Dear Ezra and Lian,
Tlawmngaihna is one of the reasons I fell in love with Mizoram and the Mizo people. It is central to the Mizo identity. It is actually very difficult to summarize in a single sentence. It is the self-sacrificing spirit to help the rest of society. It is a sense of community that transcends social status or age. It draws Mizos together in times of turmoil, mourning, disaster and joy. It’s also quickly disappearing.
As has happened in tribal societies around the world, communal bonds drastically weaken with the introduction of outside sources of entertainment, employment and information. It sets young people adrift. Mutually beneficial attachments are broken. Based on my experience during Mautam, I would say that Tlawmngaihna is actually dead amongst the highest levels of society.
Leading up to mautam and during that time, I interviewed and met people all through the government and bureaucracy. Outside of the churches, not one of the Mizo elite demonstrated Tlawmngaihna. Former Mizoram Chief Secretary Hauzel Haukhum, a Hmar from Manipur, would be the only one who may have displayed that spirit.
Constantly all I found was greed and laziness. This had nothing to do with political party affiliation. The farther away from the suffering, the less care I found. Not one wealthy or powerful Mizo person ever expressed any genuine care that their fellow tribesmen were starving to death. Not a one. Instead I would get arguments that the poor in the South were making up stories. The state minister responsible for disaster relief and food & civil supplies told me this in his office. I felt like grabbing him by the throat. To prove him wrong, I went through the rural areas of the south and I got video evidence of the suffering. A few months later, this same minister asked me for my help to get a visa to Canada. He had little focus of those in need in Mizoram.
Even in the church, I found the opposite of Tlawmngaihna. A man who was a descendant of Christian missionaries was responsible for all the Presbyterian churches’ response to mautam. I was soliciting his help and cooperation. He refused to do anything that might benefit or keep Chakma alive. He said that they didn’t belong in Mizoram. He would be happy to see them starve.
I’m sure there must have been some who responded appropriately. I am positive that there were wealthy benefactors who gave sacrificially to help. I am sure my film footage at my press conference would confront some of them with the reality of the situation. When things got much worse, I’m confident they rose to the challenge. I just don’t know them. The ones I do know, gave the scraps off their tables to help.
I played by the “rules”. I didn’t spend my time whipping the poor into a frenzy of revenge or coveting the comforts that the wealthy, urban elite enjoyed while the rural poor tried to survive. I didn’t tell them about the tens of millions of dollars wasted by BAFFACOS. Money that was supposed to feed the starving lined the pockets of contractors, business people, bureaucrats and politicians. I didn’t show them pictures of boondoggles used with money allotted for food. They never saw the new homes built with this money either in Mizoram or in Canada. I didn’t tell poor villagers along the Bangladesh border that they were being ripped off by business people. They were entitled to Central Government compensation for the land taken to build the border fence. I didn’t tell them to stop exchanging this for 50 cents on the dollar. I didn’t grab a megaphone and scream about bribes, kickbacks and Swiss bank accounts.
I put my head down and tried to get as much food and money into Mizoram as I could. I made or helped make numerous documentaries. I gave TV and radio interviews. I contacted every aid agency I could. I spent days in government offices getting permissions. I spent and borrowed money till I was nearly bankrupt. I risked my marriage. I had my email hacked. I traveled over rough roads and up rivers to deliver rice. I was burnt out by the end. All the while, back in Aizawl, the rich and powerful partied.
That will never happen again. I won’t keep silent. Now I know, Tlawmngaihna is an one way street. When your “betters” ask for young men to dig graves and rescue those caught in mudslides, they show up. When the poor are starving to death, the very richest say that the poor are just making up stories. Tlawmngaihna is a myth that the powerful use to distract citizens away from the utter failures of government and the elite who benefit from that government.
The Central Bureau of Intelligence kept watch over my activities during the time of Mautam. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t trying to start a revolution. It was ironic since I was trying to stop one from happening. In the future I’m going to keep the CBI and police busy investigating all the secrets I know. Either I do that or I blackmail the politicians and business people to help. They told me their secrets and then expected me to keep silent while their flesh and blood die preventable deaths. No way, not during the next disaster. Either they will help or I will tell everything I know.
Mautam changed me for the worse. I found out Tlawmngaihna is a myth. I’m sorry kids, but I can never be the same.