Mizoram belongs to the Seven Sisters Region of Southeast Asia, which consists of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. With an area of 21,081 square kilometres Mizoram, once a district of Assam, was made into a Union Territory in 1972 and attained full statehood in February, 1987. Although its size is bigger than those of Manipur and Tripura, its population is smaller - 686,217 - according to the 1991 census. The Mizos are a sturdy people. Their traditional society and culture have been characterised by certain distinctive features:
The term Mizo, which means highlander, refers to a composite group of allied tribes. These tribes started moving back into their present abode in India from the Chin hill tracts of Burma towards the beginning of the 18th century. The Lushais, the most dominant group among them, were the first to arrive. Other groups that followed the Lushai migration comprised the Hmars, the Pawis, the Raltes, the Paites, and the Thadous, etc. The Lakhers came somewhat later, and the Chakmas were the last to enter from the Chittagong tract. Initially each tribe or clan was eager to maintain its distinctive identity in respect of dialect, religious beliefs and social customs. But subsequently a process of integration and assimilation came into play, and there has now developed among them a common identity as Mizos. Although some of the major sub-tribes have retained their separate dialects within themselves, the minor one have given up theirs in favour of the Lushai dialect called Dulien. The Lushai hegemony has been accepted in other socio-cultural fronts as well.
An inherent spirit of self-help was nurtured. Widespread acceptance of Christianity and a high percentage of literacy have caused the Mizo society to move pretty fast along the path of modernity. But there are many indications to show that they are also not in favour of fully giving up traditional ways.
Mizoram, "the Land of the Highlanders", the change is instantaneous - from green paddy fields and tea estates to forests and bamboo-covered hills. Despite the difficult terrain, Mizoram is a gentle pastoral land, and the Mizos a friendly and welcoming people. Whitewashed Christian churches dot the landscape, making the region feel more like Central America than a state squeezed between Burma (Myanmar)and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.
Mizoram's two main species of bamboo flower every fifty years (one 18 years after the other), attracting hordes of rats and boosting their fertility rate fourfold. The rats devour crops in the fields, leaving famine in their wake. The first time this happened after Independence, in 1959, unpreparedness and apparent callousness on the part of Delhi and Assam led Laldenga, a clerk on the District Council, to found the Mizo Famine Front (MFF). Set up at first simply to fight the famine, it gradually transformed into the Mizo National Front (MNF), a guerrilla group fighting for Independent Mizoram.
The government's heavy-handed response in 1967, rounding up Mizos from their homes into guarded villages under curfew, not only boosted support for the MNF, but also wiped out the traditional Mizo way of life at a stroke. Bangladeshi independence was a bitter blow to the MNF, who relied on Pakistan support, and moderates on both sides eventually brought them to the negotiating table, where statehood was granted in 1986 in return for an end to the armed national liberation struggle. Laldenga became chief minister of the new state, but his administration proved rather a damp squib, and he lost to Congress in the following elections. The MNF have been in peaceful opposition ever since. A few diehards tried to continue the armed struggle, but without their leader, and with no popular support, they did not last for long. For the last few years, Mizoram has been at peace. It is the land where revolution was killed by India.
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