Chin, meaning fellow or friend, is one of a number of names of this large indigenous group. Others include Kuki, Hkyang Iu, Myui and Chin-Kuki-Mizo. The Chin are Burma’s largest indigenous population, living mostly in the country’s Chin State. Chin groups also inhabit areas of India, especially Mizoram, and Bangladesh. These various Chin groups speak as many as forty nine variations of the Kukish language. The largest Chin population is based in Burma and stands at an estimated 1.5 million people.
It is thought that the Chin migrated to Burma in the late Ninth Century before moving west to establish what is now the Chin State. There are many groups amongst the Chin, hence the collective name Chin-Kuki-Mizo, and a great deal of diversity in situation and practice; however most were and continue to be agriculturalists growing rice, corn and millet as staples and saleable goods.
Some attempts have been made to unify the various Chin groups in the past. One successful example is the establishment of the Mizoram State in India as a result of the collective Mizo National Movement which called on the Chin to unite under their common linguistic and ethnic roots. However, today differences and diversity remain and have grown, for example in the field of belief. The Chin were once animists but due to British colonialism most are Christian whilst others practice a range of faiths from Theravada Buddhism to Judaism. One particular group of Chin claims to be a lost tribe of Israel, the Bnei Menashe, some of whom have been settled in Israel.
In recent times the Chin have labelled themselves a forgotten people in Burma. Subjected to numerous abuses there at the hands of the brutal SPDC government and the Tatmadaw, many Chin have fled the country and become refugees. Yet the Chin often find that this transition is one similarly plagued by torture, extortion and unfair retention, sometimes at the hands of their own forces. The Chin National Front and The Chin Army have both been implicated in human rights abuses of their own people. For those who have successfully fled Burma life as a refugee can be hard, in Mizoram State they struggle for recognition and protection, constantly facing deportation alongside the challenges of malnutrition and religious repression. In the USA Chin migrants are amongst the poorest and suffer a great deal from alcohol and tobacco abuse, severely affecting the populations health.
These struggles continue today and many Chin make the long march to New Delhi to gain full refugee recognition, with around a thousand able to achieve this and passage to a third country. However with the radical transitions in Burma, including the founding of a democratically elected government, there is hope that the abuses felt by the Chin in their homeland will abate, stemming the exodus and the problems it has brought the Chin.