Saga of Pasaltha Khuangchera and Brave Warriors of Mizoram Who Fought against Britishers
Warriors of every state in India fought against British supremacy and oppression. A question may arise in the minds of many – Did our ancestors really fight back or did they just accept foreign rule without resistance? History books won’t tell you about the brave feats of our ancestors who laid their lives resisting against foreign aggression!
At the national level, while only a selected few freedom fighters are glorified, many a name has remained in oblivion even in regional history text books. There are thousands of warriors, both men and women, who resisted British rule, fought bravely, and sacrificed their lives for the motherland.
Mizoram is a land of brave warriors. Bengkhuaia, Saithawma, Rani Roipulliani, Pasaltha Khuangchera, Ngurbawnga – they and more brave sons and daughters of Bharat Mata from Mizoram fought bravely against the British. Many were martyred during their fight for freedom. They are immortal in folklores and some quiet pages of unread historical records.
Until the 1870s, Mizoram was divided into principalities with each principality ruled by a chief. The north was inhabited by descendants of Lallula, northeast by Manga, northwest by Lallianvunga (Lalphunga, Vanhnuailiana, and Vuta), southwest lowlands by Lai, southwest highlands by Thangluah, west by Lianlulla, and the hills by Rolura. And then, there were numerous sub-groups of these tribes.
Most of Mizos from these principalities raided the neighboring lowlands. The Mizos followed the policy of striking before being struck at and shooting before asking questions. One of their strategies was expanding their territories.
The British had not yet established their supremacy in Mizoram. But they occupied neighboring level lands and highlands of Assam, Tripura, and Manipur where they fiercely colonized. They planted tea gardens in the areas surrounding Mizoram in Assam, Tripura, and beyond. 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.
Bengkhuaia, Chief of Sailam
Amongst the Mizo chiefs and their followers raiding neighboring villages and dominions of British supremacy, the most furious was those conducted by Bengkhuaia, the chief of Sailam. Bengkhuaia and his men raided Alexendrapore and Katlichera, both tea estates in Cachar of Assam.
James Winchester was a Scottish planter employed by the British. Bengkhuaia and his men killed Winchester including other Britishers and their Indian employees and looted the guns. They carried away Winchester’s 6 year old child Mary Winchester and more captives to Mizoram. It was January 1871.
It was said the Mizos did not harm the child. Instead they brought her up with care. The queen of Sailam, Bengkhuaia’s wife, let the child Mary stay at their residence. As neither understood one another’s language, the Mizos named her Zoluti. Bengkhuaia entrusted care and upbringing of Mary under Pi Tluangi, wife of the village elder Vansuakthanga. Pi Tluangi cared for her like a princess, sleeping with her, and making garments and toys for her. Soon Mary, christened as Zoluti, started her new life happily in this remote village in Mizoram.
Another Mizo chief raided Monierkhal and Nudigram and took away guns.
The British immediately set to action. They sent two forces under a common expedition termed ‘The Lushai Expedition’ divided into ‘Right Column’ and ‘Left Column’ on 8 October 1871. The British forces destroyed Mizo villages, burnt and razed houses to the ground, one by one as they entered Mizoram and forced their way into Sailam where, according to them, Mary Winchester was held captive. The Mizos retaliated bravely, but their tribal weaponry were no match to the advanced artillery of the British.
The right column of the The Lushai Expedition reached Sailam village on 21 January 1872. They laid a siege of the village in the morning at 0830 hours. Bengkhuaia and the Mizos retaliated, but in vain. Many a Mizo were martyred. The British forces destroyed the granaries and crops of Sailam. As the British continued their gunshots and shelling, Bengkhuaia tendered his submission. The Mizos gathered around the British general. The British rescued Mary Winchester. It was said Mary refused to accompany the British; she was lured with sweets! In a year’s time, Mary had become a family member of the Mizos!
Treaty, Defiance, and 2nd Expedition of British
Ultimately, the Mizo chiefs assembled and a treaty was signed. All the captives including Mary Winchester were set free. According to the pact, the Mizos would no longer raid villages and allow British entry into Mizoram but continue ruling their own jurisdictions. The guns were returned. Mizos also delivered jewelleries, animals, and rice to the British as decided in the pact.
This was the first interference of the British in Mizoram the big way. There were minor interferences in the mid 1800s following raids by the Mizos. The peace treaty was followed diligently by the Mizos for the next 14 years. In 1888, few Mizos started raiding the British occupied dominions in the neighboring highlands and lowlands once again, killing British officers during the raid. They carried away guns and held several captives. The raids were conducted mainly because of two reasons. Mizos did not like British entry or settlement in their dominion. The British cleared many a forest area and turned them into plantations or grasslands. These jungles had served as hunting grounds for the Mizos.
The British retaliated in a more aggressive manner this time compared to the first. They started the ‘Lushai –Chin Expedition’ sending three huge forces to Mizoram from the north, east, and south with an aim to put Mizoram under British rule. It was the year 1888. The British burnt down villages, destroyed crops, killed many Mizos during their expedition. The Mizos bravely hit back. It continued for days. The British were no wonder superior in terms of military strength and ammunition.
In March 1890, the expedition came to an end and in April 1890 Captain Browne was made the Political Officer and appointed the administrator of Mizoram. British rule in Mizoram thus started in April 1890.
The Mizos looked for opportunities to strike at the British and drive them out of Mizoram. Saithawma, a Mizo chief, had earlier revolted against the British. Hence, the British interfered, dethroned him, and put another chief as the ruler of that principality.
Saithawma has been looking for the right opportunity to strike. In September 1990, Captain Browne along with a group of Britishers were on their way to Shillong from Aizwal. The Manga and Kalkhama Mizo tribes led by Saithawma attacked them near Changsil, about 33 Km from Aizawl. They killed all of the followers of Captain Browne.
Saithawma shot at Browne, who was riding on a horse. Browne fell off his horse with a thud and slipped into the hilly jungle. The Mizos assumed him to be dead. Later, an wounded Browne managed to crawl to the nearest Changsil fort where British forces were stationed. It was 9th September 1890.
Pasaltha Khuangchera and Ngurbawnga
On 10th September 1890, Pasaltha Khuangchera, a Mizo warrior along with his friend Ngurbawnga attacked Changsil fort. They regretted for not participating in the attack the previous day, as they were involved in some urgent family errands.
The highly outnumbered British soldiers armed with guns and ammunition were no match to the two brave Mizo warriors – Pasaltha Khuangchera and Ngurbawnga, equipped with village weapons. During the firing, several bullets hit Ngurbawnga and he died. Pasaltha Khuangchera could have fled the spot and saved his life. But he didn’t. He would not let the dead body of his friend remain at the enemy’s site.
According to Mizo custom, the dead body of a warrior is never left behind nor forsaken in a battlefield. Pasaltha Khuangchera picked up the body of his friend on his shoulders and started rushing towards the path leading to his home at the same time retaliating with his tribal weapon at the enemy who were following behind. Many bullets hit him. Pasaltha Khuangchera fell dead, one of his hands still holding the body of his dead friend on his shoulders. Meanwhile, Captain Browne breathed his last at Changsil fort.
A series of skirmishes between the British and Mizos followed at Changsil and Aizwal. RB McCabe succeeded Captain Browne as the administrative in charge of Mizoram. The British followed their old tactic of burning down the Mizo villages and arresting the Mizos. At many a place, battle between the British and Mizos continued for days. Though inferior in military strength and ammunition, the Mizos did not surrender. More British forces joined the already outnumbered forces. By 1892, the British subdued the Mizos.
There are many more untold sagas of the brave warriors of Mizoram. The glorious saga of Rani Roipulliani is sung in a different article. Click here to read about Rani Roipulliani. Salute to Bengkhuaia, Saithawma, Rani Roipulliani, Pasaltha Khuangchera, Ngurbawnga, and all the warriors of Mizoram. Jai Hind!
Featured image courtesy: chanchinthar.com and KanglaOnline (Pasaltha Khuangchera).
Ref: Culture and Folklore of Mizoram by B. Lalthangliana.