Roipulliani: 84 Year Old Mizoram Village Chief Who Defended her People from British Aggression
Roipulliani! None, except few in Mizoram, must have heard her name. History books find no mention of this brave warrior of Mizoram who ruled her dominion like a tigress.
Until the 1870s, Mizoram was divided into principalities with each ruled by a chief. The British had not yet established their supremacy in Mizoram. But they occupied neighboring level lands and highlands where they planted tea gardens. They entrusted British officials to look after the tea plantations. Besides, they established bazaars or trade marts where they sold products to the tribals and locals and minted money.
The British interfered into the affairs of the chiefs of Mizoram in 1871 following a raid by few Mizo chiefs in tea plantations. They killed British officers, looted guns and held many as captives. Two major British forces attacked Mizoram from two directions, burning villages and razing homes to the ground until a peace treaty was signed.
The Mizos defied the treaty 14 years later, which led to war between the British forces and Mizo chiefs at various places in Mizoram. Hundreds of Mizos were martyred. The British were superior in terms of military strength and ammunition. In March 1890, the expedition came to an end with the British on the winning side. And in April 1890, Captain Browne was appointed the Political Officer and administrator of Mizoram. British rule in Mizoram thus started in April 1890. But not all chiefs of the different principalities of Mizoram accepted the supremacy of British.
Vandula was a small principality located in the south of Mizoram. After the king of this principality died, his widow Roipulliani, became his successor. She started ruling Vandula from the village of Ralvawng. She neither recognized nor bowed to the supremacy of the British. She refused to pay any tax or deliver anything to the British.
Ever since the British started their rule in Mizoram, they collected taxes, farm produce, animals like chicken, pigs, etc. from the Mizo chiefs. They also employed Mizos as coolies (forced manual labour). According to the treaty signed with different chiefs, the latter were allowed to rule their respective jurisdictions provided they paid what was decided. Revolt of any kind would only lead to direct dominion by British.
Before the British started their rule in Mizoram, the chief of Vandula had raided British tea plantations and had held British and Indian workers employed by British as captives, who were later freed. The Indian captives, though freed from the Mizos, were employed by the British to collect taxes and assist them in other errands.
The British sent one of the errand boys to the court of Roipulliani, demanding delivery of coolies. They also demanded farm produce, chickens, and other things. Roipulliani refused flatly. She said,
“This freed slave should not say anything to us. His face is loathsome and revolting in my sight. I do wish someone would kill him.”
On his 2nd visit to Ralvawng for the same demands, he was killed.
Roipulliani never paid any tax to the British nor gave in to any of their demands. The following was her declaration, which she followed till the end of her rule:
“My subjects and I have never paid any tax to anyone, neither have we done any forced labor. We are the owners of this land. We must evict and chase out any and everyone who is an alien.”
Would the British remain silent at this? Certainly not! To subdue Roipulliani, Captain Shakespeare and his troops camped at the banks of the Mat River on the outskirts of Ralvawng village. It was August 1893. He sent a messenger with a demand of 100 maunds of rice, 20 chickens, 10 pigs, 10 goats, 1 gayal (domesticated ox), and 30 guns. The queen herself along with her son Lalthuama was to take all of these to the camp where Captain Shakespeare would be waiting.
Roipulliani and her son Lalthuama refused to comply with the demand put forth by the British. Rather than giving in to the enemy’s demand, they preferred war. The chief, then aged 84, declared war against the British. They started making preparations for war. Roipulliani sent messengers to the chief of the north principality for help for the war to which the latter agreed.
The British came to know about the war plans of the queen. Before the two forces would meet in the battlefield as decided, Captain Shakespeare and his forces treacherously laid an unexpected surprise attack on the villages of Vandula. He held Roipulliani and his son captives. Both were sent to Chittagong jail and imprisoned.
Roipulliani died on 3rd January 1895 at the age of 86 in Chittagong jail. Her body was transported to Mizoram for the last rites.
Salute to Roipulliani! Jai Hind!
Ref: Culture and Folklore of Mizoram by B. Lalthangliana.
Featured image courtesy: easternpanorama.in and chhanchhana.blogspot.in