While Mizoram’s Chief Minister Zoramthanga expressed solidarity with 700+ people who, after alleged atrocities by the Junta in Myanmar, crossed over into the state seeking refuge, the Centre needs not just to respond positively but also manoeuvre the security situation evenly.
Although the seeds for tension were sown, back in November 2020, when the Military of Myanmar (Tatmadaw) accused the Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy (NLD) party of irregularity and voter frauds in the general elections, it was the morning of 1 February, 2021 which officially saw a coup d’etat in the country.
The democratically elected members of the country’s ruling party, the NLD, were deposed by Myanmar’s military — which vests power in stratocracy. President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi were detained and the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Min Aung Hlaing assumed leadership.
For a country that has been beset with political instability since its independence, this wasn’t a surprise but perturbing, for people felt their hard-fought battle for democracy had been lost. The military had ruled Myanmar from 1962 until 2011. And the 2020 general elections offered a glimmer of hope of constitutional reforms.
In early 2021 in opposition to the coup d’état, the domestic civil resistance efforts, known locally as the Spring Revolution, have mainly been peaceful and non-violent. Yet, as per the news on CNN, at least 500+ people have been killed by the Junta. Fearing persecution and uncertainty about their future in the country, 700+ Burmese nationals, including police officers and civilians, fled to Mizoram.
Myanmar and India share a 1,600 KMs border, of which Mizoram alone accounts for 500 KMs. Mizoram and the Chin state in Myanmar have shared ethnicities.
Zoramthanga held a virtual meeting with the Myanmar Foreign Minister-in-exile Zin Mar Aung of the National League for Democracy despite the Home Ministry’s advisory to the border state governments, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, to identify Myanmar nationals fleeing the coup and deport them.
Mizoram’s CM also said that Mizoram couldn’t be indifferent to the Chin Communities suffering who were ethnically Mizo brethren, as per the Indian Express.
Before arriving at any definitive conclusion about his statements, one must understand the underlying notions. The Chin Hills or the Indo-Chin hill ranges are mountainous regions in north-western Myanmar. Home to the Zo people, including all the tribes that come under Chin-Kuki-Mizo ethnic group, the region is culturally and socially close to the people on the other side of the border, especially in the districts of Champhai and Serchhip.
Besides the shared ethnicity, shared religion binds these two people, notwithstanding the number of people (pegged at 88%) who follow Christianity in the state. Furthermore, Rih Dil in Chin State, Myanmar, is a spiritual lake for the Mizos, deeply revered in folklore.
Also, an agreement called the Free Movement Regime (FMR) permits people to traverse 16 KMs on both sides of the border and also stay up to 14 days.
It’s perhaps due to such reasons that the Mizo National Front decided to give up its secessionist demand and the use of violence in 1986, culminating in the formation of their state, Mizoram.
Over the years, refugees like Afghans, Tibetans, Sri Lankan Tamils, etc., have been welcomed in the country, but India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under the convention, 145 signatory states grant asylum and provide for visa-free travel for holders of refugee travel documents.
According to the Centre, illegal migrants use the limited opportunities available to the locals, thereby infringing their fundamental rights. The Central government is right in its analysis. However, scrutinising the situation at the regional level is a must for stability in Northeast India.
For instance, just 2 days after the Military Coup in Myanmar, the apex Mizo Students Body, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl, held a sit-in demonstration in Aizawl to show solidarity with the Burmese people. Several Mizo Village Council authorities have issued statements and letters confirming their willingness to support Chin people seeking asylum in the state.
Thus, the Centre can’t turn a blind eye to the situation in Myanmar. It must deal passively and hold discussions with Zoramthanga and the Chief Ministers of the remaining border states. The Union government must remain vigilant and strengthen security in the Indo-Burmese border areas, which remain porous until the situation returns to normalcy in Myanmar, which seems bleak at best.