Towards a Media Historiography of Borderland Regions: A Case Study of Mizoram

P. Thirumal and C. Lalrozami (Hyderabad University, India)

Media history in India has been perceived as political history, and political history has been another name for writing the post-colonial history of the mainland nation state. But borderland regions like North-east require a different frame to narrate the nascent philological, literary and print related journalistic traditions.

Broadly, we want to read media history as cultural history of the border regions and cultural history as seeking a deeply hermeneutic approach. Among other things, this interpretative method is required in order to negotiate with a lack of an elaborate textual tradition and therefore the absence of a conventional archive in this part of the country.

In this intervention, we argue that media history of Mizoram should be narrated alongside its immediate transnational neighbors like Myanmar and Bangladesh, and its local neighbors like Manipur, Assam and Tripura. Generally, media histories like print or newspaper history are narrated from a mainland, sedentary, nationalistic/ civilisational perspective. Is it possible to arrive at a Zomia-like conception of media history where Zomia stands for the South Asian uplands?

On examination of the philological and literary practices in the erstwhile Lushai region, we are of the view that a more ‘locale=specific’ and a deeply inclusive tradition informed their pre-colonial/pre-Christian interconnected practice relating to language, religion and society. This deeply embedded implicit understanding of language and utterances gave way to a more scientific and theological idea of language. It seems to have moved from an ecological practice of language to a broadly Christian humanistic conception. The genealogies of Lushai language gleaned from colonial ethnographic accounts seem to give the impression that language was accessible both to human beings and animals as well. Language was not considered to be rational or innately human enterprise.

It may not be a large claim that the Bible written in Lushai (Mizo) language is still recognized as the most important literary text in contemporary Mizoram. The Lushai language was scriptless and the need for script arose to redeem the ‘evil worshippers’. In the process of literisation (committing the dialect to writing) and literarisation (language aspiring to become literary or seeking an elaborate code), the Lushai language, which was supposedly pre-reflective and myth-inspired, became a more reflective language. From a supposedly language of ‘feeling’ it became a language of ‘will’. For instance, the oneric chants of the traditional priest called the ‘puithiam’, which may have reflected the pre-conscious of the Lushais is all but forgotten.

A related point about the standardization of Lushai language is that the colonial rule did not merely provide a script to an otherwise scriptless Lushai language. But the idea that the erstwhile Lushai region had twelve dialects and that the Lushai dialect was distinct from the rest of the dialects seem to be a colonial invention. In some sense, prior to colonialism, people inhabiting these dialects moved easily from one to the other. For instance, war songs across the various dialects were generally sung in the Hmar and Paihte languages.

Ours is an attempt to posit a methodological intervention. We have elsewhere suggested that the history of language, literature and print in Mizoram is the history of the Protestant Church. Among other things, the latter history connects itself to the making of the contemporary Mizo. This assertion needs a many layered engagement and a deeply interpretative approach may help uncover the layered history of this region.