TODAY -

Irawat the Legend
- Part 2 -

Joyshree Usham *

117th Birth Anniversary of Lamyanba Hijam Irabot at  Pishum, Imphal :: 21 Sep / 26 Sep 2013
117th Birth Anniversary of Lamyanba Hijam Irabot at Pishum in 21 Sep 2013



Right from his youth, Irawat could not stand any injustice. During his school days at Johnstone, he was against punishment and canning of students. One day a teacher of the school flogged one of his class-mates roughly and kicked him. He could not bear such ill treatment meted out to students by the teachers and stood up against it when nobody dared to. Irawat immediately organised a strike in protest against the inhuman and cruel practice and demanded to ban such practices. This incident maybe said to be the first students' strike in the state.

He revolted against inhumane torture and exploitation, an act which is differentiated from the hooliganism of the present day which are fuel by politics to an extent. Irawat carried this spirit of fighting against oppression even while holding a high post at the Sadar Panchayat. He couldn't bear the tyrannical practices meted out upon the common people and so he emerged as the leader of the oppressed classes. He didn't lose time to stand up and formed the Manipur Seba Committee and established as 'Praja Mandal' to fight against the corrupted and oppressive feudal rule of the time.

The practice of Amang Asheng (Mangba Shengba or Ritual Cleanliness) which was carried out by the Maharaja and the Brahmo Sabha required the people to pay certain amount of money (Rupee) for the revocation of excommunication. The value of Rupee was very high those days and many couldn't afford it. An excommunicated person could not even be cremated according to Hindu rites. Irawat organised a social service group called the Seba Committee and dug out the mortal remains and cremated them under his leadership with all the rites and rituals. Would any of our present leaders even dare to think of doing this? He led the people to resist and fight against such malpractices and injustice and it invited the wrath of higher and orthodox authorities upon him.

The 'Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha' was initially established in 1934 as a countermeasure to Christian missionary influence with the Maharaja Churachand as the president. Irawat was made the vice president. This may be said to be a diplomatic tact to distract Irawat by the Maharajah. In its first session on May 30,1934, which was held at the palace, the Maharajah presided the meeting and delegates from Bengal, Tripura, Burma and Manipur attended. The second session was held at Silchar in 1936, the third session at Mandalay in Feb/ Mar, 1937 11 Irabot Day Observance 2016 Irabot Day Observance 2016 11 which was attended by Lalit Madhab Sharma, Bankabihari Sharma and Irawat. The third session made a call to the Manipuris to acquainted with the Meitei script. This call has been accomplished today with the first matric exam on Meitei Mayek conducted this year (2016).

Truly a visionary he was! In the fourth session which was held at Chinga, Imphal in 1938, the Maharaja didn't attend and Irawat presided over it and the word 'Hindu' was omitted from the name of the organisation for the first time. It thus became a political organisation under the name Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha and it adopted many political resolutions for the first time like asking the British to quit Manipur State Darbar, full responsible government in Manipur based on Adult Franchise, release of Rani Gaidinlieu from prison, abolition of Manipur State Darbar, etc. When these resolutions of democratic nature and against feudal levies were sent to the Darbar, it expectedly debarred state employees from being its member.

Irawat resigned his membership from the Sadar Panchayat Court along with one Elangbam Tompok Singh, a clerk in the Revenue Department. Undoubtedly, these two were the real heroes who stood the test of the time and sacrificed personal comforts to carry out the works of the organisation for social cause. Thus, Irawat became the president of the Mahasabha with Tompok as the General Secretary. That was the turning point of Irawat as a full-fledged political worker and an organiser.

In the cold winter of December 1939, a man- made famine broke out in Manipur due to the indiscriminate export of rice and price rise. Starvation was prevalent everywhere and compelled the women folk from all over to gherao the Khwairamband Bazaar and agitate against export of rice. This is now known as the second Nupi Lal of December, 1939 in the history of Manipur. Even after the agitation, the export of rice was not banned. So, on the following day of December 12, 1939, the women folk again gathered around the bazaar in agitation and this time they seized all the cartloads of rice and paddy kept for sale to the Marwaris and were taken to the Police station. The women folk carried out all these not in ease though for they were charged with lathis, butts and bayonets over by the armed sepoys. Several women were injured, six of them very seriously.

Irawat was not in Manipur when the incident took place. He was in Tripura and was asked immediately to return and lead the mass movement against which the 4th Assam Rifles had been let loosed. He came back as soon as possible and went straight to the hospital and met the wounded. His presence motivated and encouraged the people giving a new ray of hope. He soon organised 4000 volunteers for picketing trunk-roads out of Manipur to stop the rice exports. Finally, the government was forced to ban the export of rice and all the then eighteen rice mills in Manipur were closed down.

The agitation was widespread and a civil disobedience followed wherein the people stopped paying all feudal levies and revenue. Irawat led the masses and addressed public meetings with inspiring and strongly worded speeches. It was the dawn of a new political party called Praja Sammelani with Irawat as its president. At a meeting held at Police Bazaar on the 7th of January, 1940, some radical members of the Mahasabha led by Irawat formed the new political party Praja Sanmelani. He also formed the Mahila Sanmilani, the women's wing. Apart from the banning of the rice export, the struggle for the constitutional changes was carried out with Vande Mataram on their lips which were part of Manipur's contribution for India's Independence (Poorna Swaraj).

On this day, he delivered a speech condemning the government's atrocities and called out the people to join together and resist such oppressions. He was accused by the government that his speech was of seditious in nature and thus he was arrested from his house and sentenced to three years in jail in March 1940 under section 124 (a) of the Indian Penal Code. In Manipur jail, he organised a movement for better treatment as the jail conditions were bad and primitive and won many demands of the prisoners. Due to his popularity in the jail and the situation prevailing outside, sensing the danger, the authorities ultimately transferred him to Sylhet Jail.

It was during his stay in the jail that he came into contact with many communists and communist literatures. For the first time he came in touch with communist ideology of Marxism-Leninism. He was greatly attracted by the ideology as he himself had always stood up for the oppressed classes and was against the feudal oppression even while he was in Manipur. So, he soon applied for membership to the Assam province committee and became a member while still in the jail. He truly believed that socialism was the only means to cure all social, political and economic ills, and for the genuine emancipation of the toiling masses.

During that time with the onward march of Fascism, he became restless and when the Japanese reached the borders of Manipur, he gave out a call for the defence of the Motherland against the aggressor. In fact, he wrote a letter to the Maharaja of Manipur stating his concerns and requested to give him free scope to mobilise people in support of anti-fascist war and to let him and other political prisoners free from the jail. In his own words he expressed, "Even from behind the prison bars, I feel that if fascism be victorious today the world civilisation and culture would be at stake, the freedom movements of the people of all lands would die forever, smaller nations and minorities will suffer the most under the vile yoke of fascist regime." He was against any sort of collaboration with the Japanese and the INA, perhaps, because he was a new convert to Marxism-Leninism.

He was influenced by the Soviet-CPI propaganda that the war was a "People's War" to 12 Irabot Day Observance 2016 Irabot Day Observance 2016 13 rescue the 'Fatherland of Socialism' i.e., the Soviet Union from the wicked Fascists. He saw the Japanese only as Fascists and the INA as the Fascists' collaborators. So Irawat didn't seize the War as a golden opportunity to end the British Raj in Manipur. Nevertheless, the British authorities saw in him and the Praja Sanmelani as a threat to their war efforts. He was released from the jail in the latter half of 1943 but as he was detained from entering Manipur and even after the war ended, he stayed in Cachar. He started organising the party and Kishan Sabha in Assam and Tripura. He also attended the ninth Kisan Conference at Netrakona as a delegate from Assam in 1945.

To be continued....


* Joyshree Usham (M. Sc. Applied Psychology, B. Ed.) wrote this article for a booklet publication of Irabot Day Observance Committee Delhi 2016
This article was posted on October 08, 2016.


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