Understanding "Semi - Slavery" In Mizoram And How It Was Abolished

Salvery in Mizoram
Lal Khawvel Thanga Sailo ( 1885 - 1971 ) of Maubuang stands near a stone he has erected commemorating the 25th year of his king's accession to the throne, King George V

- Ruata Lungchuang 

Khawvel Thanga Sailo was the first Mizo Lal to completely liberate and release all of his "Bawis".


What is the Bawi & Sal System?

A person's personal freedom is forfeited to someone else under the Bawi & Sal systems of servitude. They were neither slaves nor servants, however. Sals were taken as prisoners during raids, whereas Bawis were people who voluntarily submitted to the Lals and gave up their personal freedom in exchange for clemency, shelter, or basic care.

The "Inpuichhung Bawi", or the Bawi of the main house, which was made up primarily of widows and orphans who sought refuge in the Lal's home, was one of three types of Bawis. On the other hand, "Chemsen Bawi" were primarily murderers who offered themselves to the Lal in exchange for mercy. The Mizos have a death penalty for murder, so some murderers frequently rush to the Lal's house, embrace the "Lal Sut ban" pillar, and give up their freedom to the Lal in exchange for mercy.

The term "Tukluih Bawi," which refers to the third type of Bawi, was used to describe a person who, during a war, joined the Chief who had won by promising that he and his offspring would be bawi. These bawi were relatively liberated and allowed to reside in their own homes. They also had the option of regaining their freedom by making the necessary payment, which was Mithun.

Under the Bawi and Sal systems, people adopt the religion of their owners, were stripped of their titles and family names and their descendants are always Bawi or Sal of the people they have submitted themselves to, unless they are freed. They were not sold or subjected to torture like the Slaves in other cultures, but they were expected to serve their master's family. In actuality, the master's hand is responsible for arranging the marriage of the Bawis and Sals. In fact, some great Lals welcomed their Bawis into their own clan and bestowed upon them wealth and positions that the majority of commoners can only imagine..

When the British arrives in the Lushai hills they were quick to notice the Bawi & Sal System’s certain similarities to the Slavery system they were familiar with. While the majority of British officials, including Lieutenant Colonel Shakespear, found nothing wrong with the system and believed that the Bawis were superior to ordinary citizens in wealth and rank, some British officials and citizens remained concerned.


Dr. Peter Fraser, a British missionary, was particularly concerned about the practice and advocated for an end to it. Using his own funds, he freed at least 40 Bawis and Sals. He claimed that although the Bawis and Sals were not considered slaves by western standards, their status as bound labourers violated the Empire's constitution and was a blatant example of "slavery within the British empire."

His efforts were deeply appreciated by Maubuang  Lal Kahawvel Thanga who, after his conversion to Christianity no longer found the practice compatible with his values and faith.
Thus, in the year 1910, Khawvel Thanga freed all of his Bawis and made history by becoming the first Mizo Lal to do so without demanding a ransom.

The Bawi & Sal System in the then-Lushai Hills was so contentious and hotly contested that it was debated in the UK's House of Commons from July 11 to August 3, 1914. This ultimately led to the
emancipation of Bawi and Sal in Mizoram, but it also had the unintended consequence of forcing Fraser and his friend H.W.G. Cole to leave the country.

While the Bawi and Sal systems do not exactly resemble slavery, it is comparable in that participants are deprived of their most fundamental rights as Mizo citizens, such as their right to property, family name, right to bride price, and other rights. Many Bawis and Sals were still denied fundamental human rights even though the majority of them weren't tortured or worked to death. Bawi & Sal system could be termed as “Semi-Slavery” but at the same time, one also needs to remember that Bawi & Sal system is not slavery but was in fact in a way the earliest form of social security for the poor and downtrodden among the Mizos.

As much as their basic rights have been taken away, Bawis & sals were often treated as family members. Many were taken into their owner’s clan and were wed and also buried by their owner’s family. There are lines of former Bawi  Mizo monarchs who became Lal just by their Lal masters giving them their titles. The Bawis of the Lals were in fact treated by the commoners like royals, they were often regarded as families of the Lal. ALSO READ: How A Mizo Princess Reformed Mizoram's Social Norms

The Mizos is an independent English language Digital Media from Mizoram and is in great need of support. Please consider donating to us and help us continue bringing  Mizoram and NE news in English by offering small donations at our BUYMEACOFFE page - https://www.buymeacoffee.com/themizos
The Mizos

The Mizos is a one-man team news blog, that brings you news and stories from Mizoram, Northeast India and the rest of the World.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post