India // The Northeast //

Bamboo, rats and revolution

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Mizoram’s two main species of bamboo flower every 48–50 years, attracting hordes of rats and boosting their fertility rate fourfold. The rats devour crops, leaving famine in their wake. The first time this happened, in 1959, the government was seriously unprepared, which led a council clerk, Laldenga, to found the Mizo Famine Front (MFF). Set up initially to combat famine, it transformed into the Mizo National Front (MNF), a guerrilla group fighting for secession. The government’s heavy-handed response in 1967 – rounding up Mizos from their homes into guarded villages under curfew – boosted support for the MNF. Bangladeshi independence was a bitter blow to the MNF, however, which had relied on Pakistani support. Moderates on both sides eventually brought the MNF to the negotiating table, where statehood was granted in 1986 in return for an end to the insurgency. Mizoram is now the most peaceful of the “seven sisters.” However, in 2007 the bamboo began to flower again, the rat population grew and crops were devastated. Although the state authorities were slightly better prepared this time, the national government was slow to react and many people suffered serious hardship.

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