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Monday, March 30, 2020

Chp 802. Mizoram: Setting an example for India

[edit, 2nd April: Due to the overwhelming number of visits to this post (80K uniques in 2 days), my AWS server account hosting the images below shot beyond my budget! Hence to reduce loss, I have moved all the images to imgur, so they might take a longer time to load and will be of lower resolution]

Today is Day 6 of the Total Lockdown in India, and Day 9 of a Lockdown in Mizoram.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you for sharing my previous post about how some designers and tailors got together to stitch PPE's. It had received a lot of publicity along with more donations, and I will definitely be updating you all on the wonderful progress they have made, including the hospitals and police personnel they have supplied their PPE's and masks to.

I would also like to thank Tora Agarwala from Indian Express for reaching out and writing a wonderful piece about this. She had contacted all the important individuals involved in this initiative, so do read her detailed article if you haven't yet - Across Mizoram, 400 tailors are stitching a resistance to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this post, I would like to show you all, especially those of you from outside Mizoram on how the Lockdown is being handled here in Mizoram, and how Mizos can be a shining beacon of example for the rest of India.

I'm truly grateful to BDa Pachuau for allowing me to use the drone images he had taken of Aizawl during the lockdown. Also a big thanks to my friends like Effie Fanai, Alice Lalrin, Sangtei Chhakchhuak, Kareen Tamang, Remi Bawitlung, Jerusha Lalremruatifeli, and members of the "Mizo Bloggers" and "Ryders" WhatsApp groups for sending me all the photos below for this blog update.

Some of the photos they have sent me aren't theirs, so in case you don't want me using your pic on my blog, please do let me know and I will remove it.

So, with 9 days of lockdown here in Mizoram so far, life had taken a sudden twist. What was once a busy street or a bustling market had turned into an eerie ghost town, with dried leaves blowing across the deserted roads and pavement.

Here are some of the drone photos of Aizawl taken by BDa Pachuau. You can click on all photos below to enlarge to a new tab.

Majestic right? Just miles and miles of empty roads, not a single soul or vehicle out on the streets. This is the spirit of Mizoram. We obey the rules, especially when we know it is for our own good, just like in my previous blog post I wrote about how the people demanded the Lockdown to be enforced when the District Magistrate issued an order to relax the curfew time for a few hours. :)

And if you think the drone-view of the empty roads are beautiful, here are some pictures from street-view.

Empty Petrol stand.

Upper Khatla.

Lower Khatla.

Bara Bazar, what used to be the busiest market in Aizawl, filled with shoppers, vendors, children, street performers etc., now void of any life-form.

Day or Night, the lockdown is strictly followed.

Here is a short video taken by my friend Lalzirtira who travelled from Luangmual to Dinthar locality during lockdown. Check out the empty roads.

Lalzirtira, aka Maxeer, aka Zir-everywhere-a, went everywhere during lockdown, hence living up to his nick-name. :P

Just kidding, Lalzirtira is a part of the Health Care department and is one of the few people who must mandatorily report to work every day, as he works in the "State Contact Tracing Management Unit", a very crucial and important branch of the Aizawl District CoVid-19 Task Force that is responsible for tracing everybody that a CoVid-19 positive patient came in contact with.

Do remember in our prayers that apart from the doctors, nurses and police who are at the frontline, there are many others like Lalzirtira who have to go to office every day and work behind the scenes in this battle against CoVid-19. This includes the daily sanitation workers, the bank and telecom employees, and other public departments like Power and PHE.

And so that is how things have been in Mizoram for the past 9 days. All emptiness. Till now, my friends from other parts of India keep posting videos in the WhatsApp groups that I am in, of people (crowd) gathering here and there and traffic on the roads, and I am so proud to say Mizoram is not like that at all.

So what makes Mizoram different from other states?

Here are eight reasons I can think of at the top of my head.

Reason #1. Discipline.

Long before CoVid-19, Mizos have always made headlines in the country when it comes to discipline and politeness. Like those viral images you must have seen of vehicles maintaining strict lane rules even when there are no vehicles coming from the opposite direction, or the fact that nobody honks (unnecessarily) in Mizoram.

Even at Lengpui airport, nobody rushes to get out of the plane once it lands, and at other airports, the last people to get up from their seats will always be Mizo travelers once we give way to the crowd jostling to get out.

That's… just how we are all wired. And that really helps in everything else.

Reason #2. We learn fast.

Now I'm not saying we are perfect. We have many flaws too, but we keep learning from our mistakes. Like for example, when news of people in India being infected with CoVid-19 and the likelihood of a curfew being announced started spreading on WhatsApp groups, there was immediate panic buying.

I live right opposite Nu Muani's store, which is a wholesale store here in my locality Chaltlang. On the day of the panic-buying, people flocked to her store immediately. 

As you can see from the above pic, people still maintained decorum and formed a line politely. There was no pushing or fighting. However, there was also no sense of social distancing! The people just didn't know about it. And so on that very day, there were awareness programs held on local TV channels, WhatsApp forwards, etc., speaking about the importance of maintaining social distance, and the very next day, this was the same line at the same place.

Such a huge difference, pun unintended. The above pic was taken from the other end of the line, and yes, the line did get way longer, but it was also much safer too. That is how fast we learn when taught.

Reason #3. Well preparedness.

A State Level Task Force was already set up in February to oversee the entire operation in case the CoVid-19 pandemic reaches India. The State Level Task Force was then broken up into District Level, Block Level and finally Local Level Task Force. I'll write about the Local Level Task Force further below.

There were official awareness bulletins issued by every Government bodies and departments. Even long before the National Lockdown was ordered by PM Narendra Modi, people entering any government offices in Mizoram had to wear a mask and wash their hands before entering the office building, while some offices also had hand sanitizers.

My sister and I visited the Revenue office in the first week of March, and I didn't have a mask on so I wasn't allowed entry! I had to purchase a mask from a medical unit located outside and then only was I allowed to enter.


Reason #4. Hand sanitizers, and trust issues!

Ok this point may seem trivial, but I really want to include it because I have been hearing my friends from outside the state talk about how people are actually stealing hand sanitizers from public places or refilling their bottles with the ones kept in offices and shopping malls!

That has never happened in Mizoram so far (at least to my knowledge), and there are hand sanitizers kept everywhere (this was before the lockdown). All ATMs too have hand sanitizers.

I took this photo below just before the lockdown. The ATM was out of money, but the hand sanitizer wasn't. I guess it is better to run out of money than to run out of lives :)

Reason #5. Well practiced social distancing.

As I mentioned in point 2, we learnt very quickly about social distancing, and soon everybody practiced it. It feels so heartening to walk around and see people stand in a queue so far apart from each other. 

There are so many wonderful pictures sent on WhatsApp groups of people standing in a line while maintaining a distance from each other, that it was really difficult  to select which ones to keep on my blog. So I just randomly selected a few pictures.

People lining up to buy vegetables and other essentials from a make-shift outlet, Thakthing locality.

A queue outside Kolasib vegetable market.

People waiting to enter a general store at Tuikhuahtlang locality.

Again Tuikhuatlang locality, this one is a make-shift distribution centre for essential goods.

Customers waiting for new gas cylinders at Ramhlun North locality.

People lining up to buy medicines from a lone medical store that is allowed to open at Dawrpui locality.

As you can see in the above and below photos, only one selected pharmacy store is allowed to open amidst all those medical store signboards you can see, so as to prevent the congestion of different queues.

And finally, multiple queues outside the medical store of Aizawl Civil Hospital. Notice how distance is maintained on all sides.

And so these are just some of the many examples of people maintaining social distancing here in Mizoram. And if you look at all these photos, the best part is there is NOT A SINGLE policeman anywhere around to make people follow this distancing rule! The people just follow the rule by themselves and stand apart from each other (although in some cases the reason people do that is because there is a large obvious circle drawn on the ground and you don't wanna be that douchebag standing outside the circle, lolz).

Reason #6. Planning and Supplies.

The State Level Task Force right down to the Local Level Task Force had planned everything really well, and because of them, things are running very smoothly in Mizoram. In my locality Chaltlang, every shop that sells essential goods like vegetables and other groceries are shut down, and only ONE store is allowed to operate.

And luckily for us, that happened to be the shop right opposite my house, Nu Muani's store. :D

Every morning I would watch from my bedroom window (technically my niece's bedroom because she is quarantined in MY bedroom as it has an attached bathroom), people unloading all types of vegetables and other essentials. Only the workers and Local Level Task Force members are allowed on the scene.

And then at a particular time that had been allotted, an announcement is made over the locality loudspeakers that only shopkeepers can now come to Nu Muani's store to purchase what they need. Again, the required distance is maintained as the shopkeepers stand in line. Common people like me are not yet allowed to come out of the house, and you can't "cheat" because we are a small community at local level, so all the Local Level Task Force members know who is a shopkeeper and who is not.

Once all the shop keepers have bulk-purchased what they need and gone home, Nu Muani's store is also ordered to close down and we're back to complete lockdown and deserted streets. And then at 5 in the evening, an announcement is made over the locality loudspeakers again that all the shopkeepers selling essential goods can now open and only ONE member from each household can come out to buy from the nearest opened shop.

We still have to maintain distance while standing in line, and only 2-4 people are allowed inside the shop at the same time, depending on the size of the shop. And none of the shop-keepers are allowed to sell anything at a price higher than usual, and this is strictly scrutinized by the Local Level Task Force.

And so, that is how things are running so far, and I really appreciate the Local Level Task Force members for their good work.

Reason #7. Local Level Task Force.

Ah the main heroes of this post. I don't mean to demean the doctors and nurses by saying that, they are the real heroes in this battle against CoVid-19, but when it comes to maintaining peace, calm and order at a local level, the Local Level Task Force is doing a fantastic job.

The Local Level Task Force, or LLTF as they are called, consists of authoritative and prominent people within each locality. They are a part of the YMA (Young Mizo Association), preferably office bearers of YMA and Local Council, along with at least one office bearer from different denominations and groups like MUP, MHIP, etc.

Keep in mind that it is on a voluntary basis if you are appointed, but in our community, people take up their work very seriously once they are appointed. Only those people who have extreme reasons like a sickness or death in a family or duties involved with the state government are excused and a replacement is appointed in their place.

The LLTF is the reason why till now I haven't seen a single police officer in my locality (or any locality for that matter). Compare this to pictures and videos from other states where police and para-military forces are patrolling the streets and hitting those who are breaking curfew, Mizoram is a paradise compared to those places. 

People just obey the LLTF. And yes, there will always be one or two stray idiots who just cannot remain at home. If the LLTF catches such people, they are punished, but not by violent means. Here is a picture my friend from Zemabawk locality sent me where the LLTF caught a guy breaking curfew, and they punished him by making him sweep the entire street! :D

Here are some more pictures of various LLTF members on duty across different localities in Mizoram.

As you have seen in the video above of my friend Lalzirtira driving a scooty from his house to office, people have to show these LLTF members their permit every time they drive through their locality.

I really like the one below, apparently it is the Serchhip district Village Task Force. While performing their duty of keeping a check on the roads, they entertained all the houses nearby with talented music and song.

And as I have mentioned in my previous post about Mizo designers and tailors coming together to stitch PPE's for free, these LLTF members are also on the list of people they're planning to give the PPE's to.

A really great job by the LLTF once again.

Reason #8. Distribution of food.

Does a lockdown only benefit the privileged? This was one of the arguments some of my friends made in my previous post. "Keeping everybody in a lockdown is an anti-poor drive because it discriminates those who cannot afford to stock up on food and other essentials".

I completely agree, that is true. There are numerous labourers and daily wagers whose life has been destroyed by this lockdown. That is a really sad reality, and we need to take more effort to cater to those who are in need.

In Aizawl and other district capitals of Mizoram, we are fortunate enough not to have slum areas, like the ones you find in Mumbai, Kolkata etc. And in the villages, many people have their own vegetable gardens and livestock, making them self-sustainable for a short duration. But yes, we do have people from lower income families who are affected by the lockdown, and the LLTF has stepped in to guarantee that they are never hungry.

In my locality Chaltlang, the LLTF goes around the entire locality in a pick-up truck, distributing free vegetables to those who are in need. These vegetables are bought with the money donated by people of the same locality. In some cases, vegetables are also donated by people with resources, like in the pic below, the vegetables were donated by Pi Denghmingthang and family from Keitum.

And so the LLTF truck goes around our locality stopping at each section (each locality is again divided into different sections by the way, I can see that you're already very impressed at how our Mizo community is structured :D ).

And of course, people still need to maintain social distance while standing in line to receive the free vegetables :)

The amount distributed is not much and will last around 3-4 meals per household, but by then the LLTF truck would have gone for another round within the locality again. And apart from that, any family that is running out of essentials and do not have the money to purchase them are taken care of by the LLTF. Nobody is left behind.

And this practice is followed not just in my locality or within Aizawl but throughout Mizoram. Here are some pictures from Lunglei district where the Neuva section members of Bazarveng are weighing the vegetables to be distributed to different household.

Apart from taking care of their fellow Mizos, the LLTF are also taking care of all migrant labourers from other states who cannot go home because of the lockdown. While we recently saw many heartbreaking images of migrant labourers going back to their home states on foot and some even dying on the way, the migrant workers of Mizoram remained within the state. Since they no longer have any earnings and thus have no food, the LLTF is taking care of them too by giving them free food every day.

At Khatla locality, this is a single meal ration given to every migrant worker living within the locality.

At Chanmari locality, it was discovered that there were a couple of migrant workers staying illegally without ILP's (Inner Line Permit), and were starving for a few days because they were afraid they would be jailed if they go out since they didn't have ILP's. When the LLTF found out about them, they distributed free food to them immediately as well, and no action was taken against them.

Likewise, all migrant workers stuck within the state are fed with utmost care. That is why it's a bit disheartening to read news about Northeastern people living in other states of India being racially abused, being called "Corona virus", being spat upon, and like the recent incident at Mysuru More Supermarket where Naga students were not allowed to enter and buy food because of their race. :(

Also, in Mizoram, it is not just the migrant workers who are being taken care of, all the supply truck drivers who are driving into the state are also given free food by the citizens and Task Force members. This took place at the town of Seling.

Food being distributed to truck drivers by the Sethlun Village Task Force, Lunglei.

I found this photo in my WhatsApp gallery, but I have no idea where it was taken :D

Even within Mizoram, food is continuously being distributed to various locations, not just by the LLTF members but by philanthropists as well. In Lunglei district, Pi Zomawii Hrahsel of Zomawi Bakery distributed a large amount of cakes and biscuits to inmates of Lunglei District Jail, De-Addiction Centres and Orphanages.

Like that, there are so many stories of ordinary people stepping up and doing their role for our Mizo community. I think I'll stop here now because this post is becoming too long! I was thinking of breaking up the food distribution part as a different post, but I decided to keep them all together in this one post because I had such a good vibe going on. My apologies to you all if this post was too long.

But I hope you enjoyed reading this post and got to know how life in Mizoram is like during this ongoing lockdown.

One final point to add. I couldn't help but get a little bit sentimental when I was writing about the food distribution part. I guess it is in our Mizo blood to make sure nobody goes to bed hungry. As I had once written an answer on Quora six years ago about What do people of Mizoram think about rest of India?, where I briefly mentioned about the reason why Mizos rebelled against India.

It was the great famine of 1958 and neglect from Indian Government that gave rise to the formation of the MNFF (Mizo National Famine Front) which made sure that every Mizo had something to eat, no matter how scarce, and from there it turned into a separatist movement. Even though those days are long gone now, as I look around it is clear that we still have that blood running through our veins, the blood of altruism and tlawmngaihna, our selfless sacrifice for our community. And that makes me so proud today.

That is all for today and I hope you keep visiting this blog again. God bless everyone and hope other states have something to learn or take away from the way Mizoram is handling the Total Lockdown. Until my next post then, see you all, cheers.