Can Migration Be Construed As Development for Chin People?
21 August 2010: Chinland is a developing land, although the pace of its advancement is so slow that it is yet nowhere near to compete with other developed nations.
A question could be raised as to why our development is so slow? Is this because they have been pervaded by a dreamy languor? As subsistence farmers, Chin people usually work from dawn to dark with sweat running from our foreheads to heels. According to the United Nations more than 70% of Chin people live under internationally defined poverty line. Today, the world is classified into two categories as the First and Third World countries. If there were such a concept as a Fourth World, then, Chinland would have been designated as such a member.
One possible reason is that the number of Chin professional workers remaining in Chinland has been decreasing after a mass migration triggered by various reasons since the early 1990s. Worst still, even those educated Chin people, who want to build their homeland in all aspects of development, do not have access to necessary resources or have a kind of favorable environment for such development. For this matter, it would be unfair to put blames on Chinland itself.
Is the so-called globalization to be criticized for the failure of the holistic progress of the Chin people? A continual phase of gradual migration of the Chin people, mostly more educated, into plain areas of Burma for better opportunities in education and business could obviously be seen. No doubt they take with them their wealth, skills and professional knowledge to wherever they relocate. In other words, this can be grouped into three down-migrations: human resources, knowledge and prosperity.
Besides economic factors, ethnic and religious discrimination are the main factors that push Chin people to leave Chin State in search of safety and better security. With Chin State having proportionally the biggest Christian population in the whole of Burma, the Chin people suffer from various kinds of human rights abuses, systematic measures of repression, and persecutions based on ethnicity, religion and cultural identity. This is an unwritten policy of what is known as ‘Burmanization’ being implemented by the totalitarian regime with aims to eliminate the Christian culture and traditions of ethnic nationalities in order to assimilate them into a homogenous Burman culture.
The 1990s saw the beginning of a rapid turning point in the history of the Chin people. Having left their native places behind, thousands of Chin people have migrated to other parts of the world. This is now defined as a new exodus of the Chin people. Nonetheless, their exodus is different from that of the Jews. The Chins go out from inside their land whereas the Jews entered the Promised Land from outside.
Can the Chin migration be construed as a kind of development? Is the pace of development of their homeland as advanced as that of those who have migrated elsewhere outside of Chinland? One doesn’t necessarily need to reside in the Chinland to show his love for his native homeland. Rather it is what’s in his heart that truly counts. As the global trend is changing rapidly so are the Chin people moving beyond borders and finding new settlements outside of Chinland. It goes without question that the countries the Chin have already resettled in are much richer and far more developed than their homeland. Integrating into a bigger society of civilized countries, the Chin people, at this point in time, need to find better ways of protecting and promoting their national identity. Their existence could be at risk of disappearing from the world completely unless they maintain their uniqueness as a nation.
The first generation of Chin emigrants still keeps close association and profound attachment to their native home, Chinland. But those who are born in their resettling countries or young Chins in exile, classified as the second generation, could be assimilated into the new society and life by means of cultural integration. It is thus obvious that the mindsets of the first and second generations will be different in terms of cultural values and sense of attachment. Sometimes, it could truly be ‘mind-blowing’. Unless and until their national identity can be maintained, the so-called development would simply be nothing but material affluence.
On the other hand, adjustment to the global trend is both necessary and vital to making progress and achieving goals in one’s life. Among many, even being able to speak multiple languages is of benefits in the modern world. However, the said development would simply be meaningless in the Chin context unless their national identity, cultural uniqueness, innate rights, and inborn dignity are well-maintained and promoted. Then, there is another question that can be asked: Can the so-called development, which has nothing to do with national cause, last for generations?
The presence of the Chin people goes beyond Chinland. They have been scattering across the world as it is no longer possible for them to live only within Chinland. Thus, the Diaspora Chin people have the responsibility of keeping their national identity wherever they live. More importantly, being able to claim themselves as Chin nationals, no matter where they live, is already a development in itself. It is true development when we are able to keep the constructive elements of our national character.
By Khen Suan Khai
The author graduated with a Master of Arts (M.A) program in International Development Studies at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. His MA dissertation focuses on Chin migrations entitled “Irregular Burmese Migrants in Malaysia: A Case Study of the Chin People”.