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Chin Political Culture

Chin Political Culture

Hre Mang, March 2002

Abstract: This article analyzes the basic tenets and channels of social and political influence and balances the negative and positive impacts on the evolution of social and political culture that hinder/contribute to the progress of a democratic society in the Chin Society.

In every society, people live with their own traditional and cultural heritage, even the American society made-up of immigrants has its own socio-political culture which some scholars claim as post-culture culture or post-churchianity culture. With its immature intellectual and social evolution, Chin society, which is based on region, clans, type and language, has its own social political culture. Due to lack of communication and transportation facilities, for most of the Chin people, social touches, intellectual exchanges and influences among Chins are limited within one's own region and community. The basic key social and political realities of life are kinship group and clan, which necessarily made personal ties as the basic channels of power and influence. Hence, in order to make up a democratic Chin society, Chin people need to be intellectually enlightened and politically informed, yet a prototype of society can be established throughout its progress of social cultural evolution.

Prior to the British colonization, Chin people have had a Greek City states style of democracy, that, in a comparative description of the system, is oligarchy, ruled by small group of people, families or chiefs of the respective clans. During the British rule, having special advantages in the society, most of the ruling clans' children got a better education and opportunities for promotions and were granted a higher social esteem. The people's social political culture was clannish, rather than rational and ideological concentration and commitment. As land ownership was the main source of income, the British feudal type of chieftainship encouraged clan based social cultural environment in human relation within the society. The Chin political culture has always been masculine, however women's evening tete-a-tete used to be very influential to even the strongest warriors. So that though Chin society seems remaining as patriarchal, in real life many families are matriarchal.

Physically and politically, Chin people have stopped tribal wars since the British colonization more than one century ago. However, as I mentioned above, due to lack of social and intellectual exchanges, the barriers between one type and the other has not yet been made smooth. Of course, the language barrier will always remain as the basic classification of the segment of the society among Chin people. For example, a man from Tidim will hardly be elected as the people's representative from Thlantlang Township and vice versa. Moreover, the problem of identity is one of the most obstacles to normalize people's culture and understanding, regardless to region and type of one's origin. There is still very strong resistance among Chin people to normalization of types and identity. Therefore, any political or social strategy that neglects the above social cultural tenets and distances will always face factionalism and fragmentation sooner or latter.

At this time, Clanism is no longer discriminative but divisive among the people as a whole for Chin political culture, and in the social grassroots level, it still exists as segments of the society. It, however, is still effective for political influence and building up social relation as one's social base. The ethnical distance between one type and another is largely entitled by language, history and specified territory that made each type in the form of mini-ethnic group. Therefore, the basic component of Chin ethnicity is unique. Politicians and social campaigners/actors always mobilized these social tenets and elements for the channel of influence and power. As Chin society is not strongly rooted on commitment on any particular ideology that any respectable person among the respective clan group and segment of community can easily mobilize the people to any specific direction.

Like Prophet Muhammad of Arab Islamic religious founder who married at least nine times, many Chin leaders' marriages were once so political, especially during tribal wars. In spite of the importance of personal ties, except few individuals, marriage is no longer political in Chin society. However, personal relationship by clan, kinship, friendship and loyalty plays as the key importance channels of power and influence. It is because, in one way, intellectual and rational immaturity among Chin peoples, on the other hand, it can be assumed as the result of lack of communication and education. Consequently, power and politics is personalized while the flow of rational based political evolution is obstructed. This is also true to the political culture of the whole Burma. The social and political crack makes people keep reserve in their human relations among Chins. There is always reluctance to openness and corporation to be unified as one political unit, on the other hand, it also creates political intolerance of dissent. Therefore, self withdrawal, factionalism and fragmentation always exist among Chin people.

Though Chin people are not religious extremists like Talibans of Afghanistan or Islamic Jihad, in one way, religious groups and denominations are politicized at least some extend. Especially in the exiled Chin community, religion and nationalism are compromised not only for religious activity but also for social and political advantages as channel of influence and power. Religion is the best segment through which all Chins can join their souls together without much attention to diversity and identity. However, religious and social means are politicized for building up social esteem and personal ties. The breakaways of these religious and social segments are not exclusively based on dogma and ideology, rather theses fragmentation are the result of personal ties and personalized politics.

The misconception of leadership and its legitimacy among Chin people, descended down from the oligarchy system of the pre-British colonization, the feudal chieftainship system of the British colonizers, and the four decades long authoritarian rule of the Burmese military regime, is destructive to unity movement. Generally, people regarded leadership as a status quo rather than a functional position. The relationship between leader and audience has always been top-down rather than bottom-up in Chin society, subordinating rather than responsive. In such away, submission to leadership has been involuntary which made people reluctant or indecisive to voluntarily submission to the leadership of the social political community, when trying to form a democratic model society. Although Chin people's political behavior is traditionally obedient and submissive, not rebellious, to the leadership of the communitarian society, the undemocratic flow of the societal evolution and the collapse of the traditional structures of the Chin society under the military dictatorship make many Chins confuse over their part of participation in the society. Traditionally, the concept of the legitimacy of leadership was very materialistic and humanitarian, which needed to be rationalized in order to transform the society to a democratic type. In order to rationalized people's perceptions and decision-makings they need to be politically informed and intellectually enlightened. Therefore, in order to let the people think democratically, the whole system of human relation is needed to be transformed.

People should have a self-directing and self-organizing thought within a democratic or self-governing society, which is free from pressure or undue influence. The authentic thought system is necessary for personal growth toward a democratic thinking as much as the existence of the opposite idea is importance to have a healthy democracy. People should be free to think whatever they will without fear and direct their thoughts whatever one thinks good for the society without fear of reaction or feedback. This must be practiced for a healthy growth of the society toward a mature democracy. However, like many conservative societies around the world, the expression of idea that may offenses or marginalizes the existing norms and practices is oppressed within the Chin hierarchical society that usually results self withdrawal and nonparticipation and fail to cultivate and improve the mind of the people. For the sake of healthy growth and development, both the systems of thought and hierarchical order must be transformed to a free and open society, which will eventually encourage people to think democratically and contribute a collective and constructive ideas and efforts.

Therefore, for the transformation of the whole system of Chin political culture, as social structure strongly influences the political process, the basic sinews of the social system need a rapid evolutionary growth. Political parties and social organizations that are perceived by people as amalgamations of individuals bound together by a multiplicity of different personal and clannish ties should be transformed into all-pervasive organizational structure of ideological commitment. So that, as informal and nonassociational-group polities are dominant in the Chin society, the pattern of family tenacity and ideological malleability will also prevail for the establishment of a fair and healthy democratic society. Thought it may not sound possible at this time, as time goes by, each individual has responsibility to contribute his/her idea and effort for the future better and healthy society of the Chin people. Then, the social and political evils will be minimized and eliminated, and mutual social political corporation will come to prevail without historical and social distance for the dignity and survival of the Chin.