Elements in a Contract III – Offer (II)

An offer is best described as a willingness to be bound by the terms of a contract, once it has been accepted. It can either be expressed verbally or in writing or it may be implied.

In Brogden v Metropolitan Rly Co. (1877), Brogden had supplied the Metropolitan Rly Co. for years without a formal agreement. The parties then intended to formalize the arrangement and the Metropolitan Rly Co. sent Brogden a draft. Brogden completed the draft, filled in some of the details that had been left out including the name of the arbitrator and sent it back. The draft was handed to a manager and no further action was taken and the parties continued as per normal until a dispute arose. Brogden argued that there was no contract in place between the parties.

It was held that the fact that the parties continued to deal as per normal after the draft had been returned with the changes, indicated that there was a willingness to continue with the arrangement. The fact that both parties continued with their obligations as agreed constituted a contact.

In Storer v Manchester City Council (1974) – The city council wrote to a sitting tenant (a sitting tenant is a tenant who is already occupying a property and has a legal right to stay on the premises) asking him if he wished to purchase the property he was residing in and if so to sign and return the council’s standard form agreement, which the tenant did.

Soon after a new council took over and did not wish to proceed with the agreement and put forward the argument that the agreement had not been signed on the council’s behalf. It was held that the council had made a valid offer and its acceptance constituted a contract, despite the fact that, it was not signed by the council’s representative.

Storer however has to be read in light of Gibson v Manchester City Council (1979). The Manchester City Council advertised details of a scheme for tenants to buy their council houses. The plaintiff wrote to the council and the council accordingly replied with a price and certain terms. The house was then taken off the list of tenant-occupied houses maintained by the council and put on the house purchase list. A local election ensued and the new council reversed the policies of the former council and the sale did not go through. Gibson sued.

The Court of Appeal held that despite the fact that all the formalities had not been concluded, there was a clear intention to contract based on the transaction or what had transpired as a whole and found in favor of the plaintiff.

The council appealed. The House of Lords held that the fact that the council stated the price of the house and some other terms did not mean that there was an offer. It was merely a step in the negotiation process and the negotiations had not yet ripened into a contract.

An offer can be addressed to a specific person or to the world at large. Let’s look at an example. Mr. Smith wants to sell his car and in the past his neighbor Mr. Jones had indicated that should Mr. Smith ever wish to sell his car, he’d be happy to purchase it.

Mr. Smith informs Mr. Jones of his intention to sell his car and names a price. Mr. Jones accepts and hands him the specified amount, in return for which, Mr. Jones receives the car. The contract that ensues following the negotiations is a bilateral contract made between two parties.

Now let’s say for example that Smith Industries have concocted a remedy that will cure the common cold and confident of their new product they place an advertisement in the local daily stating that they are willing to pay £100 to anyone who catches a cold after using their product for two weeks in the prescribed or stipulated manner.

Let us say that half the residents of Slone Country, purchased the product and all of them despite having used the remedy concocted by Smith Industries, in the prescribed manner, ended up with a cold after using their product for two weeks. Smith Industries is only required to pay the aggrieved residents £100 each if there was a contract in place.

In Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (1893), the defendant placed an advert in the newspaper stating that the Smoke Ball Co. would pay anyone £100 if they caught influenza after using their smoke balls in the prescribed manner for two weeks. In order to show their sincerity, the Smoke Ball Co. had deposited £1000 in their bank account.

The plaintiff used the smoke balls in the prescribed manner and after two weeks, she caught influenza. The plaintiff sued.

The defendant argued that is not possible to make an offer to the world at large. It was held that it is in fact quite possible to make an offer to the world at large.

An offer is an expression of a willingness to enter into a contract in accordance with the specified terms, and the Smoke Ball Co. depositing £1000 in their bank account indicates their willingness to be bound by the terms. Mrs. Carlill in purchasing the smoke balls and using them in the manner that had been prescribed had accepted the offer.

An offer may be made orally, in writing or it may be implied by conduct and acceptance need not always be conveyed. It suffices that the offeree acted in the prescribed and stipulated manner.

In Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (1893), the court rejected the argument that the plaintiff did not convey her acceptance. The fact that she had purchased the smoke balls and used them as instructed, in the prescribed manner, was sufficient to constitute an acceptance.

Ticketing and vending machines are modern mechanisms used to convey an offer. In Thornton v Shoe Lane Parking Ltd. (1971) the defendant was injured in a carpark after he had purchased a ticket from the ticketing machine and had driven his vehicle into the parking area. There were signs posted on the walls after he had passed the barrier that the company was not liable for any personal injuries incurred while in the parking area.

It was held that tickets in ticketing machines and items in vending machines are in fact offers and therefore the contract comes into existence as soon as the offeree accepts the offer by providing consideration i.e. slotting in the coins. The exemption clauses or the clauses attempting to exempt liability for personal injury were not valid because the said clauses were brought to the attention of the offeree after the contract had come into existence.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

Elements in a Contract II – Offer (I) – Invitation to Treat

Not all items on display equate or translate to an offer for sale and it is essential that we understand what constitutes an offer for sale and what doesn’t. The distinction becomes especially important with regards and reference to controlled items, or items the sale of which are often regulated by statute (an act of parliament).

These items among others things include cigarettes, medicines or medications and offensive weapons. In most cases or instances when we walk into a supermarket, we find that cigarettes for example are kept away and separated from the other items that are on sale and are only displayed at the counter, behind a glass window, in the presence of a cashier and more often than not there is a warning that is plainly visible at the counter which reads “it is an offence to sell cigarettes or tobacco to anyone below the age of 18”.

Now if the cigarettes on display were indeed an offer, anyone, regardless of age should be able to walk up to the counter and purchase them. In cases of items displayed at the counter, behind glass windows however, the polite lady at the counter is well within her rights to ask for some form of id prior to commencing with the sale or prior to initiating the contract and should the id not be forthcoming or if she is suspicious or uncertain about the would-be purchaser’s age, she can refuse to sell the item to the prospective purchaser.

Therefore, we can surmise that the cigarettes at the counter are not items that fall within the general category of items on offer but rather are items that are sold under supervision. Therefore, if these items do not constitute an offer, what do they constitute?

These items constitute an “invitation to treat” i.e. an intending purchaser is allowed to make the relevant inquiries with regards to purchasing the item but the seller reserves the right to sell. It implies that there is a condition precedent (a prior condition or requirement) that has to be satisfied before commencing with the sale and that the offer is based on first acquiring the consent of the seller to sell.

A condition precedent is an event that must occur prior to the contract coming into existence, for example, when it comes to cigarette purchases, the prospective purchaser or would be purchaser must satisfy the condition or stipulation that he or she is above 18.

Let’s look at another example, let’s say that a well intending merchant, displays in his shop window, for the purposes of benefitting connoisseurs and collectors of such items, certain types of offensive weapons, including flick knives, the sales of which are regulated by s1 of the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959, which reads as follows: –

(1) Any person who manufactures, sells or hires or offers for sale or hire, (or exposes or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire) or lends or gives to any other person –

(a) any knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife, sometimes known as a “flick knife” or “flick gun”; or

(b) any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force and which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever, or other device, sometimes known as a “gravity knife”,

shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction in the case of a first offence to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine not exceeding (fifty pounds) (level 4 on the standard scale) or to both such imprisonment and fine, and in the case of a second or subsequent offence to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding (two hundred pounds) (level 4 on the standard scale) or to both such imprisonment and fine.

(2) The importation of any such knife as is described in the foregoing subsection is hereby prohibited.

In Fisher v Bell (1961) – the respondent was the owner of a shop and had displayed in his shop window knives with tags attached that read “ejector knife”. A policeman entered the shop to examine the weapon and took it back to the station for further investigation. The chief inspector of police, convinced that it was indeed a flick knife charged the owner of the shop.

The matter before the courts was to decide if the display at the shop window constituted an offer for sale or an invitation to treat. “It is clear that, according to the ordinary law of contract, the display of an article with a price on it in a shop window is merely an invitation to treat. It is in no sense an offer for sale the acceptance of which constitutes a contract”.

It was held that the items on display behind shop windows or glass windows were merely invitations to treat. Another example of such items, in addition to that given above would be strong alcoholic beverages

Let’s now briefly turn our attention to the pharmaceutical sector. Let’s say for example a new player has entered the market and has opted, to safe costs, to display pharmaceutical drugs on shelves like items at a normal supermarket, so that any person can select the item(s) that he or she wants and take it to the counter, where a registered pharmacist is on duty, and who will inspect the item(s), to ensure that they correspond with the prescription that is on hand, prior to selling the item(s).

The sale of pharmaceutical items is governed by s. 18 of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933. The sale has to be conducted in a lawful retail pharmacy i.e. a premise that has complied with all the legalities to retail pharmaceutical products, the sale has to be effected on the premises which is a registered pharmacy and the sale has to be conducted under the supervision of a pharmacist.

In Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots (1953) Boots Chemists introduced a new self-service system, similar to that in supermarkets, whereby customers could pick the items that they required off the shelves and proceed to the counter to pay. A registered pharmacist was stationed at the counter.

The Pharmaceutical Society brought an action to determine the validity of the new system. It was held that the goods on display were invitations to treat because the items could only be sold with the approval of a pharmacist who incidentally was stationed at the counter.

Now let’s look at another mode of sales through which business is conducted, newspaper advertisements. Let us say for example Mr. Smith took out an advertisement in the local paper to let the residents of Slone County know that he had in his possession certain rare birds and chicks, without using the words “offer for sale”.

Under s. 1 of the Protection of Birds Act 1954 it is an offence, with the exception of those holding a license granted under section 10 of the Act, for any person to sell, to offer for sale or to have in his possession for sale, various species of wild birds.

A Mr. Fritz who has read the advertisement sends Mr. Smith a cheque for a certain amount of money in the hope that Mr. Smith will sell him a hen and his prayers are answered when he wakes up one morning, a week later, and finds the hen that he had hoped for at his doorstep. Is Mr. Smith’s advertisement an offer on an invitation to treat?

Well it’s the latter because Mr. Smith is not obliged to sell to Mr. Fritz and if anything it’s up to Mr. Fritz to step up and make an offer which Mr. Smith can either accept or reject. Therefore, it is an invitation to treat.

In Partridge v Crittenden (1968) Mr. Partridge took out an advertisement stating that he had either in his possession or access to, Bramblefinch cocks and Bramblefinch hens, without using the words offer for sale. Mr. Crittenden upon reading the advertisement sent Mr. Partridge a cheque and Mr. Partridge in turn sent him a hen. Mr. Crittenden on behalf of the RSPCA brought the matter to the attention of the courts.

The matter before the courts was to decide whether the advertisement was an offer for sale or if it was an invitation to treat. It was decided that the advertisement was an invitation to treat and therefore Mr. Partridge was not guilty (s. 1 of the Protection of Birds Act 1954 only applies to those who offer for sale, rare birds and not those who do not or have a license to do so).

In Grainger & Son v Gough (1896) a wine merchant distributed a catalogue listing the wines he had for sale. If the wines in the catalogue we indeed offers for sale, the acceptance of which would constitute a contract, then the wine merchant would be contracted to the first person that steps up an accepts his offer.

It was held that items listed in catalogues are invitations to treat. Sellers of goods are free to advertise their goods in order to attract potential purchasers.

Similarly, items advertised for sale at an auction are also not offers for sale. In Harris v Nickerson (1873) the defendant had advertisement certain items for sale at an auction and the plaintiff turned up hoping to purchase the items. The items were not auctioned as per the advertisement and the plaintiff sued for damages.

It was held that items that were advertised were merely invitations to treat and may be withdrawn at any time.

In Payne v Cave (1789) the defendant had made the highest bid at an auction but withdrew his bid prior to the fall of the hammer. The plaintiff sued. It was held that goods at an auction were invitations to treat and the defendant’s bid is an offer which he can revoke at any time prior to acceptance.

Acceptance at an auction is indicated by the fall of the auctioneer’s hammer and therefore the defendant was free to withdraw his bid at any time prior to the fall of the auctioneer’s hammer.

This common-law rule was later codified by s57(2) of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 which states that the sale of goods at an auction is only complete when an auctioneer announces its completion by the fall of the hammer.

It is common especially among those who have acquired the habit of reading the newspapers, to come across invitations to bid (tenders) i.e. a general invitation inviting others to submit a proposal to either purchase goods, shares or even to offer their services.

Are these invitations to bid (tenders), offers, the acceptance of which would constitute a contract or are they an invitation to treat in which case the party that placed the advertisement is free to either accept or reject the proposal it has received? It would certainly be most unfair to expect any party that advertises to be bound by the first proposal that it receives. In Harvela Investments Ltd v Royal Trust of Canada (CI) Ltd. It was held that general tenders are an invitation to treat.

It is normal practice, prior to entering into a contract to negotiate the terms of a contract. Let us say for example that Mr. Coombes wants to sell his property (Blue Orchards) and places an advertisement in the local daily.

A resident of Slone County, a Mr. Dexter, reads the advertisement and sends Mr. Coombes a telegram which reads, “will you sell us the property, Blue Orchards? Telegraph lowest price”.

Mr. Coombes replies with a telegraph of his own which reads as follows: – “lowest price for Blue Orchards is £9 million”. Mr. Dexter then responds to Mr. Coombes telegraph by sending another telegraph stating that “we accept to buy Blue Orchards for £9 million”. Is Mr. Coombes telegraph stating the lowest price for Blue Orchards, an offer or an invitation to treat?

In Harvey v Facey (1893) the plaintiff telegraphed the defendant asking “will your sell us Bumper Hall Pen?”. “Telegraph lowest price for Bumper Hall Pen”. The defendant replied “lowest price for Bumper Hall Pen £900”. The plaintiff then sent the defendant another telegraph stating that he accepted and requested that the defendant send him the title deed.

The Privy Council held that the defendant was merely supplying information i.e. it was an invitation to treat and not an offer.

In all the above cases and instances, there is an inference that there is a presumption to sell and it is up to the defendants/respondents to rebut the presumption, and establish that there isn’t an intention to sell or an offer for sale but a mere invitation to treat. The defendants/respondents in all the above cases have successfully done so.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

Elements in a Contract I

When we refer to a contract, we are often confronted, mentally at least, with images of stacks and stacks of papers that are filled with pages of paragraphs, written in a manner that is often confusing to most readers. A majority of contracts however are far simpler instruments, that most of us come across on a daily basis, often without realizing it and therefore it is only fitting that we acquire some knowledge of it.

Contracts can be divided into unilateral contracts and bilateral contracts. In instances of unilateral contacts, the offeror (the person who makes the offer) makes an offer in exchange for a performance of an act or provides monetary rewards when the offeree (the person who accepts the offer) abstains or refrains from doing a certain act.

An example of a unilateral contract occurs when an offeror says to the offeree that “I’ll give you a hundred pounds for painting my house” (contracts can either be oral or written). Likewise, a unilateral contract also occurs when someone says to another person “I’ll give you a hundred pounds if you stop smoking”. In both instances the offeree is entitled to the remuneration or the reward he has been promised as soon as he complies with the conditions or stipulations set by the offeror.

A bilateral contract occurs when promises are mutually exchanged. A man goes over to a newsstand and purchases the local daily. He pays the vendor for a copy of the local daily and he in turn receives a copy of the local daily. The exchange that occurs is an example of a bilateral contract. Bilateral contracts are commonly used in business especially with regards to the sale of goods.

Let’s look at a simple day to day example of a bilateral contract. A man enters a supermarket and after spending a minute or so walking down the aisles looking at the various products that are neatly stacked on the shelves to his left and to his right, he picks out a can of baked beans. He looks at the label, which according to law must fulfill certain criteria, and reads what’s written on it.

Because the buyer is not able to look at the contents of the can, prior to making the purchase, reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that he is made aware of what he is purchasing and therefore the label must satisfy certain requirements.

The label must be clear and easy to read, it must be permanent i.e. affixed to the can in a manner that it cannot be easily removed, it must be easy to comprehend or understand and it must not be misleading i.e. the description on the label must correspond with the content in the can.

Information on the label includes the type of food or the name of the food that’s in the can, the best before date or the expiry date, any necessary warnings, quantity information (weight), a list of ingredients, the name and address of the packer or seller, the lot number, any special storage conditions and any instructions for cooking, if necessary.

Now the man having read the label is satisfied that that is the can of baked beans that he wants or requires and takes it to the counter to pay the cashier and to conclude the purchase. On most occasions, if a person purchases an item without reading the label on it, he or she is deemed to have read the label.

He stands in line and waits for his turn. When his turn arrives, he hands the can of baked beans to the polite lady at the counter who scans the barcodes printed on the label with a scanner that is attached to her terminal and the information is entered into the terminal and the price pops up on a little screen, on the small window on the till, and is visible to him.

The man looks at the numbers on the screen, fishes out his wallet from his pocket and pays the polite lady at the counter the exact amount that is required. The lady takes the money and hands him a receipt or a proof of purchase which normally contains the following information: – the date the item was purchased on, the type of item, the quantity and the amount that was paid as consideration for the item. In some cases, or instances the details of the sales person who assisted with the purchase is also on the receipt or the proof of purchase.

The man takes the receipt or the proof of purchase, puts it in his pocket and picks up the can of baked beans that he had just purchased and heads for home. This is now a valid contract in that the seller has sold an item as per the descriptions on the label and the buyer has purchased the item as per the descriptions on the label and interestingly enough during the whole transaction neither party has actually looked at the contents of the can.

A contract contains five essential elements or ingredients. They are as follows: –

(i) offer

(ii) acceptance

(iii) consideration

(Iv) intention or an intention to create a legal obligation

(v) form

An offer is made when the seller (offeror) makes an offer to sell and stacking the items on a shelf that is easily accessible to everyone that walks into the store, clearly indicates that the items on display are for sale.

The buyer (offeree) accepts by picking out the product of his choice and by taking it to the counter, after reading the label, and consideration for the item he has purchased changes hands when he hands over the money or the amount that is required for the purchase of the item.

Consideration is always in monies or monies worth and the whole transaction is done with the intention to create a legally binding obligation in that should the buyer return home and discover, when he opens the can, that in contains corn instead of beans, he can return the item to the seller and be reimbursed accordingly. The form of the contract is written as evidenced by the receipt or the proof of purchase.

We have to keep in mind that in order for there to be a contract there must be one exchange of a promise with another or one party must have acted to his or her detriment based on a promise. In the example given above, the can of baked beans was exchanged for money i.e. there was a mutual exchange.

In the instances of the unilateral contacts, the offeree acted to his or her detriment by either painting the house or refraining from smoking and therefore should be remunerated or rewarded accordingly.

Not all agreements however mature into contracts. In Re Hudson (1885) Hudson promised to pay £4,000 per year to a chapel, for 5 years, to help it pay off its debt. He died before the last 2 installments could be made and his estate refused to pay the outstanding installments. It was held that a contract had not come into existence and that there was only a gratuitous promise in place. As a result Hudson’s estate could discontinue the payments if they so desired.

It is also important to distinguish between a commercial agreement and a purely social agreement. While the former creates, a legal obligation governed by the law of contract, the latter does not. In Balfour v Balfour (1919), the husband while working overseas agreed to send regular payments to his wife. Subsequently the relationship went downhill and the husband stopped sending his wife money. Mrs. Balfour brought an action against her husband and it was held that the agreement that was in place was a purely social agreement and that it didn’t amount to a contract.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

The Shaman’s Near Death Experience

When we look at many of the ancient shamanic cultures of yesteryear, be it the Altai Shaman, the Siberian Shaman, the Tungus Shaman, the Tamang Shaman or the Yakut Shaman, there is one prerequisite that the prospective shaman or the shaman to be must satisfy in order to gain his or her shamanic abilities and that is to undergo the near-death experience. The near-death experience from all accounts can occur as the result of a natural illness or as a result of an induced illness that reduces the prospective shaman to the near-death state.

Before we go further it would be appropriate to define or give a definition to the word shaman though they sometimes act as healers or medicine men or women, shamans are not always necessarily healers.

Shamans in short are those among us who have the ability to see and communicate with spirits and it is with the help of these spirits that shamans are able to concoct remedies and foretell the future or remove hexes and maledictions.

Therefore, anyone who is able to see and communicate with spirits though that is not always necessarily the case, may if he or she chooses to, become a shaman.

The shaman or the prospective shaman acquires the ability to see and commune with spirits by undergoing the near death experience, though it is not the only way a person can see or communicate with spirits, some albeit rarely are born with the ability to see spirits while others who are old and have come to terms with death or are ready to move to the next stage also sometimes gain the ability to see spirits but the designation of shaman only belongs to those who use their ability to see and communicate with spirits to help others and that may be to cure an illness or to cause someone an illness i.e. it works both ways and hence the classification of white and black magic.

In Bhutan for example, the shaman plays a prominent role in deciding the outcome of the simplest things and even the outcome of a local football match is dependent, as far as general perceptions go, on the team that has the stronger shaman on its side.

Even today, despite the advent of modern technology and things like smart phones, there are people who still resort to shamans to achieve a specific outcome, and the shaman normally charges according to the help that is required.

To some extent it is an interesting field of study but one that requires some fortitude and it is most suited to those who have come to terms with death. To borrow a phrase from the Tibetan Book of Death or the Bardo Thodol “death is inevitable” i.e. it is something that we all have to accept.

The book itself was scripted by the Indian Prince turned monk Padmasambhava and it is in essence more tantric in content. According to the Tibetan Book of Death or even the Egyptian Book of the Dead for the matter, the spirit remains in the mortal world for a certain number of days before it takes on a new life (rebirth) or crosses over.

Both these ancient texts tell us that even if the body dies the spirit remains and these are the spirits that shamans come in contact with. Shamanism however goes a step further than that and implies that spirits can refuse to take on a new birth after the 49 days as stipulated in the Bardo Thodol or move on to the next life or the afterlife.

From what we can gather from those that have undergone the near-death experience, the prospective shaman comes close to death and at the time he or she is about to die, the spirit leaves the body and that departure from the body is very much like ascending a tree, hence the term “the shaman tree”, and as the prospective shaman’s spirit ascends the shaman tree, he or she comes in contact with other spirits.

According to some sources the spirit that the prospective shaman’s spirit comes in contact with sits on the highest limbs of the tree while other sources are more vague, but all sources agree that is during this journey that the prospective shaman comes in contact with the spirit that later aids him or her once the prospective shaman becomes a fully-fledged shaman.

Once the prospective shaman has gained sight of the other spirit and returns to his or her body and is nursed back to health, if the spirit of the prospective shaman does not return it simply means that the prospective shaman never recovers or has died, the prospective shaman now is on his or her way to becoming a fully-fledged shaman.

The new shaman continues to see the spirit he or she came in contact with during the near-death experience whereas others around the shaman cannot and in time begins to communicate with the spirit which becomes the source of the shaman’s powers or abilities.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

The Mautam Famine

The mautam famine is a famine unlike others and it is not caused by changes in the climate or the weather and neither is it the result of war or other acts precipitated by human hands but rather a famine that occurs every 48 years and the sole cause of the famine is a sudden boom in the rat population which leads to crop destruction and brings with it other sicknesses and illnesses related to rats.

Rat infestation is rampant during the famine and it occurs primarily in the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram, previously a territory of Assam which later in 1972 became a union territory and was recognized as a separate state in 1987 by prime minister Rajiv Gandhi after the Mizo National Front (MNF) leader, Pu Laldenga, met with the prime minister to seek a resolution to the long standing conflict between New Delhi and Mizoram – a conflict which to a large extent was precipitated by the mautam famine of 1959.

One of the demands of the MNF was for Mizoram to be conferred the status of a state to which the prime minister agreed. Observers called it one of Rajiv Gandhi’s best political moves and it guaranteed peace in Mizoram.

In 1959 the mautam famine struck Mizoram and it was the first time it had happened since independence but from all indications it would have happened 48 years prior but very little records of that famine are available because at the time, Mizoram was a territory of Assam or as it was more formally known colonial Assam and it is difficult to say what transpired then. Assam was under British rule from 1826 – 1947.

The word mautam itself means bamboo death, the word mau means bamboo and the word tam means death and the unrest in Mizoram was exacerbated or aggravated by the famine. It was however not the sole or the only cause of the unrest because the Mizos at the same time were pushing for a separate identity that was distinct from Assam.

Tribal conflicts were frequent in the past but somehow the seven sister states have managed to work around that and even if they are not united in ethnicity they appear to be united in faith and the Christian faith has done a lot to foster greater unity among the different tribes.

In 1960 the Mizo Cultural Society which was formed five years earlier, if anything as a pressure group to further Mizo rights, changed its name to the Mautam Front or the Mautam Famine Front and swung into action not only to aid and assist with relief work but to also demand for more supplies to be sent to affected or impacted areas and thereafter remodeled itself to become a political party with some clout, backed if need be by armed combatants.

Following its inception as a proper political party and in the aftermath of the 1959 famine, there were riots and protests in various parts of Mizoram and the conflict dragged on until Mizoram received recognition as a separate state.

The northeastern sector of the subcontinent had been volatile for some time but the softer approach that New Delhi adopted after Rajiv Gandhi’s installation as prime minister appeared to be working and once both parties to the conflict backed away from their hardline stance, long-term peace became a possibility.

They were two very different personalities, Rajiv Gandhi and Pu Laldenga, the former was a member of one of the most politically influential families in the country and Cambridge educated while the latter started his career as a sergeant in the army and was later employed as an accounts clerk by the government of Assam before he went on to be the first Chief Minister of Mizoram.

I have not doubts that both of them wanted what was best for Mizoram and over the years I’ve come to appreciate the softer approach more than the non-compromising attitude that really doesn’t work all that well in the subcontinent, not when there are at least half a dozen paramilitary organizations or more that are willing to take up arms at any time.

I suspect that Laldenga’s military training proved invaluable when the MNF decided to launch a secessionist war, post the 1959 famine.

Mizoram is a predominantly Christian state, some 87% of its population is Christian and the last time the famine struck, many Christian aid agencies extended aid and support to the state.

The famine itself is caused by the flowering of the bamboo plant and the fruits of the bamboo plant send rats into a feeding frenzy.

The rats feed on the fruits and multiply at accelerated rates and that in turn leads to a boom in the rat population which then becomes a threat to not only crops but also to livestock and as a result food production levels in the state plummet and the state is unable to meet its demand for food which in turn leads to famine and other rat related illnesses.

Part of the problem is due to the fact that almost 31% of Mizoram or 6,445 square kilometers of the state is covered with bamboo forests and that aggravates the problem because once the bamboo starts flowering, the rat population spirals out of control.

It is worth looking into the possibility of clearing as much of the bamboo forests as possible, normal slash and burn methods employed by tribal farmers should do the trick and look at replanting the cleared area with crops. That should help alleviate the problem somewhat and at the same time keep the environmentalists at bay.

When the famine strikes many families are reduced to the brink of abject poverty and survive on only one meal a day which leads to severe mal-nutritional problems and sometimes the damage that is done is irreversible.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

Gandhi’s Salt March

In 1882 the British East India Company in an effort to control trade in India passed the Salt Act of 1882 which in effect gave the Company a monopoly over salt and it could only be sold and purchased through the Company and this allowed the Company, depending on prevailing economic factors and conditions, to raise the taxes on salt. Salt is a vital commodity and a commodity that is common in every Indian household and an increase in salt prices would cause undue hardship to the people.

In order to enforce the act a customs line was established that stretched from the north to the south of India comprising of at least 12,000 men with additional attention given to coastal areas to ensure that there was no illegal production of salt. Salt is most commonly produced by allowing salt brines from the sea to evaporate under the sun.

In order to break the monopoly Mahatma Gandhi on the 12th of March 1930 set out from his ashram or religious retreat in the company of a dozen men and they marched in accordance with the principles of non-violence or the doctrine of non-violence that Gandhi strictly observed to the town of Dandi some 240 miles away located on the coast of the Arabian Sea.

Along the way Gandhi addressed groups of people and as he and the men with him continued on their journey, more and more men and women joined him and by the time they reached the town of Dandi, Gandhi’s following of a dozen men had burgeoned to include hundreds if not thousands of men and women.

An accurate cinematic adaptation of the march and the events that transpired is given in the award winning movie Gandhi. Ben Kingsley played the role of Mohandas Gandhi.

Once Gandhi and those that accompanied him reached the town of Dandi they began making salt by harvesting salt brines from the sea and allowing it to evaporate in the sun, in defiance of the 1882 act which infuriated the authorities.

His actions were emulated all across India and soon people were beginning to make salt everywhere and even as they were breaking the law Gandhi continuously kept emphasizing his non violent stance to prevent any unwanted incidents.

He was eventually arrested along with some 60,000 others and was thrown in prison. Gandhi was arrested on the 5th May 1930 but despite his arrest civil disobedience continued throughout India and he was released in January 1931.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

The Indian National Congress (INC) – Founding Members

The Indian National Congress Party or the INC is the oldest political party in India and it was founded by Allan Octavian Hume, Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir Dinshaw Edulji Wacha. Allan Hume was an ornithologist, botanist and author of some note and he was the administrator of the city of Etawah located along the banks of the Yamuna River in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

After witnessing the Indian Revolution of 1858 and its aftermath, the revolution was an attempt to wrest control of India away from the British East India Company which administered territories in the subcontinent on behalf of the crown and had a monopoly over trade and commerce, he came to the conclusion that the revolution was a result of mis-governance or poor governance and decided that the people should have some say in how they were being governed and how the wealth of the country was managed or distributed and he decided that India should have a political party of its own. He is regarded as a political reformist with liberal views.

His other two colleagues, Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir Dinshaw Edulji Wacha, were Parsis (people of Persian origin) from Mumbai. The former was a trader by profession and a Liberal Party member of the British House of Commons. He was also an educator, a social leader and he was the first Asian MP to serve in the UK parliament. The latter, Sir Dinshaw Edulji Wacha, was a career politician who was active in the areas of education, social reform and commerce.

The INC was formed as a political party that aspired to gain more autonomy, in terms of self governance for India and the party later went on to spearhead the Indian Independence Movement, which started in South Africa, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi was a civil rights activist in South Africa and he spent almost 21 years there. It was in South Africa that Gandhi formulated his views and doctrines, especially with regards to civil liberties, social reforms and self-governance. He initially went to South Africa to take on a case (the Abdullah case), Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer by profession, and ended up spending 21 years there. Upon his return to India he joined the Indian National Congress and started the non-violent movement towards independence.

From its rather humble beginnings the Indian National Congress has grown to be largest political party in India and its policies have changed with the passage of time. The party is currently headed by Sonia Gandhi.
Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward