BBC – Journey – An Indian state’s harmonious lifestyle


My analysis had informed me that Reiek Peak in Mizoram, India’s north-eastern state, overlooks the encompassing hills and plains of Bangladesh. However final October, once I lastly reached the summit after an hour’s hike by way of a moss-green jungle, mist blanketed the view and I noticed nothing however thick whiteness. “I’m so sorry, the climate is so dangerous at the moment,” my driver mentioned, sensing my disappointment.

We then voyaged deeper into Mizoram’s lush, inexperienced countryside. Each time our automobile bumped over a pothole, my driver apologised for the dangerous roads. Alongside the slender hairpin lanes, all of the autos gave option to each other. Drivers acknowledged the courtesy, saying “ka lawm e”, “thanks” within the native language Mizo, or Duhlian.

This was my earliest impression of Mizoram: Mizos care about others’ well-being.

My impression grew stronger in the course of the conversations I had with my driver. He would inform me about how a misplaced pockets or forgotten money on the ATM would make its method again to the proprietor. “Whoever makes use of the ATM subsequent uploads an image and shares the small print on our WhatsApp teams. And we’ll discover the proprietor to return their pockets or cash,” he mentioned.

Through the month I spent in Mizoram slurping black tea in Mizo properties and chit-chatting with my hosts after meals, I slowly started to find the Mizo lifestyle. It’s so distinctive that Mizos have a phrase for it: tlawmngaihna.

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“Tlawmngaihna is a code of conduct. On the very primary degree, it means being trustworthy, variety and useful to others. However on a bigger degree, it is about being selfless. You’re placing neighborhood over self,” defined Golan Naulak, programme director at Built-in Mountain Initiative, an organisation selling sustainable growth within the Indian Himalayas. “It’s integral to the Zo folks [a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group of whom the Mizos are a subgroup].”

Together with seven different states, Mizoram (“Land of the Mizos”) belongs to the north-east area of India, which runs from the snowclad Himalayas just under Tibet to the luxurious, riverine plains of Bangladesh, and borders the jungles of Myanmar to the east. It is believed that Mizos, after a sequence of historic migrations by way of China and Myanmar, settled right here across the 16th to 18th Centuries and lived in tightly knit communitarian societies.

Mizos didn’t have a written script earlier than British colonisation within the 19th Century. Because of this, a lot of their historical past is shrouded in thriller. “It’s exhausting to hint the beginnings of tlawmngaihna,” mentioned Naulak, “However it’s been an operational code within the Mizo society for a very long time.”

Dwelling in distant Mizo villages, social ethics like tlawmngaihna had been central to Mizo life. Mizos maintain the concept these values are nonetheless practiced as a result of Mizoram, not like different Indian states, stays largely homogenous. With a inhabitants of simply a couple of million, making it India’s second-least-populous state, Mizoram nearly seems like a distinct nation to the remainder of India.

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Tlawmngaihna is a lovely manifestation of social philanthropy

Beneath British colonisers, Lushai or Mizo Hills, because the area was then recognized, was a part of the bigger province of Assam, solely gaining recognition as a separate state in 1987, 4 a long time after India’s independence.  Throughout British administration, British colonisers launched the Inside Line Regulation, which restricted the entry of outsiders into tribal-populated Mizo Hills. The British claimed that this rule was to guard the rights and tradition of the tribal folks, but it surely subsequently helped the colonisers of their business actions by stopping mainland Indians from buying and selling. This regulation, which continues to today, implies that each Indian who’s not from Mizoram requires a allow to enter, research and work right here, and limits the inflow of holiday makers – a motive Mizoram stays a comparatively insular society.

Round 44% of Indians converse Hindi as their mom tongue, in line with The Hindu – however in Mizoram, Hindi finds little to no presence, with Mizo and English the official state languages. And though pre-colonial Mizos had been animists, in the course of the colonial period most of them had been transformed by Welsh missionaries and at the moment almost 90% of Mizoram are Christians. Whereas political and geographical boundaries pin Mizoram to India, the sociocultural values discovered right here stay disparate each from different north-east Indian states in addition to the remainder of nation. There’s, due to this fact, a robust sense of being Mizo and a necessity to guard Mizo values and lifestyle.

Assistant professor Ruth Lalremruati, who teaches Mizo literature at Mizoram College in Aizawl, informed me that these distinct Mizo values have been handed down from one technology to a different. Moms taught their daughters to apply tlawmngaihna, and single younger Mizo males would keep collectively in a single home in a convention referred to as zawlbuk. “On this bachelor’s dormitory, younger boys learnt in regards to the courageous Mizo warriors who self-scarified themselves for the advantage of the entire neighborhood,” she mentioned. “They learnt to share meals with one another and assist others in the course of the jhum (slash and burn agriculture) cultivation.”

However throughout British administration, when the apply of zawlbuk disappeared, Mizos realised they wanted an establishment for the preservation of their customs and values. Because of this, the Younger Lushai Affiliation was established in 1935, later renamed to Younger Mizo Affiliation (YMA). Since then, YMA, with greater than 800 branches throughout Mizoram, operates as the most important non-profit within the state, with a deal with inculcating the spirit of tlawmngaihna.

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In bigger Mizo society, YMA members are the torchbearers of tlawmngaihna, Naulak mentioned. “Their charity work extends to each event, equivalent to when constructing a highway, landslides or funerals. YMA communicates the message within the locality and everybody comes to assist.”

In his 2010 PhD thesis on the College of Birmingham, Mizo scholar Lawsamnga notes that tlawmngaihna is the underlying precept of the Mizo communitarian society, the place members apply “choice by consensus”. Right here, he writes, concord and sustainability of society – somewhat than financial wealth – are the first goals of growth. Naulak agrees: “Tlawmngaihna is a lovely manifestation of social philanthropy. In villages, if somebody is constructing a home, everybody helps voluntarily. Folks hardly ever rent labour.”

I inform my mainland Indian buddies that Mizoram is essentially the most fascinating state in India

It is this spirit of serving to others that performed an element in the course of the famine within the Mizo Hills in 1958-60. When Mizos acquired little to no help from the Indian authorities, they shared something and every part that they had with each other for survival. “In Mizo, we are saying, ‘sem sem dam dam, ei bil thi thi’ (those that hoard will perish however who share will reside),” mentioned Fanai Zokima, a retired desk tennis coach who was a 10-year-old youngster in the course of the famine. Zokima lived in a distant village known as Cheural, the place they needed to stroll for a day to succeed in the closest motorable highway. When meals was scarce and rice donations didn’t attain them, younger folks walked deeper into the jungle looking for meals. “We shared with one another no matter we had. Our moms collected meals in teams. Within the night, they’d collect and divide their collections equally,” mentioned Zokima, “That is the rationale we survived.”

This Mizo spirit of serving to others will not be solely observable at disaster. “Mizos assist one another in joyous events, too,” Lalremruati mentioned, referring to marriage ceremonies, village feasts and spiritual festivals. “If there’s a marriage, neighbours would come and ask us how they might assist. They might put together meals and assist the couple’s household with decorations.” This community-over-self way of life, she confirmed, will not be solely about serving to others in want but additionally being trustworthy and courteous.

As I rode on the again of a motorbike for hours within the capital Aizawl, I realised what Lalremruati spoke of. Whereas scenes of chaotic visitors jams and ceaseless blaring horns are present in most Indian cities, within the slender roads of Aizawl, bikes, vehicles and buses keep of their lanes with out overtaking each other. It’s India’s solely metropolis the place the unabating honking is absent; a couple of years in the past, Aizawl adopted an unofficial no-honking coverage. “Folks got here collectively and determined they wished their metropolis to be noise-free,” Naulak mentioned.

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Whereas tlawmngaihna features as the bottom of the Mizo society, it’s neither legislated nor enforced. “Look, it’s not a written code. It isn’t a rule. It is very a lot there, but it surely’s not there,” Naulak chuckled. “It’s a part of the Mizo identification,” he mentioned. “If you happen to overtake somebody on the highway, others would ask you, ‘Are you even Mizo?’.”

As a consequence of its implicit nature, and as folks moved right into a extra city way of life, many older Mizos thought the spirit of tlawmngaihna had began to vanish. “However from what I see, it’s totally a lot alive within the Mizo society. It is a part of the Mizo blood,” Lalremruati mentioned. “Nonetheless, when our life modified, how we apply tlawmngaihna modified. We would not have the time to remain in a single day at a funeral, however tlawmngaihna may be very a lot there. [The] Covid-19 pandemic proved that.”

In April, in the course of the lockdown in India when a Mizo took his good friend’s useless physique residence from Chennai, travelling greater than three,000km in an ambulance, Mizoram’s Chief Minister Zoramthanga tweeted, “You’ve simply proven what each Mizo heartbeat means in the case of the time period ‘Tlawmngaihna!’.” Through the pandemic, Lalremruati added, younger folks volunteered as frontline employees and activity power members risking their well being. “They sacrificed their time, well being and generally even cash, and anticipated nothing in return.”

Like many Mizo mother and father, Lalremruati teaches her youngsters Mizo values. She believes that younger Mizos are following within the footsteps of their forefathers, such because the legendary Mizo warrior Taitesena. “Self-sacrificing and brave,” she mentioned, “If you work for the welfare of the neighborhood, you set ‘we’ earlier than ‘I’. If you care about different’s wellbeing, you turn out to be a tlawmngai particular person. That’s the best type of honour in Mizo society.”

Naulak and others in Mizoram agree that tlawmngaihna is a lovely social idea. “I inform my mainland Indian buddies that Mizoram is essentially the most fascinating state in India,” Naulak mentioned, “due to their sturdy refusal to copy-paste what India does. They only do not. They do not need to do it. They cling onto their values [such as tlawmngaihna] so they continue to be Mizo.”

Why We Are What We Are is a BBC Journey sequence analyzing the traits of a rustic and investigating whether or not they’re true.

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