LUSHAI HILLS, State of Mizoram. Lieut-Colonel P. Victoria Devavaram (This article first appeared in 'Global Exchange')
As I looked down from the aeroplane onto the Lushai Hills of Mizoram, I saw what appeared to be a thick green carpet spread out like waves below me. The hills were covered with dense bamboo, Burmese teak trees and other tropical undergrowth.
The State of Mizoram borders on the South Asian countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as the Indian states of Assam, Tripura and Manipur. Until the1980s there was political unrest in the area, with people fighting for their independence. With the signing of the Peace Accord a new era began with people freely traveling in and out, and with improved roads and communication systems. A new airport 40 kms away from the state capital, Aizawl, was opened very recently and will contribute significantly to the development of the State.
A Christian State
With 85 per cent of the population being Christian, the State is one of a few in India with a strong Christian influence. The majority of the people belong to the Presbyterian, The Salvation Army and the Baptist Churches. The arrival of Christianity in 1894 also promoted the growth and development of Mizoram in many ways. The Mizos not only accepted Christianity but also adapted their customs to their new faith, and have moved forward with spiritual renewal.
A homogeneous society
The Mizo society is a homogeneous one, as there are no caste structures. The people of Mizoram enjoy freedom of life. There is no discrimination between men and women. Women enjoy equal rights with men. Husbands and wives share responsibilities. There is no wide gap between rich and poor.
Every village has its own village council, and members work for the people and for the benefit of the community. The Young Mizo Association was established for young people. The association works for the village and maintains a good relationship with the council. The Mizos are a friendly people with a simple lifestyle and strong community feeling.
The Mizos grow produce using jhum cultivation (slash and burn) methods. They make beautiful crafts like shawls and bags. They use home-made wooden carts to carry their wood, vegetables and even people for short distances. Travelling downhill is easy, but not so for the return journey.
Smoking is prevalent in this area, even among women and children. Other addictions include alcohol and drugs. These can lead to serious health problems including tuberculosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS, and can also affect family life, sometimes resulting in broken families and orphaned children.
This area, bordering on Myanmar, is an area where drug trafficking is increasingly common.
Mizo women are hard-working and good with business matters. They care for the family and also work in the fields, growing vegetables, fruit and cultivating paddy (rice) and cotton. The girls and women from the rural areas carry big baskets on their backs. Each basket has a band of cloth, slung across the forehead to bear the weight. These unique baskets are used to take provisions, farm produce and other essential commodities to and from market.
Mizo women belong to their own community Mahila Mandal (women's association).
Personal giving supports ministry
The women support their corps financially. They set aside a handful of uncooked rice before preparing every meal. This rice collection is one of the sources of income in the women's department. Money from the rice collection is used for outreach work.
Home league members also work very hard to develop the Army's ministry. They donated one lakh rupees (one lakh =100,000 rupees [£1,430]) to construct the boy's home. They contribute one-tenth of all their income to the corps, thus making the corps self-sufficient. Medical fellowship members are sponsoring one officer who is working in an outreach area.
League of mercy members of Manipur Division constructed a house for a very poor family and, during the time of communal fights between two clans in Manipur, members helped the suffering people with necessary items and food. One of the important plans of the women's ministries is to construct a self-support building to be opened at the time of the home league congress this year (2000). The women are working hard to raise money for this project.
Music and uniform
The Mizos have developed their own style of singing and dancing using native drums. The young people's songster groups have participated in international and national events.
The wearing of the Army uniform is cultivated from childhood and soldiers and local officers wear their white uniform with blue trimmings proudly, participating in the meetings along with officers.
During the 1920s there were real difficulties in Mizoram related to the growth of The Salvation Army and the impact this had on the other two Churches. Following discussions in Calcutta with the Churches and Salvation Army leadership, it was decided it would be best to sever links with The Salvation Army's national and international offices and allow the Churches to invite Salvationists in Mizoram to unite with them. However the people wanted to remain Salvationists and eventually a fact-finding delegation in 1928 recommended that the link with the national office and IHQ be made once again.
The Mizos are the first Indian Salvationists who have boldly come forward to be fully self supportive of their corps and evangelical ministry. A very strong inspiring expression of the Army is visible in Mizoram.
The Mizos have great evangelistic zeal. They have been sending their own missionaries to neighbouring states to open the Army's work. At present the territory has 292 'Evangelists' and 70 "Soldiers of the Cross". The Mizos have great evangelistic zeal. They have been sending their own missionaries to neighbouring states to open the Army's work. At present the territory has 292 "Evangelists" and 70 "Soldiers of the Cross" (missionaries) working in a total of eight Indian states. Salvationists and others have been coming forward to sponsor these missionaries.
The youth and women are a strong support to the Army's ministries in this part of India. I feel they are the role models for the rest of the Indian territories.
(Lieut-Colonel P. Victoria Devavaram, B Sc, BLSc, B Ed, is Executive Secretary, Women's Advisory Council, India (WACI). She is the wife of Lieut-Colonel P. Devavaram and the mother of three adult sons, Samuel, Phillip and Timothy.
As part of her responsibilities, Victoria regularly visits the six Indian territories giving advice to and sharing information with women's development officers and territorial leadership. Women in ministry and women's development are top priorities on her agenda.)
for related topics see Women and The Salvation Army'