Administrative Changes In The Lushai Hills Under The British Rule

Dr. H. Thangtungnung

Introduction No Dilution of Lushai Chief’s authority
Resistances and Pacification Lushai Hills as Excluded Area
Results of the Uprisings, 1890-95 End of British rule: Chieftainship was abolished
Permanency of British occupation Conclusion
Lushai Hills as a Backward Tract Notes

    The Lushai Hills was annexed in 1890. After the annexation, the British introduced its administration through the existing chiefs. It initiated several administrative reforms like abolition of head hunting, introduction of forced labour, revenue payment and curtailment of the chief’s judicial rights, apart from others. The whole District was divided into circles under the control of the Superintendent and Circle interpreter was appointed in each circle. The Lushai Hills was classified as a “Backward Tracts” by the Government of India Act, 1919 Section 52 (A) and ultimately included within the ‘Excluded Area’ in Part 1 of the Government of India Act, 1935. By 1947, the Lushais were partially aroused from their political slumber and they began to have national consciousness as a result of petty administrative reforms and modern Colonial system of Government. When the British left the Country, they were thus motivated to assert their political rights through the formation of various political and social organisations. This article is an attempt to highlight the various administrative and political changes in the present Mizoram during the Colonial period.


    The Lushai Hills was located towards the South Cachar Hills adjacent to Tripura and Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. It also shares a long international boundary with the Chin Hills of Burma towards the South East. It is bounded by Manipur in the North East with a demarcation of Tuivai River as its natural border.

    The British invaded and annexed the Lushai Land in 1889-90.1 After the annexation of the Lushai Hills in 1890, the first and foremost task, which occupied the mind of the British was that of permanent occupation and administration of the land.2 With ‘the intention of the Government of India to completely dominate the country’, D.R. Lyall, the then Commissioner of the Chittagong Division, recommended for the present, the ‘system of Government to function through the existing chiefs,’ as early as 12th January, 1890 and drew up a set of orders for the chiefs as follows3

  1. All raids are absolutely prohibited and any offending chief would be punishable even to death, in addition to his village being destroyed.

  2. There must be absolute security of person and property and everyone should have free access into another village so that any European would also be as safe as the European Superintendent. If access is refused or a traveller robed, severe fines would be imposed upon the offending chief.

  3. Each village and chief should be held responsible for the maintenance and improvement of roads. The Superintendent had the right to fine and compel any chief not complying with the orders of the Government.

  4. Each chief is liable to supply labour and accountable for revenue payment of his village.

  5. There should be a meeting of the chiefs every year at the centre post, and attendance should be compulsory as an acknowledgement of British sovereignty, and absence would be punished by fine.

    Captain Lewis, who knew best the Hill people, had a similar opinion with regard to the final point. Consequently, Captain Browne summoned a Durbar of chiefs on 14th June, 1890 at Aizawl for supply of labour and payment of revenue. 4

    He also announced that Lengphunga had been deposed for four years from his chieftainship. These enraged the Lushais so much that Browne had to pay his life later on.5

Resistances and Pacification

    The Lushais were enraged with the imposition of forced labour and demand of taxes upon them by the British administrators.6 They could not also be placated with the deposition of their chiefs like Lengphunga. Not long after the British occupation, almost the whole land rose in revolt to resist the British highhandedness.7 The North Lushai Hills was mainly actively engaged in resisting the British power. The existing Lushai chiefs with the outright supports of the common people led the resistances. Both the Western and Eastern Lushai chiefs raised the banner of revolt in succession. (Lalthlengliana, 2007, pp. 61ff). This episode was known as the Lushai Uprising of 1890-95.

    The Revolt, which lasted for five years was completely suppressed by the British through military might. It involved more time, manpower and equipments to suppress this concerted revolt than to conquer the land during the Chin-Lushai Expedition, 1889-90. The Lushai Hills was only completely subjugated and kept under control after the end of this uprising. Modern administration and political arrangements could be properly introduced only after the complete pacification of the Lushais in this uprising, 1890-95.

Results of the Uprisings, 1890-95

    The results of the revolt were decisive. It led to the consolidation of the British rule in the Lushai Hills, which effected into various social, economic, political and administrative changes. With the end of the uprising, Kalkhama and some other chiefs who led the revolt were deported for ten years. Labura who submitted himself to the British authority was compelled to supply a hundred labour forces to the latter. The other chiefs also had to comply with supply of labour. The Lushai lands were thoroughly explored and roads were built linking Silchar and parts of Burma through the Lushai Hills. Taxes were imposed upon the tribes and colonial rules were enforced upon them without any more resistance.8 It led to the beginning of formative relationship between the Lushais and the British. The North and South Lushai Hills, which were initially independent units under two different political officers, were amalgamated into one district under a single officer known as the Superintendent.

Permanency of British occupation

    A durbar was held between the 1st and 4th of January, 1892 at the vicinity of Lunglei, which was attended by the representatives of all the Southern tribes. The Durbar was addressed by Shakespear, who emphasised on the subject of the ‘permanency of our occupation’ and punishment from the government for the erring chiefs by elaborating that the chiefs would suffer if they carried on feuds with one another. For this, each chief was made to swear friendship or peace with each other, which became effective in later years. (Reid, 1997, p. 45.)

    The South Lushai Chiefs’ Conference was inaugurated in 1935-36 with the initiative of Pu Makthanga, the chief of Aizawl. Three Conferences were successfully held during that cold season. (Ibid., p; 65; McCall, 2008, p. 21.) In order to create a better understanding and co-operation between the chiefs and the administrators, McCall summoned a conference on October 14, 1941. An election for representation of the chiefs of the North as well as the South Lushai Hills was held in this Conference. McCall pointed out further that the elected chiefs were the representatives of the Governor, the Viceroy and ultimately the King himself. (Sena Samuelson, 1985, p. 25.)

    J. Shakespear in 1902 divided the Lushai Hills into eighteen zones known as ‘Blocks.’ He created eleven Blocks in the north and seven in the south. He also appointed two Government representatives called ‘Circle Interpreter’ from each Block to represent the Block (Ibid., p. 20.).

    However, there is a slight variation in the account of Robert Raid, which says that under the Circle Administration of J. Shakespear in 1901-02, the whole District was divided into eighteen Circles, twelve in the Aizawl Sub-division and six in the Lunglei Sub-division. Instead of two, he stated that an interpreter was appointed in each Circle as a ‘channel between the Sub-Divisional Officers and the Chiefs and their people.’ (Reid, 1978, p. 44.) This system of appointing Circle Interpreterdid work well except that there were some reports of abuse by the interpreters for their own advantages. As such, an interesting change was later on made in the Circle System by which interpreters were made to reside at Aizawl and to visit their circles once in three months instead of residing there permanently. (Ibid., p. 45.)

Lushai Hills as a Backward Tract

    The dawn of the 20th century marked the shift of British concerns from the plains to the Hills as a reprisal against the rising tide of Indian nationalism. As a result, the colonialists’ notions towards the Hills underwent a considerable change. Under such circumstances, the Lushai Hills was classified as a “Backward Tracts” by the Government of India Act, 1919 Section 52 (A), essentially aimed at keeping the tribes aloof from the mainstream of Indian nationalism and also to maintain their rule through the chiefs. (Zorema, 2007, p. 94.)

    With the passage of time, when there arose severe impasses between the people and their chiefs, complaints against some of the chiefs and their interpreters reached the Superintendent, who was N. E. Parry at that time. In compliance or non-compliance to this restiveness which first appeared outwardly in 1926, Parry developed the idea of strengthening the power and position of the chiefs, who were the direct agents of the British. For him, the decline of ‘Zawlbuk’, the traditional bachelors’ dormitory, meant the relative decline of the chiefs’ power and position. He therefore, issued orders as part of his administrative measures for the restoration of the Zawlbuk system by every village comprising more than 25 houses. He also ceased the further division of the chiefs’ lands into smaller villages. In this way, he attempted to save the political base and conventional administration of the Lushai people.

    In order to partially relieve the burden of the people on whom demand for food supplies like egg, fowls, goats and others were usually made through the village chiefs by circle officers or interpreters while on tour, the Superintendent issued an order on the 13th November, 1926 stating that the officers on tour must indent and pay for what they obtained. In another issues like hnatlang or forced labour, important steps were also undertaken by Parry to remove some divergences. Yet, he desisted to abolish such inconsistencies with the apprehension that such an act would create administrative difficulty and reduce the chiefs’ authorities. Therefore, his orders supported the continuance of the system as a custom, favourable to the chiefs except in unusual cases.(Ibid., p. 97).

No Dilution of Lushai Chief’s authority

    With regard to judiciary, the chief possessed judicial right and authority over his subjects. All petty cases were to be decided and judged by him except cases or appeals like murder, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Superintendent. But when reports reached the latter about the Church elders called ‘Kohhran Upa’ and school headmasters who tried cases without the knowledge of the chief, bypassing the chief’s authority, he viewed the matter seriously. In order to put an end to such a malpractice, which posed severe problems and setbacks to the district administration, Parry issued a prohibiting order, which sternly warned everyone to try all cases in the Chief’s court. (Parry, 1992, p. 3).

    Proper study found that there was no uniformity in the administration of justice among the Lushais. The chief delivered justice with the help of his council of elders in accordance with the customary laws of the land. But the customary laws were not coded and could be interpreted differently by an individual chief. This troubled the British when they administered the Lushai Hills. It induced Parry to prepare a pamphlet on judicial laws in 1925 with the hope that inconveniences for the future administrators and chiefs would be done away with.9

Lushai Hills as Excluded Area

    Parry’s ideas on the future administration of the Lushai Hillsand the hill districts of Assam crystallised into a scheme to form a separate administrative unit. His opinion was that though the Lushai possessed a high literacy rate, they still remained backward and savage at heart. Their land was not suitable for the introduction of industries and had no future as there were no natural resources like minerals. Trade and transport system were not properly organised or managed. He thus, recommended the Lushai Hills to be placed as an ‘excluded area’ in future constitutional reform. Together with his other two alternatives, he placed this suggestion before the Simon Commission in the form of a memorandum when the latter visited Assam in 1928. His other two alternatives were— (Zorema, op. cit., p. 100).

  1. A hill division comprising all the hill tracts of Assam must be constituted and placed under a Chief Commissioner directly responsible to the Government of India. This division should have a separate budget and the deficits shall be met by grants from the Imperial revenues.

  2. A separate North Eastern Frontier Hill Province may be formed to include the hill districts of Assam and Burma with headquarters at Kohima.

    Parry was not in favour of the Hill districts being merged with the plains under a single administration. Though, his scheme did not materialise, it led to discord till almost the end of the British rule. The Simon Commission came to the conclusion that the hill areas should be excluded from the purview of the provincial legislature without any representation in the legislature, and termed it as ‘Excluded Area’ to be administered through the agency of the Governor.10Another term it coined for was ‘Partially Excluded Areas’, which were however, to be represented in the provincial legislature. These recommendations were accepted by the Government, which agreed to bear all financial expenditure required for the development and administration of the specified areas.

    As the Lushai Hills was ‘Excluded’ from the purview of administration of Assam Legislature, some sections of the Lushai intelligentsia demanded the inclusion of the Hills in the Reformed Council. To pursue their demand, a petition was submitted to Sir Michael Keane as early as on December 4, 1933, asking for two representatives from the Lushai Hill District in the Assam legislature. Though there were many more such petitions, they were turned down by the then Political Officer,McCall and curbed the protest with all high handedness. (Zorema., op. cit. pp. 103-04). The Lushai Hills was ultimately included within the ‘Excluded Area’ in Part 1 of the Government of India Bill, 1935.11 It became effective under the Government of India Act, 1935. This fulfilled the intention of the British once again and acted as a complete fulfilment of the indirect rule of the British in the Lushai hills.

End of British rule: Chieftainship was abolished

    After the end of the British rule in 1947, the Lushais were left to themselves to decide their own future course of political action. They were partially aroused and motivated with nationalist ideas and feelings. This resulted into the formations of various political and social organizations like the Mizo Union and United Mizo Freedom Organisation. The Lushais themselves went in favour of abolishing chieftaincy in the Lushai Hills under the aegis of the Mizo Union and with the passing of the Acquisition of Chief Rights Act in 1954, chieftainship was abolished.12 Soon after, the Hills could not be calm with political institutions and the whole land burst into a national sovereignty movement at the dawn of the sixth decade of the twentieth century.


    More than half a century of the British rule in the Lushai Hills, now known as Mizoram, belied the tribal political fabric which separately existed for centuries. The Lushais, who were once an independent tribe and who remained untouched by outside forces, were eventually drawn into the national mainstream after India independence but not without another active resistance. The freedom loving people could certainly contain themselves under the Indian union as they did under the British colonial rule.


  1. Foreign Dept., External.-A, March, 1891, Nos. 124-78.
  2. Foreign Dept., External-A, Oct., 1890.
  3. Foreign Dept., External-A, Aug., 1890, No. 240.
  4. Foreign-A, Progs. August 1891, Section 1, General and Political Conditions prior to the Rising in September 1890.
  5. Foreign–A, Progs., August 1891, Nos. 30-38, Political Report of the Northern Lushai Hills for 1890-91.
  6. Political Report of Northern Lushai Hills for 1890-91. Excluded Areas records, Assam Secretariat, Foreign- A, 1891.
  7. General and Political Conditions prior to the Risings in September 1890, Sec. 1, Progs. August 1891, Nos. 30-38; Lalrimawia ‘Lushai Risings, 1890-95’ in Proceedings of North East India History Associations, Sixth Session, Agartala, 1985, p. 256.
  8. H. Thangtungnung, ‘The Lushai Uprisings (1890-1895)’, Third Concept, An International Journal of Ideas, Vol. 25, No. 299, January 2012, pp. 21-22.
  9. Rules of Procedure for the trial of cases on the Chin-Lushai border, Nov. 25, 1925, From Superintendent, Lushai Hills.
  10. It was decided as per the report of the local officers of the District. See Secret letter from L.L Peters, Offg. Superintendent, Lushai Hills to The Commissioner, Surma Valley & Hill Div., Silchar, August 1935.
  11. Appointment and Political Dept., Reform Branch, Govt. of Assam, Secret letter, No. 2709-12Fr, Shillong, the 15th July, 1935.
  12. Assam Act XXI of 1954, The Assam Lushai Hills District (Acquisition of Chief’s Rights) Act, 1954.


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