The Battle Of Khongjom and the Manipuris in the Anglo-Manipur War - 1891
- Part 2 -

Dr. Yumkhaibam Shyam Singh *

Khongjom Day Observation of the historic Battle of Khongjom 1891 at  Khebaching :: 23rd April 2016
Khongjom Day Observation at Khebaching on 23rd April 2016 :: pix - Shankar Khangembam

Dispute over South Cachar

Before the First Anglo-Burmese war, Gambhir Singh and his brothers had established their political hegemony in South Cachar by ruling over its territories for about six years (1818-1823). His followers, the chunk of the Manipur Levy, had enjoyed the wealth and prosperity of South Cachar. Although they were defeated by the Burmese in the last part of 1823, yet they extended their maximum support to the British in expelling the Burmese from Cachar.Therefore, after the Treaty of Yandaboo, Gambhir Singh and his followers encroached upon Cachar establishing their outpost at Chandrapur.

After the death of Govindachandra (Raja of Cachar), in 1830, there was a serious question of succession in Cachar, Gambhir Singh became a strong claimant submitting a proposal to the British Government to farm out Cachar for a period of twenty years in return for an annual revenue of rupees fifteen thousand" However, the British policy on Cachar and Manipur had already been designed as it was expressed: "By the improvement of Cachar country, therefore, it is to be hoped that our means might be facilitated of assisting Munnipore against Ava (Burma).

"They also considered Cachar the granary of this region.Therefore, after the Treaty of Badarpur (1824), the Commissioner of Sylhet had instructed to keep a keen watch on the conduct of the Raja (Gobindchandra) and to ascertain whether he will be willing to cede the territory to the British." Ultimately, the British Government annexed South Cachar in 1832, to the great dissatisfaction of Gambhir Singh and his followers.

By the Treaty of 1833, Gambhir Singh was given the unproductive mountainous region between the Jiri Nallah and the Barak River which was considered by the British as worse than useless in every point of view. Hence, Manipur was not compensated judiciously for the sacrifices made in Cachar during the First Anglo-Burmese War.

Expansion of territory in the plains of Assam Forbidden

It is rightly stated that the Court of Directors represented a mercantile company and was naturally very sensitive in money making, Therefore, the Company's Government always tried to annex those resourceful plains areas leaving behind those mountainous terrains to the Indigenous rulers. Earlier, when the Naga Tribes raided the neighbouring Assam plains protected by the British Government, it was reported: "Gambhir Singh should be held accountable for the behaviour of the Nagas thus considered to be placed under his permanent authority."

Gambhir Singh also intended to conquer the entire Naga Hills. But, later, the British Government restricted the advance of Manipuri troops towards Assam Valley as it was reported in 1833: "The ambitious Manipuris would have been a very dangerous neighbour of our vassal Purander Singh, whom we were then endeavouring to establish on the throne of upper Assam, and the Government began to feel uncomfortable in prospect of Gambhir Singh's operation"

It did not absolutely prohibit him (Gambhir Singh) from subjugating the Nagas; but it forbade him to descend into the plains on the Assam side. Indeed, in 1835, the forest between the Doyeng and the Dhunsiri was declared to be the boundary between Manipur and Assam. Hence the Manipuris were not allowed to expand their territory beyond the unproductive hilly regions.

Manipur lost the Kabaw Valley

The Kabaw Valley, mainly the plain areas between Manipur and the Chindwin River, had been under Manipur during the most part of its political history. It is stated, "For the greater part of the century (18th century) the Kubo Valley unquestionably belonged to Manipur and it was never in any sense a Burmese province, being, when not under Manipur, a feudatory of the great Shan Kingdom of Pong." Later, it was given to Burma by Marjit Singh (1813-19) in order to acquire the throne of Manipur with the help of the Burmese.

After seven years Burmese devastation of Manipur (1819-1825), the latter was re-conquered by Gambhir Singh with the help of the British. When the prince became the Raja of Manipur after the Treaty of Yandaboo, this valley became a hot spot of political dialogue between Burma and the British Indian Government (an ally of Manipur). In June 1826, Major General Archibald Campbell was informed that "the Government should maintain the right of Gambhir Singh over northern and middle portion of Kabow Valley (Samjok and Khampat) but the southern portion (Kule) had to become a subject of negotiation."

However, the Burmese court objected to the line of boundary proposed by the Government of India. The latter appointed Captain FJ. Grant and Lieutenant R.B. Pemberton as the Commissioners of Manipur. Lieutenants Montmorency and Rawlinson were deputed to accompany the Burmese Commissioners to the meeting on the Chindwin River which was scheduled to be held in February 1828. As the season was quite advanced, they postponed their programme.

The British Commissioners met the Burmese in January 1830, and fixed the Chindwin River as the future boundary between Burma and Manipur planting flags accordingly; but the Burmese refused their witness.The latter's court was greatly agitated over the step of Grant and Pemberton, which they thought was unwarranted by any instruction of the Government of India and decided to send a deputation to Calcutta. Accordingly, two Burmese envoys arrived in Calcutta, in 1830, and their first and the foremost demand was "the restoration of the Kabow Valley."

Before their arrival in Calcutta, the British Government also sent Major Burney as the British Resident in Ava in April 1830. He was instructed that "your attention should be given to the trade of Ava with a view to reporting to his Lordship-in-Council the practicability of extending and facilitating British commerce and the consumption of British manufactures." In the previous letter from Burney, it was stated that the importation of British goods in Burma was on the rise, but in December 1830, he stated: "Some of my former reports expressed an opinion that the present king of Ava will take the first favourable opportunity of engaging in another contest with us."

The Burmese Government also appointed their Governors of Prome, Bassein, and other cities in the delta as military chiefs (Bo) who had the power to call out the inhabitants of their districts to be ready for any emergency. In this way, the Government of Ava was in a state of war against the British Indian Government. On the other hand, the British Government felt the difficulties and the huge loss of resources in the form of money and men in the First Anglo-Burmese war.

Above all,the authorities of Calcutta were also very serious about the trade facilities which they could enjoy when they developed a good relationship with Ava. The Burmese mainly exported vegetable oil, petroleum and teak-wood. About the latter, it was stated: "It is found also in Bombay, but in small quantities, and is extremely dear; whereas in Pegu and Ava there are such immense forests of it, that it can be sold to as many ships as arrive, at a moderate price."

Keeping in view of the above circumstances, the British Government stated its final decision:

"......the Supreme Government still adheres to the opinion that the Ningthee formed the proper boundary between Ava and Manipur; but that in consideration for His Majesty's (Burmese king) feelings and wishes and in the spirit of amity and good will subsisting between the countries, the Supreme Government consents to the restoration of the Kubo ValLey to Ava, and to the establishment of the boundary at the foot of the Yoomadoung hills."

Accordingly, Major Grant and Captain Pemberton handed over the Kabaw Valley to Burma on the 9thJanuary, 1834. To compensate this great loss of Manipur, the British Government paid 500 Sicca Rupees per month to this Kingdom. To the Manipuris, the loss of Kabaw Valley was just like snatching of a child from a mother's lap. The Court of Directors also expressed it to be a very delicate issue. Raja Gambhir Singh died on the same day on which the Kabaw Valley was ceded to Burma.

In this way, the British Government, in order to safeguard its economic and political ends in respect of Burma, sacrificed the interest of a less powerful kingdom of Manipur by ceding the Kabaw Valley to Burma. On the other hand, the British also pre-empted the rise and growth of Manipur into a powerful and resourceful kingdom which it would have achieved if it had re-established its control and sovereignty over the said valley.

Ill-treatment to the Manipur Levy and other British excesses

After ceding the Kabaw Valley to Burma, the British Government, conceptualizing that the Burmese would no longer aggress towards the Company's frontier, and aLso, in order to save the expenditure on the Manipur Levy, severed the latter's connection with the British Government issuing this order in 1835: "It has been resolved to discontinue the British superintendence over the body denominated the Manipur Levy, and to leave it optional with the Government of the country to maintain that force or not as it please."

Hence, the Company, after fulfilling all its political and monetary objectives, betrayed its most reliable friend in its eastern frontier. The Manipuris had not only lost their Kabaw Valley but also experienced the termination of the life giving services of the members of the Manipur Levy under the British Government. It also diminished, to a large extent, the regular inflow of currency to Manipur. Hence, after 1835, Manipur faced a serious scarcity of Rupee.

Later, the Company also tried to interfere into the internal affairs of Manipur. In 1850, Chandrakirti Singh ascended the throne of pur, in the name of maintaining peace in the Kingdom, the British Government made a public approval to punish any contender to the throne of Manipur. Thus, the British Government started to interfere into the internal affairs of Manipur Making Manipuri masses extremely annoyed.

Anti- British mindset of the Manipuri masses became prominent in the Revolt of 1857

In the event of 1857 Revolt, the British Government decided to establish a Manipur Regiment, thinking that the latter would be very useful for the maintenance of peace in the eastern frontiers. Hence, in a letter sent to the Court of Directors in 1857, it was stated: "On the 4th of August it was suggested to the Govt, of India by the Governor of Bengal, that it might be easy and expedient through the civil and military authorities in the N-E Frontier and Munipore to raise a very useful body Muneepoorees, and Cacharees for general service...."

Accordingly, orders were issued to the Political Agent in Manipur and to the officer commanding the Sylhet Light Infantry Regiment to raise a corps each of 1500 Manipuris to be drilled Cherraponjee. There, the old jail was repaired for their accommodation. It was stated,"Natives of Muneepore were recommended for enlistment in preference to Cacharees. The former being more active and warlike it was suggested that they should receive the same pay as the Sylhet Light Infantry while under training and that their pay be increased when they became general service corps"

However, the people of Manipur did not like to extend their support to this recruitment rally keeping in view of those previous events beginning with the loss of the Kabaw Valley. McCullock, the Agent then, reported on the 12th February, 1858: "During the last two days the common conversation of the Munniporees has been in a style shewing they would rather have nothing to do with the mutineers; saying that as they (Hindustani rebels) are co-religionist they Manipuri Masses) can meet no harm from them and that all mutineers want is the Sahibs life and why sacrifice lives for the Feerunghees." Hence, by 1857, the animosity felt by the Manipuris towards the British was remarkably high.

To be continued ...

* Dr. Yumkhaibam Shyam Singh (HoD, History Imphal College, Govt, of Manipur) wrote this article for 'Manipur Today' that was published by DIPR Manpur in April 2017
This article was posted on July 13, 2017.

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