The Great Disruption to Chin Society

 The Great Disruption to Chin Society

Hre Mang

May 2006


It has been the round the world that the post modern culture shaped the modern socio cultural norms, reshaping the global social order and threatening the survival of tradition and permanent culture without guaranteeing replacement with systematic and perfect social order. Being among backward and least developed societies, the Chin society has recently undergone dramatic disruption to its social order and value system, restructuring itself with mixed norms and socio cultural practices which leaves many ignorant civilians in limbo, and the collective moral trend in cripple stage. The impacts of contemporary world order, globalization, change in socio economic trend, ongoing Chin political condition, and the recent mass movement of the Chin people, all together shape the existing social order, introducing the uncertain social environment. Most of the driving factors appeared to be beyond the control of social actors, politicians, religious leaders and leaders of the Chin communities, although giving social awareness to conscious citizens may still worth at least some extent to the preservation of the invaluable social tenets for the longtime survival of the Chin cultural identity. Having said that for the sake of self-reflection and public social awareness, lets look at some important factors and their contribution to the great disruption to Chin society.


The incomplete social cultural transition: traditional to Christianity and church’s failure to maintain its claimed moral principles and social standards


Looking back to the recent Chin history, the arrival of Christianity, along with the political transition from independent tribal cities to colonized state, was the greatest historical landmark that put the Chin society into transitional. Unfortunately and unlike the Mizo society in India , the social development has been stagnated by the unpleasant political condition in Burma . The transition from traditional animism to Christianity, of course, is to say almost completed. However, the internal transformation of the people’s belief system and valua system still has along way to go. The outward social structural transition from politically chieftainship and religiously evil spirit worship orientation is completed that the contemporary Chin society now is politically, in nature, democratic and Christian in religion.


Traditionally, the Chin society imposed its unwritten moral norms to citizens by offering security and belongingness to its members, on the other hand, by imposing punitive action, depositing fear and shame, fear of shame in the minds of its members not to break the unwritten moral and social norms. The common sense played a pivotal role. Although physical facilities were limited to implement the social standard, the society’s authority, the people’s common sense and submission to society put all things in order to maintain social justices and moral norms of the day. Following the fall of traditional social order and political structure, the new social order introduced by Christianity as well as by the Burmese political administration were weak to reframe the whole set of the Chin people’s belief system and moral core value. Although part of the ritual practices were kept unchanged, in many aspects, the underlining social and moral principles of the new order failed to provide simple and efficient guideline to ordinary citizens in order to follow a collective moral standard. Therefore, it is still in question, do the Chins adopt the whole pack of western style Christian culture, or maintain part of the tradition as guide to the modern social order, or will the influence of the neighboring societies suffice the demand of the essential social elements for the new social order? A short answer would be, the combination of all.



Cultural infiltration:


The Chins are the most fortunate ethic group in Burma to be able to resist the strong cultural infiltration of the Burmese dictators’ burmanization policy implemented through the dictatorship political system. The Burmese military leaders tried to burmanized the Chins by all means of social economic, tradition, culture, and education and by the political administration. One of the social factors that helps the Chins prevent from the shaping of the Burmanization programs is religion that mass majority of Chins are Christians and secondly a clean ethnic blood line, absence of the inter-marriage between the Chins and Burman  that is still minimal in its impact. Until today, the Chins still stay ethnically and religiously untouched by the non-chin ethnics, surviving the intrusive social cultural and political administration of the military govt. 


However, there are negative impact to the Chin society as a result of the cultural infiltration program implemented by the Burmese military govt., such as in literature, arts, business and social contracts that contaminated the Chin people’s social order and moral principles. One of the worst and foremost thing is the Rangoon govt.’s created “ dependency culture” by cutting all opportunities, human rights, and privileges that implicating that the Chin people would always psychologically be filled with dependency on the Rangon gvt., threatening the survival of independent mentality both at individual level as well as the Chin people as a whole ethnic group. In many places, the Chin boys and girls can no longer think of living without the Burmese songs and entertainments. In some places, even the religious congregations use Burmese as their common language when there are a few non-Chin speaking members attend the congregation.


Due to such systematic cultural war, the Chin history, tradition, and cultural heritages are diminishing day by day. The young Chin generation do not have opportunity to learn their history, language, literature in formal school, and have no means to preserve and develop their cultural heritages. Politically, due to the Burmese military leaders’ oppressive attempt to marginalize the Chin social cultural and ethnic identity, the national pride of the Chin people is under challenged and sense of self-determination and independent identity is put under control and freedom beyond dream. With the bloody oppressive history, in the minds of the Chin people, psychological fear is deposited, and the Burman supremacy ideal threatened the individual identity of the Chin people.


Economically, by blocking all possible development inside Chin state, the young Chin generation have to go outside their land and work for living whether inside or outside Burma. When working inside Burma , the Chins have to be proselytes or be assimilated into the Burman way of life, especially when the nature of the business required direct contact with the Burma people of government . And when working with government, the Chins have to learn the corruptive administration and bribery business practices. Controlling all opportunities at hand, both in private as well as in public sector, the Burmese military dictators treat the Chins as second class citizens, manipulating all opportunities and offering those opportunities to the Chins in exchange of their national and socio cultural identity.


Needless to say, for social cultural development and preservation, there are no means provided by the central government. Moreover, no freedom to organize and assemble, and no formal education system that would enhance the health of the Chin social and cultural identity. In school, the school uniform Burman typical dress is compulsory for all school children. The national anthem, songs and literatures, all are in Burmese language that many young Chins can no longer able to write and read in Chin and have lost the taste of their own literature, social cultural heritages. The politics of burmanization has double impacts to the young Chin generation.



The increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots:


The sense of Chin people’s intrinsic moral quality and human concern is almost death. Wealth is gained thru several steps of briberies, underneath table business and black marketing. In the Chin traditional society, wealth was gained thru hard labor and diligent saving and was well respected. The altruistic human concern of the wealthy and the haves in the society built the society as a whole, without a single street beggar in the whole Chin society. The widows and least fortunate in the society were helped and the essential assistances were provided by the community members.  However, under the rule of the Burmese dictatorship, and the corruptive economic practices, people’s morality and ethnical standard has been greatly disrupted. Today, the unequal distribution of public resources and opportunities, black marketing, illegal trades become vital channels to increase wealth. The respect for the intrinsic moral integrity, altruistic public attitude, and social justice no longer dominate the basic principles of human relation and social contract.  At the same time, the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots forced people to strive toward achieving wealth and property possession at all costs, setting aside altruistic and voluntary contribution toward the collective good all. Even at the cost of once mostly highly regarded moral value, people now strive for material wealth and possession.






Civic disengagement and decreasing social capital


Since before the invasion of the west, the Chin society have had village council system to manage public affairs where elders of the community got involved in the decision making processes for the collective good of all. Destroying the whole decision making mechanism, the oppressive Burmese military rule marginalized the rule of citizens in the government’s decision-making process. Not only at government level, but also the existence and role of civil society is restricted and kept under the complete control of the centralized dictatorship government. Needless to say, the civic engagement in public affairs has been not only systematically marginalized but also threatened. As the free _expression of ideas, opinions, feelings in forms of arts, literature, and media or otherwise is restricted, and the fear psyche is deposited to people’s minds that the civic engagement in public affairs become impossible and un-attempted, totally leaving the course of the public management at the hand of the military leadership and their puppet public administrators.


Therefore, in the minds of general public, the limitation of the role of the government, the rights and responsibility and moral obligation of individuals, the role of civil society and social cultural rights, the universal basic norms of social contracts in human relation, are unclear and remained as unanswered questions. The individual’s political, social, or economic survival becomes one’s basic striving object at all cost. When the individual survival at any cost becomes the most striving thing, the collective moral value and the pursuit of collective good play no more important role in human relation. The Burman saying “Betu ti-ti nga matizin pi-zaw” (whoever dies as long as I survive, that’s enough) becomes the bottom line principle of social relation for all sojourners of the day. Dismantling the traditional value system, there has been no underlining qualified moral principle that determinately dictates the moral behaviors of individuals. The bad, the good, and the ugly all are well accepted based on one’s relationship to the bad rulers or based on one’s skill to approach to the corrupted system and get advantages of it.


Altruistic moral obligation toward fellow members of the society, the collective moral force of the society, and the individuals’ civic engagement to public affairs, all have been vanished. And all public resources and opportunities, available social capitals, are distributed and shared among the opportunists and most aggressive and unconsidered individuals, dis-encouraging public civic engagement and raising the essential social capital to build up national foundation of today’s generation.  Trust, whether to the government, to the system or between individual citizens, is at its lowest that no one can be trusted any longer that forced individuals to withdrawal from civic engagement and vlountary contribution to the collective public good. As a result, the available social capital is at its lowest level.







In the Chin traditional society, liar never won public respect, whether the color of the lie was white, black, blue or colorless. Liar can never serve in the village council, become as a priest for animist worshipers, or serve as a diplomat. Lying was a shameful act. However, today can any adult escape from lie? Can today’s pastor, who had to travel outside the state to gain his education or to get connected with his foreign sponsors, or to gain more members against the rival churches in the city, escape from lie? Can a government servant, working with the military government survive without lying? Can a business man inside the country get rich without telling lie or without engaging with any immoral business practices? Can a politician be honest and still be happy with the military dictators? Can the pro-democratic activist or leaders gain enough fund without telling lie? Can the so called pro-democratic leaders travel country to country without telling lie to embassies or to travel agents? Or without gaining fake ids? Can a refugee or political asylum seekers gain their legal protection and status without telling lie? These questions might come across many of the readers’ minds when thinking the role of lie in the Chin society. When lie is no longer regarded as lie, or lie is justified by its end, or when lie becomes a constant behavioral practice, the society, at its underneath bottom, is eroded with potential consequences of total destruction.  


The matter of fact here is not simply blaming all the modern liars or experts liars or preofeeional liars or to reveal their shame, but what are the dangers those lies impost to the Chin society-the double impacts of moral derail. First, respect for honesty and sincere behavior play no more important role and “shame” no longer post threat to those liars’ credibility. Having been addicted to systematic lie, one can still shamelessly claim for place in the public. Having enjoyed the benefits of lying, one directly or indirectly encourages others to take the same steps. So lying becomes a well-accepted behavior. Second, the problem with lie is that one lie requires the second lie to cover the first and the second requires the third lie to cover its ugliness side, and so on. So that lie becomes most protected behavior than honesty, sincerely, or even more than the intrinsic moral quality of our forefathers. Thirdly, lying has its psychological side affects to the liars. If one is gifted with a skill of reading human psychological screen, he or she might have noticed the consequential syndromes among leaders-the tilting of their lips, how often they put their fingers inside their nose in public place, the color of bloodline inside their eyes, the unusual movement of their heads, their inhuman reaction to their opponents, etc.  Lastly, lying has severe destructive follow up, that once one lies, one becomes a liar and a liar hates the truth or the defenders of the truth or people who are in the side of the truth. In other word, the day one lies the battle begins. Once one lies, he or she hates people who knows his or her lies, and hates people who do not lie. Hatred is one of the most destructive elements to the health of one’s human soul. Especially, when those expert liars become public leaders, their action encourages lies and destruction of the traditional moral values. Therefore, lying posts dangerous consequential behaviors to Chin society at every level, individual, family, community, and society as a whole. If honesty and sincerity are threatened and lie dominantly survive, the total moral derail will cause greater pain for many to serve the interests of a few in the future Chin society. In addition, lie also serves to increase hatred and distrust among individuals as well as tribal groups, and when those factors are manipulated and cultivated to promote particular tribal group’s political or tribal interest, it works like poisonous venom, destroying unity and the collective force of the Chin people.


Backward political trend: tribal politics vs. democratization


Before the invasion of the west, the Chin tribal groups never been under one political administration. During the rule of the British, the Chin people were under the control of several administrative regions and the Chins never been united as one people one nation. Having overcome the British colonization, the Chin people realized the historical challenge posted by the world around them and that all Chins who joint to the Union of Burma came to unite under one political administrative region. Not only that the sense of oneness was enhanced by the declaration of the Chin People conference held in Falam city in 1948. However, the sense of oneness as one people one nation still lacked in-depth influence to segments of the Chin society as well as at individual level. Meanwhile, to enhance such sense of belongingness toward one united people group, there were no political system to facilitate the essential means, leaving the Chin society internally segmented and fragmented, surviving just like amalgamation of several small tribal groups. Nevertheless, due to lack of political choices and exercise of individuals wills, the fragile ethnic setting of the Chin people still stay below the surface of the Burma politics.


Here we go! The 1998 Burma pro-democratic movement stimulated hundreds of young Chins. A few, if not none, might notice their own internal tribal mindset at that time, embracing democracy as an ideological savior of the age. When choices are at hand and when one can freely exercise his or her political free will in exile or in the peripherals, the reality of the young Chins’ tribal mindsets wholly revealed. The term “Chin” could no longer help the young Chins see their brethren equally and undividedly. Many came to acknowledge the different tastes of their touches and knots when mingled with other activists from different tribes, favoring members of one’s own tribal group, and becoming unpreventable not to play such mental impulses to gain political favors from one’s tribal group. Therefore, the correct description of the young Chins’ pattern of political thoughts become obvious-that is tribalism, not nationalism. Although, most of the time, if not always, they like the term “national”, their pattern of thoughts provoked them move with their tribal political mentality, with a strong zeal to contain all political opportunities and chances within one tribal group against the rest.


Speaking in terms of real world description, the nature of current existing Chin political parties and organizations are solely tribal parties and organizations, not reflecting the whole scope of national image. (Keeping in minds that like the northeastern tribal groups, who the Indian government categorized them under schedule tribes, the Chins may not like being categorized as tribal). For example, the Mara People Party is the political party of the Mara Tribal group, the Zo mi National Congress (ZNC) is the political party of the tribal group who identified themselves as Zomi, and the Chin National Front (CNF) is the armed political party of the Hakha tribal group who mainly occupied the Haka and Thlantlang districts, etc. Therefore, when the existing political parties organized themselves and formed a council called Chin National Council (CNC) that becomes the political alliances of certain tribal groups of the Chins particularly who identified themselves as Zomi and laimi. Not only political association, but the religious and social organization reveal the reality of the Chin people’s pattern of tribal political thoughts. For example, wherever and whenever the Chin people happened to live in a closed locality whether inside or outside Burma , their religious and social organization always reflect their tribal settings. There is nothing wrong or no one to blame unless one wants to blame God. However, ignorance or over-emphasizing or manipulating such facts may or already have caused unnecessary pain and loss. In short, the pre-independent tribal politics is now recalled and tribal politics becomes a threat to the Chin National cause as well as to the democratization of the Chin society that unless otherwise correctly handled all the twists and turns of the contemporary political trend inside and outside Burma , the political trend is seriously challenged by tribal politics. In other word, the return of tribalism collides with the progress of democratization.