Preserving Cultural Connections: The Case of the India-Myanmar Border

In a move that has stirred concern among various stakeholders, the Indian government recently announced its decision to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the 1,643 km India-Myanmar border. This decision has prompted a coordinated response from five non-governmental organizations in Mizoram, urging the Centre to reconsider its stance.

The FMR, a bilateral agreement between India and Myanmar, allowed border residents from both countries to traverse up to 16 km within each other’s territory without the need for a visa. This arrangement facilitated cultural exchanges, trade, and familial ties among communities residing along the border.

However, citing security concerns stemming from the civil unrest in Myanmar and the ethnic conflict in Manipur, Home Minister Amit Shah announced the withdrawal of the FMR. This decision has sparked criticism from various quarters, including the NGO Coordination Committee, comprised of influential organizations such as the Central Young Mizo Association, Mizo Upa Pawl, Mizo Hmeichhe Insuikhawm Pawl, Mizo Zirlai Pawl, and Mizo Students’ Union.

In a memorandum addressed to Mr. Shah, the committee expressed astonishment at the government’s decision, emphasizing the importance of upholding the rights of indigenous peoples as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They highlighted Article 36 of the declaration, which underscores the need to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples separated by international borders.

Central to their argument is the significant role played by the FMR in maintaining ethnic and cultural linkages between the Zo ethnic group, which spans across the India-Myanmar border. The abolition of the FMR and the proposed fencing of the border are viewed as measures that would sever these vital connections, potentially having a detrimental impact on the community.

The Mizos of Mizoram, the Kuki-Zomis of Manipur, the Chins of Myanmar, and the Kuki-Chins of Bangladesh share deep-rooted ethnic ties, underscoring the interconnectedness of communities transcending national boundaries. Efforts to preserve these cultural connections are imperative for fostering understanding, harmony, and mutual respect among diverse populations.

As discussions surrounding the fate of the FMR continue, it is essential for policymakers to heed the voices of local communities and consider alternative approaches that balance security concerns with the preservation of cultural heritage and cross-border relationships. Upholding the principles of inclusivity and cooperation is crucial in navigating complex geopolitical realities while honoring the rights and identities of indigenous peoples.


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