Peace is possible

SPREAD across nine acres in Dwarka, west Delhi, the recently inaugurated first-ever Centre for North-eastern Culture – meant specifically for the North-east population residing in the national capital — has an auditorium and a lecture hall for formal functions, with an open lawn for recreation and outdoor activities. Its setting up is in response to fears expressed by North-easterners over the continued attacks by locals or “mainland Indians” aimed specifically at their womenfolk in Delhi.

A joint collaboration of the North Eastern Council and Cultural Resources and Training, it was the outcome of several discussions and meetings with students, North-east representatives and the Delhi government, including the Prime Minister. The objective is to bridge the gap of knowledge and understanding, culture, traditions. “We all need to learn from each other,” said Kumari Selja, Union minister for culture and housing and urban poverty alleviation, at the inaugural function. She said the centre would serve as a “hub” of interaction.

As of now, it is a mere infrastructure, waiting for North-easterners, Delhi locals, mainland Indians and the government to transform it into a centre of diversity and learning to bridge the psychological distance. Significantly, the inauguration was held in commemoration of the peace accord signed in 1986 between the Mizo National Front (represented by Laldenga), the government of India and the Mizoram government (represented by the then home secretary and chief secretary, respectively). Twenty-five years down the line, Mizoram today is the most peaceful state in the country. The peace accord, therefore, was also applauded as being the most successful of its kind, not only in India but in all of south Asia.

In its march to development, Mizoram today figures as the second highest in literacy, with a record 91.85 per cent. It is also the only state in the country that has a unique airport (Lengpui) on top of a mountain, with many hill streams running below the runway.

Though many Mizos still remember the mautaam — the great famine and the hardships faced during the two decades of a bloody conflict (Mizoram is the first and only place where an aerial attack was carried out by the the Indian Air Force on rebels) — they have now become masters of their own destiny. They wrote ( “Mizoram is our homeland, it is not given or gifted, not acquired, or bought, nor made, but a historic creation of the collective enterprise of people; bodily, spiritually, morally over a span of generations...”

True, Mizoram’s return to normality has involved a collective process, by the government, the rebels and most, importantly, the Church and traditional civil bodies such as the Young Mizo Association.

It was, indeed, touching to see a black and white photograph of Laldenga being greeted by
Mizos in Aizawl. Also noteworthy was the public welcome for surrendered militants, with prayers held across Mizoram, and their integration into the mainstream after Mizo leaders warned against any discrimination against MNF cadres.

In contrast lies the rest of North-east India, where “unrest” continues. In the past decades, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and Tripura have witnessed violence on an everyday basis.

However, Union minister for Development of North-east Region Paban Singh Ghatowar says other states in the area are also on the path of peace and that currently most of the rebels/insurgent groups are engaged in talks with the Centre.

To be fair, agreements and accords do not come easy. As in the case of Mizoram, the process went through several trials. The first attempt was made in 1968 by church leaders and it failed. In 1974, another attempt by then chief minister Pu Ch. Chhunga was unsuccessful. An effort initiated by the Church and political parties in 1983 fell through and, finally, the MNF leadership agreed to a ceasefire and the negotiation process began from 1984 that culminated in a peace accord in 1986.

But this accord was, per se, not what brought peace to Mizoram. It was the aftermath of the “signed” agreement, during which the two parties and the key stakeholders — the people of Mizoram – made sure the accord was honoured in word, letter and spirit — and practised.

If Mizoram today is peaceful, there is no reason why other states of the region cannot strive for the same experience. The Centre-NSCN(IM) talks have been going on for 15 years now and the Delhi-Ulfa dialogue has not registered much progress since the first formal meeting started on 10 February 2011. But if the participants on either side of the table, as also traditional and civil bodies put in a genuine effort, peace will not be far away for other North-east states.

The Statesman
February 13, 2012

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