Sana Chahi Ahum and the Manipuris in 1857 revolt
- Part 2 -

Yumkhaibam Shyam Singh *

On the real design of the prince in the great revolt, R. Stewart also reported on 20th February, 1858: "It must not be forgotten either that Munnipooris were once the rulers of Cachar (1818 to 1823)…. That this is borne in mind by them was fully revealed to me in the events which have recently taken place.

When the mutineers of the 34th N.I. entered Cachar and their strength and intentions were unknown, the agitation amongst the Munnipoorie population was extreme, and the station (British Headquarters, Cachar) was threatened each day with attack…. Notice of this design came to me so often and from such different quarters that I could not but feel assured of their truth to a certain extent, and the account given by a scout, who was a prisoner in the camp of the mutineers, when the Munnipoorie Prince, Norindrojeet Sing, joined the enemy, amply verifies my apprehension.

This account was to the following effect. That after recruiting themselves at Luckipoor the mutineers joined by the Munnipoorie population who were all prepared to assist, and possibly by the Hindustanie sepoys among our own troops, should return to the station, loot the Treasury and the Magazine, and make themselves master of the country…." Indeed the prince and his party made preparations with the mutineers, and in the morning of the 12 January, 1858, the united rebel force came out of the hills with an objective of exterminating the British Raj from Cachar.

Ultimately, an engagement took place in the morning of the same day against the British at Binnacandy (Cachar). On that battlefield, the rebels under Sana Chahi Ahum were defeated with a loss of seventeen dead, and the prince too had a serious gunshot injury in his instep.

Sana Chahi Ahum then fled along with some mutineers to the territory of Manipur where they were arrested by the army of Manipur.

The latter sent those arrested Chittagong sepoys to the British Camp where they were executed, but the Manipur Army, intending to save the life of Sana Chahi Ahum, brought the prince along and they reached Imphal on 25th January, 1858.

In Manipur, by 1857, the British had not only ceded the Kabo Valley to Burma (1834) but also severed the British connection with the Manipur Levy (1835) thinking that the Burmese would no longer aggress towards the region. This British policy gravely impaired the economy of the Manipuris.

As the revolt spread towards Bengal and when there was a great need of extra forces, the British Government decided to establish a Manipur Regiment in August, 1857. On it, the Bengal Government reported to the Court of Directors (weekly report, 2-8 August, 1857): "It might be easy and expedient through the civil and military authorities in the N-E Frontier and Manipur to raise a very useful body Muneepoorees, and Cacharees for general service." Accordingly, orders were issued to the Political Agent at Manipur and the Commandant, Sylhet Light Infantry Regiment to raise corps each of 1500 Manipuris.

But the people of Manipur, owing to the past bitter experiences, did not join the recruitment rally. Therefore, around 300 men only that too mostly from Cachar joined the regiment. As there was a serious shortage of the British Army, R. Stewart formulated a tactful pan to secure the maximum support of Raja Chandrakirti Singh of Manipur.

He reported: "With so many ambitious Monipooree princes in the country (Cachar) who have their eye upon Monipoor … I think some movement on their part imminent and trust that His Honour will agree with me, and put into my possession the means of arresting (?) it." The Supreme Government then intimated: "The arrangement made by the Superintendent for opposing the Mutineers of the 34th Native Infantry, if they attempt to pass through the District (Cachar) approved."

When the mutineers were joined by Sana Chahi Ahum and his party, on the basis of R. Stewart's intimation, McCulloch expressed to Raja Chandrakirti Singh: "Munniporees who might guide them to this country (Manipur) were with the Mutineers."

On hearing the intelligence, Raja Chandrakirti Singh, without delay, sent 400 Manipuri sepoys under Major Roma Singh to Jiri border.

Hence the Superintendent's tactful plot proved fruitful. But the Agent was not quite confident of the army of Manipur. He reported on 12th February, 1858: "The Raja wished to send more troops towards the boundary, but doubtful of the fidelity of those already there I dissuaded him from doing so."

On the real feeling of the Manipuri masses in the Revolt of 1857, McCulloch also reported on 12th February: "During the last two days the common conversation of the Munniporees has been in a style showing they would rather have nothing to do with the mutineers; saying that as they are co-religionist they can meet no harm from them and that all mutineers want is the Sahibs life and why sacrifice lives for the Ferunghees (the British)."

Therefore, the Manipuri masses and a good number of Manipur Army were bitterly against the British. When the army of Manipur reached Jiri, they came to know that Sana Chahi Ahum's first and the foremost objective of the revolt was to share in the expulsion of the British from India by removing the British Raj from Cachar. Therefore, Major Roma Singh and his party did not like to inflict a great damage upon the Manipuris under Sana Chahi Ahum.

On the other hand, the Major also intended to show something positive to the British. This disposition of Roma Singh could be seen from the report of R. Stewart on the escape of those six Manipuri Princes from Cachar Jail: "Roma Sing the Dewan of the Rajah of Monipoor (Major Roma Singh), then in Cachar, had warned me that on certain day they would all make their escape and join the mutineers, but before I got his warning that certain day had passed …" After the battle of Binnacandy, Sana Chahi Ahum was brought to the capital of Manipur where everybody treated him very well.

Had Sana Chahi Ahum designed seriously for the throne of Manipur, Major Roma Singh, the most faithful officer of Raja Chandrakirti Singh, would have killed him at the time of his arrest. At Imphal, the Agent solicited the Raja to send Sana Chahi Ahum to Cachar for trial. Replying it, Raja Chandrakirti Singh stated (McCulloch's translation): "Although what the Sahib says-send in this brother of yours Narendrajeet Sing- is right, still he is my brother. I apprehend him for having offended against the Sahib-Lok (the British)."

This pertinent statement of the Raja reveals that the revolt under Sana Chahi Ahum was against the British Government in India. Since the Manipuri masses as well as many of the influential courtiers of the kingdom honoured Sana Chahi Ahum, Raja Chandrakirti Singh felt insecure in his position and decided to send the prince for trial to the British authorities in Cachar.

On it, McCulloch reported on 17th April, 1858: "That against the pressing solicitations of his numerous relatives, and of a large party of officers and others in favour of detaining him in the country the Raja ordered Narendrajit Singh to be removed to Cachar for delivery to the officiating Superintendent."

Thus, under a strong escort party, Sana Chahi Ahum was sent to Cachar on 25th April, 1858, for trial under the British authorities. But the Raja, knowing the deep feeling of Manipuri masses towards the prince, expressed to the British Government: "As the British Government has been pleased to approve of my previous conduct I earnestly hope that in consideration for me the British Government even if his fault be found a heavy one may spare his life."

Indeed the Manipuri masses supported the design of Sana Chahi Ahum as they no longer liked the British policy in the region. This Manipuri mind was also reflected in the report of the Agent: "Throughout these proceedings the conduct of the Raja has been most praiseworthy. He and one or two of his officers were the only men in the country who seemed to have interest in what they were doing." Therefore, the disposition of the kingdom of Manipur to the Revolt of 1857 was mainly anti-British.

Reaching Cachar, Sana Chahi Ahum's trial was held. On it, the Secretary, Foreign Department, Govt. of India, reported on 25th June, 1858: "Narendrojeet Sing having been tried under Act No. XIV, of 1857, and having apparently been found guilty of a criminal offence ought not to be treated as a state prisoner … Honourable President in Council agrees with Lieutenant Stewart in thinking that it would be inexpedient to sentence the prisoner capitally. If imprisoned for life, it can only be the transportation beyond seas."

Therefore, Sana Chahi Ahum was transported to the Andamans like other rebel leaders of 1857 Revolt. Analyzing these source materials, it is viewed that the objective of Sana Chahi Ahum in the Revolt of 1857 was to expel the British from India in general and Cachar in particular.

Over and above the statement made by R. Stewart on the prince's objective, one witness at the prince's trial also expressed: "The purpose of Narendrojeet Sing was to take possession of Cachar." In the Kingdom of Manipur, Raja Chandrakirti Singh and some of his courtiers supported the British. For which, the Raja was given a sword and belt and a robe of honour. Longjam Roma singh was rewarded with Mutiny Medal.

Another eight officers namely- Chingakhumba (Pukhranba), Chingakhamba (Dewan), Nepra Selungba, Sawaijamba Selungba, Nundababu (Lairikyengba Hanjaba), Nameirakpa Major, Haojoumacha Major and Gokul Thakur were given Khilluts. But the Manipuri masses and many nobles of Raja Chandrakirti Singh were against the British. This anti-British feeling of the Manipuris escalated gradually and culminated in the Anglo-Manipuri War-1891.


* Yumkhaibam Shyam Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a teacher at Imphal College
This article was webcasted on January 07, 2019.

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