KOLKATA: Mizos love their local cuisine, attire, church and media. In both Presbyterian north and Baptist south, every diocese has its own newspaper and magazine to which any churchgoer can contribute. The epitome of self-sufficiency is witnessed in food and clothing -every household weaves its own clothes in family handlooms and grows vegetables and fruits in the backyard kitchen garden.
Yet, the Mizos are somewhat lenient when it comes to western fashion. So, while showrooms of Puma, Nike, Adidas and Reebok flourish in business localities Dwarpuii and Chanmari in capital Aizawl, the lone shopping mall ‘Millennium Centre’ in Bara Bazaar hosts a range of western clothes with over 300 shops, mainly targeting the youth. Many of the clothes available are ‘Made in Thailand’, others ‘Made in Bangladesh’.
However, Mizos put a full stop to outsider influence when it comes to the minimum basic necessity - food. So, it was not very surprising for the ordinary Mizo when they found most shops closed in Dwarpuii area on Monday in protest against an upcoming Vishal Mega Mart outlet in Bawngkawn area of the capital. The protesting Mizoram Merchants Association (MIMA) claimed that allowing non-tribal owned retail chains selling vegetables, fruits and food items to open shop in the largely-tribal state would lead to destruction of the self-sufficiency and lead to economic dependence on the outsider.
“Allowing retails chains owned by non-tribals would decimate the self-sufficiency. Where will the retail outlets buy fresh eatables from? Obviously, the local producers. So, in the end, Mizos will buy backyard-grown vegetables and fruits from retail outlets at a higher price. Today, Vishal will begin business, tomorrow many more from mainland India will foray here, thus destroying our self-sufficiency,” said local merchant Muanpuia Sailo, also a member of MIMA.
Some of the local merchants have even compared the retail business with the colonial cotton trade with United Kingdom. “The British bought raw cotton from India, made clothes in Manchester and sold them back to India. In this case, India will buy local vegetable produce, and sell them directly to us,” said trader Rengpuii Renthlei.
Fears of the Mizos may not be completely xenophobic. It has been witnessed throughout the world that onslaught of retail outlets selling vegetables and fruits have decimated the small producers and sellers the most. In the Indian mainland, many of the retailers had to shut shop after massive local protests.
"Some of the local vegetable shops in Mizoram run without shopkeepers. Rates are mentioned in every product which the people pay and pick up according to their needs. In a state which is accustomed to such honesty, paying high-rates for homegrown products is an absurdity," Lalthanpuia Pachuau said.
In a state that has witnessed all pangs of a 20-year-long war with the Indian state - massive collectivisation of villages, disappearances, rapes and even bombing of Aizawl by Indian Air Force ordered by Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - Delhi’s control over natural resources comes in all colours, which is why people are even more cautious.