When ultra-nationalist Apuia Tochhawng from Khawzawl unloaded his unapologetic views on Mizo identity a few days ago, it pretty much engulfed all social media interactions among the Mizo people. It did not take long for other ultra-nationalists to join him in demanding YMA leaders to be of “pure Mizo blood” implying those born of Mizo parents and not mixed marriages. The catchphrase – a child of a vai (father) is a vai*, a child of a Mizo (father) is a a Mizo – superimposed with the colours of the YMA flag quickly made its rounds. The bachelors from Khawzawl has been hailed a hero. A true blue Mizo. A Mizo patriot. But is he? Are his supporters right about Mizo identity?
It is very important to understand why the Mizo people have a love-hate relationship with their fellow Indians from the plains. Even though it has been three decades since the Government of India signed a successful peace treaty with the Mizo National Front, one must understand that there are Mizos who will never forgive what the Indian army has done to the Mizo people and will forever keep a grudge. And it is only from this perspective that the hatred of the people of plains by some Mizos can be understood. This is reality and, sadly, there are extremist elements in the Mizo society who will always exploit it whenever and wherever there is an opportunity.
Does a YMA leader have to be a “full blooded Mizo”?
Interestingly, even educated people agree that a YMA leaders have to be a “full Mizo” despite the fact that the first President of the association was a full-blooded British, a Welsh missionary by the name of Rev Lewis Evans. The YMA membership rules which require members to be “any Mizos” is perhaps a contradiction to the very history of the association because of the fact that the founders themselves were nowhere near being Mizos.
Is a child born between a non-Mizo father and a Mizo mother a Mizo? According to most Mizos, no. Is a child born between a Mizo father and a non-Mizo mother Mizo? A resounding yes, according to commonly held belief among the Mizos. If this is the case, demand for a YMA leader to be born of a Mizo father and a Mizo mother goes against the Mizo customary law and stands disqualified. But if members of the YMA truly want to have this requirement, they can make changes to the rules but the amendment will have to go through a process, not through a verdict declaration by social media users.
“A child of a vai (father) is a vai*, a child of a Mizo (father) is a Mizo.” Really?
This is a commonly held belief among the Mizo people today but, to the disappointment of many, it may very well be untrue. Social analyst and blogger L.P.Sailo has often mentioned that in the past, there have been raids conducted by Mizo Chiefs and their warriors even on non-Mizo settlements. The result was the capture of slaves, non-Mizo slaves. Those non-Mizo captives became slaves of the Chiefs and guess what their fate was? Naturalisation. It is believed that those non-Zo slaves were absorbed into the Zo tribes and, over time, they would become part of the Zo tribe family. If DNA tests were conducted on Mizos with clear and distinct non-tribal features but with no known non-Mizo heritage, we will most certainly confirm non-tribal, non-Zo roots. Therefore, the notion that only children of Mizo fathers are Mizos may very well be a myth that goes against our historical cultural practice. We used to have the concept of “saphun” where a Zo clan can be changed to another Zo clan. We also had the concept and practice of adopting a purely non-Mizo person as a Mizo. Going against it, indeed, will be going contrary to Mizo culture.
Why was the YMA established?
The association was established to provide a platform not for the preservation of culture alone but for the new Mizo Christian culture and for the furtherance of what it meant to be a new Mizo society. A few decades after Christianity had taken hold of the Mizo society, leaders of the emerging Mizo Church in the north along with the Welsh missionaries felt the need to mobilize the next generation for progress and the overall welfare of the Christian community in Mizoram. On June 5, 1935, they held a meeting in Aizawl where the vision for the future of the Mizo Christian society was discussed. It was resolved that an association of Mizo Christian youth would be established within the framework of the Church organisation. From the very beginning, it was made clear that the association would be unapologetically Christian. On June 15, a public meeting was held at the Nepali school near Mission Veng in Aizawl and the Young Lushai* Association was born.
Leaders of the newly formed Mizo/Lushai Christian youth organisation were Rev Lewis Evans as President, Miss Katie Hughes as Vice President, Mr Pasena and Mr Vankhuma as Secretaries and Rev David Edward as Treasurer. The original aims of the Association were –
1. To make best use of leisure time.
2. To strive for all round development of Mizoram.
3. To promote good Christian life.
These aims eventually became the mottos of the YMA:
1. Good use/ Proper utilization of leisure time.
2. Reverence for a good Christian life.
3. Striving towards a holistic development of the Mizo society.
If the YMA was established for the purpose of enriching the Mizo Christian culture, any input contrary to Christian teaching would be a betrayal of the very foundation of the association. The teaching of the Bible, especially when it comes to foreigners and mixed marriages, is something members of the YMA and the Mizo society at large need to remember because, without it, racist ideology will dominate and influence the society. Racism does not have a place in Christian teaching and racism cannot be a part of the YMA’s approach to solving problems, even if it involves race.
The current President of the YMA Mr Lalbiakzuala Miller is the son of the son of Mr John Miller. Mr Miller was married to the granddaughter of the legendary Mizo hero Chawngbawla. Think about that! The Millers in Mizoram are descendants of an Englishman with no Mizo blood but they have been fully accepted. Much like our ancestors, we have naturalised them because they are Mizos in every respect. So are the Murrays and the Hallidays and the descendants of many non-Mizo fathers. Our pre-Christian history is marked by the willingness to naturalise foreigners as Mizos and accept children of mixed marriages as one of us. Our post-Christian culture ought to do more, not less.
The granddaughter of legend Chawngbawla married an Englishman, the son of the “Father of the Mizo nation” married a Englishwoman, the granddaughter of military hero and Human Rights champion turned Chief Minister Brig T.Sailo married an African, the neice of 5-time Chief Minister Lalthanhawla married a Bengali. The first Mizo foreign ambassador has three non-Mizo sons in law. The list goes on. What this shows is our leaders acceptance and not rejection of foreigners and non-Mizos. It also shows the Mizo people’s acceptance of mixed marriages because we understand that marriage is between the couple and God alone. The Mara people would certainly agree to this perhaps more than anyone else.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has brought us from darkness into light. We cannot and should not go back into darkness where there is no light. The YMA can and should continue to function with leaders without “full Mizo blood.” Mizo society is resilient enough to have foreigners and other non-Mizo peoples join our fraternity through the most sacred matrimony. Remember our history. Do not reject biblical teachings.