Emerging Scholarship on Myanmar’s Chin State: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
Time & LocationSession 11
Fri 13:30–15:00 Room 1.505
- Sena Galazzi School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
- Mark Vicol Wageningen University
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- Chin/Zomi as Indigenous Peoples: Facing Forced Assimilation Within State Education Systems in Burma/Myanmar? Rachel Fleming
Asia is home to more than two-thirds of the world’s Indigenous Peoples, yet many States deny them legal recognition as such. In some cases – including Burma/Myanmar – States’ unwillingness to formally recognise indigenous identity is rooted in nation-building endeavours centred on the cultural superiority of dominant groups. This in turn leads to assimilationist educational policies which promote the cultures, histories and languages of those dominant groups to the exclusion of Indigenous Peoples.
Drawing on the international legal concept of Indigenous Peoples as it pertains to Chin/Zomi peoples, this paper aims to address the question of whether they are facing forced assimilation within the contemporary education setting in Burma/Myanmar. The meaning of forced assimilation of Indigenous Peoples under international law is examined, utilising the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as the primary framework of legal analysis. The interpretative nexus between systemic discrimination and denying the right to education for Indigenous Peoples is explored, to allow for a more nuanced understanding of practices which may constitute forced assimilation.
This research includes analysis of military-run residential facilities called Border Areas National Races Youth Development Training Schools in Burma/Myanmar, usually referred to by the Burmese acronym of NaTaLa; a schooling system that is little known even within the country. The systemic discrimination experienced by Chin/Zomi Indigenous Peoples coupled with barriers to the availability and accessibility of primary and secondary education results in impoverished families having little choice but to send their children to NaTaLa to be educated. Within this system they are subjected to immense pressure to assimilate into the dominant culture. Over time, this may result in cultural dislocation and loss of cultural identity for Chin/Zomi, who are arguably facing an insidious form of forced assimilation.
- Customary Tenure and Land-Use Practices in the Chin Hills: A Case for Recognition to Secure Upland Livelihoods in Myanmar Laura Kmoch Chalmers University of Technology
Competing interests in land and environmental resources fuel contestation over land governance and contemporary shifts in land-use practices in South East Asia. In upland Myanmar, as elsewhere, there is no one correct answer to the question of how, by whom and for which purpose land and environmental resources should be used. Yet, this question should be of central concern for land-use decision making, as enacted answers will determine how land-use benefits and burdens will be allocated among different stakeholder groups in the future. To date, Myanmar’s Chin communities predominantly manage land and environment resources according to customary tenure and land-use practices. Limited official recognition of these practices, in conjunctions with recent national-level legislative changes and ambitions to amplify donor and investment activities have, however, sparked concern that such actions will trigger land-change processes with potentially unjust outcomes. This empirical paper takes these concerns and calls for a greater recognition of customary tenure and land-use practices in Myanmar seriously. We depart from survey data and income accounts of 94 households from northern Chin State, to explore: (i) how access to different types of land and environmental resources is currently governed; (ii) which land-use practices and management activities dominate households’ use of different types of land; and (iii) which thereby derived incomes such as food, fodder, fuel and timber products sustain households’ livelihoods in the study area. Our results indicate that respondents’ land and environmental resource claims relied primarily on village level customary rules, where many households did not possess any formal property titles. Households derived vital ecosystem services from both currently active and fallow or forested plots of land, but annual and tree crops from privately managed swidden fields and home gardens dominated households’ land-based income. We juxtapose these empirical findings with propositions for socio-economic development and a state-driven formalisation of land-rights in Myanmar, to discuss the latter’s possible consequences for rural households’ livelihood security. And we argue, that land-use decisions should indeed be grounded in greater recognition of existing tenure and land-use practices in the Chin Hills, to avoid outcomes that are detrimental to the livelihood security and aspirations of those rural people, who are already among the most marginalized in upland Myanmar.
- Land Enclosures and Indigenous Mobilization in Chin State: A Border Studies Perspective Rainer Einzenberger University of Vienna
Chin State has experienced major changes in recent years, similar to other states and regions in Myanmar. Many border areas are facing increasing pressure on land and natural resources, as a result of economic liberalization (beginning in the 1990s and gaining momentum after the recent ceasefire agreements), growing foreign investment, and regional integration. While the Thai-Burma border or China-Burma border has been subject to extensive research, the Indo-Burma border, including Chin State, has been largely neglected. For this reason, a multi-sited field research was conducted from 2015-2017 in Chin State, Sagaing Region and Yangon over several months, focusing on conflicts over land and natural resources and local responses. The qualitative research adopted the concept of the frontier, emerging from the field of border-studies, to understand processes of incorporation and negotiation in peripheral upland areas. The paper argues that contrary to the general perception in the political centers, Chin State is also experiencing land enclosures and dispossession, although to a lesser extent than other ethnic states (such as Kachin State). Nevertheless, in recent years local activists and civil society groups increasingly resist dispossession and enclosures. The causes of enclosures are diverse and include militarization, privatization, green grabbing, urbanization, infrastructure development and resource exploitation. In response, local actors increasingly draw in indigenous peoples rights frameworks, insisting on the recognition of customary land tenure and autonomy concerning the governance of land and resources. Yet, indigenous mobilization in Chin State (and Myanmar in general) is still in an early stage, facing many challenges.
- Treading Lightly: Changing Aid Spaces in Chin State Sena Galazzi School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
This paper looks at the expansion of international aid industry in Myanmar’s Chin State, attempting to provide an initial sketch of what changing spaces of aid might mean for locally meaningful development in the region. The paper situates changing aid spaces in the context of a long-standing involvement of a variety of internal-external actors, with a particular focus on the affective economy of these changes. The increasing international funding that is becoming available is resulting in a number of visible and less visible changes. Whilst on one side new offices have opened, existing ones have enlarged their operations, and the number of professionally trained development workers has increased, shifts in emotional practices and affective contexts surrounding this work are also substantial, and all contribute to having a notable impact on civil society and extensive pre-existing networks of local priorities and organisations. The paper provides an outline of what some of these changes might mean for people in Chin State, a place with a unique history and vibrant indigenous heritage that does not always fit in neatly with either development programming nor much capitalist modernity; a place where the Myanmar State’s expansion is both limited but also growing and – importantly – is entangled with a multi-faceted web of inter-ethnic and pan-nationalist diversity; a place with a long, complex, and constantly evolving relationship with the ‘International’. The paper’s theoretical framework thus locates these changes not merely within contemporary transformations occurring in Myanmar as a whole since a supposedly recent ‘opening up’, but very much as part of a locally Chin-centred process of complex and multifaceted relationships with the ‘International’.
Chin State is a predominantly Christian State rich in ethnic and linguistic diversity found in North-Western Myanmar, a region which for a number of reasons has lagged behind Myanmar’s overall economic development. Chin State is experiencing fast social, political, and agricultural transformations which are having an impact on traditional indigenous practices and cultures, livelihood and social justice strategies, relationships to land and the environment, and to the multiplicity of Chin histories. The recent arrival of large international aid and development programs in the region has also been contributing to a variety of socio-political shifts, where international humanitarian organisations have been embedding themselves into Chin spaces via a number of different programs, methods, and affective practices. The expansion of the international humanitarian regime in Chin State is also tethered to a complex legacy of interactions between “The International” and the Chin, such as vestiges of British Colonialism and Christian missionary activities.
By presenting six interdisciplinary papers that look at Chin State from a variety of critical perspectives across the Humanities and Social Sciences, this panel aims to open up scholarly spaces of conversations around Chin State, an area significantly understudied in the field of contemporary Burma Studies. In particular, the panel proposes a nuanced and inquisitive debate around the ways in which gender, post-colonial theory, religion, law, and politics entwine with and relate to contemporary Chin identities, indigenous practices, ideas and projects for ‘development’, and an overall tumultuous relationship with the Burmanising Myanmar State.