Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Regulating Citizenship: Politics of ‘Check-In’ and ‘Check-Out’ in Mizoram, India

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty
[Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, St. Joseph’s College (University Department, North Bengal University), North Point, Darjeeling-734104, West Bengal. Email:;;]

The notion of Citizenship in ‘Northeast’ more so in Mizoram, is channelled by the politics of inclusion and exclusion. The partition of the Sub-Continent aggravated the geo-political isolation of the North-East and propelled the mushrooming of ethno-cultural consciousness. The emergence of divergent claims of people over land and its resources; dug deep into the consciousness of people to tease out challenges and assertions. A yearning for definition of a native, immigrant and insider became necessary coupled with a desire to prove original inhabitance. Interestingly in the North East these issues cause friction not only at the macro level i.e. mainland versus heartland but also at the micro level i.e. North East versus North East. Further, though it is simpler to understand the debate in terms of protecting the “Self” from the outsiders, yet the usage of the term “Self” in a tribal context is itself debatable. Here the individual gains his identity through the collective and historical identity of the tribe which has been preserved and transferred through generations. Hence, the notion of “Self” transcends to that of collective good and rights rather than individual benefit.

A bird’s eye view on the ‘Vai’ and the politics of “Regulating Citizenship”

This concept of outsider is seen as prevailing across the North East, albeit under different names. In Mizoram, the term ‘Vai’ is used to denote people from mainland India, who have Aryan features. It evokes mixed feelings of contempt, distrust, mockery and envy. For the Mizos, the term Vai as an out-group has three broad meanings. In one sense, all non-Mizos including the British with reference to the ‘Raj’ were deemed as Vai. In the second sense, all the people living in the plains of India are Vai. In the third sense, the word associates the Burmese living in the plains to be Vai but in contrast to the Indian, the notion is more positive and traditional 1.

The inflow of the ‘Vai’ in present day Mizoram has a strong colonial linkage 2. The gradual yet sure, entry of the ‘Vai’ into the Zo/Mizo economy: provided for a greater degree of interaction between the ‘Vai’ and Zo/Mizo women 3 . The arena of economics, thus became the realm for the activities of Women and ‘Others’, i.e. for all those who were excluded from the realms of spirituality and politics. The Zo/Mizo patriarchy under the impact of Christian traditions began to view economics and the notions of business and that of profit to be both sensuous and materialistic and linked them with the notions of ‘original sin and sexuality’ and everything signified by the word ‘Khawvel’ (worldly) 4.

The post-colonial Zo/Mizo politics propelled by the Politics of the Pan Optics 5 relied heavily on the youth and students’ organizations like the Young Mizo Association (YMA), the Khristian Thalai Pawl (KTP) and also the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) for ‘systemic or structural control’. ‘Vai Ban’ (Bandhs) 6 for instance, is the most often sought mechanism for “Regulating Citizenship” and controlling the flow of the Vai in Mizoram. These ‘Vai Bandhs’ are often preceded by ‘quit Mizoram notices’ to the non-tribals. For instance, in 2004 the YMA served notices to the non-Mizos to quit Mizoram within a month 7. These Bandhs, can stretch from 12 hours to 48 hours or more and the ‘Vai’ are subtly directed to stay in-doors (invisible) and restrain from venturing out-doors (outdoors) for the sake of their own “safety”. Defying the diktat is followed by physical assaults and mob fury; not surprisingly the victims i.e. the petty migrant labourers mostly from Cachar and Bihar are rounded-off by the Police in lock-ups. Evidently, this is a systematic process of making the ‘Vai’ invisible and the Zo/ Mizo as the visible majority.

An interesting occurrence that takes place post-Vai-Bandh, is that women either as individuals or as organizations, along with the Y.M.A, K.T.P and other such organizations visit these lock-ups and offer eggs, bread and tea to those who faced the brunt of mob fury. From a communitarian perspective, this action can be viewed as the perpetrators of violence taking the role of healers. However, apart from the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the North East is considered to be a better home for gender equity than many other States in the country. It is an undeniable fact that the realms of women and men are always clearly demarcated in any society. Stereotypically, the role of the healer is “reserved” for women while men justify violence in the name of protection.

Thus, women are directly not party to the actions of their men and may even disagree with them but, given their operating spaces they often follow the decision of their men. The high moralistic standards applied to women also, make them the best targets to “hurt your enemy where it hurts the most”. Further, women may be entrusted with the responsibility of caring for the captured as a subtle means of evoking their sympathies and creating a more human face. The message conveyed through these contradictory actions demonstrates the willingness of the Mizo’s to let the “Vai” exist within restricted spaces, under the condition of total acceptance of decisions made by the Zo/Mizo community.

The ‘Vai’ over the years have moulded their survival strategies which includes ‘adopting Zo/Mizo names’, ‘converting to Christianity’ and marrying local tribal women’. These survival strategies or politics of camouflaging helps the Vai to bargain their existence in the Zo world. This politics of camouflaging can be adopted for a plethora of reasons from that of personal security to that of private business or for being accepted as a ‘Denizen’. But, the case of the Lepchas in Sikkim has also demonstrated how attempts at being included through marriage have been unsuccessful as even if an outsider marries a Lepcha he or she does not have the right to land ownership.


The strategies adopted by the ‘Vai’ reflect the survival strategies to counter the Politics of Silencings at various levels and the ‘manufacturing of spaces’ in the Post- Colonial politics of Mizoram. The case of the ‘Vai’ reflects the inability to assume the position of Denizens as has been achieved by the later migrants, the Gorkhas; and at the same time reflects the struggle to set oneself free from being constantly ostracized as the ‘Permanent Pariah’ within the spatial politics of Mizoram. An interesting phenomenon that can be observed in the whole process of ‘self-preservation/protection’ or ‘ethnic-cocooning’ is that the inflow, as well as the outflow of migrants/‘Others’ is thoroughly dictated by the sense of perceived or apparent threat as projected by the majoritarian tribes. In other words, the inflow is regulated by constitutional mechanisms of Inner Line Permit (ILP) Regime 8 ; and the outflow is regulated by ‘Vai Bandhs’. Thus, acceptance as citizens is channeled by the underlying politics of ‘Regulated Citizenship’ filtered through a process of “Politics of ‘Check-In’ and ‘Check-Out’”.


1.For detailed reading on the Vai and ‘in-group- out-group’ problem in Mizoram, see B.B Goswami, “out-group from the point of view of In-group: A Study of Mizos”, in Dubey, S.M. (1978). North East India: A Sociological Study. pp 99-110.
2.This however, does not go to suggest that there were no linkages between the ‘Vai’ and the Zo/Mizo worlds prior to British Colonial intervention. An analysis of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo folklores speaks volumes about the initial pre-colonial contacts between the two worlds. For details see, Chakraborty, Anup Shekhar. ‘Manufacturing of Spaces: The ‘Others’ in Zo/Mizo Politics’ South Asian Journal of Socio-Political Studies (SAJOSPS). Vol.9 No.1, July-December, 2008.
3.For details see, Chakraborty, Anup Shekhar. ‘Emergence of Women from ‘Private’ to ‘Public’: A Narrative of Power Politics from Mizoram’ Journal of International Women’s Studies (JIWS), Bridgewater. Vol. No. 9, 3rd May, 2008. Also see, Chakraborty, Anup Shekhar. ‘Mustering Empowerment experiences from Mizoram: A Leap from ‘Private’ to ‘Public’ Living Spaces’ Global South SEPHIS e-magazine. Vol.4 No.4, July, 2008.
4.For details see, Chakraborty, Anup Shekhar. ‘Politics of Silencings: Echoes of the Margins from Mizoram’ Indian Journal of Political Science (IJPS), Meerut, Chaudhury Charan Singh University. Vol. LXVIII, No. 4, Oct.-Dec., 2007.
5.The Mizo society serves as the good example for Bentham’s Panoptic Society, where all persons are fearful of being watched by the church and the moral agencies. The only difference being that in the case of the Mizo society the observer can be seen and sometimes partially invisible.
6.The latest of these ‘Vai Bandhs’ were called by the MZP, the Mizo Students’ Union and the YMA following the killing of a Mizo youth on 18th July, 2007 by suspected Bangladeshi goons at Dholai in Cachar District, Assam. Quit Mizoram notices were issued to the ‘Vais’ and a blanket curfew was imposed on the ‘Vais’ which was lifted only on the 25th of July 2007. The MZP, however, claimed that it had not imposed any curfew, but merely requested non-Mizos to stay indoors for their own safety. It also called a 24 hour bandh at Vairengte the nearest town to Silchar, Cachar or the plains and demanded Rs. 15 lakhs as compensation for the slain youth. (See J.B Lama, The Statesman, 30, July, 2007, ‘The inside and out of Mizoram’s ethnic skirmishes’ for details).
7.Thangliana, The Telegraph, 2004, p=6919; Also see J.B Lama, The Statesman, 30, July, 2007, ‘The inside and out of Mizoram’s ethnic skirmishes’.
8.The Inner Line Permit (ILP) that has been in existence in Mizoram since the colonial days has been used and misused by different groups to victimize the minorities time and again. The ILP has infact become a weapon in the hands of the hegemonic tribes to extort money and exploit the minorities, especially the ‘Vai’ and the Burmese. For detailed reading on the issue of checking Foreigners in Mizoram, see, ‘Burmese Migrants in Mizoram worry threat of deportation’;, ‘Chakma Refugees pushed back from Mizoram’.

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