Aizawl: In their 1895 book Beard hills, British Officials Raj Bertram S. Carey (Political Officer, Chin Hills) and HN Tuck (Political Assistant, Chin Hills) write in the first paragraphs of the first chapter: From the southern borders of Assam and Manipur, latitude 24 approx. the hills are now known to us as the Chin-Lushai tract and the inhabitants with the common names of Chins and Lushais. This Chin-Lushai tract is bordered on the north by Assam and Manipur, on the south by Arakan, on the east by Burma, and on the west by Tipperah and the Chittagong Hills.
A few paragraphs later, they write, Without pretending to speak with authority on the subject, we think we can reasonably accept the theory that the Manipuri Cuckoos, the Lushais of Bengal, and the Assamese and Chins originally lived in what we now know as Thibet and are of the same action; their form of government, way of cultivation, ways and customs, beliefs and traditions all point to an origin.
Lushais, or Luseis, make up a large part of the community now known as Mizo, after which Mizoram was carved as the Mizo District by Assam, before it became a Union Territory, and was finally named a state in 1987.
Fast forward to 2020. On March 24, a day before the first known Covid-19 issue was announced in Mizoram, the Aizawl-based news channel now uploaded a news release on its website.
Covid-19 case uncovered in Myanmar, two families from Champhai asked not to return to Mizoram at the moment, the title said.
The story explained that the confirmed Covid-19 patient was a man who had recently returned home from abroad to a Myanmar village called Kaptel, no more than 10 km as the crow flies by the Tiau River, which marks the border between India and Myanmar in northeastern Mizoram.
He then went on to explain the second part of the title: The man had returned home to get married and members of at least two families in the same neighborhood of Champhai, the largest city east of Mizoram, had gone to the other side of border to attend marriage-related ceremonies. As news of the confirmed Covid-19 test spread, local authorities in the Champhai neighborhoods contacted the two families and asked them not to return home for the time being.
The Mizo press would continue to report on the Covid-19 situation in Myanmar, particularly the provinces bordering the state, for months later, as the situation there could be directly related to the situation in Mizoram.
These two groups of writings, 125 years apart, show not only the close geographical and ethnic ties between the two areas, but also family and blood ties. They also go a long way in explaining the Mizoram governments’ constant calls to the central government not to push back those fleeing Myanmar on the eve of the February 1 coup and seeking refuge in Mizoram.
Read also: If we disobey them, they shoot us because many Myanmar police officers are fleeing to India
Mizoram Prime Minister Zoramthanga, among others, has referred to refugees as brothers and sisters on more than one occasion. The term can be considered as a reference to a common ethnicity, but can also be interpreted as literally.
Talk to anyone living on the eastern border of the Mizorams and chances are they will be able to shake up the names of the relationship if not theirs then of course their neighbors or someone they know well across the Tiau River or Kaladan. Both rivers act as the international border Tiau in the north, Kaladan in the south.
Even prominent figures of the ousted elected government in Myanmar are considered by Mizoram residents as a close ethnic relative.
Consider Henry Van Thio, Myanmar’s vice president from 2016 until he was ousted in the February 1 military enlistment. His photos were on the cover of a popular Aizawl-based monthly magazine, Lengzem, in the early days of the first government of Aung San Suu Kyis. Reason? Henry Van Thio is a beard, and he is referred to in Mizoram as Henry Vanthiau, the surname written locally.
Then there is Dr. Sasa, international envoy for the ousted civilian government. Dr Sasa, who has been charged with treason by the military junta, is from the Mara tribe, which has spread across parts of Chin State in Myanmar as well as in Southeast Mizoram, where they have their local government, the Mara Autonomous District Council .
Some Maras say they simply refer to the other side of the Kaladan River inhabited by the Mara community as Eastern Maraland, not like Myanmar, and not even Chin State.
But it is not just family or ethnic ties that bind Mizoram and Chin State. There are many historical reasons as well.
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It is often said in Mizoram that the largest lake of the states is in Myanmar. Rih-Dil, just a few kilometers on a hill from the border village of Zokhawthar in the Mizorams Champhai district, is the mythical gateway to the afterlife in the old Mizo belief system and was until about two years ago when vehicles were stopped crossing the border. international, a favorite local tourist destination.
In addition to the myths, there is small-scale trade that continues across the uncircumcised border and where the Free Movement Regime (FMR) is located which allows free movement of up to 16 km on both sides of the border.
Champhai is a hub for cross-border trade and traders, and Burmese goods abound in city markets, eventually making their way to the state capital Aizawl, which has a Burmese lane in its main bazaar and beyond.
The two countries also share a long history of mutual assistance and refugee accommodation.
During the Mizo Uprising (1966-86), many Mizos fled to the China Hills and beyond for safety and lived there. Many turned back after the peace was restored, but some still remain.
There was also a major movement for ethnic unity shortly after the uprising ended, as Burmese expert Bertil Lintner noted in his book Great East game. There, he writes about how the Indian Tricolor arose in parts of the Beard Hills. He also speaks for the Chin National Front (CNF), a Myanmar-based political group, writing to the Prime Minister of India in 1988 to express their desire for a political reunification of the Chins with their ethnic brothers living in India.
There was a wave of refugees from Myanmar as the popular uprising of 1988 swept the country and the army cracked down on protests and some of them continue to live in Mizoram today.
The third wave, again from Myanmar to Mizoram, occurred around 2007-08, when the cyclic flowering of bamboo which caused a rodent infection led to a famine, called mautam in Mizoram, as well as beard hills. A Human Rights Observer report since time immemorial, the number of Chins migrating to Mizoram in a staggering population of 1 loop, approximately one tenth of the population of Mizoram.
And when residents of Mizoram and Chin State do not cross the international border for housing, they help in case of disasters.
The most recent, perhaps, was in 2015, when floods devastated cities in Chin State and the Sagaing Division. Groups in Mizoram had subsequently sent aid to residents there as images of the flood gripped local social media and traditional media.
Given these long ethnic and geographical ties, it is not surprising that vigils were held in Aizawl and other places just days after the events of February 1, when local celebrities spoke in words and songs that leaders from across the Political Spectrum have expressed support and that charity street concerts have been staged recently like last weekend, all for people across the river.
Read also: Refugee crisis open question as Mizoram CM speaks with Myanmar’s foreign minister in exile
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