The Day Khuangjang Burns

Published on May 3, 2010

The Day Khuangjang Burns

By Leivang Thawnkhokam Ngaihte

Looking back the past 50 years or so, I was just a toddler playing in an open field with some of my friends. It was at Lawibual Village, about 198 kilometres away from Lamka on Tipaimukh Road, sand-witched between Pherjol and Tinsuong. Thawnkhokam NgaihteI do not remember the date nor the year but I remember it was an afternoon when someone shouted ‘KHUANGJANG KAANG EI’ (Khuangjang is burning) that caught our attention.
The whole population ran up towards the Church mount from where part of Khuangjang was visible. Being a small and weak boy, I could not run as fast as the others. That is why my Pu Thawng (Chinzathawng) lifted me and put me on his shoulder. With me on his shoulder, Pu Thawng managed to run and took me to the place where the villagers were gathering.
Wow, I was watching in the comfort of my Pu Thawng’s shoulder, a big, dark flame boiling out from the place hitherto known as Khuangjang village, one of the biggest townships of the Thadous. What an experienced! The memory of the dark big smoke coiling towards the sky etched very clearly in my mind even now. In my virgin eyes, it was as great as those volcanic eruptions in the Atlantics. It must have decided on its own to die with me as a compliment.
Now after a little over half a century of my life, I have come to realize that it was my first exposure to the bad war of infighting amongst the community, which otherwise is known as one small family by the outsiders. At that stage of my life, the incident had no big significance whatsoever, but perhaps old memories die hard and it now stands out as one of the most devastating experiences my young hearts has experienced.
The next day, I witnessed again, from the holes in the bamboo wall of my Pupu (B. Jamgou) safely located at the left corner of the football field, a large battalion of Hmar (we called them Khawthang) volunteers with spears, coming from Pherjol towards Khuangjang.  I remember most of them had a piece of cloth, red in colour, tied in their heads. They marched in line in the open field we used for playing football, etc. It was said that these people will go and kill those whose houses they have burned down the previous day!  We were so tense; we dared not even speak, communicated through signs while they were in sight.
There must have been a lot of talks on the incident amongst the elders of the village during those days. However, there was no explanation for the young people like us and every question that we put dismissed with a warning not to ask such questions. I do not blame them because I know that not talking about it was the safe option available to them. Teaching history and explaining the happenings in its proper perspective to the younger generation has not been the practice, after all.
However, a story doing the round at that time was not of the reason of the war but the ‘tactics’ adopted by the Hmars. It was said that a group of young boys and girls from Khuangjang village was enticed to go to Pherjol village to collect paddy rice. However, when they were in Pherjol, the Hmar decided to ‘capture’ them and started blackmailing the Chief of Khuangjang to abandon his village otherwise his subjects will all be killed. The village chief, one Jamkholian, son of Ngullien, finding himself fully and thoroughly tricked, decided to flee and his village was then torched at leisure by the clever Hmars.
Writing on the same subject in his (well researched) book ‘In search of Identity: Hmars of the Northeast India’, professor Lal Dena, a Hmar scholar blamed, more than anything else, a note titled ‘under the wings of Thadou’ by William Shaw, SDO, Temenglong at that time as the basic cause of the war. The argument is that this note, prepared closely in consultation of one Jamkithang Sitlou, was biased towards the Thadou, making it the supreme leader of the Kuki clans. Communal description like ‘Kuki-Seki’, Kuki-Makhai’ has come into being from this period.
More political consciousness that came around by the 1940s resulted in the origin of Kuki National Assembly in 1946, Mizo Union on April 9, 1946 and finally the Khul Union in 1947. In all the above three groups, the Hmar has always chosen to be with the Mizo Union. However, following the failure of Mizo Integration movement that left the Hmars high and dry in the middle of the political road, the Hmars tried to unify with their blood brothers in Assam and Tripura through a political forum called ‘the Hmar National Union’ in 1959.
Professor Lal Dena continues to write that in October 1959, there was an attempt to divide the tribals of Manipur into two groups – Nagas and Kukis. The Hmars who counted themselves as Mizo group in the past and now left alone, protested by giving representations to the government. Meanwhile, under the leadership of Pu SL Lunneh, Kuki National Volunteers (KNV) started collecting Kuki fee of rupees 10 per household and the Hmar villagers in Rovazawl refused to pay. The village, was therefore, immediately burned down by the KNV on February 8, 1960.
This incident had resulted in chain reactions from both sides and in the process Khuangjang village was burned down in retaliation in self-defence. And I, fortunate or otherwise, happened to be at that time and date to witness the sad incident which refuses to go away from my mind. Even after 50 years! And, the subsequent events which led to the change of the demographics of the area after most of the village chiefs (Singsons) were driven away is, as the say, history.
The writer is under secretary to the government of India who presently lives in Delhi. He has been posted in Italy, Mauritius, Hong Kong and Jordan.

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