E-Pao! Manipur - Role of Thangal General in anti-British movement

Role of Thangal General in anti-British movement

By: GP Singh *

The tribals of India, including those of the north-east, played notable role not only in the repulsion of the Muslims but also in the liberation of the country from the British colonial rule. They raised a banner of revolt not only against the Muslim rule but also against the British rule in India.

The veil of mystery befalling some of the phases of anti-Muslim and anti-British tribal movements in India is yet to be lifted. The roles played by the tribal people of north-east India in particular in frustrating the attempt of the Muslims to establish their rule and that of the British to consolidate their imperial authority in the north-east have not been highlighted either in the tribal history of India or in the medieval and modern history of India to the extent it deserves.

The year 1857 was admittedly a landmark in the history of anti-British movement in India. The movement began in 1857 as a Mutiny as the sepoys (native soldiers to the British service) ignited its spark that blazed up into conflagration. In its second phase it turned into a Revolt and in the third and final phase it assumed the character of a national movement also called first Indian war of Independence.

The flames of 1857 movement spread to different parts of India including the north-east (Assam, including the Khasi-Jaintia Hills of present Meg- halaya and North Cachar Hills, and Manipur, both valley and hills). Volcanos were also burning beneath the north-eastern region and the people were waiting for a moment when its smouldering fires would burst into devastating flames.

The events that took place in 1857 in different parts of India kindled the spark of patriotism in the heart of Thangal General (a Thangal Naga tribe of Manipur) too and he joined the movement. He was one of the 34th Native Infantry Mutineers who mutinied at Chittagong on 18th November 1857 against the British Raj.

These Mutineers after burning their lines, breaking open the jail and releasing the prisoners, and plundering the treasury marched through the jungles of HiII-Tipperah and reached Sylhet, and Cachar where three Manipuri princes were arrested for entertaining hostile design towards the British and sent to Alipur Jail.

At Latu in South Cachar, the rebels numbering about 200 came up soon afterward and in fierce fighting that ensued they killed Major Byang of Sylhet Light Infantry. Twenty-six of the rebels were also killed. Few days later they were attacked by Sylhet Light Infantry under Lt. Ross.

They together with some Manipuri princes headed for Mani- pur which also felt the impact of the movement. They were repeatedly attacked by regular troops. Only three or four escaped death or capture. Thangal General was one of those who escaped and thereafter took service in the royal court of Manipur state.

The above statements are evidenced mainly by the Proceedings of the Govt of India, Home & Foreign Deptt 1858-59, Volume of Letters from Govt. of Bengal, Foreign Deptt, Fort William proceedings of the Home Deptt 1857, Reports of British Officials, Official correspondence and Secret deliberations letters of 1857, and other Official Records and Documents relating to 1857 preserved in some of the north-eastern states archives, West Bengal Archives, Calcutta, and National Archives of India, New Delhi, and History of the Assam Rifles (one of the monumental works) by LW Shakespeare.

There is also an incidental notice of repercussion of 1857 Revolt in some parts of north-east India in Notes on the Thadou Kukis, by William Shaw. The author while touching upon the role of the Kukis in the said Revolt unequivocally states: “Indian troops mutinied in Sylhet and Cachar and after killing their officers gathered together and reached Manipur” It is, however, a supplemental evidence.

The role played by the populace and potentates of Assam and Manipur in anti-British Revolt of 1857 is still a unrecorded part of the chapter on the said Revolt in modern history of India. After an interregnum of over three decades Thangal General rose to prominence.

It is worthy to note that the British made persistent efforts to keep Manipur as Subordinate Native State by availing the chance of intervening in the so-called palatial revolution over the issue of royal succession after establishing the first contact with the royal house in 1762.

Thangal soon realised the power of the British Govt and after resolving to resist them to the utmost played an active part in executing the British officials and fought up to the last drape of his blood for driving the British out of Manipur to retain its freedom. He played glorious role in the war of 1890-91 for the independence of Manipur from the British rule.

He left no stone unturned in throwing off the yoke of the servitude of the British from the neck of that princely state. Nearly thirty thousand people, including several Nagas predominantly the Tangkhuls and Thangals, took part in the uprising of 1891 as is evident from the imperial records.

Thangal General along with Manipuri princes and nine other accused was tried and sentenced to death. He and Tikendrajit were publicly hanged on August 13, 1891 amid the heart rending cries of thousands of men and women.

Captain Hearsey observed: “... the trial of the accused princes has been one of the most outrageous farces and parodies of justice that have never yet been exhibited to the Indian nation.”

It is, however, undeniable that Thangal became a martyr in defence of a noble cause. He laid down his life not only for the independence of Manipur but also India. His name is well recorded in the modern history of Manipur but he is yet to adorn the pages of the history of modern India.

Thangal General had a chequered career. He was a multifaceted personality. He combined in himself the qualities of a great warrior and a true patriot.

He was a man of undaunted courage, unwavering conviction and unflinching faith. During the period 1857-1891 he shone forth as one of the brightest stars in the political firmament of Manipur.

He reached the height of his glory in 1891. His catholicity and sagacity attracted the mass.

His martyrdom may be regarded as an addition to the examples of sacrifice set by other revolutionary leaders of north east India during the period under notice. He occupies a distinguished place in the annals of the Naga tribes of Manipur.

His name stands in the galaxy of freedom fighters of Manipur.

He shall be remembered for ages to come as one of the illustrious sons of Manipur.

Related Article on Thangal General

GP Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on October 16th, 2006

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