Chin National Day: By Salai Van Cung Lian (UK)
Chin National Day: a day to celebrate being Chin; a day to celebrate our identity, culture and traditions; a day to tell the world who we are and where we come from. Chin National Day falls on the 20th of February. Today, the Chin people all over the world celebrate this auspicious day in their own way and scale of capability. Culture troupe from various tribes were brought together on this special occasion to promote understanding, sense of identity and most of all unity in diversity.
The Chin Hills, prior to the British colonisation, was an independent country free from outside influence. The whole of Chin Hills was dotted with village states on the clan lineage. They had developed a firm and social structure regulated by customary laws which served as a balancing and preserving factor for security and stability. The majority of Chins were under a political system of Chieftain rule. The leaders were established by prominence in war or being the father of a clan which later developed into hereditary rights. While much of Chin Hills practiced Chieftainship, the Tashon tribe in Falam division practiced a Western style democratic system, where the leaders were chosen by the people.
Although Chinland was not united under one political system, Chins were very much aware that they all belonged to one and the same race and they had never severed their kinship. When Chinland was invaded by the British Empire, the 3,000 Chin warriors from all over Chinland, united under the leadership of Pu Con Bik whose motto was ‘Unity is Strength’, stood against the invading enemy. However, much like everywhere in the world, Chinland fell under the British Empire.
From 1930 onwards Pu Vum Tu Maung led Chin Hills Unity Party started to fight the British administration for freedom. On 20th February 1940, they staged a large demonstration in Kanpetlet and demanded freedom.
After the Second World War, the Chin chiefs took part in negotiations with other ethnics specifically the Shan and the Kachin and with the Burmese. It was to decide whether Chinland wished to join the Burmans in getting independence from the British Empire and forming a new country. On 12th February 1947, the three Chin chiefs Pu Hlur Hmung of Falam, Pu Thawng Za Khup of Tedim and Pu Kio Mang of Hakha, along with representatives of the Shan and the Kachin signed an agreement with U Aung San led Burmans at the historic Panglong conference to create unity in the country. The Chin representatives agreed to join Burmans and other ethnics to gain independence from the British and form the Union of Burma.
After signing the historic Panglong agreement, the British government then set up the Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry to enquire the will of the hill people on the question of joining Burma. Representatives from Falam, Hakha, Tedim, Sizang, Kanpetlet, Paletwa testified in front of the committee in Maymyo from 19th – 24th April 1947. The representatives testified that they wished to join Burma as District in Ministerial Burma. However, they realized they made a mistake, therefore, the Chin representatives unanimously agreed to sign a letter revoking their testimony given before and submit a new testimony on 20th April 1947. The letter stated that “It was never the intention of the Chins to go in as a District of Burma. It is the intention in Panglong Agreement executed between the Supreme Council of the United Hills People and the Burmese Government. The statement as made by the witnesses was made without understanding precisely the difference between the terms “Union Government” and “Federal Government”. It is our intention to associate with Burma on Federal basis and what we mean by “Central Government” in our memorandum submitted to the committee is the Federal Government”. The Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry concluded their enquiry and made recommendation regarding the Chin Hills as thus “In view of the doubt regarding the wishes of the people of the Chin Hills and of the Arakan Hill Tracts in regard to their political future, it must be left for negotiation and decision in the Constituently Assembly”. On the basis of Panglong agreement, negotiations went on and eventually Burma gained independence on 4th January 1948 together with frontier areas. After independence the Union of Burma was created in accordance with the 1947 Constitution of Burma. The status of Chinland was then discussed at Constituent Assembly and it was decided to be a ‘DIVISION’ with special status by the name of “Chin Special Division” and Falam as the capital. The administrative system remained unchanged for the time being.
The concept of having a National Day for the Chin people was propounded only after the formation of the Union of Burma. After Burma gained independence, the Chin Special Division and Chin Affairs Council were formed in accordance with the 1947 Constitution of Burma. The post-independence administration system for Chin State was to be established by the Chin Affairs Council led by Pu Vum Thu Maung. The Chin Affairs Council went through the process of changing the administration system for Chin State from Chieftain rule to a democratic system. A Committee of Enquiry was set up on the 4th February 1948 to enquire which administration system the Chins wished to adopt. Meanwhile, the central government planned the independence celebration to be held in Falam, the then capital city of Chin Special Division from the 19th – 22nd of February 2019. The Chin minister gave advice to the committee that the inquiry was to be held during the independence celebration in Falam. The Enquiry Committee toured Tedim subdivision on 12th February 1948 and heard statements from people’s representatives. The representatives from Hakha, Falam, Paletwa and Siziang also gave their statements. The Chiefs wanted to maintain the status quo, however, the people clearly wanted to abolish chieftain rule and replace it with a democratic system and they didn’t mind granting compensation to Chiefs and Headmen.
The independence celebration started on the 19th of February 1948. His Excellency the President of the Union of Burma, Sao Shwe Thaike, sanctioned the celebration. Mass meetings were held and many topics were discussed. Falam welcomed about 5,000 guests from all over Chinland for this mass meeting. The then Deputy Commissioner of Chinland Pu Tuang Hmung remarked about the guest figures on his official annual report of 1948 that “it is no small figure for a place like Falam to host such a large number of guests”. The report also stated that the central government sanctioned 21,000 Rupees for the purpose of celebrating independence. It also highlights the importance of the presence of people representative from Paletwa and Kanpetlet for the first time in Chinland history. A man from a village near Paletwa walked from his village to Falam. People from all over Chinland came to Falam. It was a reunion for scattered brothers and sisters who adopted different traditions, customs and spoke different dialects.
Chiefs and Chieftain from Hakha Sub-division during the 1948 Independence Celebration & Conference. (February 1948)
On the 20th of February an agenda for Education, Health and Transportation was first deliberated. Then, the much awaited and expected issue of abolition of chieftain rule was brought up. The motion to abolish the chieftain system in the Chin Hills and to substitute it with a democratic system was moved by Pu Thang Za Kai of Tedim and was seconded by Pu Sum Mang of Falam and Pu Htang Mawng of Kanpetlet. Animated discussion took place for quite a long time. As there were people against the motion, the chairman of the meeting decided to take a vote. The move was approved by 5000 votes to only 17 against. The vast majority of Chin people embraced the modern democratic system of administration in the Chin Hills. On that day, the Chin people can voice their opinion without restraint and able to vote on their choice of administration system. Thus, the 20th of February is an historic and meaningful day for the Chins, as not only did they overwhelmingly decide to adopt a democratic system for the Chin Hills, but they also achieved national solidarity and unity on this very day. Eventually, the Committee of Enquiry submitted its findings to the Cabinet of the Union of Burma on 30th September 1948, with a recommendation of granting pension to the Chiefs and to replace the system with a new democratic administrative system. The recommendation was accepted by the Cabinet and the Chiefs were compensated for the loss of their dues. The Chin Hills Regulation of 1896 was abolished and “Chin Special Division Act” drafted by the Chin Affairs Council was approved and enacted as an Act by the 6th Plenary Session of the Union Parliament on 12th October 1948. It was significant achievement by the Chin Affairs Council. Pu Vum Thu Maung and other Chin leaders worked so hard and they were so determined to modernise the administrative system. They achieved earlier in modernising the administrative system than in most of the other hill regions.
The Chin Affairs Council was busy with the process of administrative changes throughout 1948 and 1949. During the 1950s, they put aside time to consider the ongoing existence of the Chins as a distinctive and important race within the Union of Burma. The Chin leaders recognized the importance of unity among the Chin people and the consciousness of Chin people as a unique race in the world. As nations and people around the world have their own National Day, the Chin Affairs Council decided that it was time for the Chins to have a National Day to celebrate being Chin and to unite the scattered race.
On the first meeting day of the seventh session of the Chin Affairs Council on the 9th October 1950, a motion was tabled by the Honourable Chin Affairs Minister Pu Vum Thu Maung to have a Chin National Day. The motion was to choose a date for Chin National Day. He said: ‘My reason is very simple. As many nations around the world have their own national day, it is necessary for the Chin people to have our own National Day. I have discussed the matter with the Commissioner Sithu U Thein Maung of Chin Special Division and others, focusing on three different dates but had not decide which date is best suited for Chin National Day’.
The first day was the day Chin delegate were sent to Enquiry Commission to Maymyo.
The second day was 20th February 1948 on which the substitution of Chieftain rules with democratic administration was effected by the mass meeting held at Falam.
The third day was 12th October 1948 which was the day the Chin Special Division Act was enacted.
The motion was seconded by Pu Sang Ning from Matupi. Captain Mang Tung Nung from Tedim then asked permission to speak from the Chairman Pu Lian Thum and addressed the motion. He proposed that the date of the resolution to abolish the chieftain system for a modern democratic system reached at the mass meetings in Falam on 20th of February 1948 was the most suitable date for Chin National Day. Therefore, he recommended a proposal to add ‘the 20th February 1948, 11:00am’ to the original motion. The motion was carried, and a resolution was passed to declare the 20th of February Chin National Day.
The political concept behind the creation of Chin National Day is – a change for the better in accordance with the changing world, for the perpetual existence of Chins as a unique race.
Chin National Day was officially observed for the first time on the 20th of February 1951 at Mindat with much pomp and ceremony. It was graced by a contingent of dignitaries headed by the Honourable Prime Minister U Nu and other Union of Myanmar leaders.
Throughout the history of Chin National Day there have been proposals to change the date and attempts to change the name from Chin National Day to Chin Special Division Day or Chin State Day. However, those attempts were unsuccessful as the Chin people were determined to continue to observe their national day as the Chin National Day on every February 20th.
It is the national duty of all Chin people around the world to safeguard our national day— to preserve and maintain our culture, tradition, language and literature— if we wish to keep a distinctive Chin identity among the family of nations.
President U Nu at Chin National Day, Falam. (February 1961)
Meeting minutes of Chin Affairs Council (National Archive Department, Yangon Record. Acc – 24084 – 1)
Meeting minutes of Chin Affairs Council (National Archive Department, Yangon Record. Acc – 24084 – 2)