~ By Khamrosang Buhril
On this day, the 10th of October, 2015 the Hmar tribe lost a hero, Rev.Dr.Rochunga Pudaite(88) who passed away in Memorial Hospital, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. As a tribute to this man whose legacy will remain as long as the Hmar tribe exist, I would like to write on why I consider him as the man who led ‘Hmar’ to modernity. I do not intend to write much on his life story because much has
already been written on him, even America’s Who’s Who knows it.

Once a small backward indigenous tribe of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo(Chikim) group of tribes scattered in the present day Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and other parts of the North East Indian states, the people of the Hmar tribe were introduced to modern education through Christianity brought about by the British missionaries about a 100 years ago. Today, for one who has been educated and know the value of education and has seen the benefits of education in one’s own past for generations, it might be easy to understand why one has to embrace modern education. However, almost a century back, for someone whose father was the first generation to receive modern education at elementary level and who did not have anyone else to follow or look up to as far as education is concerned; for someone who was comfortable with a lifestyle that had been lived for generations by his forefathers-the lifestyle of a village man who was self-sufficient, who had enough rice in his barn, who had the luxury of drinking wine and going out for hunting in his own soil occasionally; for someone who had to walk for miles through the forest, in the company of wild animals, every day to the nearest primary school, education was not an easy affair. One had to think hard to answer the question, “Is it worth going through all these for education?” One needed not just the courage to go through all these, but a ‘vision’ and ‘foresight’ to answer “yes” to this question then. Rochunga Pudaite took that place and became one of the very few pioneers who led the way to modernity among the people of the Hmar tribe in particular and the ‘Chikim’ tribes as a whole. Indeed, the British missionaries ‘paved’ the way to modern education in the region but there had to be someone to ‘lead’ the way, become a ‘pathfinder’ and leave footprints that will be followed in the subsequent years and generations to come. Rochunga Pudaite was one.

In the post-Colonial and the post-World War II period, one of the most important elements that defines the legal status of any person is national identity. With the emergence of different nation-states around the world which began in Europe in the mid-19th century and with the emergence of national boundaries in the 20th century which followed till the post-colonial period, modern India as we know it today emerged. The Hmar tribe, as a community did not have a well-defined legal identity under the Constitution of India at that time. However, as a tribe that has its own language, well-defined customs and which constituted an integral part of the population of south-west Manipur, Rochunga Pudaite among other few leaders of the tribe knew the importance of gaining a legal identity under the constitution and with his effort, the Hmar tribe became a legally recognized Scheduled Tribe under the Constitution of India. Hence, an ‘identity’ in modern India. Thenceforth, ‘Hmar’ does not only denote a community of the North-East, ‘Hmar’ now denotes an ‘identity’ in the modern sense of the term- a part of the larger national identity in modern India and the modern world.
Therefore, Rev.Dr.Rochunga Pudaite can rightly be called “The man who led ‘Hmar’ to Modernity”. A man who was barely 5 feet tall, he reached heights of achievements very few could reach with his faith, courage, bravery and vision.

May his soul rest in peace and his legacy live evermore!

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