Daring Ropuiliani, the 67-year-old woman Mizo Chief, who defied the British
As the nation approaches the 75th year of its Independence, it has been my endeavour to explore, revisit and highlight the unsung heroes and #veeranganas of our freedom struggle.
Acquiring new insights about our unsung heroes has been a historical pilgrimage to me personally and an immensely gratifying experience.
The North East region is known not only for its picturesque locales and stunning places, but also for the valour and countless sacrifices made by its people. Young Naga girl Rani Gaidinliu and the sexagenarian chief of Mizo villages, #Ropuiliani are prominent among them.
Born in 1828, Ropuiliani was the daughter of a great Mizo chief of North, #Lalsavunga, and was very proud of her family and traditions. She was married to Vandula, an equally prominent Chief of South Lushai Hills.
Till the late 19th century, the Britishers and the proud Mizo people lived in an uneasy neighbourhood. It is said that the Britishers had their tea gardens near Mizo settlements and used to often interfere with the customary Mizo traditions for their commercial interests. Reportedly, there used to be frequent scuffles and skirmishes.
Eventually in early 1890, the British could establish their supremacy over some Mizo regions. However, some Mizo chiefs did not accept British authority– Vandula too refused to accept British influence. Britishers tried to lure him but he was too proud and independent to accept Britishers’ enticements. Captain John Shakespeare records ” his influence was hostile to the British.”
After the death of Vandula, his widow Ropuiliani took the reins of this principality and began to rule from her village Ralvawng. It is said that she had all the traits of her father and her husband.
She had observed the growing influence of the Britishers in the Lushai region and had reservations against it. She was a determined adversary of Britishers. While most of the Mizo chiefs allied with the Britishers, Ropuiliani encouraged her people to disobey Britishers’ dictate for taxes and tributes.
Rather, she challenged their authority– “ My subjects and I have never paid any tax, neither have we done any forced labor. We are owners of this land”, she is reported to have declared proudly. In her presence, Britishers found it difficult to collect taxes and demand forced labor.
She believed that it was her duty to protect her people and the land. She asked her son and her citizens, not to surrender their guns rather they should collect as many of them. She told other Chiefs who had joined the British. “Even if you all surrender, I am here… the daughter of Lalsavunga, the brave ruler of North, who will never surrender to foreign rulers.” She became a rallying point for some #Mizo principalities against the British.
Enraged by her resistance, the Britishers sent several campaigns and set up posts in the area. In one such campaign, British Lt. Stewart along with two soldiers was killed. The local Chiefs protested against the British demand for coolies which was against their customs. Ropuiliani and her son Lalthuama were accused of instigating other chiefs by the British.
In a bid to subjugate the free spirit of Ropuiliani and her people, the Britishers led by Captain Shakespeare raided the village in 1893. In a surprise attack at dawn, they arrested her and her son. Her people were disarmed.
She was charged with inciting her son and her people, who in turn was charged with killing Government functionaries and plotting against the government. On her arrest, the British report said “… Shakespeare reported the capture of an important person and a bitter enemy of the British in the shape of Ropuiliani, mother of Lalthuama, widow of Vandula, an old enemy of British”…. “She was evidently a focus of discontent….”
Even after her capture, Britishers feared that her presence even as a captive in the area would escalate tension and disaffection among locals.
The sexagenarian was sent to Rangamati, in Chittagong hill tracts and was held captive for almost two years in Chittagong jail. She died in prison in1895, leaving behind an inspiring legacy of our freedom struggle.
It is said there were several other veeranganas of #LushaiHills who had fought against colonial rule. Unfortunately, it appears that no historical records are available on them, except for local folklore.
The time has come for our history textbooks to include stories of such #unsungheroes. The nation will be ever grateful for their sacrifices!