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Rumour of the Mizo Holy Bible being Burned

Friday, March 1, 2019

/ Published by Simon L Infimate
~ Dr. Chalsung Sungte, Shillong

The insurgency movement of Mizo during 1966-1986 accelerated intense armed conflict between MNF and the security forces in Mizoram. The incidents of ambush and kidnaps of Government officials occurred almost every day. This armed conflict gave rise to untold miseries not only to the people of Mizoram but also to the Hmar people living in the adjoining states of Manipur and Assam. The Government of India declared the MNF and its subsidiary organizations unlawful under Rule 32 of Defense of India Rules, 1962 and banned them. This declaration was followed by the shifting of MNF Headquarters from Aizawl to a big cave near Reiek village and then to secret places in the jungles within and without the Mizo Hills.[1] Since then, it became increasingly difficult for the MNF volunteers and supporters to get free movements and secure hideouts in Mizoram. They were in dire need of hiding place to avoid being captured. When various unlawful activities involving ambush of army personnel, kidnappings, extortion of money etc. were carried out by the MNF undergrounds in Mizoram, crossing the boundary of Mizoram became a pressing need for their safety. Consequently, a sizeable number of the MNF volunteers hid themselves amid the Hmar population in Manipur and Assam. Declaration and imposition of public curfew, compulsory forced labour, search and combing operations by the Indian Army were increasingly taking place among the Hmar speaking people. Search and combing operations in various places intensely disturbed the existing peaceful public life. In some cases, the Mizo speaking people among the Hmar community were a soft-target of security personnel and they were frequently arrested, frisked and interrogated on flimsy grounds of suspicion.

During those days, many elderly Hmars spoke and used the Lusei dialect as a medium of conversation in the family and friends circle. To supplement the problem of suspicion and interrogations by the security forces, the Mizo Holy Bible and Hymn Books were commonly used and kept in almost all the Hmar families for devotional services because the Hmar versions were yet to be published. The extensive use of Mizo Holy Bible and Hymn books by the general public greatly increased the suspicion of the security forces because all the MNF undergrounds spoke in Lusei. The security personnel in general seemed to believe that any related Mizo literature found in the household of the Hmars would inevitably be connected with the MNF cadres. The security forces also suspected those families in possession of these sacred items would provide protection and shelter to the MNF outfits. Meanwhile, to confirm the assumption of the security police some MNF outfits were sometimes arrested in the Hmar villages. In fact, the MNF underground outfits along with their sophisticated firearms often came and went in the Hmar villages. The Hmars near the border of Mizoram had to face a lot of hardship as the Indian Army suspected them of helping and harboring MNF rebels. No one openly dared to speak and sing Mizo in front of the security personnel. 

In the year 1968, the Bible Society of India (BSI) and the Hmar Musical Assembly had completed the publication of Hmar Holy Bible and Hmar Devotional Songbooks respectively. The grand release function was held at Hmarkhawlien in Cachar District, Assam. The copies of the Hmar Holy Bible and Hmar Devotional Songbooks were widely distributed in the Hmar villages of Manipur, Mizoram and Assam, replacing the Mizo Holy Bible and Devotional Songbooks. In order to avoid suspicion and interrogation from the Indian Army and security police on the question of Lusei speaking and related Mizo litereture, the Hmar National Union (HNU) General Headquarters instructed its volunteers in Vangai Range to collect the Mizo Holy Bibles and Mizo Hymn books used by some families. HNU volunteers under the leadership of Vangai Range Commander, Lienkhawkam, collected eight copies of Mizo Holy Bibles from some families.[2] The collected Mizo Bibles were temporarily kept in the house of Darneisawng, Khangbawr village, the III Commander, HNU Vangai Range.

Meanwhile, there was a widespread rumour among the public that the collected Mizo Holy Bibles would be burnt by some extremist volunteers on the ground that they did not like the Lusei dialect. It was later known that the false rumour had also spread to Mizoram and some Mizo writers even mentioned in their publications. This rumour had created a feeling of hatred and enmity among the Mizo speaking folks against the Hmars in general. According to Lienkhawkam, the collected Mizo Holy Bibles and Songbooks were not at all burnt or destroyed, but distributed among the United Pentecostal Church (UPC) members owing to the fact that they were still using the Lusei dialect as a medium of church administration and worship services. That was certainly one reasonable and acceptable justification since most of the UPC churches within the Hmar community use Lusei dialect in the Church services even today. Moreover, there was no evidence of such resolution or order from the HNU high command, Blocks or Units to burn the collected Mizo Holy Bible. No doubt there was an order from HNU leaders to collect it but there was no evidence of burning episode. In regard to the rumour of the Mizo Holy Bible burnt, some probable questions and answers can be jotted down as follow;

1. On what date, month and year was the Mizo Holy Bible burnt?

2. Who were those persons involved, under whose leadership and order? Did such persons/group of individuals represent the whole Hmar community?

3. At which village/locality did such an incident occur?

4. Did the Hmar Assembly/Convention/Block/Unit/Area/Village take such a resolution to represent the Hmar community?

5. On what ground was the Mizo Bibles burnt?

If anyone/any person/organization/church/institution can provide circumstantial evidence and convincing proofs to all the above questions, the rumour of the burning of the Mizo Holy Bibles during the HNU movement would call for a serious retrospect and it would be considered to be true. However, this widespread rumour has not been proven to be true in the following answers;

1. No one among the Hmar/Mizo knows the date, month and year of the Bible burned

2. No one can name any person/organisation/group involved in the act and under whose leadership. In order to represent the whole community an Assembly/Convention/Conference/Council/referendum must take a resolution; failing which, no one/group/vested interest can represent the name of the community/tribe/nation

3. Nobody knows the name of the village/locality/place where the Mizo Bible was burnt. If such an incident occurred during the 1960s or 1970s in any particular village/locality/place, it must be a public affair and many villagers are likely to get involved. Many of them will still be alive today and not all of them can be expected to hesitate to share

4. If such a resolution were taken by any Hmar organization/association/church/institution, it must be kept in writing and is likely to survive to date. But nobody, not even among the elderly, knows of such an agenda or resolution taken

5. There is hearsay that the Mizo Bibles were burned as a result of hatred towards the Lusei dialect. But it is not possible to give a reliable explanation as the first four questions cannot be conclusively answered.

Moreover, even if such an incident had occurred, it would not be appropriate to blame the whole Hmar community. It should not be taken for granted that the Hmar community had burnt the Mizo Bibles. It also would not be appropriate to infer that they were doing in the name of Hmar tribe/community. The responsibility must be placed on the offender but not on the whole community. Many incidences of burning Mizo Holy Bible and devotional songbooks have occurred in Mizoram even inside the Churches by some groups of people. We have read such incidences several times in the local newspapers in Mizoram. There were many cases, reports and evidences of organizing ritual offerings in the name of worshipping Satan (devil spirit) and destroying the sacred place of pulpits and Holy Bibles in the Church. They blasphemed the sanctity of the Holy Bible and Church in different parts of Mizoram. Moreover, there were many reports and evidences of organising ritual services in the name of devil (Ramhuoi) at different places of cemeteries or graveyards in Mizoram. But the whole Mizo nations have never taken such responsibility. Nobody blames, denounces or accuses the whole Mizo community for the wrongdoing of few persons. No one can rightfully accuse the whole Mizo people of blaspheming the church and burning the Holy Bible. Likewise, a few extremist groups, individual or group of hooligans cannot represent the Hmar as a whole because the Hmars have never passed any resolution to commit such a sacrilegious and heinous misconduct in any assembly or convention/referendum.

On social network like facebook and WhatsApp, the rumour of the burnt Mizo Holy Bible has been a topic of hot debate among the young generations till today. To give the public a true history of the rumour, Lienkhawkam, the former commander of HNU, Vangai Range, (presently a retired pastor from Independent Church of India) had given a clarification through press statement in the Hmasawnna Thar Daily on 22nd February, 2004 and clearly mentioned that the alleged destruction or burning of Mizo Holy Bible by the HNU volunteers during the HNU movement was totally baseless and unfounded rumour. He also mentioned in his press statement that the said Holy Bibles were no doubt collected on 19th December, 1968 from some villages in Vangai Range. Only eight copies of the Mizo Holy Bibles were collected. Of these, five copies were given to Neilien Vaiphei, Pastor, United Pentecostal Church (UPC), Chandikhal village and the remaining three copies were left for Darneisawng, the owner of the house where the Bibles were kept. Moreover, the collection of these Bibles was done to protect the common people from the interrogations and friskings of the security police on ground of suspicion, not on ground of hadred or dislike of Lusei dialect. The accusation of burning of Mizo Holy Bible was totally groundless.[3] After two days of Rev. Lienkhawkam's press statement of clarification, Rev. Lalliensang Fimate, Evangelical Free Church of India (EFCI), who was also the former Commander-in-Chief of HNU during the HNU movement in the 1960s gave another press statement in the same daily in support of Rev. Lienkhawkam’s press statement. He also clarified that Mizo Bibles were not burned or destroyed by the activists of the HNU party. According to Lalliensang Fimate, HNU Divisional Conference resolved to collect the Mizo Holy Bibles which have been used by the Hmars in Vangai Range because the Hmar Bibles have been released. The Divisional Conference requested all the Hmars in Vangai Range to replace Mizo Bibles by the Hmar Bibles because the possession of any Mizo literature in the house would endanger the family members with the risk of interrogation and frisking by security forces.[4] The two eye witnesses Ex-Commanders of HNU, Rev. Lienkhawkam and Rev. Lalliensang Fimate are ordinated Pastors in the Independent Church of India (ICI) and Evangelical Free Church of India (EFCI) respectively. Both the Ex-Commanders flatly rejected the false rumour because that story came into being during their leadership.

The revelation of such baseless and unfounded rumour eventually heightened the feeling of tension and hatred between the Hmars and Lusei speaking people of Mizoram. The rumours that spread among the Mizo speaking group and the Hmars had caused serious traumatic emotional feeling of misunderstandings among the young generations till today. It is crucial for both the communities to avoid passing such unfounded and unconfirmed rumours to the young generations to come. Rational and educated persons should not engross and enrapture themselves in such vain debates since it had been proven to be based on false information. It appears that the feeling of communalism intensified between the Hmar and Lusei speaking people due to this malformed information.

We can safely conclude that there was no single evidence to prove the Hmar community had burnt the Mizo Holy Bible during the HNU movement. If any person/individual/group of individuals within the Hmar commit such blasphemous activity, the responsibility must be placed on him/her/them but not on the whole Hmar community. This is an unsubstantiated rumour spread by irrational and short-sighted people to arouse the feeling of tension. To wipe out such unsubstantiated and unfounded rumours forever it would be worthwhile to give clarification statements to the people through various publications and papers in local languages.

[1]Lalrintluanga, ‘Separatism and Movement for Statehood in Mizoram A Historical Overview’ in Jagadish K. Patnaik (ed.), Mizoram Dimensions and Perspectives Society, Economy and Polity, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 2008, p. 61.
[2]An Interview with Lienkhawkam, former Youth Commander, HNU, Vangai Range on 21st March, 2015.
[3]Hmasawnna Thar, vol-19/41, Churachandpur, on 22nd February, 2004.
[4]Hmasawnna Thar, vol-19/43, Churachandpur, on 25th February, 2004.
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