The Martyrdom of Tikendrajit Bir Singh & Thangal General
- Part 4 -

By Lt Col (Retd) M Ranjit Singh *

The authentic news of the killing of five British officers were received by the Government of India during First week of April 1891. To avenge the defeat and also to effectually restore prestige, throughout British India, the British dispatched a force known as Manipur Fieid Force to Manipur from three directions. The Force was commanded by General H Collet. The rough estimate of the British strength would be around 100 officers and 9000 troops with 10 Artillery Guns.

Needless to say, Manipuris were defeated on 27th April 1891. The Manipuris gave their toughest fight at Khongjom. The details of various battles have not been covered in this article. Exhaustive details of the battles are, however, available in the Regimental History books of all the, units which took part in the Campaign and various dispatches made by many officers connected with the war now are available as official records.

History books of 4 Gurkha Rifles (volume 1), 6 Gurkha Rifles (Known as 42 Goorkha during Manipur Expedition and now with the British Army), 8 Gurkha Rifles (then 43 & 44 Goorkha), 2 Gurkha Rifles (now with the British Army), 3 Punjab (then 12 Madras Infantry) and Royal Artillery have large coverage on Manipur expedition.

The war between Manipur and the British lasted less than seven days duration. The intensity of the War could be well gauged from the generous gallantry awards dished out by the Government of India during the campaign. A Victoria Cross was awarded to Lt CJW Grant and all sepoys numbered more than forty who fought along with him at Thoubal and later on at Khongjom were awarded Indian Order of Merit Class Three. The Indian Order of Merit Class Three is somewhat analogous to present Vir Chakra.

The British with its superior force available with them knew Manipur will be defeated in due course. Therefore, as early as 22 March 1891, they have started collecting intelligence regarding instigators of the attack on Chief Commissioner's party. All their sources pointed fingers towards Tikendrajit.

The British also knew that persons involved in the attack and killing of British officers will try to run away from Manipur. So on 11 April 1391, they announced a reward of Rs 5000 each for apprehension of Maharaja Kulachandra and Tikendrajit and Rs 2000 for minor members of Royal family and other leading officials implicated in the killing.

The descriptions given for Takendrajit and Thangal General in the proclamation were as under:

Tikendrajit: Age - 32 years, taller than Maharaja Kulachandra, stoutish, very strong built, small moustache and whiskers, one of his two front teeth slightly broken
Thangal General: Very old, about 80 years of age, fair complexion, short and stoutish, hair quite white, very much bent
On 14 April 1891, the Government of India issued a general directive to General Collet which was to be followed after the defeat of Manipur. Some of the salient points of the directive are as under:
  1. He will exercise supreme authority throughout Manipur until further orders from the Government of India.
  2. He will not inflict the penalty of death upon persons other than those guilty of murder or having acted as leaders of revolt. Indiscriminate punishment of the rank and file was to be avoided (Probably not to repeat the mass execution followed immediately after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny)
  3. He was to adopt the following procedures for punishment of offenders:
    (a) Any persons suspected of murder or leaders of revolt should be placed their trial before Political Officer, to whom the power for passing capital punishment was given subject to confirmation by him,
    (b) In the case of royal members^ their trial was to be conducted by a Court consisting of three officers, including at least one Political Officer, their sentences subject to confirmation by the Government of India,
  4. The punishment of convicted offenders was to be public and striking and should be completed as early as possible.
  5. He may demolish the Palace building or a portion of them after taking care, that-any sacred objects are respected.
The two Kangla Sha in front of which five British Officers were beheaded, were blasted on 29th & 30fh April 1891 by Capt RF Allen and Lt PH Du Casgarin, both of Royal Engineers. The first breakthrough in identification of persons involved in killing of British Officers came on 3rd May 1891 when Chongtha Mia Major after apprehension by a Burmese Magistrate Moung Bah Hlaing, an Assistant to Mr Soppit, the Political Officer in the Tamu column, was sent by General Graham.

Through him, the identity of the actual murderer of Mr Grimwood, Kajao was established. The Pioneer of Friday the May 8th, 1891 described Chongtha Mia as "a most brutal and repulsive looking scoundrel, and is sullenly defiant in spite of a bullet wound through his left shoulder, another in his left arm, a third in the right leg and severe one in the back. He is able to crawl about with difficulty and except for his lameness, his strength seems unimpaired."

After this the Manipuris involved in the killing of five British officers were routinely apprehended by the British and their trial commenced under Major Maxwell. By then the identities of eight persons who guarded the British officers before their execution were identified and apprehended and tried except for Wena (Oinam Sajou Singh bf Oinam Thingel).

It is probable that he may have turned approved as his statement was found recorded in the Inquiry conducted by Major Maxwell, but was not tried along with other sentries. Earlier Maharaja Kulachandra and Tikendrajit ran away on 26th April 1891 towards Ukhrul. They however came back from Pushing. Thangal General surrendered on 7th May 1891. Maharaja Kulachandra surrendered through Subedar (retd) Partho Singh of Garo Hills Military Police Bn on 8th May 1891.

Tikendrajit was later apprehended by Subedar Khalendra Singh of Surma Valley Military Police (now 2nd Assam Rifles) on 23rd May 1891 from the house of Balram Singh of Singjamei. Viceroy was very happy on learning the news of arrest of Tikendrajit and sent a congratulatory telegram to Maxwell at the same time warning him not to allow Tikendrajit to commit suicide.

The first trial of Manipuri personnel after their defeat started on 5th May 1891 against Chongtha Mia and Niranjan Subedar. They were tried by Major H St P Maxwell, the Political Officer in the Silchar Column. Initially the trial was to be conducted by Mr Soppit, the Political Officer in the Tamu column. At the last moment Major Maxwell replaced him in view of Soppit's eternal drunkenness.

Major Maxwell initially commissioned in 106 Fusiliers Regiment on February 6th 1869 was DC at Silchar when Manipur Field Force was formed. He is a Manipuri language qualified officer. He later became Political Agent in Manipur. Maxwell already a married man also kept a Manipuri woman as his wife during his stay in Manipur. Interestingly the Manipuri woman was also a married lady - who ran away from her husband. The second trial conducted by Maxwell was against the Guard Commander, seven sentries and two executioners and it commenced on 12th May 1891. Simultaneously other trials were also conducted by him.

To be continued.....

* Lt Col (Retd) M Ranjit Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This was webcasted on December 06, 2008.

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