This is my answer to a Quora question: What do people of Mizoram think about India?
There are no answers to the question yet, so I decided to give it a shot. There are two comments from other Quora users embedded with the question:
Anonymous:Is it true that people of Mizoram don't consider themselves to be Indian? Or is it just one of those myths? I really want to know what Mizos really feel about India.
Benjamin Rualthanzauva:We do feel like Indians as a Citizen but culturally we don't. Because we are just too different, to keep a long story short.
Well, here’s the long story -
Culturally, yes, we feel very different...
...but then again, India is a land of diversities, consisting of many different cultures and traditions. Here is my attempt at answering your question.
First of all, let me state that it is difficult to answer such a blunt and direct question that will have different answers based on the perspective and background of the person answering. And I will need to generalize a bit here in order to simplify my answer, so I’m just grouping the entire Mainland India (that is, excluding the North Eastern States) as one group. Of course there will be aberrations and exceptional cases here and there which I hope we can ignore during this discourse.
I'm a Mizo, a person from Mizoram, but I was brought up outside Mizoram since class 3 (1992 onwards) at various boarding schools and colleges across India, and I travel back to Mizoram once or twice a year for vacations to be with my friends and family. Apart from Hindi and Mizo, I speak a bit of Tamil, and also understand a bit of Malayalam, Bengali and Marathi. I have been exposed to different Indian cultures and cuisines, so the way I think of India may be a bit different from a Mizo who has never set foot outside Mizoram, hence let me try my best to give a balanced and generalized answer.
How do Mizos think of India?
The first thing most Mizos experience when we leave our state and come to this side of the country for education or jobs are the racial abuses. This is a problem faced by most North Eastern Indians with mongoloid features. Being called “chinkis”, “ching chongs” and being jeered at on the streets in public (even after the SC prohibition) is still a common experience for us even today. So yes, somebody experiencing that for the first time will definitely have a bitter opinion about Indians in general.
But does that mean we Mizos are just victims and we aren’t racists ourselves?
In Mizoram, we call mainland Indians (people having the Indian majority “Indo-Aryan” and “Dravidian” looks and physical features) as "Vai". The word “Vai” originated from the Hindi word “Bhai” which means “brother” and it is used to describe a non-Mizo, an outsider.
According to one legend, when Mizo warriors ventured from the mountains to the plains for the first time and met the plains-people who had completely different facial features, cultures and languages, through the use of sign languages and colloquial words, those people introduced themselves to the Mizos as “bhai”, to indicate their friendliness. Another legend stated that it was the British who brought people from Mainland India to our land and introduced them to us as “Bhai” so as to bring in a feeling of goodwill between our two groups.
Since we didn’t have a “bh” in our Mizo vocabulary, we ended up pronouncing it as “Vai” instead of bhai, and henceforth, people with such facial features, ie, ANI - Ancestral North Indians and ASI - Ancestral South Indians (refer: Wikipedia: Indian People) came to be known as Vai’s.
So that’s what most Mizos think of India, that a majority of its population are made up of Vais. And calling somebody a “Vai” actually means calling that person a brother and it was never a derogatory slur.
The word “Vai” took an ugly turn after India's independence from the British. Mizos, unlike the Nagas and a few other North Eastern ethnic groups, decided to remain a part of India when the British said they were leaving. You should know that what is now Mizoram, a land once governed by various warring Mizo clan chiefs, and most of the other North Eastern states were never once a part of any Muslim dynasty or Hindu ruler that ruled over what is now India before the British took over the entire area.
But soon after India’s Independence Day, Mizoram (which was known as the Lushai Hills district back then) experienced a terrible famine in 1958 due to the flowering of bamboos (known as mautam in Mizo, which means “Bamboo death”). The flowering of bamboos led to a boom in rat population, that in turn ate up all the food stock of the people.
Hundreds of Mizos died every day, but all pleas sent to the Indian Government were ignored. Finally, Pu Laldenga formed the MNFF (Mizo National Famine Front) where every Mizo took it to task to help a fellow Mizo member, sending food, no matter how scarce, to those who needed it more. After many more casualties, the famine finally passed. That was when many Mizos said enough was enough, that there was no point in being a part of a country that didn’t care about its people, and the MNFF became the MNF (Mizo National Front), demanding a sovereign Mizo country.
The Indian army moved in, and life became difficult for those caught in between. Then came “Operation Jericho” in 1966, when the MNA (Mizo National Army), the armed wing of the MNF, overran various government institutions in one swift and well coordinated attack across different cities, beating back the Indian army and executing officers and other Mizos suspected of being informers to the Indian army. That was when Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, ordered the Air Force bombing. On March 5th and 6th, 1966, Hunter and Toofani jetfighters deployed from Tezpur IAF base continuously bombed various cities, indiscriminately killing anyone and reducing many villages and towns to ashes. (TimesCrest: Gaddafi in Mizoram)
Till now, the Indian Government has denied bombing its own soil that resulted in the loss of many innocent lives, including many civilians who actually didn’t support the MNF’s aspiration of a sovereign nation. The MNF was pushed back to the forests and more Indian soldiers were deployed in the area. From the 764 villages governed by various clans and chiefs, the army demolished 516 and converted it into 110 PPV (Protected and Progressive Villages) described as "something like the concentration camps of Auschwitz, minus the gas chambers" by researchers. (Air attacks in Mizoram, 1966 - our dirty, little secret)
There were many allegations of Mizo women being raped daily by the army officers, as most of the Mizo men were in the forests engaged in guerrilla warfare with the army. There was the dreaded "black diary" every Mizo women feared, where top army officers would write down the names of village damsels, and such women had to report to the officer's quarter in the night to spend the night with him. That happened in rotation and it only provoked more youth to join the rebel cause.
Finally, through many meetings with Indian Government representatives, conditions started becoming more and more peaceful from 1972 onwards. The Mizo Peace accord was finally signed between the MNF and Government of India in 1986, bringing in permanent peace and making Mizoram the most peaceful state in North East India till today.
Why did I just take you through a brief history of Mizoram?
Because to many Mizos, especially those who had experienced the insurgency and atrocities committed by the Indian army first hand, even though there’s peace now, there is still that feeling of bitterness lingering in the air. To such people, all “Vais” are still the evil perpetrator. But this trend of generalizing all Vais into one bucket is not as common as I used to remember when I was a kid.
However, if you’re a non-Mizo and you walk on the streets of Mizoram today, you may still encounter an unfortunate incident of a few miscreants (usually inebriated ones) menacingly passing comments at you like, “Vai chhia” (disgusting outsider) etc at you. This of course happens extremely rarely today, and I know so many non-Mizo tourists who had visited Mizoram and not experienced anything like this. But I’m just giving you a heads-up in case you do visit Mizoram in the future, it’s a beautiful place there. A large majority of us aren’t like that today.
One reason why such animosity still exists even today is because of our insecurity. Mizos are threatened by Vais, the outsiders, especially since many of us were brought up with stories of what the army did to our women. And sometimes, even today, in order to discipline a spoilt child, a mother may say stuff like “Behave yourself, don’t make such loud noises, or else a Vai will come and kidnap you.” This works in favour of the mother, because the child is now quiet, scared of the so called Vai. However, this also psychologically affects him/her as that person grows up, making it hard for him or her to trust a non-Mizo. I really feel such disciplinary tactics should be stopped.
Another reason for our insecurity is because of the difference in advancement between our Mizo society and the broader Indian society (in general). For us Mizos, it’s been just around 100 years since the Welsh missionaries came to our land and converted all of us to Christianity. We were animists before that, worshipping the sun, forests, animals and spirits. Along with Christianity, they educated us, teaching us how to read and write, and giving us our own written script.
Compare that to the rich cultural heritage of various Hindu and Muslim empires that ruled over the rest of India before the British came. We know we’re no match when it comes to business or manufacturing or even agriculture, but we gave it our best shot and today we’re the second highest literate state in India. But we still have miles to go if we want to compete with other Indians, so there is always that tinge of insecurity within us because of our “late start”.
Other than that, the situation today has vastly improved. Hindi shows like Kasauti were a huge rave in Mizoram a few years ago. Hindi movies are also quite popular for a population whose mother tongue is not Hindi, and photos of various Bollywood actors can be found in many shops and houses. Songs like “Papa kehte hain” and “Pehla nasha” are iconic and when a group of Mizos sit together with a guitar (we LOVE to sing), those two songs are usually sung. Long before the arrival of Star TV network, we tried our best not to miss shows like “Chitrahaar”, just like the rest of India.
Sometimes, Mizos coming to this side of the Country for the first time find it funny how most Indians immediately get up from their seats once the plane lands, even though nobody can get out of the plane yet. In our Mizo society, you will not find us fighting with each other to get in line etc. Even when it comes to basics, like waiting for LPG gas, people politely form a queue. Here is one such picture I took recently.
In fact, whenever we fly home to Mizoram (or from Mizoram), we call that moment the plane comes to a halt after landing as “Vai thawh hun”, when all non-Mizos immediately spring out from their seats grabbing their bags and knocking over each other in spite of the flight attendant pleading them to remain seated. Every Mizo sitting in the plane just grins at the circus show.
Not to sound racist, but many Mizos are also sceptical of other Indians, finding it hard to trust strangers. This probably stems from the fact that in Mizoram, everybody trusts each other. We actually have unmanned shops in Mizoram. There are many vendor-less road-side stalls, where vegetables, fruits and other goods are displayed for sale, with their prices written next to them. All you have to do is pick up what you want, put the money in a box and leave. You can even take change back from the box yourself. And the owner comes to the stall at the end of the day to collect the money and he never sees a loss.
I’m not saying other Indians are less untrustworthy than Mizos just because you won’t find such vendor-less shops this side of the country. The reason why we trust ourselves so blindly is because we’re a homogenous group with a very small population of just 1 million (second least populated state in India). I’m sure as we grow and become less close-knitted and more apart from each other, more and more antisocial elements will creep into our society as well. But as of now, yeah, when I am in the midst of other Indians, like travelling alone on a train with strangers, I will take my bag with me when I go to the loo (just like how you would do it too). Likewise, when I leave my apartment here in Mumbai, I always lock it up (which again I’m sure you do too), whereas in Mizoram, many of us don't, and some of us even sleep with our doors unlocked. Below is a photo of an entire locality feasting together, displaying our bonhomie.
When it comes to food, most Mizos travelling outside Mizoram for the first time find it very difficult to adjust to the Indian cuisine here. In Mizoram, we eat three times a day – Breakfast consists of rice, dal, boiled vegetables and meat, so yes, it is quite heavy compared to the breakfast we eat in the rest of India like dosas, puri bhajis, sandwiches, pohas, cereals etc. “Lunch” in Mizoram consists of just a tea break with light snacks like one plate/piece of momos, chow, paratha, alu chop etc. Dinner on the other hand, tends to be heavy again, which consists of the usual rice and other accompanying dishes. It takes time for a Mizo to get used to such a different routine.
Even when it comes to the type of food served, rice is a staple diet in Mizoram, and many Mizos are not used to breads like roti, chapattis, naans etc. I know many Mizos who cannot consider a meal to be a meal if there is no rice! True fact. And we love our meat. Pork, beef and chicken are some of our favourite meats, and they are usually boiled with veggies together. We also love spicy food, but by spice, I’m talking about “chilly” spice. Most spicy Indian dishes are spicy because of the masalas. We Mizos on the other hand, use very little masalas in our dishes, and many Mizos cannot stand the smell of oily masala-rich curry being prepared.
But it is something one can get used to and I know many Mizos, especially students, who ended up loving the food served in this part of the country. I for one, love the diversity of cuisines and am a foodie myself, actively taking part in many “food lovers club” initiatives in Mumbai.
When it comes to Loyalty for India, yes, the patriotic sentiment of the Mizos is strong today, in spite of some people still holding grudges as mentioned earlier. There are many Mizos serving in the Indian armed forces. Two of my cousins are officers in the Air Force, another in the Army, and here in Mumbai I have many close Mizo friends currently serving in the Indian Navy. But what saddens me sometimes is the fact that many Indians are not aware of the number of people from the North East serving in the armed forces.
For example, during the recent Chinese incursion in Arunachal Pradesh, a cell phone video recorded by a Mizo soldier whose contingent was posted there, was obtained by TOI. In the video, you could see Mizo Indian soldiers grabbing the Chinese soldiers and telling his Mizo mates not to let any of them through. There were a lot of scuffles and wrestles and Mizos shouting out instructions. But the TOI comments (Timeline Photos - The Times of India | Facebook) were full of racial hate, abusing even the Mizo Indian soldier, saying stuff like, “shoot all these chinky dogs”, “shut up you ching chang chong”, etc. Later on, TOI did delete some of the comments after we complained, but that really hurt many of us, especially friends and family of those Mizo soldiers posted at our borders who were ready to die protecting all of us.
So, yeah, as “anonymous” commented on this very question – “Is it true that people of Mizoram don't consider themselves to be Indian?”, I would like to reply and rephrase that as “No actually, the people of Mizoram do consider ourselves to be Indians. It is the Indians who don’t consider us to be Indians.”
I hope you consider this reply satisfactory. Like I said in the beginning, I had to generalize here and there in order to avoid making this reply any longer than it already is. Please feel free to disagree to my views, whether from a Mizo or a non-Mizo’s point of view.
*Ps. Some photos are mine, others from our site mi(sual).com and a few from FB and Google image search, so in case you don't want me using your photo, please let me know and I'll take them down.