of food are provided by these task forces through donations from citizens, churches and other organisations. Many non-Mizos who cannot go back home are also taken care of by these task forces.
Each locality has its own YMA information centre which is basically a network of public address system, a chain of loudspeakers placed in various vantage points within the locality with one control room. In peaceful times, these are used as information centres for death in the locality, availability of goods in the local PDS centres as well as for disseminating government instructions and announcements. However, now, these information centres are used for enforcing the lockdown, giving information about COVID-19, and for general information as everybody has to be inside. On Sunday, some locality even used them as a makeshift church, with pastors delivering their sermons from them, one denomination in the morning, another in the evening, and so on.
Since everyone is inside, WhatsApp use is rampant and news and fake news are circulated with equal vigour. For a community that is generally gregarious, being locked down is something which they have not even imagined before, post the insurgency days. But, people are taking it in their strides and families are together again to rediscover familial ties and values. After enjoying relative peace for a long time, people are rediscovering what a curfew is. Many are talking about what our parent’s generation must have gone through to live in fear during the insurgency.
To cut a long winding story short, the lockdown in Mizoram because of COVID-19 has ushered in various new dynamics. As already mentioned above, social distancing and lockdown are something which are against the very thesis that is Mizo society. For a society that revels in community endeavours and good neighbourliness it is an attack on the society. The enemy being something which we cannot see and which does not discriminate at all. Tlawmngaihna and the past valours are put at test. The local task force are doing yeoman service with the present crisis. Beside the state administrative machinery and the police forces, the local citizens, banded through YMA, etc, are coming out to help in this time of crisis without expectation of anything in return. Their rationale being to be tlawmngai and help others and the state so that the lockdown will be just that, lockdown of the people inside their home but not a lockdown of life, and not the end of availability of daily needs so that people in distress can be helped out.
Tlawngngaihna also enters a new phase in these dark times. Earlier, it was an ethos for helping others without expecting anything in return. These days, tlawmngaihna is social distancing; helping others by not doing anything at all that may harm, or in worst case, infect others and help spread the infection.
COVID-19 tested the resilience of tlawmngaihna and it came out with flying colours till now. May it continue to hold on and may COVID-19 pass and become a memory in the near future.
(Zara Bawitlung is a civil servant turned academician. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal)