United by marriage and trade: This Mizoram town’s relations with Myanmar run deeper
The influx of refugees from Myanmar could be increasing every month, especially since the 2021 military coup
Between November 12 and 13, when the Myanmar army conducted airstrikes on its villages along the international border in Mizoram, around 5,000 people crossed the bridge that connects India with Myanmar.
Not all of them checked into the makeshift tents that function as refugee camps. There were many who stayed in the homes of the Indian residents at Upper Zokhawthar, a Mizoram border village, for almost a week before returning.
The influx of refugees from Myanmar could be increasing every month, especially since the 2021 military coup. It has prompted the central government to ask the Mizoram government to record the biometric data of refugees.
The influx could also be a security threat in the future, security agencies say, but for most people in this border town, around 6,000 Myanmar nationals living across the bridge in another country are not foreigners.
Residents of the town are in fact opposed to a border fence to curb the infiltration. Most say the people in Myanmar villages across the border, especially Chin state, do not just share the same ethnicity but also have become their relatives because the porous border has led to cross-border marriages and business partnerships.
When there is a funeral in an Indian or Myanmar village, most visitors are those who cross the border, attend the function and return, residents said. This is made possible because the Free Movement Regime at the India-Myanmar border allows people from both the countries to travel up to 16km without a visa.
Chawngthangpui, 53, a member of the Zokhawthar village council, an influential body in Mizoram villages, explained why they continue to shelter the refugees.
“After the recent airstrikes, there were around 40-45 people who took shelter in my house for days. Some of them were my relatives, or relatives of my neighbours. I have known them for years,” she said. “How could I let them stay in a refugee camp? The border boundary is only on the map and on government papers. This is why we always oppose the fence construction.” Her younger sister is married to a man from Myanmar, Chawngthangpui said.
Zairemmawii, 27, is an Indian married to a Myanmar national. She lives near Rih village in Myanmar. The village is about 2km from the border. Since the airstrikes on November 12 and 13, she has been staying at her mother’s house along with her husband and two children.
“We live in both countries. We married in 2019. I met my husband, Vanlalduata, at a church seminar in the town. We somehow ended up together,” she said. “Though we lived in two different countries and were separated by the border, it was a regular affair. The celebrations happened in both sides of the bridge.”
With the same Indian cellphone networks working at the border villages, it is not a problem for teenagers to be in touch with each other. Residents here meet their match when crossing the border as part of their daily activities. It could be entering Myanmar to buy liquor, cigarettes, perfumes or even hang out at the cafes across the border.
The stories are almost similar. The market at the border on both sides of bridge is a meeting point and so are the churches on Sundays.
One of the famous and recent cross-border marriages is that of the local doctor and a nurse.
A local nurse, who is married to a Myanmar national, help families of refugees and locals who are unable to afford bigger hospitals in Mizoram. Nearly 60 patients, mostly refugees, come to the centre everyday.
Hers was an arranged marriage. Her parents told her about a boy from Myanmar whose family was known to her parents.
“Cross-border stories here are common. When my family told me about an arranged match with a person from Myanmar, I did not think twice. We are married for a little over a year and very happy,” she said.
The 30 people injured in the airstrikes were first brought to their centre on November 12 and 13, she said.
With refugees continuing to pour in because of the violence in Myanmar, the residents in Mizoram have planned joint Christmas celebrations.
Last week, the village council decided to hold joint celebrations because most people in the Myanmar villages have come over after losing their homes and families.
“Almost 6-10 people here have relatives living in the other side of the border. We have decided to have a joint celebration this time,” said Ednma, another member of the council.
The villagers will protest if the government builds a fence or stops people from coming over, Ednma said.
Meanwhile, officials in Mizoram government headquarters said that it will soon take a call on holding biometric drives. It could happen after the next government takes over post the declaration of results of the assembly elections on November 3 .
“The Centre did direct the state government to capture the biometric details of refugees. The timing to conduct the drive was not right. We had the model code of conduct in place and also the elections. The focus was to hold the elections successfully and peacefully. The new government will take a call soon,” said Engmawaia, the state government’s home commissioner.
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