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M. S. Thirumalai
THE SOCIO-ECONOMICS OF LINGUISTIC IDENTITY
A CASE STUDY IN THE LUSHAI HILLS
Satarupa Dattamajumdar, Ph.D.
The widely spoken issue of under development in the northeast region of India witnessed the glottochronology of the changing socio-political scenario which affected the livelihood, ethnicity, identity and language of the people from time to time. Mizoram is one such northeast Indian state that experienced various sociological, linguistic and economic problems at different points of time. Being a place of sub-ethnic coexisting multilingual communities, Mizoram which is also popularly known as Lushai Hills, became a field for insurgency, identity crisis, religious hegemony in the political horizon from time to time. With such a historical backdrop, the present paper aims at examining the relationship of language and politics with special reference to the linguistic attitude of the people of the Lushai Hills in the ever-changing socio-cultural and socio-economic scenario of the place.
Field investigation regarding language attitude has been carried out for the study without administering any formal questionnaire to the respondents due to the socio-political sensitivity of the area and the people towards the people of the plains. The study essentially focuses on the present day socio-political attitude of the Mizos, its reflections in their linguistic identity and attempts to trace the rationale behind such attitude, by studying the glottochronology of the social, political, and economic conditions of this linguistic state.
The present state of Mizoram (mi = human, zou = hill, ram = land; the land of hill people) was called the Lushai Hills and was a district of Assam, before it became a Union Territory and afterwards a full-fledged state. Many pre-literate communities constitute this state, the majority among them are the Lushai people. The successful movement toward the creation of Nagaland has encouraged the tribal or pre-literate peoples of non-Naga orgin to organize themselves for effective political action including insurgency in Lushai Hills, and, over the decades, the demand for a distinct political territory for the people of Lushai Hills resulted in the creation of a separate Union Territory and afterwards the State of Mizoram. In this struggle, one of the powerful factors was the movement to call themselves Mizo, rather than by distinct tribal names such as Lushai, Pawi, Hmar, etc. This trend toward a unified linguistic label for all within Lushai Hills was also modeled after the use of the generic term Naga in Nagaland. (Thirumalai, personal communication.)
2. THE DEMOGRAPHY
Sandwiched between Myanmar in the east and south and Bangladesh in the east with a total of 630 miles, the place is inhabitated by the people whom Grierson (1903. Linguistic Survey of India vol. 3.) broadly grouped in the Kuki-Chin linguistic group of the Tibeto-Burman sub-family. Historically speaking, Mizos are a part of the great wave of the Mongolian race spilling over into the eastern and southern India, centuries ago. Their sojourn in western Burma, into which they eventually drifted around the 7th century, lasted about ten centuries. They came under the influence of the British missionaries in the 19th century. The spread of education by Christian missionaries led to the high percentage of literacy (95% as per national sample survey).
3. THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
During the later part of the British rule, the people in Lushai Hills as well as in Manipur Hills felt that the British administration was trying to adopt the policy of control through the chiefs of the community. There were several rebellions against the British rule (for example, the Kuki Rebellion in 1920s in Manipur Hills against British intervention). As a result, an anti-chief movement gained ground and in 1946 a political party named Mizo Common People's Union (MCPU) was formed. In the event of India being independent, the Mizo Union declared that the Mizos to be included with Assam. But, in reality, with the independence of the country, the secessionist group in the party favoured joining with Burma. The separation of India from Burma in the year 1937, the partition of India in 1947 and the administrative extension over the Indian part of the area negatively impacted the free mobility of the inhabitants, despite the existing rules that allowed free cross-over across Indo-Burma international border. The situation is rightly described by Chaube (1999:174) as, "... the territorial demarcations were never accepted by the people." Not only this, since the British period, the various sub-ethnic groups were gradually losing their ethnic identities which had reflections in the census of India.
4. THE SOCIOLINGUISTIC MOSAIC
The multi-ethnic and pluralistic state of Mizoram exhibits a co-existence of different communities like - Hmar, Pawi, Lakher or Mara , Riang, and Chakma.
In Mizoram there are two groups of Hmars --- those who are completely Mizoised and those who are only partially assimilated by Mizo culture. The Hmars who are completely Mizoised have undergone changes in respect to their cultural ethos and values and are satisfied to consider themselves as Mizos. But the partially assimilated Hmars, while identifying themselves as Mizos, are at the same time fully aware of their distinct identity, traditions, customs and language. It is among this group of partially assimilated Hmars that the search for a separate identity has gained momentum.
When the Mizo National Front (MNF) started its independence movement in 1966, the Hmars joined them with the hope of 'Greater Mizoram'. But, when the Mizo accord was signed in 1986, the integration of Hmar inhabited areas of Mizoram was not considered except ensuring the social and economic advancement of the minorities in Mizoram. Being disillusioned, the Hmars in Mizoram formed the Hmar People's Convention (HPC) in 1986. The movement of the Hmar gained ground and the armed confrontation continued till HPC representatives mutually agreed to ministerial talks and signed the memorandum in July 1994. With a view to satisfying the desires and aspirations of the Hmar community in Mizoram, the state government agreed to initiate measures to introduce Hmar language as a medium of instruction upto the primary level. They also agreed to recognize Hmar language as one of the major languages of the state of Mizoram.
With the promulgamation of the constitution as a Sovereign Democratic Republic in 1950, the Pawi - a semi nomadic migratory community have been given constitutional safeguards by granting them an autonomous Pawi Regional Council under the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution.
Lakher or Mara is the predominant community of the south eastern corner of Mizoram. The demand for separate Lakher hill district in 1945 led to the formation of an organized political party called Mara Freedom Party. Their struggle for identity having passed through several politico-historical events, now plays an important part in the political horizon. Their maintenance of language as a symbol of identity has been supported by their education. Due to the spread of Christianity, education also spread and moulded their social life. The Lakher literacy percentage contributes a lot to the good standing of Mizoram state in terms of literacy.
The origin of Riang is said to be Maian Tlang, a hill near Rangamati of Bangladesh. Some opine that they originally belong to the Shan state of Burma where they migrated from Chittagong and then into Tripura during 14th century. Their migration from Tripura to Mizoram took place quite recently. The census report shows a remarkable rise in Riang population within a very short period.
Residing in the district of Lungleh, Chakma community is said to be comparatively recent immigrants of Mizoram. Controversy regarding the origin of Chakma has resulted in various opinions regarding the Chakmas. Some opine that Chakmas belong to the eastern group of the Indo Aryan family and some say that they belong to the Lushai Chin-Thado group of community belonging to the Tibeto-Burman group of Mongolian race. The influx of Chakma community to the Indian states of Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram can be ascribed to the ethnic and religious differences in the land. With the political upheaval of Mizoram in 1966, the Chakma people suffered a great loss of life and properties. The issue of Chakma as belonging to distinct ethnic group, speaking different dialect, culture and religion from others, badly needed a political status. This led to the formation of the new district council for Chakma people. Now the Chakmas are a part and parcel of Mizoram and as they constitute a District Tribal Community, their identity is very conspicuous.
Till now, the movement for the recognition of Chakma language in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution is in vogue. The attitude of Mizo people towards Chakma as an immigrant population feeds to the strong feeling of identity of the Chakma people in the western part of the state.
5. THE POLITICO-LINGUISTIC SCENARIO
Consequent to independence, the change in administrative set up of Mizoram led to an anti-chief movement. The agitation brought forward the general mass's feeling against the autocratic chiefs and that of the Mizo union's support. Bordoloi sub-committee suggested the constituent assembly to set up special administration where it was spelt that the tribal people should be free from any domination or fear of exploitation by the developed section of the people of the plain. They should enjoy full freedom regarding their own inheritance, customs, social organization and administration as well as their own language.
In 1955 the demand regarding the formation of a separate hill state was put forward in a tribal leader's meeting in Aizwal. The introduction of Assamese as the official language of Assam in 1960 led to the protest against the Official Language Act of 1961. This was followed by insurgency that took place in 1966 resulting in the attack of the installations in Aizwal and Lunglei. Mizoram was declared Union Territory on 21st January 1972. The whole atmosphere was still surcharged with the feelings of anti non-Mizo attitude. Mr. Laldenga, the MNF president, signed peace accord in 1986 with the government of India regarding certain issues. Mr. Laldenga came to the ministry in the Interim government which was formed in coalition with Congress in 1987 and the Statehood of Mizoram was proclaimed on 20th February 1987.
6. THE PRESENT STATE OF ATTITUDE
Mizoram is now leading towards economic development and the spread of education in a substantial manner, the recognition of Mizo language in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution is an undercurrent demand that is evident in various aspects of social and political life. The dominance of the English language is evident especially in the fields of education, official matters and other formal domains as in other parts of India. English has already penetrated the life and blood of the Mizo people for a pretty long time along with the the spread of education. Christian missionaries in the 19th century developed the current alphabetic system adopted for the Mizo language. Adoption of the Roman script has further facilitated the learning of the English language. The admiration and demand for the use of English in Mizoram is no different from the same attitude in other parts of India.
Though institutes for spoken Hindi can be seen in Aizwal, these seems to be deliberate and forceful attempts on the part of government organizations and NGOs. The anti non-Mizo attitude is still in vogue either in the name of religion or in the name of heritage and immigration. Field investigation reveals a common saying among the Mizos - "We are Mizos by birth and Indians by chance." As Thirumalai points out in his personal communication, it is probably due to the linguistic fact of ordinary language expression in Mizo that distinguishes between people from within (the native community) and people from without, similar to the expressions found in Manipuri/Meithei, Thadou/Kuki, and many other languages of the region (such as mayang in Manipuri/Meithei, and kolpa in Thadou) (Personal communication from Thirumalai).
During field investigation a Mizo person who understands Hindi was asked when and how he learned Hindi (an Indo-Aryan language), he responded with the statement ---- "I was in Hindustan for sometime ..." During the investigation, I was asked by many people as----"Have you come from 'Hindusthan' for official work?" Such statements reveal the linguistic attitude of not identifying himself as Hindustani (a community from without). The best interpretation that we can offer is that a lack of exposure to the other parts of India and other Indian peoples in the plains beyond Mizo hills for centuries resulted in a binary categorization of from within as opposed to from without. This is an areal feature (personal communication from Thirumalai). However, one does notice a hesitation towards engaging with the people of the plains and it is reflected in their uncomfortable attitude to interact with the non-Mizos. Just as many other linguistic groups in India such as the Tamils, Mizos have also engaged themselves actively in a long drawn out socio-political struggle for identity and recognition, and extracting political power from the Central Government in New Delhi. Due to the fear of being assimilated with other communities, aversion towards cultural admixture seems to be a reality of the Lushai hills.
Thus, the above discussion that brings into light the major multi-ethnic, socio-linguistic situation of Mizoram clearly attests to the fact that the existent socio-political situation has its roots in the geo-linguistic and geo-political history of the region. The hilly terrain of the Lushai Hills possesses a unique landscape - picturesque and gentle hill folds - that has every potential to attract tourism from both national and international levels. Though it may not ever become the major source of economic development in Lushai Hills, tourism has its due place in the economy of this beautiful mountainous region, which at present is largely a land of subsistence economy. Possible solution could be found through developing an open welcome toward the people of other parts of India, even when the land acquisition and residence rights could be regulated in favor of the Mizos. Poverty and lack of communication with the developed areas, in spite of a higher rate of literacy, thus, constitute an integral part in the vicious circle of the problem of this north-east Indian state.
Chaube, S.K. 1999. Hill Politics in North-east India. Patna: Orient Longman.
Lalnithanga, P. 1997. Mizoram. New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Govt. of India. Patiala House.
Parry, N.E. 1988. Lushai custom; A monograph on Lushai customs and ceremonies. Aizwal: Tribal Research Institute.
Shakespear, J. 1988. The Lushai Kuki Clans. Aizwal : Tribal Research Unit.
Tribal Research Institute. 1994. The Tribes of Mizoram. (A Dissertation) Aizwal: Tribal Research Institute, Directorate of Art and Culture.
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