TODAY -

The Martyrdom of Tikendrajit Bir Singh & Thangal General
- Part 5 -

By Lt Col (Retd) M Ranjit Singh *

Government of India in the meantime issued another instruction to General Collet on 14th May 1891 to refer all cases of capital sentences as Manipur had fallen without resistance and all has been quiet and there wasvno necessity for immediate execution. The Political Officer, General Collet, and most of the Viceroy's Council members wanted to give death sentence to all Manipuris who participated in the war or associated in the killing of five British officers. This view was strongly rejected by Sir AE Miller, the Law Member.

According to him if any accused were the actual murderers of Quinton or Grimwood, and it were shown that he merely carried out the order of the Regent or of someone whom he was bound to obey, he ought not to be treated otherwise than as soldiers, who obeyed the illegal orders of their duly appointed officer. He was unwilling to allow anyone to be executed unless it could be said in England that case of the accused had been dispassionately examined by the Government of India, and that they were satisfied, not only of his guilt, but of the absence of any reasonable ground of extenuation or palliation therefore.

Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy during the disaster of British in Manipur, unlike his predecessors, was from a humble origin. He wanted to retire with dignity and settle quietly somewhere in Canada after his tenure as Viceroy. But with the catastrophe in Manipur, his desire of retiring with dignity no longer existed.

There would always be the stigma of the loss of six British officers and defeat of large British forces in the hands of tiny Manipur when he was Viceroy of India. The cause of this happening, according to him was Tikendrajit. He was therefore bent upon exterminating Tikendrajit from the beginning.

On 28 May 1891, after the arrest of Tikendrajit, Viceroy sent a telegram to Secretary of State in London to press for capital punishments to all involved in killing of British Officers. The reason given for above recommendation was that no Native State has capital jurisdiction over European subjects.

To press home his point further, the Viceroy sent an other telegram to Secretary of State on 5th June 1891 emphasising the followings:-
1. It is an essential principle that, if a Subordinate Native State resists Her Majesty's troop, such resistance is not war but rebellion, and any person concerned in such rebellion is liable to penalty of death.

2. The slaughter of English officers by the subjects of Native State cannot be justified on the ground that the act was committed under orders from the State authorities. No Native State in India has jurisdiction over European British subjects, except such as, is permitted by the British Government and this never extends to powers of life and death. The slaughter of English officers by the authorities of a Native State must therefore in all cases be regarded as murder. In case of subordinates, the orders of the State authorities would no doubt be re garded as an extenuating circumstance, but the offence is murder.

3. The Courts by which offenders are now being tried in Manipur are not military tribunals. Ordinary offenders are tried by one of two specially selected Political Officers, who, as Deputy Commissioner on Assam frontier, have had power of passing capital sentences subject to confirmation by Chief Commissioner. Their sentences are now subject to confirmation by General Collet, and are not executed until after report to Government of India. In case of ruling family Court consists of three officers, one of whom must be one of the Deputy Commissioners mentioned above. Their sentences are subject to confirmation by Government of India. It may be added that Regent of his own accord expressed his willingness to be judged by a Commission of British officers.

Before proceeding on the details of the trial of Thangal General and Tikendrajit, let's learn a little bit on the life of Thangal General, who in his statement, described himself as Thangal General, aged 85 years and son of Khetri Singh of Angom Leikai. Captain EW Dun in his book Gazetteer of Manipur described him as by birth of a low caste and a descended of Bengali goldsmiths.

Few Naga tribes also claimed him to belong to their tribes. Certain enterprising British officers initially thought him to be famed Tantia Tope of 1857. All the British officers who had a degree of association with him however described him as the most powerful officials in Manipur.

Any proposal not approved by him cannot just start in Manipur, they say... All the Naga tribes treat him with reverential wonder or fear. His most famous order against any Headman or Village Authority who wilfully disobeyed the order of king used to be "Saf Karon" meaning to cleanse the entire village and used to ensure that his order was carried out in totality.

Mr Grimwood in 1889 described him as one person who upholds what he considers to be the rights of Manipur but a most pleasant and courteous gentleman to discuss matters with him. He has always been the medium of communication between the king and the Political Agent and for his age he was physically a tough person.

Maxwell conducted the trial of Thangal General under the authority of general directive issued earlier by the Government of India on 14th April 1891. The trial of Thangal General commenced on 22nd May 1891. The statements of three prosecution witnesses were taken on the first day itself. The statement of the fourth prosecution witness was taken on 25th May 1891.

Thereafter, Thangal General was charged on two counts. The first charge was for waging War against the Queen and the second charge was for the murder of five British Officers. Thangal General gave a statement at the conclusion of the hearing of charges.

On 27th May additional statement of two more prosecution witnesses were taken. The statements of three defence witnesses were taken on 28th May. The judgment and sentence were announced on 1st June1891. The sentence was death by hanging. On the same day, the sentence was confirmed by General Collet.

The recording of statements of the witnesses must have been a difficult task for all concerned. It must be remembered that none of the witnesses knew either English or Hindustani. Maxwell himself was not fluent in Manipuri language except for the little knowledge gained during Manipuri language course. It is, therefore, anybody's guess on the integrity of the trial conducted by Maxwell to record the statement in English, the statement made by the witness in Manipuri has to be translated into Hindustani.

The statement now in Hindustani has again to be translated into English. Before obtaining the signatures of the witness in the statement, the statement has again to be translated into Manipuri via Hindustani. The point to be noted, is that it takes time to complete all these formalities and Maxwell, already busy in the preparation for trials of Tikendrajit and Maharaja Kulachandra could not have done full justice in the trial.

To be continued.....




* Lt Col (Retd) M Ranjit Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This was webcasted on December 16, 2008.

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