How Myanmar refugees in India risk their lives to save crops back home

By Sangzuala Hmar

Thingsai, India, Oct 15 (EFE).- Tian Chin is a Myanmar refugee in India who, like many others, is forced to secretly cross the border to save rice crops in his homeland, risking being caught by the army that has unleashed a reign of terror after ousting a civilian government.

“If we do not harvest our rice, we have nothing for the future. We will have to scavenge for wild vegetables or beg,” Chin’s wife Dawt Hnem, 40, told EFE.

Her husband and many of the menfolk, who have taken refuge in Thingsai village of the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, had gone to Fungkah village in Myanmar.

The situation of Myanmar refugees in India is precarious.

Locals, who share an ethnic and cultural bond with the Chin tribe in the Southeast Asian country, have welcomed them with open arms.

But there are doubts about how long they would sustain housing them.

There is no official figure about the number of refugees who have crossed over into India after the Myanmar military seized power in a coup on Feb.1.

However, the Chin Refugee Committee estimates that some 20,000 Burmese have arrived in India, which shares 1,600 km of border with Myanmar.

Hnem said her husband and other men from the Thingsai refugee community had temporarily returned to the town of Fungkah in the Chin region.

“The rice seeds are now ripe and ready for harvest. But since the fighting between government forces and the Chinland Defence Force started in our areas, we could not harvest (the crop earlier),” said the mother of two.

With no one to take care of, the woman fears that if grains are stored “at home, the army could burn and destroy them.”

Local and global rights bodies have alleged that the Myanmar Army brutally tried to suppress an anti-coup movement after the seizing of power by the military sparked widespread civilian protests and a civil disobedience movement.

Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners the security forces have killed 1,171 protesters and arrested more than 8,900 in the last nine months of pro-democracy protests.

The military has intensified the attacks in Chin amid a growing number of clashes with guerrilla groups in what appears to be the preparations for a major offensive against the civilian resistance.

According to Lalhmingthanga, village council president of New Ngharchhip village, most men have gone back to Myanmar for the harvest season.

“Farming is the primary source of their livelihood. If they do not harvest now, birds and other predators will forage on their harvest, even if the army does not destroy them,” Lalhmingthanga told EFE.

Like their Mizo counterparts, Chin farmers follow the same mode of jhum cultivation, a system where farmers slash and burn a forest patch to plant rice.

With the fear of hunger and losing their yearlong labor, Chin farmers have taken an arduous journey back to their fields by hiking the mountainous terrains secretly.

“Most of the Myanmar army personnel stationed in the area are being driven back by the resistance groups. But there are reports that reinforcements are being made at Thantlang,” said Tumhmung, village council president of Lungler and Bung village in Myanmar.

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