The Living Dream of Re-Unification: Interview with Dr. Vumson Suantak
March 16, 2005-Washington DC –[Chinland Guardian Note: One of our editors Salai Bawi Lian Mang has the opportunity to interview Dr. Vumson Suantak, coordinator of Zo Re-Unification Organization ZORO. Dr. Vumson Suantak is a relentless campaigner for democracy and human rights. He is former chairman of several organizations such as Committee for Restoration of Democracy in Burma (CRDB), Chin National Council (CNC), Chin Freedom Coalition (CFC). Dr. Suantak is founding member of Chin Forum (CF), and Political Affairs Committee for Chinland (PACC) an umbrella Chin political organizations comprise with Chin National Front (CNF), Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), Mara People Party (MPP), and Zomi National Congress (ZNC). Dr. Suantak is author of several articles criticizing the Burmese military regime. In 1986 he authored and published Zo History: The history of the Chin/Lushei frontier peoples concentrates on the Chin Hills in Burma, the Lushei Hills in India, and Chittagong Hill Tracks in Bangladesh. Vumson Suantak graduated from Rangoon Arts and Science University and earned his doctorate degree Phd in geology from Germany. Dr. Vumson Suantak is an accomplished academician, historian, and one of the most respected human rights and democracy activist among the Chin people]
Chinland Guardian: Pu Vum, thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you regarding the Zo Re-unification Organization (ZORO). We recently have read the posting of ZORO regarding its intention for opening the Sub-headquarters in the United States. I believe the Chinland Guardian readers would love to hear about ZORO. What is ZORO? When and where it was founded, the aims and objectives of the organization, and who are the leading officials etc.
Dr. Vumson Suantak: ZORO is Zo Re Unification Organization. It was founded or formed in Manipur and Mizoram in 1986. It was popularized by a long-march of several thousand people from Lamka (Churachanpur) to Aizawl. The aims and object of the organization to unify the Zo people, that is those people of Zo origin in the present Chin State, Mizoram state, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Manipur, Cachar, Sagaing Division, Arakan, and in lower Burma. They speak many dialects but speak a language all very closely related. Only years of communication neglect caused the dialects to differ although at least 50 percent of one’s dialects is the same as the others.
The leading officials of ZORO are mostly in Mizoram and Manipur. Because of the military dictatorship in Burma it is difficult to form political parties or organizations inside Burma, because of which the ZORO has no base in Burma. Some expatriates from Burma like myself are members of the ZORO.
Chinland Guardian: How are we going to define ZORO? Political or non-political party/organization?
Dr. Vumson Suantak: Although the aims and objectives are definitely a political organization, it cannot be a political party organization. No party politics. For example a political party candidate in Mizoram or Manipur is not allowed to use ZORO as its political mandate. It had been used as a political Party platform and that created unwanted attention from the authorities. It is also a non-violent organization. ZORO would never resort to arms.
It might have political overtone, the organization itself does not assert itself as a political force. It functioned more as a social organization. For example when the Indian Government demanded illegal aliens from Burma and Bangladesh are too many in Mizoram and ordered the Mizoram government to expel them, the ZORO have been pleading with the Mizoram government to be humanly as possible concerning those from the Burma side. This is because if the Mizoram Government was to expel all Lai and Paite from Mizoram, the state would be empty. Those who take refuge in Mizoram from Burma are first cousins or brothers and sisters of the same parents. Last year when the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the public pushed out many people, the ZORO and its members individually and as the organization hide those who were to be pushed out in their houses, compounds, farms or in their warehouses.
The ZORO also encourages trade and make sure the government does not interfere in the trade traffic except for drugs, and other things that are harmful to the people.(drugs, guns, alcohol)
Chinland Guardian: During the late 1980s ZORO was so popular in Mizoram and in Manipur state (of India) among our people. Does ZORO enjoy the same level of popularity, at present, among our people in that area. It will be interesting to hear from you why or why not?
Dr. Vumson Suantak: The popularity of ZORO died down a bit because there is little the ZORO can achieve its aims. It is a very complex issue. For example if ZORO should campaign for the Lamka or Churachanpur district to join Mizoram, the ZORO cannot push it because then people will say Mizoram wants to shallow Lamka district. This has to come from the people of Lamka district whether they want to join Mizoram. At present the Mizoram administration might not be most favorable for those who speak a dialect not exactly the Duhlian. The administration system of Mizoram needs to be federal in nature. For example at present there are Autonomous districts of Maraland and Lai district. In my personal opinion the structure of Mizoram administration has to be revised so that each district whether Aizawl North or South, or Lunglei, or Lai, Mara, etc districts has to have the same status. Each district should be able to function as if they are autonomous districts. At present many of the money going for development projects seem to end in Aizawl because of which a lot of money remain in Aizawl judging from the concrete bunkers in Aizawl. The most Mizo Legislative Assembly (MLAs), state level parliament representatives, reside in Aizawl instead of their districts, thus their interest lies in Aizawl but not in their constituencies.
Thus if the ZORO want to accomplish some change it has to lobby for some basic changes in the structure of the Zoram administration, a different administration structure for Zoram (not Mizoram). Only through a new set of administration structure then we can speak about a re-unification. I do not think it will be advantageous to immediately declare the Duhlian as the official language. Each dialect group should be able to use their own dialects in court and the children should be able to read and write in their individual mother dialect, thus the schools should provide possibilities of teaching their dialects.
Chinland Guardian: Would you mind telling us your strategy of mobilizing our people from three different countries, Bangladesh, Burma and India? Let’s say in India, our people are more or less familiar with ZORO activities, but from Burma and Bangladesh, I do not know how many of our people have knowledge about the organization.
Dr. Vumson Suantak: Without the activities of the ZORO there have been some mobilization done because of the brutal and inept administration in Burma. There are already about sixty thousand people from the Chin State who are seeking sanctuary in Mizoram. The Mizoram government as well as individuals with or without the knowledge of the ZORO, although there are many complaints of mistreatment, crime, and forced deportation, all in all unification works. There are villages formed totally by the people from the Chin State and the Aizawl Market is dominated by the people from the Chin State. But these are in-official. We have to make it official, where people can with regulations come and go and according to regulations work, trade, go to school, and visit. Laws have to be passed in the Zo communities in Bangladesh, Chin State, and in Mizoram for all this be regulated.
We have to make the ZORO popular because of that we are trying to form a branch in the US as many of our people lately come in numbers. We can not escape being one community even if we try to deny it. When we have a funeral expatriates from Mizoram, and Chin State join in numbers and this means the success of Re-Unification even without ZORO. With ZORO I hope to attract more cooperation and togetherness. Although ZORO has to implement its aims and objectives but in reality some of the aims and objectives are involuntarily fulfilled by the people as they moved from the Chin State to Mizoram in search for a better life and food. I met a girl from Mindat area who walked ten days to reach Mizoram (Lawngtlai). This is Re-unification in a form.
At the UN Meeting for Indigenious population I talked with the SAMI people and I thought we might be able to function somewhat like them. They have the SAMI Parliament across international borders in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. They have to abide by the laws of their respective governments and also by their own SAMI laws. We should be able to do the same.
Chinland Guardian: How far the ZORO has gone internationally?
Dr. Vumson Suantak: In 1994 I finished an application together for the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Zo Re-Unification Organization (ZORO) to join the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). But when I informed the CNF and ZORO headquarters their reaction was not intone with my idea. The ZORO told me that they could not be in equal status with the CNF, and the CNF told me that they are not interested in joining together with the ZORO. So I did not submit the application. After ten years in 2004 the Chairman of the CNF lives in Aizawl, the General Secretary lives in Saiha, and the Chief of Staff lives in Aizawl. The CNF headquarter is in Mizoram. It would have been different I guess now, if they talk to each other.
Then I submit an application for the ZORO to join the UNPO in the same year paying the fees from my pocket and so on. I met also the UNPO members in Geneva. When I informed the ZORO there was no response. So I told the UNPO that my application should be put on hold. When I met with the UNPO members especially Isaac Chiswu of Nagaland that he would have pushed it through had I not asked them to put on hold.
In the meantime the CNF had applied membership and they were granted membership. The ZORO applied a few years later to be membership but they did not become members because their ethnic group the CNF is already a member. Last year I met the secretary general and he said that there is no more limitation and ZORO should be admitted.
The ZORO is now active together with the CNF in the UNWGIP and also participated in the Permanent Forum.
In my opinion it is good to be in International Organizations but it is better to be organized at home. It has no meaning to play a dominant role internationally if we cannot convince our own people. In Mizoram at least most of educated are excited about the ZORO and I believe that is what it counts.
Chinland Guardian: ZORO was competing for Mizo Legislative Assembly (MLA) seats a few years ago in Mizoram State. What was the good or bad part of competing in the state level election?
Dr. Vumson Suantak: The PC party at one election made the ZORO or reunification its platform. But emotion and party politics does not digest one another. The PC lost the election. Since then the ZORO amended its constitution that the ZORO is a non-party political organization.
Chinland Guardian: If ZORO can form government in any state whether Manipur, Mizoram or Chin state, I think, the organization will be more effective in unifying our people from three different countries. Without having a strong base, and strong driving force, like state level government at the least, mobilizing our people from three different countries seems a very difficult job.
Dr. Vumson Suantak: I can not answer this question. The main problem is how to convince one section of our society to be with another section of our society. For example when the YMA was asked how could they drove away the Lai , Pawi, and Paite from Mizoram, whereas they also Pawi, Lai and Paite. The answer was we did not expel anybody who said he or she is a Mizo. Here lies the logic. Can we have one nomenclature accepted in Burma, Bangladesh and India? I have not been successful so far.
Chinland Guardian: In terms of the aims of ZORO, I believe, most of our people whether one is from India, Bangladesh or Burma will agree with the idea of coming together under one administration or forming a nation. But how strong is ZORO, what is its capability for implementing its aims and objectives?
Dr. Vumson Suantak: It is the aim. However, the ZORO needs much more strength, support and understanding. There are many forces working against the ZORO. The number one enemy is the military dictatorship. The number two are individuals who insist on keeping the status quo. (Those who are convinced such as “In India we are Mizo and in Burma we are Chin” are more successful than the ones who try to unite our people.). Number three would be the integration into the Burmese society. Young people like yourself should be working for a grand scheme without which the idea of unification will disappear. Our forefathers were never aware of a possible unification and that is why we are thrown into three countries after the second World Wars. Had our forefathers been a little political savvy, the division would never have happened.
Chinland Guardian: Would you mind telling us your future plan, how are you going to move forward?
Dr. Vumson Suantak: There is little I can do alone. Even in Washington DC area, Re-Unification is quite popular among the Mizo community but the Chin society is ignorant of the existence of such an organization even.
Chinland Guardian: Is there anything you would like to tell us?
Dr. Vumson Suantak: Will you join us? Without you there is nothing I as individual or the ZORO present leadership can do.
ZORO was formed after I published my book “Zo History”. Although I have not been a founding member, the ZORO carry on what I intended with my book. That is why I stick with it.
Without Re-Unification we, as a Chin society in Burma, are going to disappear. The signs are prominent especially in Burma, where our people love Burmese songs more than our own and many young people speak Burmese better than they speak our own dialect. When you are at my age probably every one in the Chin State would converse in Burmese. By then as an old man there might be little left for you to change. If you want you cling on to your identity it is now to activate yourself from being swallowed alive by the more numerous Burman.
Chinland Guardian: Thank you so much Pu Vum for inviting me/us to join your organization and for your time. May your living dream of our people’s re-unification come true.