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Mizoram

The land of Highlanders

Mizoram (English: /mɪˈzɔːrəm) is a state in northeastern India, with Aizawl as its capital city. The name is derived from "Mizo", the name of the native inhabitants, and "Ram", which means land, and thus Mizoram means "land of the Mizos". Within the northeast region, it is the southernmost landlocked state, sharing borders with three of the Seven Sister States, namely Tripura, Assam and Manipur. The state also shares a 722-kilometre border with the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Like several other northeastern states of India, Mizoram was previously part of Assam until 1972, when it was carved out as a Union Territory. It became the 23rd state of India, a step above Union Territory, on 20 February 1987, with the Fifty Third Amendment of the Indian Constitution, 1986.

Mizoram's population was 1,091,014, according to a 2011 census. It is the 2nd least populous state in the country. Mizoram covers an area of approximately 21,087 square kilometres. About 91% of the state is forested.

About 95% of the current population is of diverse tribal origins who settled in the state, mostly from Southeast Asia, over waves of migration starting about the 16th century but mainly in the 18th century. This is the highest concentration of tribal people among all states of India, and they are currently protected under Indian constitution as a Scheduled Tribe. Mizoram is one of three states of India with a Christian majority (87%). Its people belong to various denominations, mostly Presbyterian in the north and Baptists in the south.

Mizoram is a highly literate agrarian economy. Slash-and-burn jhum, or shifting cultivation, is the most common form of farming here, though it gives poor crop yields. In recent years, the jhum farming practices are steadily being replaced with a significant horticulture and bamboo products industry. The state's gross state domestic product for 2012 was estimated at 6,991 crore (US$980 million). About 20% of Mizoram's population lives below poverty line, with 35% rural poverty as of 2014. The state has about 871 kilometres of national highways, with NH-54 and NH-150 connecting it to Assam and Manipur respectively. It is also a growing transit point for trade with Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Etymology

The term Mizoram is derived from two Mizo words-Mizo and ram. 'Mizo' is the name used to call the native inhabitants and 'Ram' means 'land'. There is dispute on the term 'zo'. According to one view, 'zo' means 'highland' (or hill) and Mizoram means 'land of the Mizos'. B. Lalthangliana says 'zo' may also mean 'cold region' and therefore, Mizo may also signify people of the cold region.

History

The origin of the Mizos, like those of many other tribes in the northeastern India, is shrouded in mystery. The people living in the Mizo Hills were generally referred to as the Cucis or Kukis by their neighbouring ethnic groups which was also a term adopted by the British writers. The claim that 'The Kukis are the earliest known residents of the Mizo hills area,' must be read in this light. The majority of the tribes classified as "Mizo" today most likely migrated to their present territories from the neighbouring countries in several waves, starting around 1500 CE.

Before the British Raj, the various Mizo clans lived in autonomous villages. The tribal chiefs enjoyed an eminent position in the gerontocratic Mizo society. The various clans and subclans practised slash-and-burn, locally called jhum cultivation - a form of subsistence agriculture. The chiefs were the absolute rulers of their respective clans' territories (ram), although they remained under the nominal political jurisdictions of the Rajas of Manipur, Tripura and Burma. There were many instances of tribal raids and head-hunting led by the village chieftains. Head-hunting was a practice which involved ambushing, taking slaves and cutting off the heads of fighters from the enemy tribe, bringing it back, and displaying it at the entrance of the tribal village.

British era (1840s to 1940s)

Some of the earliest records of raids and intertribal conflicts are from the early 19th century. In the 1840s, Captain Blackwood of Britain marched into the Mizo Hills with his troops to punish a Palian tribal chief for raiding British interests in India. A few years later, Captain Lester was wounded in a battle with the Lusei tribe in the region that is now Mizoram. In 1849, a Lusei tribal raid killed 29 members of the Thadou tribe and added 42 captives to their clan. Colonel Lister retaliated in 1850, with the co-operation of the Thadou tribe, an event historically called the First British invasion, burning down a Lusei village of 800 tribal houses and freeing 400 Thadou captives. British historical records on the Mizo Hills state similar inter-ethnic tribal raids for loot, slaves and retaliatory battles continued for decades.

The Mizo Hills formally became part of British India in 1895, and practices such as head-hunting were banned in Mizoram as well as neighbouring regions. The northern and southern Mizo Hills became the Lushai Hills, with Aizawl as their headquarters by declaring the whole area as Excluded Area till India got independence from the British. At the time of the British conquest, there were around 60 chiefs. After Christian missionaries arrived with the gospel, the majority of the population became Christians in the first half of the 20th century.

Post 1947

By the time India gained independence from the British Empire, the number of tribal chiefs had increased to over 200. The educated elites among the Mizos campaigned against the tribal chiefdoms under the banner of the Mizo Union. As a result of their campaign, the hereditary rights of the 259 chiefs were abolished under the Assam-Lushai District ("Acquisition of Chief's Rights") Act, 1954.

Village courts were re-implemented in the Mizo region along with other parts of Assam. Few Christian missionaries came to Mizoram, during colonial period, knowing that the rural hill population is busy fighting among between different tribes. The missionaries propagated Christianity with the support of the British government. As a result, majority converted to Christianity and changed their faiths without giving up any resistance. The Mizos were particularly dissatisfied with the government's inadequate response to the 1959–60 mautam famine. The Mizo National Famine Front, a body formed for famine relief in 1959, later developed into a new political organisation, the Mizo National Front (MNF) in 1961. A period of protests and armed insurgency followed in the 1960s, which resulted in the MNF seeking independence from India. The Mizo insurgents were getting funded and sponsored by then East Pakistan and China. However, the turmoil for secession from India staged by MNF failed to garner any public support or participation from people. In an attempt to counter these insurgency threats, the Indian government bombed state areas affected with insurgency (which is the only known bombing of India on its own soil) on 5 March 1966. Four French-built Dassault Ouragan Fighter Jets (nicknamed Toofani) of the Indian Air Force and British hunters from Tezpur, Kumbhirgram and Jorhat in Assam were deployed to Aizawl (the heart of Mizoram) and other areas as a part of the operation, which continued until 13 March.

In 1971, the government agreed to convert the Mizo Hills into a Union Territory, which became Mizoram in 1972. Following the Mizoram Peace Accord (1986) between the Government and the MNF, Mizoram was declared a full-fledged state of India in 1987. Mizoram was given two seats in the Parliament, one each in the Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha.

Christian majority Mizo population started persecuting and driving the Buddhist Chakmas and Hindu Brus, minority groups in state, out of Mizoram after being bestowed with statehood. In 2020, India started settling persecuted Brus in the neighbouring state of Tripura to address the issue. After creation of the separate state of Mizoram, the region has benefited considerably from the creation of a Central University, High Court Bench and autonomous ruled Districts for Tribes.

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