Significance of the Anglo-Kuki war 1917-1919 AD
- Part 2 -

Dr. D. Letkhojam Haokip *

98th Anniversary of Anglo-Kuki war at Kuki Inn, Imphal :: 19 December 2015
98th Anniversary of Anglo-Kuki war at Kuki Inn, Imphal on 19 December 2015 :: Pix - DIPR

The situation turned from bad to worse. Fear Psychosis, tensions, rumors and nervousness shook the valley and also the hilly regions. Anarchy that developed in Manipur was now extended to the Naga Hills, in the North, North Cachar Hills in the North west, Lushai Hills in the South and South West, Chin Hills and Chindwind valley in Myanmar and the Somra tracts in the North east of Manipur.12 The development of anarchy almost in the entire north East India compelled the British Government to hand over the Administration from the civil authority to the Army to curtail the Kukis who defended the Independence that they had.

The Army took over the war on November 7, 1918 with 5400 combatant force both from India and Myanmar, following the meeting of the chief Commissioner of Assam, Colonel Shakespeare and the commander-in -chief of the British Indian Army in June 1918 at Shimla.13 The combined force of two countries, British India and British Burma (now Myanmar), after modification and transferring powers and administration to the Army revised their mighty campaign against the Kukis from November 25, 1918. With this the war entered the second phase. The formation of the British Army area wise much resembled that of the Kuki strategy during the second phase.

By deploying various ranks of military officers not below the rank of 2nd lieutenant numbering 118 in Manipur and Myanmar, who commanded five thousand four hundred troops, crushed the Kuki movement for independence within a short time. The mighty military campaign against the Kuki came to an end on 20 May 1919 after the subjugation of the Kuki.

Therefore, following the Great Anglo-Kuki War, the hill people who were independent were for the first time brought under the intensive political and administrative control of the imperial power.

Perhaps, during the military campaign under the civil administration, the British had underestimated the war strategy of the Kuki causing several casualties, death and shame in the hands of the Kuki whom they thought as barbaric and uncivilized. Yet, they came to know how the Kuki chiefs could command, lead and protect their people since time immemorial.

The search to identify the head clans of the Kuki remind us how the British admired and respected the Kuki traditions, the base of their chieftainship. Based on the sources available so far we are certain that the Great Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919 AD was the greatest war directed against the British colonialism, in the North-East India, whose epicentre was rooted in Manipur’s Hilly regions. We are certain today that the war was part of the great Indian National movement and partly it was a part of First World War. According to Sir Robert Reid, “The most serious in the history of Manipur…”14.

And to DK Palit the war broke out due to the influence of the Bengali Nationalists. “Mention has been made earlier that the Kukis had been encouraged by emissaries from Bengali Nationalists in Assam…”15 According to H.K. Borpujari “… the German spies had a secret hand in fomenting the war…and that the Kukis were under the influence of the activists of the revolutionaries of Bengal.16

The war exposed to the world how the hilly regions of Manipur in particular and other areas in general were much neglected by the government. One can see that the annual expenditure of the hill areas was below 18,000, eighteen thousand, which is about a quarter of the house tax paid by the tribal of Manipur.

In fact, the war broke out and peoples of past and the present share the negative and positive aspects of the war. Here we are concerned more about the significance of it. The War had brought drastic changes in the colonial history and post colonial history of Manipur in the form of administrative reforms besides many others.

The most significant result of the War was the overall reorganization of the administration and the kind of concession made to the state, Manipur. After the war, Cosgrave, political Agent of Manipur, wanted to put the hill administration exclusively under his office. But the chief commissioner of Assam thought it to be too drastic, and proposed to put under the personal management of the Maharaja, who was guided by the political agent. He suggested for “reconstruction”.

His scheme of reconstruction to improve the Government and Hill people relations was accepted by the Government of India.17 Accordingly under the new scheme, three new Subdivisions were formed.18 Each subdivision was under the charge of a European Sub divisional officer who was directly accountable to the president of the Durbar. These officers were appointed from the Association of Provincial Civil Service whose designations were equal to that of Sub-Divisional magistrate, who were first class magistrate under the Indian Criminal procedure code, 1898.19 Once appointed they were entitled to receive similar allowances, provided the total pay and allowances did not exceed Rs.800/- per month.20

Accordingly the South- west area with headquarters at Songpi, later changed to Churachandpur after the name of Maharaja Churachand Singh was placed under BC Gasper’s charge. For the Tamenglong Subdivision or the northwest area with temporary headquarter at Tamenglong itself, William Shaw was appointed and for the north east area, with headquarter at Ukhrul, L.L. Peter was appointed.

To implement the new administration-scheme the following concessions were made to Manipur so that the durbar could meet the increased cost to run hilly region not covered under the Headquarter, Imphal. Some scholars and the Kukis feel that these concessions were granted for the loyalty shown by the durbar and the ruler to the British. However, the following measures had been adopted.

I)That the annual installment of Rs. 60,000 towards the liquidations of the loan of Rs.2,75,000 granted to the state in 1917 was reduced to 30,000

II)That the annual tribute of Rs. 50,000 payable by the durbar was reduced to 5000 only from the current financial year.

III)The state Manipur was relieved from the contribution of Rs. 30,000 per annum towards the maintenance of Mao Imphal Road.

In addition to these concessions separate budget for the hilly region was introduce for the first time in Manipur by the local authorities. The legacy of the Anglo-Kuki results can be still felt in the Manipur State Assembly, in the form of setting up of Hill Area Committee, headed by a Chairman, not below the rank of Cabinet. Its historical significance lies in the fact that it established strong and valuable local custom and tradition of resistance to the British.

The British learned the social structure of the Kuki’s, which was based on the clans and kinship. The importance, power and position that the Kuki chief, had enjoyed by this time gave an ample room to the British to split and divide the Kuki society along the line of genealogy, based on clans thereby causing confusion over the head clan. It also consolidated the Kuki traditional chieftainship by issuing land rights to the chief. It is now difficult to up root them from the society by modern government. The Manipur legislative Assembly had passed chief-ship acquisition Acts but they are still not effective.21

The war had both negative and positive impact among the people of Manipur. Negative impacts were much on the Kuki community and positive impacts go to the general population, particularly who have shown loyalty to the British during the war. It shattered the Kuki society into pieces, disintegrating and fragmenting them to the extent that they never come together as they did during and before the war. It germinated spirit of nationalism to the people of Manipur.

We are also certain that the kind of administrative reforms that the British had introduced did not satisfy the people of Manipur in general and the Hill population in particular. The tribal’s unsatisfactory upon the colonial regime came to light again in the form of Kabui rebellion, the Nupilal and also during the Second World War again, when many people from Manipur join INA and fought the British once again. This time more determined to drive out the perpetrators of crime against the community of Manipur.

Despite all the sufferings said and unsaid, the Great Anglo-Kuki War of 1917-1919 laid the foundation for fighting the colonial administration in Manipur in the form of armed struggle. We feel the core value of the Great Anglo-Kuki War should be focused on the younger generation for political posterity of the next generation. It will not be possible to hide away its significance in the age of information technology and also when the world is moving toward a global village.

The great Anglo-Kuki war was purely anti-Imperialism, defending their political rights- independently. This war has also reflected how the Kukis were very advanced in technology at least in making gun powder and some sophisticated weapons. It lays the foundation in the history of arm struggle against the British.

But one of the saddest parts of the movement was that, no man came forward or shared sufferings of the prisoners during this time many of whom were humiliated, brutalized and consequently killed by the British. The significance of the Kuki war will keep beaconing the youth for greater and yet greater sacrifice for the Kuki nationality.


* Dr. D. Letkhojam Haokip wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is at Assistant Professor, Department of History, Gauhati University
This article was posted on December 25, 2016.

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