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1960 Famine created Mizo insurgency: Manipur unrest makes locals fight ‘food shortage’

By Nirendra Dev

 New Delhi: Are the central forces now playing a key role for farmers in Manipur?

There are always ‘differences’ between communities despite staying in one state or region for ages. Life’s paradox is such that there are also ‘similarities’ amid the differences.

Zo communities or Mizo people are very much aware of the ‘famine’ in their life and history.

In fact, the Mizo National Front (MNF) was originally launched as the Mizo National Famine Front (MNFF); thanks to ‘good governance’ models of the 1960s when India was ‘near perfect’ — at least the grand old Congress party never forgets to remind Indians.

“Rat famine or the Mautam hit the Lushai Hills in the late fifties. Irked by the Assam government’s failure to provide necessary assistance on time, the Mizos set up a famine-fighting group MNFF,” says the book ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’.

It was only in 1961, led by crafty Laldenga the word ‘famine’ was dropped from the nomenclature and Mizos cultivated the conviction that they should seek ‘independence’. 

Dial incumbent Mizoram Chief Minister, Zoramthanga —- he could offer many anecdotes.

Had the Assam government then responded adequately, the Mizos would not have probably revolted with guns.

The clock has moved on. Now the fear of famine has struck both Kukis and other Zo tribal people and also the Hindu majority Meitei population in the valley. Hence there is a growing concern of ‘potential shortage of locally grown rice’. The farmers and citizens in Manipur, now have apprehension that this could lead to a food and rice price hike next year.  So, farming operations have resumed in some pockets both in the hills and the valley.

“There has been no report of fresh attacks on farmers living in the peripheral areas of the valley districts in strife-torn Manipur for the past few days,” reported ‘Imphal Free Press’ lately.

Notwithstanding unrest and civil population and security forces relations having come under strains; the security forces are operating in a manner the farming community feel “safe and secured”, official sources said here.

Interacting with local leaders in the national capital and a few of them in Manipur (over phone) suggest that the fear of famine is “growing stronger”  as the sowing season was hit the most by the communal violence that began on May 3.

“We are providing prophylactic security by way of our presence and Area Domination as well,” remarked a source aware of the functioning of the central forces.

The Assam Rifles officers and personnel helped restore water supply at Loibol Khunou village. The project was allegedly “damaged by miscreants when they burnt the entire village”.

“Water supply for another village named Leimaram was also affected but now things have been restored and villagers are getting both drinking water and are able to carry out some farming”, the source said.

The Irrigation channel work on stream was taken up the civilians and Assam Rifles even at Janglenphai village. This subsequently helped irrigate paddy fields at Kamong village as well, the source told ‘Nagaland Page’.

On this notwithstanding all their shortcomings, even the Biren Singh government is trying its best to help the farmers.

The state government has announced ‘cut down’ in deployment of forces for escorts and security covers of VIPs including ministers and MLAs and reportedly deputed at least 2000 state forces for protection of farmers.

However, some individuals from hill areas have dismissed the ‘move’ saying either these things came too late and they are too little.

Reports claim that farmers in Sadu Yengkhuman, Pukhao, Dolaithabi, Leitanpokpi Awang Leikai (Mairenpat) and Nongshum are “staying away” from paddy fields.

Experts say, in Manipur, rice is a dominant kharif crop — meaning it is mostly produced during monsoon or autumn.

At the same time even in peacetime farming in Manipur used to be afflicted by the challenges

of high cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, lack of agricultural credit facility, lack of knowledge about fertilizer management, unavailability of fertilizers on time, lack of awareness of government schemes, irrigation related matters and lack of adequate awareness about rainwater harvesting technique.

Now everyone seems to realise that in the insane rage and hatred, people of both communities have ‘damaged water supply/projects’ to each other’s villages.

According to insiders in Assam Rifles, “In some cases even damaged irrigation projects were restored and supply of water was streamlined…Locals have also appreciated the same”.

It was also suggested by experts last year in presence of Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar that an effort to address sustainable rice cultivation in Manipur and other northeastern states should be promoted by popularizing climate resilient agricultural technologies thereby reducing the constraints and increasing sustainability in rice farming.

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