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SSA in Mizoram: Nomads, who?
In Mizoram, nearly 15,000 children, mostly minority Chakmas and Brus, are still out of school. It is high time the SSA Mizoram stopped blaming the socalled 'nomadic' nature of the minorities, which is a fallacy of its own creation.
THE OXFORD Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines 'nomad' as 'member of a tribe that wanders from place to place looking for pasture for its animals and having no fixed home'.

Recently, there have been several reports in the media quoting unnamed Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) Mizoram mission officials who attributed the failure of the SSA in Mizoram to the Chakma and Bru communities who have been levelled as 'nomadic tribes'.

The SSA has been functioning in Mizoram since 2000. But as of now, at least, 14,826 children aged between six and fourteen years, mostly belonging to minority communities like Chakmas and Brus, have been deprived of formal education. There has been no consistency in the official figure, however. Earlier in February 2008, SSA Mizoram officer on special duty, Robert Romawia Royte stated that only 2,000 children were out of school.

The reputed Press Trust of India has quoted unidentified SSA officials as saying: “Majority of the children who are not attending schools belonged to Chakma and Bru as the two communities are nomadic tribes. It is hard to bring their children to schools due to their shifting from one village to another often.”

As per as I know this is the second instance in which SSA officials have unrepentantly blamed the Chakmas for the failure of the SSA to reach to the most vulnerable sections of society in Mizoram.

Way back in February 2008, Robert Romawia Royte stated: “About 2,000 children are believed to be still out of schools. They are from the residual or the hardcore groups. They belong to the nomadic families of Chakmas along the Indo-Bangla border, migrants and religious sects who do not allow their children to study.”

These are racist statements against the ethnic minorities in particular the Chakmas.

Instead of focusing more attention on the ways to educate the minorities, the SSA officials in Mizoram have been publicly calling the Chakmas 'nomads' while justifying SSA’s inability to reach to the Chakmas. Such remarks can only emerge out of utter ignorance about the Chakmas and/or due to the personal prejudice against this community. If what they meant by calling the Chakmas 'nomads' is their traditional practice of Jhum cultivation which requires shifting of the place of cultivation every year, I do not understand as to why Mizos also should not be called nomads as substantial number of Mizo population are also engaged in Jhum cultivation. The SSA officials should know that Jhum is increasingly being recognised in this civilised world as a form of agriculture, not a nomadic lifestyle of the tribals. But surprisingly, no official has ever dared to call the Mizo Jhum cultivators as nomads. Why two standards are being applied to measure the success of the SSA in Mizoram?

Presently, the government of Mizoram is seeking Rs 2,500 crore grant from the Central government to weed out Jhum cultivation and provide sustainable livelihoods to the people. If only the Chakmas and Brus are officially nomads, then a major portion of this Central assistance should go to them. But I know that would never happen.

It is true that the SSA mission has failed in Mizoram among the minorities. But the failure of the SSA among the Chakmas has nothing to do with whether the Chakmas are nomads or not. Substantial number in both Chakma and Mizo communities are engaged in Jhum cultivation but no SSA official has ever explained why the education mission has reached all the Mizos but not the Chakmas or the Brus. It is because Jhum cultivation has little to do with the successes or failures of the SSA mission in Mizoram. Contrary to the general notion, the Jhum cultivation does not require the tribal people to shift their habitations from place to place each year. They go to cultivate their Jhum fields for some months of the year but basically they remain rooted to their houses in their respective villages. Often, the children were allowed to stay home. The government must come up with lucrative incentives in some cases to encourage the children to attend school. Simply putting the blame on the victims does not help.

But the reality of SSA Mizoram is completely different on the ground. The SSA has become a breeding ground for rampant discrimination and injustice against the Chakmas in Mizoram. The Mizoram SSA mission’s slogan is 'Mi Tin Tana Zirna Leh Hmasawnna' which means 'education and development for all'. But it seems that 'all' does not include the Chakmas and other microscopic minorities of the state. The functioning and administration of SSA in Chakma areas has been frustrating, to say the least.

Let me summarise some of the most important points below:
  • The SSA has been used just as a job vending machine in Mizoram. Non-local Mizo teachers have been appointed in Chakma areas although they can neither speak the Chakma tongue nor understand the cultural sensibilities of the local population. Given that the Chakma children do not understand Mizo tongue, such appointment of non-local Mizos to teach the Chakma children is merely waste of the tax payers’ money.
  • There is neither accountability nor transparency in some of the appointments as according to norms locals must be given preference and the appointment should be cleared by the Village Education Committee, usually headed by the elected head of the village.
  • It is seen that most of the Mizo teachers appointed in Chakma areas often do not attend classes. Some of them even do not live in the villages as they are non-locals.
  • Several non-local Mizo teachers have taken transfer, leaving the schools with only single teacher (usually Chakma) to teach students numbering above 60.

It is high time the SSA Mizoram stopped blaming the so-called 'nomadic' nature of the minorities, which is a fallacy of its own creation, but did enough to take some corrective measures to make the elementary education mission more inclusive on the basis of equality and non-discrimination.
 

COMMENTS (6)
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shyamal chakma
i am studying in tata institute of social sciences, mumbai in a under graduate social work courses. i m selected for student exchange programme with victoria university, melbourne for my final and last semester. society, structure, culture and change is one of my favourite paper in the course. i studied about tribes, schedule tribes, nomadic tribe and so on. i personally worked with maharashtrian nomadic tribe called "Pardy" who do not even have universal adult franchise right and they are the one who first started to fight against the british and they branded them as thief and they are still called and treated as thief by the Indians. (?). in our campus there are many tribals student and students from northeast. in my class or even in college i always felt respected as being the chakma as i do have our own chakma scripts which no one have.. even though there are mizo scripts but it is english script. the characteristics, feature and nature of a tribe even though has been describe differently by different scholars and social scientist but i observed and felt that there is a need for dept study those who want to use the words nomadic tribe. it is an insult to the chakma and excuse for the questions of development in the chakmas and brus villages or communities. those who describe the chakma as nomadic tribe they are very narrow and discriminative in nature. infact the chakmas in bangladesh major occupation is not Jhum cultivation. i hope we all together can make mizoram one of the most developed, prosperious and peaceful state in the country. so should not focuss on this kind of narrow, cheap, discriminative and excuse nature which will lead to no one good.
Halapudi Chakma
With due respect to the Journalistic attitude of my fellow Mizorami Indian Zohmingmawia...I would like to request him to ask the concern SSA Official if he means that Lushei's, Maras, Hmars, Kukis & other tribes in Mizoram do not practice JHUM Cultivation? If he says "YES" then the concern SSA official should do a bit of research on Mizoram & it's people before shooting his Bad Mouth. ..And if he says "NO" then request him to resign from his post, because his statement was misinformation, discriminatory in nature & intention just to find an excuse for the failure of SSA Mizoram at the cost of Chakmas & Brus. Further, I request Zohmingmawia to kindly visit the Chakma areas to check the signboards for SSA Programms...they are all written in Mizo Script & Language. Now they might argue that since Mizo is the Official language of Mizoram, hince the signboards are in Mizo and everyone should know how to read & write Mizo which means chakmas & other children of Mizoram should know how to Read & Write Mizo before going to school.... I believe Sign Boards are for communication purposes, to take the message to the targeted masses and that's the reason why we have signboards in Mizo Language in Mizoram (mizo populated areas) not in Hindi though it is a National Scheme (by the way our national language is Hindi). So why SSA Mizoram didn't put signboards in Chakma in Chakma areas if there intention is to take the Sarbha Siksha Abhiyan (Education for all) message to the Chakmas. Perhaps for SSA Mizoram "all" doesn't include the Chakmas...... Dear Zohming...please let me know after your trip to Chakma areas and probably another interaction with the same SSA official.... Long Live Mizoram & its People... Cheers!
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