Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Guide to Synopsis for Ph.D

(Synopsis for Ph.D Registration)

Ethnic Identities and Mizo Nationality Formation in Mizoram


Dr. H.S

Department of political science


The modern world can rightly be called as the world of nations. The maxim ‘nation – state’, defined as ‘one state for one nation,’ initiated by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 has become a near universal ideal, relentlessly pursued in all parts of the globe. Although pure nation state is a possibility, empirically speaking, only a tiny proportion of the world’s existing states have approximated the homogeneity and commitment conjured up by the label ‘nation - state’ . Most of the existing states in the world, especially the post-colonial third world states continue to struggle with nation building process as they are inhabited by several ethnic groups and nationalities. Contrary to early social theorists’ prediction that tribal and ethnic loyalties would decrease in importance and eventually vanish as a result of modernisation, industrialisation and growth of individualism, they are still strong in many countries that it has virtually become impossible to ignore them . The study of ethnicity and process of nationality formation among different groups, therefore, continues to be one of the most relevant areas for social science research.


Although at popular level the terms such as tribe, ethnic group and nationality are used as inter-changeable expressions, social scientists see differences among them. Scholars like John Hutchinson, Anthony D Smith, Hans Kohn, Donald Horowitz, Paul R Brass, TK Oommen etc have their own understanding of what these concepts should mean. Despite lack of unanimity among the scholars as to how these terms should be differentiated, one can still attempt tentative definitions for the purpose of study. In the proposed research study the term tribe may refer to self-contained community living at the stage of subsistence economy and based on kinship or principles of consanguinity . By the term ethnic group, we mean a politicised cultural group united by certain objective attributes and exhibiting strong psychological sentiment of belonging to the group . A single tribe or a group of tribes join together may form an ethnic community. Ethnic community exists in competition with other similar groups for gaining certain benefits within the political system. The emergence of ethnic community presupposes that the community has already been influenced to an extent by the process of modernization. When ethnic consciousness at a given stage of historical development translates itself into a desire for self-determination and leads to mobilization of the community either for political autonomy or for sovereignty, then the ethnic group is considered to have emerged as a nationality. This subjective consciousness of a community as belonging to a distinct nationality does not develop in vacuum. It emerges at a particular stage of historical development, which coincides with the development of capitalism and the emergence of modern social and political institutions. The emerging elites of the community, who themselves are the product of modernization play a vital role in arousing nationality consciousness .


India is a multi-nationality state composed of several nationalities and ethnic groups. The process of development of national consciousness and the nature of aspirations and demands of the people differ from one nationality and ethnic group to another depending on particular historical, cultural and economic contexts in which they develop. In India, we can identify several forms in which the national and ethnic questions manifest themselves. North East India has been witnessing a series of popular movements in the name of ethnic identity and nationality. Nationality question in North East India has its own distinct features. Several tribes, ethnic groups and nationalities that are at different stages of development inhabit the region. Most of these communities, especially those in the hilly areas, had little contact with the Indian subcontinent till the British period. During the Indian freedom movement also, only a small portion of the population joined the movement. These regions were integrated into the independent Indian Union – some with the consent and some against the wishes of the indigenous people.

Even after becoming a part of the Indian Union, these communities and the regions remained backward and underdeveloped compared to the rest of India. The awareness of their backwardness and underdevelopment seem to create a sense of alienation and feeling of deprivation in the minds of the indigenous people and also generates internal conflicts among different communities within the region. Several ethnic and nationality assertions and movements that the region witnessed appear to be partly the result of these factors . In case of those ethnic groups, which have already graduated into well-developed nationalities, this self-assertion appears to be the result of their aspiration for a greater share of power in the working of the state, and their struggles are normally targeted against the centripetal character of the Indian State. But in the case of those ethnic communities emerging as nationalities, their self-assertion seems to be the result of a new found identity consciousness. Their movements therefore, are apparently targeted not only against the centralised India, but also against the domineering role of other dominant nationalities or ethnic groups in the region . The demands of some of these ethnic or nationality movements range from mild claims, like the demand for expulsion of migrants from other linguistics states who come to work in their region to regional autonomy to one of total independence in the name of self- determination of nations . In all these movements and assertions, the modern educated elite seems to have played an important role in making the people conscious of their ethnic and national identities and in organizing and mobilizing them in pursuit of certain demands on behalf of the communities.

In view of the complex processes of ethnic and nationality assertions and movements in the region, it would be interesting to study how potential these assertions are and what would be the impact of these continuing ethnic assertions and movements on the inter and intra community relations within the Northeast region. It is also worth exploring how far these complex processes of interactions between ethnic groups and nationalities affect the political future of the north-eastern states. In view of the relevance of such questions to the understanding of the contemporary political dynamics in the North East India, I propose to undertake a study on ethnic identities and Mizo nationality formation in Mizoram.
Mizoram, one of the seven states in North East India, covers an area of 21,087 square kilometres with a population of a little over eight lakhs and is flanked by Bangladesh and Tripura in the west, Myanmar in the east and south, Assam and Manipur in the north . With the exception of few communities like the Chakmas, Reangs, Nepalis etc., who are essentially distinct from the Chin-Kuki-Mizo family, other communities like Lusei, Ralte, Hmar, Paite, Lai and Mara etc are usually grouped together under the generic name ‘Mizo’. The Lusei are mainly concentrated on Aizawl and Lunglei districts, the Ralte and the Hmar on the northern part of Aizawl district and the Paite are mainly concentrated in the north-eastern part of Aizawl district. The majority of the Lai lives on the northern part of Chhimtuipui district and the Mara community on the southern and south-eastern parts of Chhimtuipui district . The communities inhabiting the Lushai Hills, at present designated as Mizoram, were nomadic tribes before their annexation by the British. At the time of the British arrival, some political officer like DR Lyall highlighted that the Lusei dialect was gradually developing as a link language among different Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes . However, there was no strong feeling of common identity among these tribes. In the absence of centralized authority and sense of unity among them, one hardly finds any recorded history of united resistance struggle against the British .When the British occupied the region, they found that more than sixty chiefs governed the land. Each village was ruled by a chief who wielded enormous powers over his subjects .

After the Lushai Hills was formally incorporated within British India in 1890, the Superintendent demarcated the boundaries of each chief and imposed common law over the whole of Lushai Hills. The British introduced modern system of education and developed Lusei script in 1898, which later became the medium of instruction in the schools. The Lusei language became more and more popular and was later recognised as an official language in Lushai Hills . The educated Lusei (later known as Mizo language) speaking elite, who received modern education from the missionaries, emerged as an influential section of the society. They, with the support of other few modern educated elite emerging from the cognate Kuki-Chin-Mizo family, tried to forge unity among those tribes by invoking homogenous Mizo identity . The first political party, The Mizo Union, which was formed in 1946 under the patronage of such educated elite, strived to unite all the tribes of ‘Mizo’ inhabiting Assam, Manipur and Tripura into a single political unit and strived for autonomy, preservation of Mizo ethnic identity, safeguarding and promoting culture, customs, dialects and economy of the Mizo. The renaming of the Young Lusei Association as Young Mizo Association and Lushai Hills District Council to Mizo district in 1954 can be seen as a conscious efforts aiming constructing broader Mizo identity.

In the sixties, when the Assam government sought to impose Assamese language as the State language, the Mizo elite in the autonomous Mizo District joined other hill communities living in Assam against the language policy of the Assam government and demanded a separate hill state for the hill tribes. However, after realizing its own contradictions with other hill communities in Assam, the Mizo elite disassociated from the movement for the hill state and began demanding a separate state for the Mizo . When the Assam government failed to deliver prompt relief during the severe famine that hit the Mizo district in the sixties, some leaders like Laldenga exploited the resentment and anger of the people against the Assam government to give shape to an insurgency movement against the Indian Sate under the political banner of the Mizo National Front (MNF). The MNF leaders effectively articulated their differences vis-à-vis the Indians living in the plains and projected Mizo as a separate nation, which has little to do with India and the Indians . After leading insurgent movement for independence against the Indian State for two decades, MNF signed an accord with the Indian State on 30th June 1986 which subsequently led to the creation of the state of Mizoram within the Union of India. Although MNF movement could not realise its goal of forming a sovereign state for the Mizo, it succeeded in strengthening ethnic solidarity and propagating the idea among the Mizo that they belong to a distinct nationality. Other factors like economic development, emergence of modern political and administrative set-ups, growth of modern education, development of language and literature etc., also seem to have helped in the development of Mizo nationality consciousness among different Mizo-Kuki-Chin communities living in the erstwhile Mizo district.

However, some scholars have pointed out that the continuing process of Mizo nationality formation has generated apprehensions and uneasiness amongst the non-Lusei communities who began to feel that the Lusei and its assimilated tribes would dominate Mizo society and monopolize economic, political and social power in their hands. It is pointed out that some Non- Lusei ‘Mizo’ communities like the Hmar, Lai, Mara etc have begun to view the ongoing process of Mizo nationality formation as nothing but Luseisation process aimed at strengthening the Lusei community at the cost of their own particular identity and interests. The elites that emerged among these smaller non-Lusei communities have begun to promote ethnic consciousness at their community levels and launched movements to counteract the real or assumed dominant status of the Lusei . These developments pose challenges to the dominant elites, who seek to build the Mizo nationality based on the ethnic solidarity of the people belonging to Chin-Kuki-Mizo groups inhabiting Mizoram.

While the Mizo elite are making efforts to construct a broader Mizo identity, one can see some smaller ethnic communities, who earlier sided with the Lusei community in fighting for Mizoram, now making efforts to assert their own ethnic identities. In a situation of such kind, it would be interesting to examine what the ruling elite in Mizoram has been doing to develop and consolidate the common Mizo identity among the communities residing in Mizoram. In the light of the assertions of smaller ethnic identities in Mizoram, it is desirable to know in what ways the persisting or the newly emerging ethnic consciousness among certain non-Lusei communities affects the process of Mizo nationality formation. The study of interactions between ethnic communities and the upcoming Mizo nationality will throw light on the political future of Mizoram in general and of the Mizo in particular. Such a study would also enable us to understand the complex and distinct process of nationality formation, not only in Mizoram but also in other areas of northeast, inhabited by communities with changing identities and conflicting interests.


The study of ethnicity and nationality has attracted the attention of scholars, liberal as well as Marxist. For getting a bird’s eye view of the academic contributions made in these areas, we may review some of the works. Aijaj Ahmed’s edited On the National and Colonial Questions contains-selected writings of Karl Marx and Federick Engels, throwing light on national question in diverse countries from Ireland to India and China, as well as the national question in several European countries. On National Liberation and Social Emancipation is a compilation of VI Lenin works. The most important thing in Lenin’s formulation of the problem of relation between nations was the class approach - an understanding of the essence and possible solution of nationality question. Nationalism, an edited work of John Hutchinson and Anthony D Smith, presents a collection of the works done by scholars from several disciplines and gives a comparative and inter disciplinary perspective on ethnicity and nationalism in different parts of the world. In Nationalism and Modernism, Anthony D Smith produced a thorough survey of the diverse disciplinary perspectives on ethnicity and nationalism in different parts of the world against the background of debates about modernity. The survey concludes with an analysis of ‘post – modern’ approaches to issues of contemporary national identity. Hans Kohn’s Nationalism: Its Meaning and History traces the history of nationalism and provides a representative sample of readings from primary sources that illustrate the meaning and potency of nationalism as a source of identity for peoples in different times and places. Donald Horowitz work, Ethnic Groups in Conflicts provides useful insights into the workings of ethnic conflict, irredentist and separatist claims and assimilationist and pluralist strategies for overcoming tensions generated by ethnic diversity.

Urmila Phadnis work, Ethnicity and Nation- Building in South Asia provides a comparative appraisal of the dynamics of ethnic identities and movements in the south Asian region comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives. In his book Citizenship, Nationality and Ethnicity, TK Oommen aims to develop a new analysis of the relation between nationality on the one hand and ethnicity and citizenship on the other. He conceives ethnicity as a product of disengagement between territory and culture, and nation as a product of a fusion of territory and language. Paul R Brass, in his book, Ethnicity and Nationalism presents a distinctive theory concerning the origins of ethnic identity and modern nationalism. He argues that the process of ethnic identity formation and its transformation into nationalism is reversible due to elite competition and internal division and contradiction.

In the context of India, TK Oommen in his book, State and Society in India characterizes the Indian polity as constituting a large number of ‘nations’ and ‘ethnies’. He assert that most of the conflicts in India are the result of erroneous conceptualizations arising out of misplaced polarities which juxtapose nation and state, political nationalism and cultural nationalism. In Ethnicity in India, Ajit K Danda perceives ethnicity in view of pluri- cultural realities, as a strategy of interest alliance. Ethnic Movement in India, edited by G Palanithurai and R Thandavan traces the movement from the secessionist postures to assimilationistic postures in the broad socio-economic context and postulates that the ‘upward mobility of the middle class’ determines the direction and nature of the movement. Nationality Question in India is compilations of the writings of several distinguish Marxist writers of the country, who studied nationality question from a materialistic and class conflict approaches. Ethnicity, Culture and Nationalism in North East India edited by MM Agarwal present an attempt by several scholars to conceptualize the central issue in this area with a firm grasp of the postmodern perspective upon the subject. Political Dynamics of North East India edited by Girin Phukon also presents the view of several scholars covering issues like, cultural identity, intra- tribal relation, ethnic conflict etc. In Udayon Misra edited book Nation Building and Development in North East India several scholars study the role of the elite, the question of the colonial exploitation in the process of nation building in the North East India.

Many significant works have been done on the topic relating to the Mizo and historical, socio-economic, political development in Mizoram. AG Mc Call in Lushai Chrysalis gives an account of the culture and history of the Lushais before and after the British annexed them. CG Verghese and RL Thanzawna in A History of the Mizos, Volume 1 and 2 presented a sequential unfolding of Mizo life, social, cultural and political development in and around the state of Mizoram. The Mizo Society in Transition by Chitta Ranjan Nag concentrates on the study of transformation of the Mizo society after their contact with the British administration and Christian missionaries In Mizo Society and Social Change Sangkima gives a comprehensive study of the structure of the Mizo society before and after the British rule and the changes brought about by the British. In Post – colonial Mizo Politics 1947-1998, Chitta Ranjan Nag highlight the origin and role of ‘Mizo middle class’ in the evolution in administration that have taken place in the Mizo territory. Subhas Chatterley in Mizoram under the British Rule gives a description of the history of different Mizo clans living in Mizoram before and after they came into contact with the British. C Nunthara’s book, Mizoram: Society and Polity presents the interplay of society and polity in the context of ethnic identity consolidation in Mizoram and demand for separation by the MNF. In RD Prasad edited book Autonomy Movements in Mizoram, 17 scholars study the evolution of autonomy movements of some major tribes and its impact on socio-cultural and political transformation in Mizoram. Several scholars have done research under NEHU on the topics relating to Mizos and Mizoram. The Traditional Mizo Society by Vanlalauvi is a study of the various aspect of the traditional Mizo society. F Lalremsiama thesis The Traditional Political Institutions of the Lusei studies the power and function of the Lusei chiefs. Administrative Development in Lushai (Mizo) Hills up to 1972 by RRT Sanga Traces the structural changes in the administration in the Lushai Hills beginning from traditional to the UT administration. Emergence of Political elite in Mizoram by Lalrintluanga studies the emergence and structure of modern political elite with the introduction of modern system of governance. The thesis Regionalism in Mizoram Politics by Lalchungnunga examines the historical background of Mizo regionalism in the context of national integration.

The above survey of literature reveals that although there are several related works, there are no significant published works that examined the process of formation of Mizo nationality in the light of the persisting ethnic identities among the tribes living in Mizoram. The ideas of the western liberal and Marxist scholars developed in the context of the experiences of the developed countries and the studies made on nationality formation in the mainland India are not fully applicable to understand the complexity of ethnicity and nationality formation in a north-eastern state like Mizoram. Therefore, it becomes necessary to undertake a study on ethnic identities and nationality formation among the Mizo in Mizoram by focusing on conflicts, competition and commonalties among different communities belonging to Kuki-Chin-Mizo groups. It is expected that the proposed work will provide significant insights into the ethnic and nationality questions, not only of the Mizo, but also of other indigenous communities in North East India.

The proposed work has the following objectives:

1. To locate the material structures and social forces that influenced the construction of Mizo nationality.
2. To examine the nature of ethnic identities emerging among non-Lusei ‘Mizo’ communities in Mizoram and study their effects on the process of development of Mizo nationality formation.
3. To study how the people belonging to different Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities inhabiting Mizoram identify themselves and react to the ongoing process of Mizo nationality formation.
4. To examine whether gender and regional differences affect the people’s ethnic consciousness ands influence their attitudes towards the Mizo nationality formation.


The relevant data will be collected from both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources will include colonial records, documents and publications of the state and central governments, literature of the NGOs, political parties and militant organisations that operated or are operating in the Lushai Hills/ Mizoram. The secondary sources will include relevant books and articles, unpublished theses, magazines, journals and newspaper articles. Unstructured interviews will be conducted with political leaders, intelligentsia, and leaders of NGOs and prominent citizens, who have been playing important roles in consdtruction of competing nationmality / ethnic identities in Mizoram. Apart from these, I also felt the need to undertake an attitudinal survey to examine how different communities inhabiting both urban and rural areas identify themselves and react to the process of Mizo nationality formation. For this purpose, I propose to undertake a survey of the three dominant Chin-Kuki-Mizo communities in Mizoram – Lusei, Lai and Mara. The towns and villages dominantly inhabited by each of these communities will be identified, out of which, for each community one urban locality and one village will be selected at random for the purpose of survey. The total sample size will be limited to 300. In each village / town locality, fifty households will be selected at random for survey using the village council records and 25 men and 25 women would be interviewed with the help of structured questionnaire. The data so collected will be analysed and compared to examine how these people belonging to different communities, living in different regions within Mizoram identify themselves and view the ongoing process of Mizo nationality formation. While the main analysis of the survey will be included in a separate chapter, cross-references emanating from the survey will be made in the other chapters wherever necessary. The conclusions regarding the ethnic identities and Mizo nationality formation will be arrived at on the bases of the information collected from all these sources.


Chapter I: Introduction: - This chapter will state the problem under study and provide conceptual framework to understand the nature and dynamics of ethnic groups and nationalities in the peripheral regions of the developing countries like India.

Chapter II: Construction of Mizo Nationality: In the background of economic, political and social changes taking place in Lushai Hills/ Mizoram, this chapter will study how the Lusei speaking elite constructed the common Mizo identity among different Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities living in the region by differentiating themselves from the non-tribal Indians living in the plains.

Chapter III: Contesting Mizo Nationality: This chapter will examine in general the nature of identity assertions of certain non-Lusei ‘Mizo’ communities in Mizoram who have been up against the assumed dominant position of the Lusei and are fighting for autonomy. Emphasis will be given to the perceptions and the roles of the emerging elites among these communities and their relations with the Mizo elites.

Chapter IV: Region, Gender and Community Identities: This chapter will focus the attitudes and ethnic consciousness of the surveyed communities and will examine whether gender and rural-urban differences affect the communities’ consciousness and their attitudes towards Mizo nationality formation.

Chapter V: Conclusion: On the bases of the data collected, this chapter will try to arrive at conclusions about the present stage of development of the Mizo nationality by making use of relevant theories of tribe, ethnicity and nationality.


Primary Sources

1. Colonial sources: Relevant reports, documents, proceedings, proclamations, notices and writings of colonial authorities, European scholars and church personnel on society, government and politics in Lushai Hills during the British rule.
2. Relevant records of Government of India / Assam / Mizoram such as Census reports, annual budget reports, Five Year Plans, NSS data, legislative proceedings, annual reports and other relevant documents or statements of relevant ministries / departments.
3. Pamphlets, memorandums, manifestoes and declarations of the relevant political parties, militant groups and NGOs operating in Lushai Hills and Mizoram.
4. Survey and interviews conducted by the scholar.

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