The Zo-mbrella ~By Aheli Moitra/Morung Express
When the Hallelujah Choir sang at the Third World Zomi Convention, held at Lamka (Churachandpur) in Manipur, in October this year, an old woman raised her arms up in total devotion and danced. The rest of the people in attendance showed no less devotion to the Convention and its stated objective to celebrate together; in the process, find traditional and political links, and forge unity with other Zo people, in attendance from over the world.
The seriousness to this end was clear—the presentation of about 20 academic papers saw itself through packed audience for two days, going beyond the barriers of class or level of education; the academics equally contributed to make the presentations simple enough for all to understand without diluting the point of the papers. The media was provided with wi-fi internet at the venue, with the Convention being streamed live on the internet. Worship programs were held every evening at 10 churches where 10 religious leaders from the community gave messages to Zo leaders and citizens about being ‘a blessed nation.’
The Convention, through its organizing committee, set no fewer standards for the people it was seeking to bring together. Barring one, all sessions over the two days began and ended on time. Transition between sessions was smooth. Despite the lack of infrastructure and consistent rain, guests were hosted with ‘khankhua,’ the age-old Zo consciousness of etiquette and propriety that encompass “all virtues of life” for the Zomi. ‘Tawmngaihna’ or ‘altruism’ is their other tenet; giving or contributing to the community seemed to be an ingrained part of the individual consciousness of many Zomi.
The Zo people, or Zomi, much like the Naga people, intend to construct an umbrella of rights. In this case, for the British-labeled Chin, Lushai, Kuki sub groups. ‘Zoram’ or ‘Zoland’ is said to encompass 81,993 sq. miles of land inhabited by the said peoples.
Problems plague the construction of this umbrella, as in the case of many people scattered across borderlines. A tussle over nomenclature and language recognition continues within the Zomi, the communities amidst whose fold mostly understand each other’s dialect with varied intonation. The intent of such a World Convention is then to go beyond tribulations and form a stronger solidarity of rights where people are central to the equation. The first and second conventions were held in 1988 (Champhai) and 1991 (Aizawl) respectively.
The future of the people of the peripheries, or borderlands, is not clear today. Some try to make do with policies of the respective nation states they currently inhabit—this has brought great discord within communities. Others use the difficult and ambitious language of “(re)unification” to establish a greater identity to base greater rights on. This could have the invisible loophole of slumping into identity politics while natural resources of the land and its people are replenished and ravaged by the privileged classes of the nation states. But the ideation must continue. The Naga people, with diverse tongues and identities, have led the way in giving direction to the rights and movements of the indigenous people of the region. The Zomi could do well too, or better, but perhaps it is time to make a joint collaboration to strengthen the effort.