Zomi is a generic name and political entity adopted as a nomenclature by a group of trans-border tribes in an attempt to unite the ethnic groups who otherwise share similar culture and traditions. Historians believed that these tribes were nomads who originates somewhere in southern China and moved to Northern Burma where some people stayed till present times. They have moved up to the present Manipur and Mizoram whereas some others even reached the Chittagong Hill Tracks of Bangladesh. While the Zo people have settled for a long time in their present location and possessed as an inheritance, they started to move out of their homeland since the 197 0s onwards for the purpose of higher education and a handful of people in government services. There has been a great exodus of youths, not only the Zomi, but the entire region of North East to various other parts of the countries in the post 1990s. The study found that Zomi youths have left home mostly for three main reasons – higher education, employment opportunity and government services. There are two causing factors of diaspora this study attempt to conceptualise– the push and pull factors for youths deciding to move out of their homeland to their destinations in metropolitan cities across India. The study also link Diaspora with culture and politics with an attempt to generate discussions on how in the long run one would have influence on the other in various ways.

Zomi – a Generic Name and Political Entity:

The term ‘Zomi’ meaning ‘Zo People’ is a generic name adopted to be the nomenclature by a group of trans-border tribes inhabiting parts of Manipur and Mizoram in India, Arakan and Chin State in Myanmar and Chittagong Hill Track in Bangladesh.Racially they belong to the the mongoloid stock and linguistically they belong to the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. They have been subject to categorization process and into various names like ‘Kuki’ in Manipur, ‘Lushai’ in Mizoram and ‘Chin’ in Burma by the British Colonial rulers and some tribes were also known as ‘New Kuki’ by the Government of India for political and administrative purposes.Tribes in India have been given names by external agencies like the Colonial rulers and under Indian administration while they later on identify and adopted names for themselves like ‘adivasis’ and ‘indigenous people’ (Devalle, 199 0 and Xaxa, 2003 ). The term Kuki is a Bengoli words which is believed to mean savage people or synonym to the famous colonial word ‘coolie’ .With the increase of educated intellectuals and the Kuki being dominated by a particular tribe, many of the tribes felt left out and begin the quest for an alternate identity. Zomi seemed to be the most suited term historically and culturally relevant as they claimed to be the ancestral of Zo.

The term Zomi was first proposed by Sukte T. Haugou among the gathering of Zo people in an Annual Meeting of the American Baptist Missionary Fellowship in Rangoon in 195 0. After much deliberation it was agreed that the name Zomi Baptist Convention was to be adopted for the first time at Saikah village in Burma in 1953 ( Sing KhoKhai, 1995 ) . Atthe Indian front, T. Gougin founded the United Zomi Organisation (UZO) at Singtom village (Manipur) in 1961 to unite “all ethnic Zomi groups”. He later on founded and lead a movement called Zomi National Council (ZNC) that aimed at mass mobilisation of people for creating Zomi nationalism (Gougin, 1988). The term Zomi, Mizo and Laimi are synonyms to one another and connote similar meaning and cover all Zo people according to their respective users (Vumson, 1986) . Gougin ( 1988 ) also mentioned about the discussion he held with Laldenga in 198 2 , the MNF Chief, over the issue deliberating the usage of Zoram (Zo meaning the Zo people and ram means land or country) rather than Mizoram to be inclusive of all the Zo people as the term Mizo was dominated by a the Lushai-Duhlian tribes at the time. The ZNC movement died down with opposition from another quarter of people and organizations without achieving concrete political result. The wave of ‘Zo Unification’ and ‘Zo Solidarity’ movement swipe through the land yet again in the early 199 0s with the emergence of the Zomi Reunification Organisation ( ZRO ) at Phapian ( Kachin State of Myanmar ) in 1993 ( Zou, 2010 ). The ZRO also has a arm-wing called the Zomi Revolutionary Army ( ZRA ) who fought an ethnic clash with their Kuki brothers during 1997-98. The Zomi Council ( ZC ) along with the ZRO act as a constituent body for the social and political organization carrying the mission of Re-unification of the Zomis and political demands to the Government of India.

Brief Historical account:

The historical account of Zo people prior to the Colonial rule is little known.There have been no historical writing found about the origin of Zo people and few of such attempts were at best a hypothesis proven with little evidences or assumption deconstructed from the oral cultural tradition of the people. Vumson ( 1986 ) wrote that the term Zo or Jo was mentioned in 86 2 AD by a Chinese diplomat, Fan Cho. This made to the claim of the origin of Zo people to be somewhere in China. One section of the people believed that their progenitor, Zo, was hiding from enemy in a cave somewhere in Southern China and he come out of the cave and inherit the Zo people. This belief is backed by the oral folk song which mention about a cave and the claimed to be the ancestral of all people.

These groups of people are trans-border tribes scattering across three international boundaries in places like India’s North East, Chin State in Myanmar and in Chittagong Hill tract of Bangaladesh. Though the dividing factor such as Tribe recognition under the Indian condition is instrumental in segmenting the people into different recognized Scheduled Tribes, they belong to the ancestry of their progenitor called ‘Zo’. Moreover, the historical traced by various among them leads to a certain consensus of the same origin – the Khul which means a certain cave in South China where their progenitor once hide from enemy and came out of that cave to have inheritance of the Zo people down through generations. The oral historical account of culture and tradition, folk songs and story are found to be similar from one tribe to the other. Zo people spoke a language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family of languages and different tribes spoke a dialect slightly varying from the other. They understand each other and many speak more than their own dialect.

The Zomi inhabited areas – known as the Chin Hills, The Lushai Hills and Chittagong Hill Tract have their own Chiefs and were ruled by the Zo people people until the British annexed under the Colonial Administration. The British annexed Manipur in 1891 and later on the whole of the Zo inhabited areas are covered under the Assam Province of the British rule in India. The Zo people fought against the British rule on account of the Zo people made to be a Force labours Corps in the British Military Units which was recorded as the Kuki Uprising or locally known as ‘ZouGaal’ in 1917-1919. The Zo people also fought against the Japanese invasions alongside the British during the Second World War (Zou, 2010 ).

At the time of India’s independence, the Zo people held into a meeting with the British official where they were quizzed about their political aspiration for their land. The leaders of the time thought that after the British left they would regain their autonomous status and no external forces will disturbed them. They did not made any political demands instead they demanded that all village Chiefs be given a red blankets. However, after the British left the Zo people have been tossed in politics and were made to divide into three international border and they remain within the state of Manipur which gained its statehood in 1972.

Causes of Diaspora

C. K. HrangTiam ( 2010 ) in his work ‘The Chin Diaspora: A Great People Resource’ mentioned that the causes for migration of the Chin people from Myanmar to the rest of the world are due to poverty induced by military actions, lack of religious and political rights, and other human rights violations such as forced labor, rape, social discrimination, and finally, a hope for a better future. J.M. Paupu ( 2010 ) in his work ‘Zomi in Diaspora’ studies the scenario of the Zomi people at global level including scattered Zomis the United States of America ( USA ), United Kingdom ( UK ), India, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, and other countries. He stressed that the single greatest cause of Zomi diaspora at the international level is due to the military actions and human rights violations in Myanmar. Less than 5 % of those who are in western countries have come for the purpose of education or who got job offer in those countries. While the above two are studies on similar group of people ethnically and linguistically, they differ in the context of the study in a way that international diaspora of Zomi are mostly occurring with the help of the Refugee status anchor by the UN organs. The study of Zomi diaspora in this context is a free will movement of people within the country within the privilege given by the Indian constitution.

Lee (1966) discussed that human migrations have been caused by two factors – the push and pull factors. Locating the cause and pattern of Zomi diaspora into this framework has been seen as a tailor-fit in an attempt to understand the issue. While the two factors might overlapped at some cases or might coincides with each other, it is important to establish the two in separate concept and could be attempted to make linkage with each other.

The Push-Factor –

  • Poverty: The basic reason for Zomi youths in diaspora is found to be due to the difficult livelihood situation at home. The Zomis are primarily farmers who engaged in shifting/Jhum cultivation on their hills since their forefathers. Hunting and gather also formed a small parts of livelihood activities. This has resulted in destruction of large scale of forest and natural habitation. Even though they toiled hard working in the jhum, they could hardly gather two square meals for the year round. According to the $2 norm of poverty, at least 8 0 % of the Zo people fall under the Below Poverty Line (Hauzel, 2008).
  • Unemployment: As the traditional tribal economy has been based on subsistence farming and dependent on forest products, the Zo tribes have been in great transition from the conventional understanding of the tribes largely due to the conversion into Christianity and education. The lives of these people undergo tremendous change in the past two to three decades with the touch of modernity in great waves. It was the failure of the state also which unable to provide suitable employment to its ever growing educated workforce. The condition of the state ridden with conflicts and political turmoil does not help the cause of the state to live up to its welfare duty and as a result the young people have to look out for opportunities beyond the state. Employment is hard to come by and the little that comes has often complicated process other than the official requirements as well.
  • Inadequate educational institutions: Lack of credible education institutions is another important factor for youths migrating outside their homeland and the state to pursue their career. Government schools are regarded as second class education in terms of the quality they provide needless to say many such state run government is out of infrastructure and facilities, either inadequate teachers or staffs or they are not available at the school to teach, and corruption.
  • Lack of infrastructure and facilities for Skills Development: Zomis youths are bestowed with talents and skills in many ways, particularly in music and sports, but the lack of adequate infrastructure and facilities to develop and enhance their skills render them unable to utilize them in any productive ways. Mary Kom has been one fine example of Zomi youths who could excel in his/her art given the opportunity and facilities to them. A number of youths have come to pursue their career in music and in football across the country and at national level.
  • Less opportunity for mobility: The influence of modernity is so great among the Zomi that subsistence economy could not satisfy the needs of the people. The influence of Korean and other Asian countries through the commercialized goods items and fashion along with films and movies is especially visible among the youths. It is also human tendency to move towards upward mobility once the basic needs are satisfied. The educated youths wanted to broaden their career and thus also their living standards and more. The homeland becomes unfavorable for highly ambitious youths and individuals and families who seek mobility.
  • Conflicts: Though this has not been a direct causal factor of diaspora it has contributed in small and great ways indirectly to youths wanting to be free from conflicts. Manipur and the entire region of North East have experienced ethnic conflicts and insurgent movements since the past 5 0 years and this together with political turmoil and instability of the state have hinder the development of the state and the region. Ambitious youths wants to keep themselves aloof from conflict situation that does not help their individual cause but the phenomena is not likely to end in the near future as different groups are demanding various political arrangements and negotiations with the government. These has silently impacted many other things in the region and have been hindering individuals ambitions though the need for it is felt at a larger political level by intellectuals and political leaders alike.

The Pull Factor

  • Employment opportunity: There is a great opportunity for the educated and less educated persons inmetropolitan cities provided to the youths of Zomi across different cities. The post 199 0s marked the great exodus of youths not only the Zomis but also from the entire North East region. The reason for this is the opening of large scale jobs in private sector as a result of the Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation policy adopted by India that opens up the economy into free market attracting huge foreign investments. Cities like Mumbai and Pune which is highly capitalised and commercialised attracted the youths and emerges them into the fitting role in the sector. Though critics of free market claimed that the actual workforce employed in organised sector declined over the years, there has been windows of opportunity for the North East youths in private establishments though there have not been a high paying and not so prestige jobs to count on.
  • Good colleges and Universities: Education has been a major cause of many youths leaving their home for other places as there have been less credible educational institutions in their home state. This is an important aspect in the study of Zomi in diaspora as this has also linked with the economy. Huge amount of money has been sent out of the state for higher education that drains the economy in a great way. Though money have come in from those employed similar or even higher amount have been wired across the country to pursue higher education. New Delhi has been the most likely destination for students while a fair number of students are found across different cities like Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and others.
  • Opportunities for different career options: There is more opportunity for people to choose their career from a wide range of options and this is the reasons why urban centers and cities have been famous throughout the world. Zomi youths of today are seen to take career option ranging from employment in government services, private companies, musicians, fashion, film industry, animation, designing, consultants, IT technicians, medical profession, nursing, hospitality and management, social work and so on. This has been a tempting cause for the youths to enhance their skills and broaden their career path by reaching the metropolitan cities across the country.
  • Availability/access to infrastructure and facilities: Lack of access to infrastructure and facilities for skills development was one of the push factor and causal factor for unemployment in the homeland and new locations of the migrated youths are answer to their quest in the cities they now lived. For instance, Access to electricity regularly in the new location itself is great benefits the Zomi youths are enjoying where they hardly received 6 hours of power supply in their home state.
  • High standard of living: The destination of Zomi youths who left home for cities are in a better position of raising their living standard than while they were at home. Earning an income and able to buy what they desire has automatically improve the living standard as compare to a family dependent mostly on the salary of the father or one member in the family.
  • Glamour: This is a significant finding among the Zomi youths that while most of them have migrated in search of better livelihood option and opportunities, some of them have also come to enjoy the glamorous lifestyle these cities provided to its dwellers. The influence of modernization and the touch of the media sell out of the Asian nations especially Korean as well as Hollywood and Bollywood movies have been believed to be a deciding factor in this.

Source: ticijournals.org/zomi-diaspora-culture-and-politics/



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