Exclusive interview: Mr Nathan Loncheu

“In Bangladesh, I belong to Bawm. But the Bawms in Mizoram are called Mizo, as Chin in Burma and as Kuki in Manipur. Are we not one?”

says, Nathan Loncheu

Mr Nathan Loncheu | BKT
FOR many of us the name Chittagong sounds fascinating. What is the main reason behind? Is it because a bulk of Zo population found there? There maybe some reason. Let’s wait and see. The Chittagong Hill Tracts, an area of 13,295 SqKm in Bangladesh, is the hilly land which covers one-tenth of its country’s land. In 1991 Bangladesh Census, CHT’s population was 974,447 of which 501,114 were tribal. Chittagong was a single district until 1984 which fragmented into three districts as Khagrachari, Rangamati and Bandarban.  In 2011 Census, the population of these districts was 1,587,000. There were many ethnic tribal groups collectively identified by the Bangladeshi government as “Pahari” or “Khuddro-Nrigusthi which includes the Chakma, Marma, Tripuri, Tanchangya, Chak, Pankho, Mru, Murung, Bawm, Lushai, Khyang, Gurkha, Assamese, Santal, and Khumi.

From this far away land, there’s a man from Bawm tribe named Nathan Loncheu, an artist, sculptor, researcher and a writer. He is the author of BAWMZO: A study of Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes of Chittagong which was published by Akansha Publishing House, New Delhi earlier this year.  He took more than 5 years to ink this book.

Loncheu completed Class X from Don Bosco High School, Bandarban in 1993 and Class XII from Dhaka College, Dhaka in 1995, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Masters of Fine Arts from Dhaka University in 2000 and 2002 respectively.  He is the President of Kuki-Chin National Development Organisation (KNDO); Secretary of Bawm Literature Forum (BLF); Chairman & founding member of Dhaka Bawm House (DBH); Member of Bangladesh Sculptors Assembly; and Former secretary of Hill Artists’ Council (HAC). 

He also wrote some books in Bawm dialect viz. Zo Phun Thlak History (History of Zo peoples); Ethnic Arts, Crafts; and Music of CHT: A story of Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes of Bangladesh. Some of his unpublished books include Bawm Phung-le-Lam (Bawm Culture); ZALENNAK (Freedom); DILEMMA: Living in the Bordering Side; and Parbatta Chattagramer Kuki Jati O british Biddruhi Andulon (The Kukis of CHT and their movements against the British in Bengali). 

Caught up with our correspondent one fine moment luckily, here we produced the exclusive interview with Nathan Loncheu from Chittagong. 

Could you please tell us your background?
My father, Zotawn (95 aged), served in the East Pakistan Regiment before the present Bangladesh was born. Just after completion of his military training, his mother died. So he came back and never returned to the military. My uncle Zakap was a member of Emergency Commando in 1948. He died in Burma in 1951. And, one of my paternal uncles was also a member of Indian Armed Police who fled away there (West Bengal) for good reason. He didn’t return home and died in India. And another uncle died at Bungtlang in Mizoram. It is interesting that my uncles were the members of military in the then undivided three countries – India, Burma and East Pakistan. We, Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zomi (Zo people), were ironically divided into three countries in 1937 and again in 1947 based on two nation’s theory.  My parents are still alive but very old. My mother is a house wife. I am the youngest among 5 brothers and one sister. I got married 5 years ago, not yet blessed with kids.
When were you born?
I was born in 1972 at Theihkhiang village, under Bandarban district, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh. This village is the nearest from the erstwhile MNF Capital nestling on the green hills of Keokrotlang, the highest peak in Bangladesh. 

Where do you live at present? How far is from Dhaka?
I live in Ruma sub-district town which takes 12-16 hours to reach Dhaka by bus. 

How many tribal groups are there in Chittagong?  Who are the majority?
There are 11 tribal groups in CHT except Nepali, Assamese (Ahomi), Gurkha and Rakhain. The Chakmas are the largest in population, the Moghs are second largest and third the Tripuras [Tripuris]. The Kuki group [Zo people] such as Bawm, Pangkhua, Lushai, Khumi, Mru and Khyang are the minority.  

Bawm women | Nathan Loncheu

Is there a sense of brotherhood among the Zo people?
There were no such feelings earlier. After the Peace Accord, many miscreants or disgruntled armed groups like the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and AA (Arakan Army) backed by the Mogh tribe became very operatives in the areas of Bawm and other Zo people. They started kidnapping and abducting the innocent Zo people and demanded huge amount of ransom, ransacked their houses and disrupted the peaceful life. I still remember one tragic incident. It was during the time of our university holidays some miscreants (probably of major tribes) raped two Bawm women who were fishing. They brutally killed one woman which left a long lasting pain in our minds. For so many reasons, we, along with some like-minded University students and conscious persons, formed Kuki-Chin National Development Organisation (KCNDO) in 2008 with a view of unifying the neglected Zo people in Chittagong. Some leaders aren’t still aware of such feelings! We’re still advocating through conducting meetings and workshops. Today our people came to realize the need of unity. They are now a bit conscious about our threatening existence. 

Ruma Bazar in Chittagong, Bangladesh | Nathan Loncheu

Can you tell us what exactly the Peace Accord was?
Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord was signed between the Bangladesh Government and the Chakma-armed group (militants) in 1997. As a result the Regional Council came into being in CHT. Frankly speaking, the Kuki-Chin-Mizo people rejected the accord because it was signed without our consent. There has been no right or facility for us in the Council since then. We are not satisfied with the Peace Accord and its formation. Our rights have been refused and the Bengalis have been empowered in this Council by giving seven seats (membership). For the six Zo tribes not even a single seat has been allotted. It’s beyond our expectation. The Zo tribes should also be given one seat each. The majority tribe is infuriated on us for our claim. When contacted the concerned Council about their ignorance of minority rights in Regional Council, some vested leaders of the majority tribes just blamed that the Zo people had no contribution during their 20 year’s movement against the government. What is their political thought and how can it be possible, many of us also laid their precious lives during the movement (we have many documents to proof it)? How the majority Bengalis can achieve seven seats in the Regional Council? What did they contribute then? Didn’t the minorities have more contribution than them? As a consequence of signing the Peace Accord and forming political council, the dominant Bengali became more and more powerful. For such political misguidance and ignorance to the minority Zo peoples, it weakened the political strategy of the hills. We became more and more powerless in our own land while the Bengalis are gradually becoming powerful than before. They have now enough administrative powers in a bid to grasp our lands. Recently, we can see a big influx of the plainsmen to the hill regions. We are going to lose our ancestral land or the hunting grounds of our forefathers because of negligence by the majority political parties who dream of Jummaland.  Our neighbouring Mogh tribe is unfriendly and always antagonistic to the Zo people. The government should give importance to the minority Zo people and ensure equal rights and facilities for all the hill tribes. Still today tranquility and friendly situation does not prevail in CHT. So we really worried for our future. 

What are the main problems faced by the Zo group?
We are confronting various kinds of deprivations and persecutions. We have been facing problems in education, healthcare, development sectors and government services, and even in the local NGO recruitments. Many international NGOs like UNDP-CHTDF (United Nations Development Program - Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Facilities) entered into our lands (CHT) but all the facilities have been enjoyed by the majority. The development sectors especially the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Regional Council and Special District Councils are dominated by the majority. So we are fighting for equal rights, equal privilege and equal footings. We never expected such step-motherly treatment from the majority group. Before the Peace Accord, we were optimistic that we can enjoy all the facilities equally without any discrimination. But now, we don’t know where the development goes for us? 

Aizawl | Nathan Loncheu

Is there any government institution in your village?
Yes of course, we have government hospital, school and college (recently set-up) in our village Ruma. The government never wants to develop our region. It won’t be exaggerated if I say that the region where we (Zo people) live is still considered as one of the most backward areas in our country. 

What is the common language?
Bengali, but we speak in our own different languages. Bawm, Pangkhua and Lushai (Mizo) are dialectically intelligible. Here the Lushai and Pangkhua can speak Bawm. Mru and Khumi dialect is similar. They can easily understand each other. But Chakma language is broadly used in two districts Rangamati and Khgarachari. Those Tripuris and Moghs in these districts can speak Chakma. 

Mizoram | Nathan Loncheu
Have the government recognized the Zo people?
No, Bangladesh Government knows us by different names. They called us as Kuki.  The government also knows very well that we belong to Mizo-Chin-Kuki group. 

How is education system in CHT? 
There is no university here. Behind this backwardness, there are many political reasons and it’s like a thorny-untold story. 

For higher studies, where does one go?
Most of the students from CHT go to divisional cities like Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Sylhet and others. For all these reasons we have founded Dhaka Bawm House in Dhaka City in 2002. At present, there are 35 school and college going students in this house. This house is not only for the Bawms but also for all Zo people. Many students have finished their Bachelors and Masters from this place. 

Is the food and lodging free in Bawm House?
No, students have to pay for their food. A small amount is given for accommodation. We get some financial supports from NGOs and kindhearted persons. 

What is the main source of livelihood in CHT?
Mainly jhum cultivation and gardening. Bawms, Pangkhuas and Lushais mostly depend on gardening as source of livelihood.
Is there any scholarship for tribal students from Bangladesh government?
We have many talented students but none avail any scholarships or facilities so far. After the Peace Accord, students from CHT were given scholarship every year by the Australian Government and UNDP.  The majority tribes have grasped all the facilities while the minority tribes have been deprived of. Many of the majority Chakma students went abroad to Australia for higher education without spending a penny from their pocket.  So the Chakms became the most advanced group and their literacy rate was far better than the Bengalis. Not a single of student from the minority group get scholarship till date.  Finding no alternative, many of the Zo students stop their higher studies but only few could went to neighbouring countries for theological studies. We aren’t given facilities by the Bangladesh Government. The irony is the government didn’t listen to our grievances, our voice always remained unheard. For higher education, we need helps from our brothers and sisters in India. 

MNF Guerillas in Chittagong | Nathan Loncheu

Is there any armed group from the minority group?
No we don’t need. We are going to fight democratically with wisdom and non-violent. We don’t prefer sanguinary fightings and bloodsheds. The civilized world does not support such heinous activities.  We don’t want to see such recurrent phenomena of tragedy in our region. 

Is there any social or political organisation from the Zo group?
There were many social organisations among us. But as I said Kuki-Chin National Development Organisation is one of the socio-political organisations of the Zo people which protest any kinds of oppression, suppression and aggression. KCNDO is aiming to protect our languages, cultures as well as to uplift the poor literacy among our Zo peoples in Chittagong Hill Tracts. 

What is the population of Zo groups in Chittagong?
Maybe around One Lakh. The Mrus are the largest among us but they are the most backward tribe who predominantly inhabited the rugged terrains of today’s Chimbuk.
What about the Chakmas? What do they demand?
Chakma is about 4.5 Lakh, Mogh 3.5 Lakh and Tripuri 2 Lakh approximately. These three are the majority in CHT. They are fighting together for their homeland called “Jummaland”. There were two political groups among them, namely PCJSS (Parbatta Chattgram Jana Sanghati Samiti) and UPDF (United People’s Democratic Front) led by the majority tribes and Chakmas domination. They both have armed wings. One group cherish for full-fledged autonomy while the other group dreams for statehood (which they formed Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council). They are neither fighting for the dominant Bengalis nor the government, they fights each other for supremacy which led many blood feuds among the hill peoples. It has hampered the economy of the CHT and benefited by the government only. 

What does Jummaland means?
It is an alternate name for the word Chakma. The PCJSS used it as a political term for all the hill peoples. According to the Chakmas and PCJSS, Jumma means Jhum Cultivators. But the word Jumma refers to Chakma only because the Chakmas in olden days call themselves Jumma or Sakma. We don’t accept it as it is a Chakma term. They advocate that all the hill tribes to be under this name but we rejected it. The Chakmas are planning for their Chakma land in CHT. We are Mizo-Chin-Kuki or Zo hnahthlak [Zo descendants] and we can’t buy their own ideology. We still call the region we inhabited now as Bawmram which stands for the Bawm’s ancestral land. We also acknowledged the present Chimbuk Hills as Miriaram (Mru Hills). All the land where we also belongs can’t be a Jumma (Chakma) land. The Chakmas haven’t determined yet about their future goals but fighting each other for self-domination and power. They are also trying to include all the minority Zo people to their political games (killing, abduction, looting, etc). You must know, last week a pastor in Khagrachari was brutally killed by the majority Chakma led armed cadres (PCJSS alleged UPDF for this killing but UPDF denied). It’s one of the greatest threats for the Zo people as well as our Christian missionaries working in CHT. This killing is a religious persecution on minority Christians by the majority tribes which is happening. 

Did the Zo group react to Jummaland Demand?
The Zo people are neither unconscious nor unaware about this. We easily understand their tricky mindset and foresightedness in politics. Some of our people didn’t even realize that they were being fooled by the majority tribes in the political arena where there is no right at all for the Zo tribes. In this regard, we have talked to the government and the government has now seems to be considering it. But on the behalf of Zo (minority) tribes, we haven’t submitted any memorandum due to our minor political distinctiveness. 

Have you heard about ZO Re-unification Organisation? Have you ever met them?
I’ve heard about ZORO. It’s very popular in CHT especially among Bawm, Lushai and Pangkhua tribes. Yes, we met ZORO president Pu R. Thanmawia and central leaders like Pu Lalmuanpuia Punte and others in Aizawl sometime ago. We discussed with about our plights.  We gave some knowledge to the leaders of ZORO about our problems too. They said those problems were out of the purview of their interference, though they response well.

I personally also talked to some CNF leaders but they were busy for their Peace Agreement with their Burmese government and they had already set out for abroad. I just got only a chance to talk to Pu Zing Cung, Vice-Chairman of CNF and General Secretary of the National Democratic Front (NDF) through telephone. I told him about our regional politics and our future plans of the Chin (Zo) people in CHT. When I returned to my village from Mizoram, I met and shared about our problems to Pu Rozathanga (Parte), a former leader of ZORO, who came here for his personal work. 

Pu Laldenga | Nathan Loncheu
Are you satisfied with the MNF party or previous MNF government in Mizoram?
It’s a bit difficult to say about the MNF party in Mizoram today. However during the MNF ruled, I was in Dhaka. I came to know many stories of MNF and Congress-led government in Mizoram from my relatives in Mizoram and our brethren in Chin Hills of Burma. I don’t want to say anything that will deeply hurt them because the MNF is only one organisation in Mizoram that fought for more than two decades for Mizoram’s independence under one umbrella in which many of our brave guerillas lost their lives at the hands of Indian armies. We must pay homage to them. However when MNF became the ruling in Mizoram, they didn’t acknowledge the existence of our Chin people from Burma; some of them (those of Chins) said that they suffered much in the so-called peaceful state in India. Some Chin people from Burma and CHT stayed in Dhaka for several years made complain to me that Mizoram is now becoming uncongenial for us. I was so sad, we fought for our Mizoram, we co-operated the Mizo movement, and later we helped the CNF. What a heartbreaking! We need to help each other at any cost; they (Chins) are now neglecting us. In Bangladesh we helped those neglected Lai brethren in Dhaka who urged for their refugee status. We don’t want to expect from the MNF or any other Mizoram government. We were divided into three nations but we are one. We stemmed from the same parents’ race. Here I belong to Bawm tribe in CHT but I am Mizo in Mizoram, Kuki in Manipur and Chin in Chin Hills. Why should we fight for these 4-letters? We, Mizo-Kuki-Chin, all are brethren. We, Zo people, are being neglected and were treated in a step-motherly treatment here in CHT but we shouldn’t be subjugated one another in Mizoram nor in Chin Hills. Both states are our ancestral lands. We dream much for these lands. We love and belongs to Mizoram, Zale’n-gam (what Kukis in Manipur fought for) and Chin Hills as the Mizo, Chin and Kuki peoples love and belong to. You must know that now-a-days, we, those here in CHT were much oppressed, neglected and suppressed in every spheres of our life by the majority tribes and the government. We have nothing else here; we are going to lose everything. We are now on the brink of extinction. We have got no rights in CHT. We hope MNF would become very powerful government next time and that will be for the reconstruction of all Zo people and all Zo people can enjoy its freedom as their own. So that all Zo people can feels the land as their own home. We need to help each other as one family. I do strongly believe that the MNF party can do something for us. We will pray for them.


Pu Zoramthanga | Nathan Loncheu
Do you have any message particularly for Pu Zoramthanga, former Chief Minister as well as former MNF guerrilla leader?

While Pu Zoramthanga and his cadres were in Chittagong, they fought for all the Zo people as I heard from my own father. Pu Zorama used to visit our home. Since the MNF were pro-Pakistan, the anti-freedom fighter (Mukti Bahini) led by the India Army Forces came into Bawm region in the guise of Mukti Bahini and searched the MNF guerillas every nook and corner of Chittagong. It was a dooms day for the MNF. Pu Zorama and his men finally fled to Arakan (Burma) and harboured there for several years.  My father says many MNF guerillas were killed in Arakan. When Bangladesh was born and at the death of Sheikh Mujib (the first President), the MNF easily had contacts with the new government and they came back to CHT and settled in Keokratlang hills (known as Capital) for a good number of years. This hill is near from my birthplace Theihkhiang.  According to my father, the MNF had a good relationship with the newly Bangladesh government so they could settle at my grandfather’s land at Ruma (where I live now). When I came to Mizoram in 2011, I tried to meet Pu Zoramhanga, but I was never given a chance by the officials or his sub-ordinates. I met only some of his sub-ordinates.  Now I would like to request him to visit CHT once and forever.


What about Pu Lal Thanhawla, any words for him?

We all the Zo people in CHT know his name as Chief Minister of Mizoram. But I don’t know whether he must be aware of some Zo hnahthlak [Zo descendants] inhabiting Chittagong from time immemorial. He is an old and respectable man. Being a Chief Minister of our present day Zoram, he must also lend his ears and eyes towards his brethren who are exploited and destructed in Bangladesh and Burma as the ‘Guardian’. We are helpless he can raise his voice in some way or other for us.

Kuki Rebellion (Chin-Lushai Expedition) | Nathan Loncheu

There are Kukis in Manipur and Chins in Burma. Any comment?

You know that the Kukis of Manipur and Chins of Chin Hills are very far from our country although geographically contagious to our land. Nonetheless, we long for these two ancestral lands. We first came from the present Chin Hills and even our first missionary in Chittagong was from NEIG Mission, Manipur. The first convert Christian among our people was Rev. Kualthang, first student from CHT who studied in Churachandpur, Manipur. We have many stories on Churachandpur and Chin Hills which you may not heard. The Bawms are unified with many Zo tribes, here like Hmar, Lakher, Thadou-Kuki, Lushai, Khumi, Mru and Lai tribes. I meant to say that the Bawm tribe is unified with other Zo sub-clans of the southern Chins, northern Chins and central Chins, it’s a long story to discuss. If you go through my book “BAWMZO” it will be very clear. Our history tell us that we – Hmar, Thadou, Paite, Lakher, Lai, Lushai and other smaller Zo tribes are unequivocally one and indifferent. We speak in similar language except minor difference. I was saddened to hear that the Naga’s outfit NSCN (Naga Socialist Council of Nagalim – Isaac and Muivah) killed many of our Kuki brothers and sisters in Manipur during 1993-95. I was badly disturbed when Burmese harassed our Chin brethren and burnt down their homes and killed their religious teachers/pastors. They are very much neglected in Burma. It is high time that all the Zo people under the sky should be in unity. We really need unity and brotherhood in today’s contemporary world at large. We are being fragmented into three sub-continents where we individually struggle for own benefits. What a sad thing! However I have been now-a-days contacted by some persons from abroad.  I haven’t met Rev. Dr. David Haokip of Chin Hills (who is now in London) and Prof. Lal Dena of Manipur University but we only came to know by phone-calls only. It was God’s grace. After we talked they are like my relatives in my mind which they may not know. I believe one day we will be united and become one. I strongly believe the younger generation will search the remaining chapter which none of us could make into visible at the present. That will be a new leaf for our children or grandchildren.


Joint Editor, ZOGAM TODAY, Manipur

Special Correspondent, The MIZORAM POST

New Delhi | 14 Aug 2013

*Published in The Mizoram Post & Zogam Today on 15 & 16 Augst, 2013.

(*This material should be not published without permission of the author/interviewer)


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments not related to the topic will be removed immediately.

Recent Posts

Popular Posts



Thangkhal Bible in Mobile

Mobile phone a Thangkhal NT Bible koih ding dan

Read Thangkhal NT Bible




TBCWD TOUR 24-Sept-2022
Kulhvum Prayer

Blog Archive