Thursday, January 10, 2008

The assertion of the Mizo identity as seen in the Mizo magazine ‘Lengzem’
Lalthansangi Ralte (Mami)

Lengzem is one of the most popular magazines in Mizoram. It is a magazine for all age – groups, containing articles with a serious tone, jokes and comic strips and puzzles. The word “lengzem” literally means love song. But the editor splits up the word as “leng” and “zem”. He takes the literal meaning of “leng” which is going out and “zem” which is to captivate / to attract. He takes the meaning of the word “leng” a further step forward by taking the youth as a representative for the outgoing people. He therefore says that Lengzem is a magazine which is made to attract the youth. The magazine also has a tag – line “Mitin mil chanchinbu” which, roughly translated, means “a magazine which caters to the taste of everyone”. I will be dealing with two columns from the magazine namely “Kher lo” (not always so / not really so) and “An ti” (people say). In these two columns, the editor challenges the powerful institutions in Mizoram namely the Church, MZP, MHIP and YMA. These two columns are a clever ploy to critique the society. Lengzem deals with the important social issues such as gender, identity and politics. The editor becomes free of blame as everything is done in a comic tone. The public cannot really get angry at the editor as he cleverly adds “not always so / not really so” and “people say”. The accusations and mockery are not serious but the public are anyway made aware of the social happenings. It is not surprising to find that these kinds of columns are popular because they serve to the likes of the public. The public can identify themselves with the situations portrayed. In Mizoram, jokes are the most prevalent form of Popular culture. The editor says that he uses the phrase “An ti” and “ Kher lo” as both allows everything to be included. He also says that both have room for things which are not all that serious and things which “appear to be”. He also feels that jokes can act as a means for reform in society.

Lengzem gives much importance to the institution of family. The editor and the other contributors are all family men. They identify themselves as the fathers of their children – for example – P.L. Liandinga [Dika Pa (Dika’s Father)] is how he writes his name and so do the other contributors. The two columns deal with the usual family problems. In the “Kher lo” column (Jan, 2006), it was written that “Most families who have problems do not always want to be helped out.” This line has become true in the contemporary Mizo society because many families have started to feel embarrassed to share their problems with their neighbours. The once close – knit Mizo society is gradually splitting up. People now want to keep their identity and their problems hidden. A person can no longer barge into another person’s territory. In the meantime, the Mizos are beginning to feel that their population is very less in comparison to the outside world. They fear that they might be taken over by the immigrants (especially the labourers) who do not really bother themselves with Family Planning. Even though they fear this, they still do not want to bring up children whom they cannot provide for. In the “Kher lo” column (Jan, 2006), it was written, “Those who support having more than two children do not deserve to have more.” The Mizos are divided between those who support Family Planning and those who feel that the need for Family Planning has not arise. Many people have started to feel the threat of the media on their families. In the “An ti” column (May,2006), it was written, “People say that rather than the serial Kasauti, it is the obsession with the serial that is more threatening.” Many families do not support serials which are all about love / lust, adultery and hatred / jealousy. The serials can act as a threat because of the way things are being portrayed. It often seems as though they are justifying adultery. And in the July ’06 issue of “Kher lo” it was said that “Not all brave men can control their wives.” Maybe the T.V. serials serve as an instrument which gives courage to the women to confront their husbands. In the “Kher lo” column (Aug,2006), it was written that “ Wedding rings do not always prevent a husband from abusing his wife.” Maybe this is a further outcome of the serials which gives courage to the wife to confront her husband, who in turn is beaten up as she is not allowed to assert herself. The Mizo society expects the wife to be submissive to her husband. She is to give in to his every wish. Once they are married, she no longer has an identity as she is dependent on her husband. Lengzem does not forget the lot of the poor. In the “An ti” column (July,2006), it was written that “Not every underprivileged family wants to be on the B.P.L. list.” Even if they get various kinds of charity, they do not want to be on the B.P.L. list because they will be recognized by the others only as a B.P.L. person. Many poor people would not want to be identified as such.

The problem with the political system of Mizoram is that people tend to label the politician with corruption. Lengzem also gives much emphasis to the trustworthiness of a person / institution. There has grown a huge gap between the state of the rich and the poor. In the “An ti” column (Aug,2006), it was written that “People say that the farmhouses of the rich is an insult to the poor”. The farmhouses of the ministers and politicians are far better than the houses of the poor. Many rich men compete to have the best farmhouses. Maybe it was because of this that it was written in the “Kher lo” (june, 2006), it was written that “Not all rich people are respected.” In this month’s issue it was also written that “All engineers are not corrupt”. There is a slight fault in the stereotypical perception of the public about the engineers. Corruption is present in all levels of employment from the highest to the lowest – from politicians and officers to taxi – drivers and labourers.

The church and faith are two of the most important things for a Mizo. in Mizoram, a person is judged according to his spiritual state, in the society a person is judged according to his loyalty to the church. A “spiritual” person is easily accepted everywhere so a person often tries to emphasize his / her spirituality. But Lengzem warns the people to be aware of fake “spiritual” people. In the “Kher lo” column (May, 2006), it was written that “We do not always believe everyone who says that he / she has seen heaven” and “Not everyone who has been to Wales is spiritually blessed” (Wales because it is the seat of the Christian missionaries who brought the Good News to Mizoram). There are also some people who try to gain recognition by contributing a lot of money to charity and to the church. These people often end up being accepted and the means through which they get their money is often forgotten as well. And so it was written in “Kher lo” column (June, 2006), “Not everyone who contributes a lot of money is a good person”.

Immigration of Non – Mizos into Mizoram is one of the major problems faced by the Mizos. the immigration of the Burmese is one of the major problems which causes further problems in the state. In the “An ti” column (May, 2006), it was written that “People say that there are only about 1% Burmese in Mizoram, yet 90% of the drug – dealers are Burmese and 80% of the prisoners are also Burmese”. The Burmese immigrants have become a threat as they are mostly drug – dealers in Mizoram. The Y.M.A. which is the strongest Non – government organization feels that the Burmese are a threat and so they want to get rid of them. Many youth who are to be the future of the state has died because of this illegal drug – trafficking. Inter – community marriage which is often the outcome of immigration is now regarded a threat for the society. In the “An ti” column (July, 2006), it was written that “People say that there is an increase in the number of Mizo women who need to get Inner Line Permits for their husbands”. If there are more inter – community marriages, then there will soon come a time when it will not be possible to have a “pure” Mizo identity. In the “Kher lo” column (July, 2006), it was written that “People who befriend Non – Mizos do not always want them for a husband or a wife”. The Mizos are a close – knit community and it was until recently that Non – Mizos have started to immigrate. The older generations find it difficult to accept the inter - mingling of races. The Mizos are a closed group who do not mind being secluded from the Mainland India in order to maintain their identity.

Recently, the Mizo women have started to become more and more independent. This newly – acquired independence is not really supported by the society. Women have started to travel on their own. But everywhere they go they are followed by rumours. In the “ Kher lo” column (Aug, 2006), it was written that “Not all women travelers are sexually lustful”. It is the small number of women with loose morals who make the whole lot of traveling women being identified as being “sexually lustful”. And in the “Kher lo” column (Jan, 2007), it was written that “All non – mizo men do not desire Mizo women”. This sounds very unpleasant for the Mizo women but it seems to have another connotation. It seems to tells us that since all non – mizo men do not desire Mizo women, the Mizo women are safe from the clutches of the non – mizo men. I feel that the stereotyping of Mizo women as “sexually lustful” alongwith the threat of the non – mizo men is the outcome of the inability of the society to come to terms with the newly acquired position of the independent woman. This new identity will need time to gain acceptance in a patriarchal society.

In Mizoram, there has been an increase in the number of “celebrity singers”. Many people try to assert themselves by gaining popularity through singing and making music videos. But the public are aware of the singers who do not deserve to achieve celebrity status. In the “An ti” column (Jan, 2006), it was written that “People say that songs which make no sense are gaining popularity”. The status of the Mizo music culture is slowly deteriorating and is being degraded by these wannabe “celebrity singers”. There are many celebrities who try to be different by arriving late at functions. They think that it is fashionable to arrive late. This case has been mentioned in Lengzem in the May and August issues of 2006. Although there are many fashionable “celebrity singers” and countless music videos, Lengzem in the “Kher lo” column of January, 2007 issue writes “Not al the famous singers dare to have a solo concert”. This mockery of “celebrity singers” appears to be very amusing. But since many people read this magazine, the public may be steered to look down upon the “celebrities”. I feel that unless we are able to appreciate our native “celebrities”, we still have a long journey ahead of us. We should be the first ones to appreciate them and make them popular so that they can gain popularity outside as well.

Mizoram is a state which has a population of more than 90% Christians. But even though it is a Christian state, it is not at all free of evil and sin. H.I.V. and A.I.D.S. have increased a great deal in Mizoram. Pre – marital sex is consifered a great sin and many people condemn it. In the “An ti” column (Jan,2006), it was written “People say that after New Year celebrations many people get themselves tested for H.I.V. under suspicion”. Even though Mizoram is a Christian state, the youth have a misconception regarding Christmas and New Year. Many regard this time as a festive time and so celebrates it with pomp and show. There are many youth who regard this time as a time for free, lustful, sexual encounters. In the “Kher lo” column (Jan,2007), it was written “Not everyone who get gifts at Christmastime are children”. These gifts are often of the kind which shows its sign after two to three months. Unsafe sexual relationships is considered a threat for the public as there many risks of getting sexually transmitted diseases. In the “An ti” column (July,2006), it was written “They say that India has the largest number of A.I.D.S. infected people”. Its is a very subtle way to make the Mizo public ware. But will they feel that this is meant for them as they are so secluded from the Indian public.

The Mizos are very much influenced by the Western world in fashion from low – waist / baggy jeans to tattoos. Although there is the usual fashion trend, there are also many who want to look different. I the “Kher lo” column (May, 2006), it was written, “All wrinkled shirts do not imply that the wearer has not ironed it”. Looking different has become fashion. “Weird” has also become fashion. Around the year 2002, tattoos became quite popular. At the same time, there were many people who could not accept it. In the “An ti” column (May, 2006), it was written that “People say that there is a Mizo girl who was rejected for a wife because she had a tattoo on her lower back”. The West has influenced the Mizos in speech as well as in pronunciations. This influence is again felt ore on the youth who are fonder of using slang. In the “Kher lo” column (July, 2006), it was written, “Everyone who knows the correct pronunciation of football stars do not necessarily know how to pronounce ‘Aibawk’”. Many of the youth especially the girls regard it as fashionable to spell place names like ‘Aibawk’ and ‘Aizawl’ as ‘Ibok’ and ‘Izol’ which is not Mizo anymore. It becomes more of slang. The editor calls this as “colonial hangover”. The Mizos are also influenced by the Korean movies and it is not only the girls who are influenced. The guys dress like the male Korean stars and even grow their hair. In the “An ti” (July, 2006), it was written that “People say that there has been an increase of gays after ‘Full House’ became popular” (‘Full House’ is a Korean serial). The guys are as well – dressed and as conscious as the girls and so they are more and more “gay – looking”. Many people regard the various influences of the outside world as threatening in the way of framing the identity of a person. These influences can often make a person unsure of his / her identity as a result of unconscious imitation. Owning the latest has become quite fashionable. Many people often buy the latest gadgets so that they will be able to show off. And it is usually the unemployed youth who have the latest gadgets. In the “An ti” column (June, 2006), it was written that “People say that we gain nothing except the weight of a cell – phone if it too big and modern”.

Mizoram is a hilly place and so houses often have to be built on the hill – sides. There are not many level grounds. Large spaces are required to build churches. So, many of the churches in Mizoram take up the all the allotted space and no space is left as compound. This often spoils the picturesque beauty of the landscape as there is only one huge building standing tall, somewhat awkwardly. In the “An ti” column (June, 2006), it was written “People say that most of the big churches in Aizawl are almost too big for the compounds”. Moreover, when there are functions and loud singing in the church, it often becomes disturbing for the nearby houses. There are many buildings which are without good foundations. In the “An ti” column (May, 2006), it was written that “People say that there is nothing more dangerous than having a concrete building so unstable that it needs the support of a wooden plank”. Such kinds of constructions are dangerous not only for the owners but also for the neighbours as they will not be able to live in peace. In Mizoram, a person is evaluated according to the land and houses he / she owns. A person in order to be a prominent person in the society has to have a house of his own. Therefore a person often tries to assert his identity by owning some private property.

1. M.Z.P. – Mizo Zirlai Pawl which means ‘Mizo Students’ Union’.

2. Y.M.A. – which means ‘Young Mizo Association’. It is one of the most powerful Non – government organizations in Mizoram which often works as a mob rule.

3. M.H.I.P. - Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl which means the United Organisation of Mizo Women. This organization looks out for the improvement of the state of the Mizo women.

4. Non – Mizo – The Mizos often use this phrase to imply all those who are not Mizo including all the other people of the North – eastern states. It is not a racist term but a term which is commonly used. It is used even in the church.

5. B.P.L. – Below Poverty Line. This categorizes the people whose monthly income is less than Rs.500.

6. I.L.P. - Inner Line Permit which a non - mizo has to have in order to enter Mizoram. This permit is made so that the Mizos may be able to safeguard themselves from the “others” and so safeguard and maintain their identity.

1. Lengzem - January, 2006.
2. Lengzem - May, 2006.
3. Lengzem - June, 2006.
4. Lengzem - July, 2006.
5. Lengzem - August, 2006.
6. Lengzem - January, 2007.

No comments: