An estimated 1.5 million Chin inhabit a mountain chain that covers western Burma through to Mizoram in northeast India. Over 50 different subgroups of Chin can be distinguished, mainly by unique costumes and tattoos. Major tribes of the Chin in Burma include Asho-Chin, Falam-Chin, Haka-Chin and Tedim-Chin (Thein Lwin, 2011). Different Chin people live in different groups of hills and speak different dialects. The written form of the Chin language was created by American missionaries.

Chin children

Chin children in Tlang Zawl Village. (Photo: Free Burma Rangers)

Chin people describe themselves as open, warm and caring people who always give a warm welcome to guests. Many Chin people are worried that the culture is disappearing as a consequence of Burmanisation (Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, 2010). The education system in the Chin State is lacking in every aspect, and as with other ethnic nationalities, Chin histories are omitted from school textbooks. The Chin language is also corroding due to the inability of the different subgroups to choose a prevalent Chin dialect that could be used in intergroup communication. As a result, Burmese is used as a common language between Chin ethnic groups.

The growth of the Chin national consciousness is usually dated to the arrival of the British (Smith, 1994). Many Chin were converted from their traditional animist beliefs to Christianity, and today over 70% are Christians while most of the remaining population is mainly animists or Buddhists (see About Chinland). Together with the Kachin, Karen, and Karenni, many Chin served side by side with the British Army in WWII. During the first two years of Burma’s independence however, many Chin fought on the side of the Burmese against the Karen, causing grievances between the Chin and the Karen that have lasted until today.

The Chin State was created in 1974 (Smith, 1994). Tensions with the military government began deteriorating in the late 1980s and in the early 1990s. During this time, many Chin refugees who fled to India reported fatalities due to ill-treatment and famine during the forced relocations of Chin villagers to new areas (Smith, 1994).

According to a 2010 UN survey the Chin State is the poorest state in Burma with 73% of people living under the poverty line (IHLCA II, 2012, p. 12). Many young Chin men have joined the Burma Army as a desperate attempt to escape extreme poverty in the state, which has sometimes been taken as a successful example of cooperative development with the government. The Chin may not have revolted to the same degree as other ethnic groups, but dissatisfaction has often surfaced.

The Chin have little interaction with other ethnic groups in Burma, with the exception of the Kachin who live in close proximity. They describe their relationship with the Burmese military as negative and feel deeply discriminated against by the government (Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, 2010).

The living conditions of the state remain poor and under-developed. Many Chin feel that the state is ignored by the central government, with no investment or opportunities open for the Chin (Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, 2010). Poor infrastructure is thought to be another factor resulting in the lack of economic opportunities; many villages in Chin State are only accessible on foot, via a network of small tracks (CHRO, 2012). The Chin State remains highly militarised, and there are continuing reports of violations of human rights, such as forced labour and portering (CHRO, 2012).

A recent case in the Chin State shows how impunity for military rape continues in the state. On June 10, 2014, a soldier from Burma Army in Matupi Township reportedly attempted to rape a local Chin woman, badly injuring her (WLB, July, 2014). Local women who peacefully protested for the soldier to be prosecuted, subsequently faced charges themselves while the soldier walked free.

Chin also report restrictions on religious freedom, especially in the Chin hill areas. Chin have difficulty in accessing education, and they are also often victims if discriminatory employment policies (Ekeh & Smith, 2007). Many Chin people go abroad in search of work and educational opportunities.

Updated October 17, 2014

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