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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 20:46 GMT
Rat boom sparks India hunger alert
Rats
Village elders say rat boom causes famine

The government in India's north-eastern state of Mizoram says it is heeding advice by village elders about an impending famine caused by a boom in the population of rats.


We are all alert about what could be in store for us

Mizoram Chief Minister, Zoramthanga
The oral tradition of the Mizo tribe suggests the famine - called Mautam - ravages the Mizoram hills once every 40 to 50 years when the rats multiply by millions and devastate the standing crop, leaving nothing for the farmers.

The last time the Mizo hills were struck by Mautam was in 1965-66.

Village elders say it is still about two or three years away but the rats are beginning to multiply and the anxious state government has announced one Indian rupee as reward to anybody killing a rat to keep their numbers down.

Quiet preparations

Nearly 40 years ago, Mizoram's current Chief Minister Zoramthanga joined the Mizo National Famine Front to conduct relief for his hungry tribesmen during the Mautam.

Rats
State government will reward rat killers
When his leader Laldenga dropped the word Famine from the title and the Mizo National Front went underground to fight India, Mr Zoramthanga followed him to the jungles.

Mr Laldenga signed an accord with Delhi in 1986 and returned to normal life but Mr Zoramthanga followed him on the road to power.

Mr Laldenga is now dead and Mr Zoramthanga is the chief minister of Mizoram.

But as village elders across the Mizo hills become nervous over the onset of Mautam, Mr Zoramthanga says he is quietly preparing for it.

"From our experience twice or thrice, we know the bamboo flowers rapidly before the Famine. We know what is going to happen and we are not worried because we have time to prepare. Nobody is worried but we are alert," said Zoramthanga.

No research

The link between bamboo and the famine is an established part of the Mizo oral tradition and suggest the rat population of the hills will multiply several times over.

The rodents ravage the crop, leaving very little for the farmers. That is when disaster strikes.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Assam government did not heed the village elders and when the famine came, thousands of angry Mizos took up weapons to fight what they felt was an indifferent government.

But now Mizoram is a state by itself, no longer part of Assam and the MNF - which was born of the Mautam - is in power.

Chief Minister Zoramthanga confirmed the government was happy to pay an Indian rupee to everyone who kills a rat and collects its tail.

"We have the Rodents Control Committee set up by the government and the Mizoram Farmers Union. We are all alert about what could be in store for us", he told the BBC

No serious research has been undertaken to unravel the mystery of the Mautam but Mizos know from their oral traditions and the elders that when it comes, it can be disastrous.

See also:

20 Jul 01 | Health
26 Feb 01 | South Asia
12 Sep 00 | South Asia
19 Feb 02 | Health
14 Nov 02 | South Asia
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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