The Rat’s Chin

5000 kyat per person to avoid military porter, 5000 kyat for a day’s absence from military training, 2500 kyat for the government’s bio-fuel program, 2500 kyat to avoid forced labour, 4000 kyat to avoid child labour, an annual tax of 3000 kyat per person, 200 kyat per day to sell vegetables on the streets, 6000 kyat for each bucket of rice in the household,4500 kyat for every 3 chickens alive. Life is an everyday litany of empty ramekins, smothering tax-payments and the chilling lurk of death for the Chins.At a time when all their crops, cruelly gnawed, stand quivering from the stem – nothing deters the apocalyptic ‘maudam’ from rubbing the land raw.

Myanmar – the ‘imagined country’ charred by social cleavages, illegal trade, divisive forces and the military junta. Since 2008, a strange mood of annihilation has enshrouded the rice bowl of Asia, The Hurricane Nurgis,….the global food crisis, and now the crisis in the Chinstate, the most impoverished and isolated Christian ethnic group of Myanmar. In a revelation of astounding zoological rigmarole, the tryst between a particular type of bamboo blossoms (Melocanna baccifera) and swooning rats, is to be blamed. The bamboo blossoms en masse approximately every 48 years, densely covering the rugged hilly terrains of Northeast India (Mizoram and Manipur), Myanmar (the Chinstate) and the hilly tracts of Bangladesh. The blossoming bamboo produces a fruit whose large seed, resembling an avocado , is packed with proteins and nutrients. Hordes of rats feed on these seeds and begin to reproduce in an accelerated birth surge,producing a new rat generation as often as every three months. Once the burgeoning population of rats have stripped the forests naked, they invade farms and villages to devour stored rice and grain. The pettifoggers nibble the larder empty while the indigenous mass slips into a stupor of hunger and misery. Ground zero, the blossoming, called ‘maudam’ had started in 2006 and the rat plague has raised its hood since the late 2007. As the hunger belt expands its girth, about half the starving 1,00,000 cross their puckered bamboo-matted thresholds to traverse across the Indo-Burmese and Indo-Bangladesh border. The left-backs stay, awaiting the rat famine.

As was obvious from the military junta’s response to May 2008’s cyclone Nurgis in the Irrawady delta region, Burma’s regime has minimal interest in effective relief and sustainable rehabilitation,development and relocation of the non-Burmese ethnic regions. No doubt, the authorities are dramatising self-determination by seizing food aid provided by donors and reselling it at 19000 kyat per bag (against the market value of 12000 kyat). Less than incredibly, 1,00,000 metric tons of rice is being exported to Sri Lanka by the ruling. While the rat-bag of a Government is making some million-dollar-butt of decent hay, honest relief apparatus is being canalised by Chin churches in Mizoram and Norway,Chins staying abroad,Chin political parties and Chin NGOs. The United Nations did make an attempt, but against the faceless strutting junta, its endeavours were quick to generate less than optimal results. A laudable move has been discerned in Mizoram, where well-known Chin singers have performed a series of music concerts in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to raise funds for the famine-stricken. In such a do-it-yourself equivalent of a civil society, without the regime’s approval and often with its hindrance, grass root rebel groups have mushroomed overnight. The uncanny ‘chin-predominance’ and activism of the relief-giving structure makes me wonder – Where is the rest of the world? Community based discrimination of an orphan group, shrivelling from want of food, dieing of food poisoning, divorced from the plump international community by dead telephone lines and roads that go nowhere. Undoubtedly, the ‘maudam’ would have permeated its terror without invoking any sympathy from the media had not a Burma media umbrella group in exile informed the UK Telegraph of the mishap and the ensuing inactions.

The blossoming, the rat problem and the food shortage had encapsuled India two years ago. But the Government, well-prapared with its platoon of zoologists, rat-proof granaries and ample coffers, was successful in eluding the worst. But now, as the Chins expect Mizoram to support a fresh wave of Maudam refugees, the country finds itself restricted by its own food shortage, multiple insurgencies and political quandary. Any internationally funded food program would attract more migrants and refugees, which could trigger – with the detest of the local communities – yet another humanitarian crisis. At a time when help is expected of her, our country is bogged down by apoplexy. The pest of corruption and the choke of apathy is shaking the tectonics of not only Myanmar, but also India. What with free-willed attacks, one faction killing the other and the other retaliating, political tug-of-war, inflation and the diversity crisis – the economy has somewhere lost its way in the mist of politics, religion and the mass of people. The relief collected for Bihar flood victims lying in ghost bundles in railway stations to be conveniently distributed during election campaigns might serve exemplary. Conclusively, Myanmar looks like a probable first cousin to India and the Chin state, an apt reflection,not necessarily in the same figures – but in accurately the same proportion and sense. A democratic drench or an economic blow-over – we as a country full of states demarcated by religion,culture,language and colour remain as divided and confused as the Chins.

Chinland is bleeding.The swarming tailed-rodents symbolise the hapless alchemy to sequentially separate a State in the name of religion,through three 19th century wars evolving out of colonial,economic and geo-political interests. As the battle against nature and the system goes on….the international community looks on… the Chins wait for the pied piper . It looks like the waiting shall delve into the unseen depths of time. Many lessons worth learning cull from the the Chin State.

Bhavna Tripathy

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