The two-decade-long revolt by the Mizo National Front (MNF) would lead the Indian government to use war planes against its own citizens for the first time. A “grouping” policy was introduced where villages were burned and civilians herded to guarded centres so that people would be unable to shelter insurgents.
The rebels signed a peace accord with the government in 1986, and Mizoram came to be known as an “island of peace”, unlike neighbouring northeastern states like Manipur, Nagaland and Assam where militant violence continues. But Bangalore-based Jacob, whose new novel “Zorami” tells the story of a girl in the backdrop of the “disturbance”, said for many people who suffered during the insurgency, the pain remains.
Sixty-two-year-old Jacob, perhaps the only Mizo author to have published a novel in English, spoke about why she decided to write about the “ram buai” (disturbance in the land), and why she thinks the decision of the Mizo rebels to take up arms was a mistake.
Q: Why did you decide to write a novel with the insurgency as a backdrop?
A: We were staying in Guwahati in 2002, where I used to contribute to regional news publications. Mizoram was often described as an “island of peace”. I thought about the hardships we (Mizos) went through, and I started wondering how the people from that period are coping emotionally. I wanted to find out.
So in 2004, I travelled to places like Aizawl and Lunglei (towns in Mizoram) and interviewed people who were somehow involved with the insurgency. I asked them to describe their experiences during that period. And it was worse than what I thought. The Mizo people’s hearts have still not healed… I wanted to take a literary approach in describing what I discovered. So I started attempting to turn it into a novel.
Q: Who did you talk to during your research?
A: Those who experienced the disturbance. Some people are well known like Pu James Dokhuma and Rev. LN Ralte. They were part of those who started the peace process so they were well known. I also talked to my own relatives, some of whom have spent time in jail. And some others I met at random in places of gathering, like at a mourner’s house (in Mizo society, whenever someone dies, relatives and people in the society gather for days to mourn) where I asked people to share their experiences. I also read a few books where people documented their experience.
Q: How much truth is there in the events that you described in the book?
A: The backbone is based on real incidents. I just embellished it with my imagination.
Q: You said people are still hurting?
A: Our suffering was so much. Atrocities committed were so much that we still can’t forget it, and our heart still aches. There are a few, the more hardcore ones, who are still talking about whether we should renew the fight for independence.
Q: Did you personally experience the insurgency period?
A: I didn’t because we were outside the state. I was in high school when the disturbance started. My father used to lament about it and often said the people will suffer because of the uprising.
Q: Apart from some short story books and poems, I haven’t seen any novel written by a Mizo author in English. What do you think is the state of Mizo literature?
A: I think there still isn’t enough depth when it comes to Mizo literature. We still have some way to go. It’s beginning to look good – book releases have increased, and writers are also increasing, but we need to improve the quality of work.
Q: Do you think the armed uprising was necessary?
A: My personal opinion is violence should not have been used at all. We were unhappy with the Indian government, the Assam government (present-day Mizoram was then a district of Assam), and it was necessary to show it. But taking up arms was a big mistake because we suffered so much. And for the people who lost their fathers and mothers, who lost their children, no outcome really mattered. We should have fought with peaceful means, according to me.
Q: Was the protagonist Zorami used as a metaphor for the Mizos – their suffering and the influence of the church and spirituality in their culture?
A: Yes, I used the name Zorami deliberately to describe the Mizo people. I also used her as a symbol. (“Zoram” is a term of endearment used to describe Mizoram; “i” denotes the name is that of a female)
Like her, we suffered because of the disturbance, but we can be healed through God – not symbolic worshipping at church etc but achieving peace through an individual discovery of God. That’s what I wanted to show, and what I believe in.