Kukiforum exclusive interview with ZORO president
June 18, 2006: This is an excerpt from the June 11th 2006 Kukiforum exclusive video interview with Raphael Thangmawia, President of the Zo Reunification Organization (ZORO), in Maryland state in the United States of America. ZORO aims at reunifying the Chin-Kuki-Mizo people who are divided by the international boundaries of Bangladesh, Burma and India under one administrative head. R. Thangmawia came from Mizoram state in northeast India to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 5th Session at the UN headquarters in New York from 15th to 26th May 2006. The interview lasted an hour.
Kukiforum: It is our pleasure to have you for this interview.
Thangmawia: Thank you! It is a great honor for me.
Kukiforum: What is the nature and scope of Zo Reunification Organization (ZORO)? What is its ultimate objective?
Thangmawia: ZORO is a non-governmental organization working for the reunification of the ZO (Chin-Kuki-Mizo) people. The generic word “ZO” covers our people in the present Arakan hills, the Chin Hills, the lower and upper Chindwin of Somra tracts including the Kachin hills in Burma, the Chittangong hill tracts in Bangladesh, the hill areas of Tipperah (Tripura), the Cachar hills, the south-eastern and western hills of Manipur, and the Lushai hills, which now called Mizoram state, in India with the total area of roughly 91,000 square miles. Its ultimate objective is to reunify the ZO people under one administrative head in conformity with the resolution of the Chin-Lushai conference held at Fort William in Calcutta on January 29, 1892, attended by senior administrators of the then British-India government. The resolution reads: The whole tract of country known as the Chin-Lushai hills should be brought under one administrative head as soon as this can be done.
Kukiforum: When was ZORO formed? What is the pace and progress of this organization at the grass-root and international level?
Thangmawia: The idea of ZORO initially appeared at a conference held from May 19 to 21, 1988 in Champhai, an Indo-Burma border town in Mizoram. It was partly organized by two political parties – People’s Congress and Zomi National Congress. We have so far not made much progress at the grass-root level. However, since 2002, not only political parties, but also non-political party, such as, the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (a Mizo student association in Mizoram), has passionately worked for the reunification of our people. We have also opened a new chapter at the international arena. After a thorough discussion in 1991, we agreed to proceed on as a non-governmental organization. Subsequently in 1992, we submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of Great Britian telling that it was his country which conquered and divided us, and therefore, he has responsibility to bring us back together. And again, we sent another memorandum to the President of the United of States of America during the Clinton administration stressing that he was the real successor of Franklin D. Roosevelt who pioneered the Atlantic Charter – which states that there will be no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned. The British-India government declared our country as “Excluded Area” from the rest of the British ruled states and enforced a series of laws – Foreign Jurisdiction Act 1890, Scheduled Districts Act 1884, Chin Hills Regulation Act 1890, and Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act 1873. In other words, we were neither part of Burma nor India. We also wrote to the Secretary General of the United Nations Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The letter was followed by an interview which became a hallmark to our entry at the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples since 2000. We have also participated at another UN meeting on Sub-Commission on Human Rights.
Kukiforum: Given the fact that our people (Chin-Kuki-Mizo) are now separated by three international boundaries – Bangladesh, Burma, and India, are you convinced that the people you represent understand and support your vision for reunification? Is this achievable goal?
Thangmawia: We hope that our people understand our vision and movement for reunification. We have enough documents to prove that the British colonialists divided our country by artificial international boundaries. Although we cannot spread proper information inside Burma due to the military dictatorship; in the Indian side, particularly in Mizoram, political parties including the Congress Party and a student organization Mizo Zirlai Pawl have largely supported the endeavor. We hope our people in other different geographical regions will slowly come to understand our movement. It is very much achievable goal if we work together.
Kukiforum: There are many who say ZORO’s endeavors are noble but at the wrong time. How would you like to respond?
Thangmawia: It is a very right time. In 1960, England had declared decolonization of its colonies. Artificial international boundaries have made us minority people in the three countries we live today. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is now preparing a draft on the future of indigenous peoples – indigenous peoples’ rights. While the UN is working on such issues, we need to be ready to shape our future. That is why I say it is now a unique time for us to join and support this movement.
Kukiforum: Can you tell us one point each for the failure and success of the Mizo National Front (MNF) movement of the 1960s?
Thangmawia: As a former MNF leader, I see our people coming together under the MNF movement with the desire of amalgamating the divided country was a great success. On the other hand, chief of MNF Laldenga declaring Mizoram as an integral part of India, with the exclusion of other territories occupied by our people – changing only the previous Lushai hills into Mizoram state, was a greatest mistake.
Kukiforum: What is your understanding about the term KUKI?
Thangmawia: We were called Kuki since 1761 and prior to the 1824 Anglo-Burmese war. At that time when they used the term KUKI, it covered us all. However, like the CHIN nomenclature given to us by the Burmans, the word KUKI is a Bengali term which means “mountaineers.” This is the reason why many of our people in Chittagong hill tracts, Chin hills and Mizoram do not accept this foreign name. In short, we all were once called KUKIS. Kukis of today are ‘New Kuki’ and others including myself belong to the ‘Old Kuki’.
Kukiforum: Did ZORO intervene at any level during the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah) militants killing spree on the innocent Kukis in Manipur state in northeast India and its adjoining areas in the early 1990s?
Thangmawia: The 1992-93 intervention was its second time. The first time was back in 1967. At that time, I intervened as a member of MNF and even entered the NSCN headquarters. Burning houses and killing had already taken place in Ukhrul area of Manipur. We told the NSCN that if they did not stop burning houses and killing our people, we will stop helping them purchase arms from Pakistan. At that time, many Kukis from present day Manipur were in the MNF. An agreement was also reached with the NSCN that the hill peoples of Manipur will be allowed to choose whether they wanted to join Nagaland or Mizoram for their future destiny. To our expectation, burning and killing stopped. However, when MNF chief Laldenga declared that Mizoram was an integral part of India with the exclusion of other territories occupied by our people, things turned upside down. Then, the NSCN imposed and collected taxes on the Kukis, and as a result, violence erupted again. In 1992, we attempted to intervene again by trying to reunify our people under one unit, but it was a failed mission as we could not bring the different sections of our people together.
Kukiforum: Please tell us your greatest success and biggest mistake in life?
Thangmawia: Although we took up arms for 20 years in MNF – covering the entire regions where our people live – we could not reach any wing of the United Nations Organization, but now with the birth of ZORO, we have succeeded in participating at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues beginning 1999. This, I would say, is my greatest success. On the other hand, why, when and how we chose Laldenga as our leader was a greatest mistake. When the movement for reunifying our people was on the rise, he signed an agreement with the government of India declaring that Mizoram will be an integral part of India without the Chin Hills, Chittagong hill tracts and other areas of our country.
Kukiforum: How did the word Mizo come into being?
Thangmawia: When Mizo Union movement was launched at Senvon (presently in Manipur) in 1948, the Union proposed that the term Lushai be changed to Mizo in order to cover the whole population of Mizoram state under its nomenclature. The Union further opted to change the Lushai hills into Mizoram state. After India became independent, Lushai district council was changed to Mizo district council in 1954. The Mizo language was formerly known as Duhlian dialect. When the British came to our country, they called Lushai dialect instead of Duhlian dialect. By the way, Mizo and Zomi is more or less the same. It is rather a dialect usage system. In eastern side, they say ZOMI, and from the western side, we say MIZO. For instance, from the western side, we call “Vahui” and the Teddim area in the east call “Huiva.”
Kukiforum: What would you like to say to the ZO people around the world?
Thangmawia: We need to work together culturally, educationally and linguistically in order to come up with a common language. Whether we work in the name of Chin or Kuki or Mizo, we will not succeed. We want our common language to be ZO language comprising the different dialects of our people. The Duhlian dialect is easy to learn because it is similar to many of our dialects, but I do not mean or insist that it has to be our common language. Making a dictionary will be one good way to start.
Kukiforum: Can you tell us about yourself?
Thangmawia: In 1957, I was a student at the DM college of Imphal in present day Manipur. In 1958, I began my journey in the MNF movement. I graduated from St. Anthony College in Shillong; studied together with Thuingaleng Muivah of the NSCN-IM leader, during which I had extensively studied books found in the libraries pertaining to our people, such as, Lushai-Kuki clan, Chin-Lushai expedition, etc.
Kukiforum: Tell us ZORO organizational structure.
Thangmawia: ZORO started formally in 1991. At that time, we had one Secretary General at the headquarters but not anymore now. Its headquarters is in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram state, and we have two branches – one is in the United States of America. We also have offices in every district headquarters in Mizoram.
Kukiforum: What will you like to convey to the leadership of the Kuki International Forum?
Thangmawia: I want to speak very clearly. We will like to urge our brothers to join us in our movement. Joining ZORO does not mean that you have to disregard or abandon your mother organization. We want to be united and project our nationality. When we achieve reunification, we can choose any name we like. All the artificial boundaries created during the colonial period should not be a hindrance to our reunification. If we work together, we can accomplish our goal in ten years. When the draft declaration of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, containing 45 articles, can be adopted, we can achieve our goal. At this point, about 50% of the draft declaration has been completed. The UN has now extended Indigenous decade to another decade from 2005 to 2015, initially it was from 1994 to 2004. Article 3 of the draft declaration mentions: Indigenous people have every right to self-determination. Another content of the article says: Indigenous people living across international borders should not have a problem in the development of their culture, politics, and socio-economy; all artificial boundaries created during the colonial period should not be a hindrance.
** ZORO’s statement read at the 2006 Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues can be obtained from the web here