Hmars who primarily live in north and northwest parts of Mizoram bordering Manipur state are one of the first peoples to have settled in Mizoram. Although they are generally considered to be part of the larger Mizo family, Hmars have their distinct culture, language, and ethnic identity and they have been rightfully asserting their distinct identity to demand autonomy under the Indian Constitution.
In Northeast India, the Hmars are one of the microscopic minority indigenous peoples. As per Census 2011, their population is 29,587 in Mizoram, 48,375 in Manipur, 15,745 in Assam and 1,797 in Meghalaya. They are recognized as Scheduled Tribes in all these four states.
Struggle for Hmar autonomy:
The Hmars had supported the movement of Mizo Union and the Mizo National Front for the unification of all Mizo-inhabited areas into a single administrative unit, including the Hmar inhabited areas in Manipur and Assam including the Lushai Hills areas under Assam. The first community organization formed by the Hmars was the Hmar Students’ Association (HSA) at Imphal, Manipur in 1939 to cater to the needs of the Hmar students. The first Hmar political body, the Hmar Mongolian Federation (HMF) was formed at Lakhipur, Cachar (Assam). In 1953, more important political organization called the Hmar National Congress (HNC) was formed. In 1958, HNC and Mizo Union (Manipur) merged to form the Hmar National Union (HNU). The HNU demanded the integration of all Hmar-inhabited areas in Manipur and Assam (including the Lushai Hills) into a single administrative unit.
On 30 June 1986, the MNF after a prolonged armed insurgency signed the Mizoram Accord with the Government of India. On 3 July 1986, some Hmar leaders formed the Mizoram Hmar Association (MHA) which was later renamed as the Hmar People Convention (HPC) in the same year. The HPC demanded an Autonomous District Council (ADC) for the Hmars in line with the ADCs of the Lai, Mara and Chakma ethnic tribes in Mizoram who were granted ADCs on 29 April 1972 under Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India. The HPC also contested in Hmar-dominated constituencies in the Assembly Election in 1986. Although none of its candidates was elected, awareness about the Hmar sub-nationalism increased.
After Mizoram gained full statehood on 20 February 1987, the marginalisation of Hmars also increased. There was resentment among the Hmars in Mizoram that many Hmar-inhabited areas were excluded from the newly created State. Hmar leaders accused Mizoram government of pursuing a policy of “Mizo chauvinism” and forced assimilation. The lack of amenities and development in Hmar-inhabited areas was all pervading. Yet, any demand for recognition of rights of the Hmars was resented by the majority Mizos and the Mizoram government and considered as an attempt to disturb and destabilize Mizo unity.
In 1987-88, the HPC submitted petitions to the Governor of Mizoram, the Chief Minister of Mizoram, and the Prime Minister of India demanding that a Hmar ADC comprising all the Hmar-dominated areas in the north and northwest Mizoram. They highlighted discrimination and threats to the existence of their identity, culture, tradition and language and lack of development.
On 28 March 1989, the HPC organized a 24-hour bandh to highlight their plight. The Mizoram Armed Police (MAP) attacked the Hmar activists. In defiance, the HPC called a 144-hour bandh on 16 April 1989 which was brutally suppressed. The MAP allegedly unleashed a reign of terror, arresting even those who did not join the bandh, and subjected general public to torture and detention. This led the HPC to form an armed wing, the Hmar Volunteer Cell (HVC), to counter the Mizoram government. The first armed confrontation between the HVC and MAP occurred on 16 May 1989 at Moniarkhal in Cachar district of Assam and armed confrontations continued until 1992 when HPC and the Government of Mizoram agreed to hold talks. A Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) was signed between the Government of Mizoram and the HPC in Aizawl on 27 July 1994 which provided for creation of the Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC) for social, economic, cultural and educational advancement of the Hmars. Armed cadres of the HPC surrendered along with their weapons in October 1994.
The SHDC was officially formed on 27 August 1997 but failed to satisfy the growing aspirations of the Hmars. At the time of signing of the MoS in July 1994, a section of the HPC leadership had rejected the proposed deal and formed the HPC (Democratic), which has continued an armed movement for constitutional autonomy for Hmars within Mizoram.
In 2007, the Mizoram government led by Chief Minister Zoramthanga initiated dialogue with the HPC(D). In November 2009, the HPC(D) submitted a memorandum to the Home Minister of India urging the Indian government to immediately initiate tripartite talks addressing and demanded creation of a Hmar Territorial Council (HTC) within the framework of the Constitution of India within Mizoram. The HPC(D) stated that HTC would not compromise the territorial integrity of Mizoram.
In February 2010, a peace committee was formed under the initiative of the civil societies to broker talks between Mizoram government and the HPC(D). This initiative led to the signing of a Suspension of Operation (SoO) Agreement in Aizawl on 11 November 2010 for six months. The negotiations however broke down in August 2013 leading to arrest of a number of HPC(D) leaders.
On 28 March 2015, HPC(D) cadres attacked a convoy of Mizoram MLAs near Zokhawthlang village on the Mizoram-Manipur border in which three Mizo policemen were killed and six others were injured. The ambush led to hardening of position by the Mizoram government which launched crackdown on the Hmar militants. A number of top leaders of HPC(D) including “Army Chief” Lalropui Famhoite, “Finance Secretary” Norbar Sanate, “Sergeant” Lalchuailo alias L Hmar and “Commander” Biakliana were arrested by the Mizoram Police. The Mizoram Police killed “Sergeant” H C Malsawmkima alias Danny who is believed to have led the ambush.
In June 2015, the HPC(D) approached the State government with offers for conditional tripartite talks involving itself, the state government and the Central government. But the Mizoram government rejected any pre-condition. On 21 June 2015, the HPC(D)’s interlocutor Lalmuanpuia Punte reportedly met Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju to seek Centre’s interventions. But on 19 October 2015, Mizoram’s Home Minister R Lalzirliana ruled out any talk with the HPC(D) unless several arms and ammunitions stolen from the Mizoram Police personnel in the ambushes over the past a few years are first returned.
However, due to pressure from the Mizo civil society the ice was broken and the first round of official level talks was held between the Mizoram government and the representatives of the HPC(D) on 10 August 2016, followed by second round on 5-6 October 2016. The third round was held on 17 December 2016 where the HPC(D) surrendered three AK-47 rifles, one INSAS rifle, four 9 mm pistols, 17 magazines and 74 rounds of ammunition which included the arms taken away by the militants following the 28 March 2015 ambush. A temporary ceasefire agreement was also signed to maintain peace during the Christmas and New Year. The talks revolved around giving more autonomy and power to the Sinlung Hill Development Council (SHDC). HPC(D)’s working chairman LT Hmar confirmed that “The demand for Hmar autonomous district council was no longer included in the talks.”
The fourth round of peace talks was held in Aizawl on 28 April 2017 wherein proposal was made to change the Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC) to Sinlung Hills Council, by omitting the word ‘Development’. Both sides agreed to continue till the talks are elevated to the political level.
On 1 September 2017, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla stated that any move to divide the State on ethnic lines would be opposed. The Mizoram government has cancelled the proposed talks with the Sanate faction of the Hmar People’s Convention (Democratic) led by Lalhmingthanga Sanate after the latter wanted to put demand of Hmar ADC on the discussion table. The Mizoram government continues to hold talks only with HPC (D) faction led by H Zosangbersa which has already abandoned its demand for Hmar ADC.
The case of Hmar ADC in Mizoram:
The Hmars are not seeking disintegration of Mizoram but to secure their own rights and development like other communities in the State.
The Constitution of India has made enough provisions to provide automony to various communities for their development and preservation of cultural identities.
Under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, the Autonomous District Councils have been created. There are 9 Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) established under Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India in the North East India: (1) Dima Hasao District Autonomous Council (formerly N.C. Hills Autonomous Council), (2) Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) and (3) Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in Assam; (4) Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), (5) Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) and (6) Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) in Meghalaya; (7) Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) in Tripura; (8) Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC), (9) Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC) and (10) Lai Autonomous District Council (LADC) in Mizoram.
Under Article 371C of the Constitution of India, (1) “the President may, by order made with respect to the State of Manipur, provide for the constitution and functions of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State consisting of members of that Assembly elected from the Hill Areas of that State, for the modifications to be made in the rules of business of the Government and in the rules of procedure of the Legislative Assembly of the State and for any special responsibility of the Governor in order to secure the proper functioning of such committee” and “(2) The Governor shall annually, or whenever so required by the President, make a report to the President regarding the administration of the Hill Areas in the State of Manipur and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of directions to the State as to the administration of the said areas Explanation In this article, the expression Hill Areas means such areas as the President may, by order, declare to be Hill Areas”. The Parliament enacted the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971 for the establishment of District Councils in the Hill Areas in the then Union Territory of Manipur. The 1971 Act remains in force with the amendments in the state of Manipur. Under this 1971 Act, six ADCs have been established namely Churachandpur ADC, Chandel ADC, Senapati ADC, Sadar Hills ADC, Tamenglong ADC and Ukhrul ADC in Manipur.
The State Governments have been innvovative.
The state government of Assam has created several autonomous councils under State Acts for the overall development of the ethnic minority groups. Such autonomous councils are (1) Deori Autonomous Council, (2) Mising Autonomous Council, (3) Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council, (4) Sonowal Kachari Autonomous Council, (5) Thengal Kachari Autonomous Council and (6) Tiwa Autonomous Council.
In Jammu and Kashmir, following demands of Ladakhi people to convert Ladakh and Leh districts into a new Indian union territory (UT) because of its religious and cultural differences with Jammu and Kashmir, the government of India formed the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in 1995.
The government of West Bengal has granted autonomy to the Gorkhas through creation of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) as a semi-autonomous administrative body in the Darjeeling hills. The GTA was established by the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Act, 2011 (published in Kolkata Gazette on 12 March 2012) by replacing the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, which was formed in 1988.
The State Government of Arunachal Pradesh through two assembly resolutions recommended the creation of the Patkai Autonomous Demand District Council (PADC) for Naga inhabited areas of Tirap, Changlang and Longding (TCL) for socio-economic development of the communities.
It all depends on the approach of the State Government. The State Government of Arunachal Pradesh does not consider the creation of the Patkai Autonomous Demand District Council (PADC) for Naga inhabited areas of Tirap, Changlang and Longding as breaking up the State – which is a fact. It considers the creation of the Patkai Autonomous Demand District Council as an initiative to ensure development of the communities. At the same of the day, it is de-centralisation of governanace.
However, Mizoram government considers any demand for autonomy within the State of Mizoram as breaking up of the State along the ethnic lines – which is false. This arises out of ultra-nationalism based on the majority Ethnic Mizos. True Mizo nationalism must include all the people living in the State of Mizoram irrespective of whether they are Bru, Chakma, Hmar, Lai, Mara etc. In the same way, true Indian nationalism must inclue all the Indian citizens and not only the majority Hindus.
The Hmars’ demand for Autonomous District Council is within the framework of the Constitution and it can be accommodated very easily should Mizoram government and Mizo political parties understand true meaning of Mizo nationalism. But what the Hmars must understand that their struggle must be non-violent and democratic. – the days of insurgency is over and out.
It is hoped that the ongoing Mizoram government and Hmar peace process comes to conclusion with Sinlung Hills Development Council (or its upgradation as Sinlung Hills Council) being provided with adequate financial, administrative, legislative and judicial powers to meet the aspirations of the Hmars of Mizoram. Mizoram Government and the Mizo society can easily accomodate the Hmars within the State of Mizoram.
If the Communist China with one party system can accomodate different systems of governance including democracy in Hong Kong, there is no reason as to why Mizoram cannot provide governance systmes for development of the Hmars within Mizoram.