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Every 48 years, the bamboo forests of northeast India (within what is now the state of Mizoram) erupt in flowers. It is both a stunning display and a harrowing sign of impending disaster. Along with the flowers comes a tidal wave of rats. Arrival of the flowers, rats, and ensuing famine combine in an ecological phenomenon known as mautam (translated: “bamboo death”).
The bamboo species Melocanna baccifera grows for 48 years before flowering, covering the ground in seed, and dying. Local rat populations have taken advantage of the excess food and easily boost their numbers. But therein lies the problem. These rats do not stop at just seed on the ground, they invade grain silos, farmland, and homes. This has had huge effects on the area.
The 1959 famine was particularly hard hitting; leading to hundreds of deaths in the 1960s. Although older citizens had warned the government of the incoming famine, not enough was done to help. In 1960, a group who had been raising attention to the problem became the Mizo National Famine Front. Finding insufficient government assistance, they tackled the problem themselves.
Their work began with transport of grains into the more remote villages. But they were alone in their efforts and their goals began to change. Disillusioned by the lack of government response, they changed their name to the Mizo National Front and began demanding independence. March of 1966, thousands of members of the MNF coordinated attacks on Indian government offices and security forces.
India responded with force, sending ground troops and airstrikes. This would be the only time India has ever sent airstrikes on their own territory; dropping bombs and firing machine guns. Most of the fighting ended by April, but there were civilian casualties and the MNF continued to rebel. Fighting came to a close after the Mizo Accord was signed in 1986 and Mizoram became a state with its own local government in 1987. With more political sway, the 2006-2007 mautam was able to be addressed with food rations and government assistance.
Music: March of the Mogul Emperors, The Crown of India, by Edward Elgar