Tikendrajit : The Lion of Manipur
- Part 3 -

Dr. Lokendra Arambam *

13 August - Patriots' Day Drama (Play) at MDU, Imphal :: 13th August 2013
13 August - Patriots' Day Drama (Play) at MDU, Imphal in 2013 :: Pix - Jinendra Maibam

The story of the visit of the Chief Commissioner of Assam along with a military escort and the subsequent developments leading to the massacre of four British officers and the confrontations led to the defeat of the Manipur state is known to one and all. But not much is known about how the native state of Manipur responded to the visit of the British dignitary from Shillong, and the gestures of the officials and military representatives of the Asiatic state towards the visitors reflect the attitude of the traditional Asiatic power towards the foreign dignitary worthy of respect and honour.

A contingent of the Manipur army with seven hundred soldiers under General Thangalwent to Mao in the northern hills to first receive the visiting British dignitary. Later, the Senapati Tikendrajit himself with fifty soldiers met him at North Sekmai. The Commissioner, as head of the military contingent reached the capital, at every nook and corners of the highway, the citizens erected banana plants, with sugarcane and lighted lamps to give blessings to the visitor. The Maharajah Kulachandra who was now king of the land, followed by the palatial officials received the Commissioner with four hundred soldiers with a thirteen gun salute at the western gate of Kangla. The Commissioner was ushered into residence of the Political Agent, at KonthoujamIfam(the present Governor's residence).

The Commissioner ordered the Durbar to be held on that day itself at the Residency of the Political Agent Mr. Grimwood, and the native ruler and his retinue was forced to wait at the gate of residency for hours, since the Government of India's proclamation was to be translated and it took quite long. The military preparations surrounding the residency became an object of suspicion to the native officials, especially Tikendrajit, who sensed the dubious preparations and absented himself from the Durbar, pleading ill-health.

It led to the immediate postponement of the Durbar, since it became clear that the Durbar should be held with Tikendrajit himself to be present. The next day, the 23rd of March, the matter became more complicated since Tikendrajit refused to attend the Durbar. The failure to hold the Durbar, where Tikendrajit was to be arrested, led to Mr. Quinton scheme the attack at the Kanglaat dawn the next day with force of arms which led to the reprisal by the native soldiers and the subsequent tragedies.

New documents that had now become available had revealed that the Chief Commissioner Mr. Quinton was pre-determined to remove Tikendrajit from Manipur, and he was already in consultation with the Government of India, represented by the Viceroy's Council in Simla. The British authorities had been completely informed of the entire history of the political developments in Manipur and the details of the palace revolution in 1890.

Instead of deciding to support the eldest brother Surchandra who requested British help to restore his throne, the Government decided to support the cause of the usurper Kulachandra, and at the same time see to it that Tikendrajit, the real power behind Kulachandra's throne be deported from Manipur elsewhere in India. The logic of the empire was of paramountcy to interfere in matter of succession, and the British interests that had perennially climbed since its conquest of Burma, and an absolute necessity to remove any potential enemies to its hegemony.

Mr. Quinton and the Viceroy's Council had earlier mulled over the necessity to increase the strength of the military garrison posted at Imphal even, and Mr. Quinton was also aware (in his own way) that the Senapati (Tikendrajit), the most popular of the brothers, the present head of the Manipur Army, a man of bold and turbulent character may be expected, when driven to desperation, if he does not openly resist, to use these utmost efforts to stir up disaffection and rebellion. Mr. W.J. Cunningham, the officiating secretary to the Government of India, Foreign Department in his confidential letter to Mr. Quinton on the 21st February, let it be known that "The Governor General in Council considers that it will be desirable that the Senapati should be removed from Manipur and punished for his lawless conduct. I am to enquire where you would recommend that he should be interned, and what steps you consider necessary for carrying out his removal without affording him the chance, which his position as head of the Manipur forces might possibly given him, of making any forcible opposition" (Fort William No. 360 E.).

The stealthy raid to the sacred capital, the unprovoked violence to women, children and ethnic residents in the night of the 23rd March 1891, and the hand to hand combats with the attacking soldiers, the devastation and fire to households, death to ethnic citizens and Brahmins and the burning of property and loss of lives to both sides were indeed an unpardonable crime perpetrated by the alien power to a historically trusted friend and ally.

The so-called ceasefire and attempt at negotiation after the violence of the whole day of the 24th failed because of the refusal by the British authorities to surrender their arms, as demanded by Tikendrajit. The tense night witnessed the arousal of the masses affected by the provocation and those citizens earlier who had lost their near and dear ones, those who had nursed silent grievances against British officers for misbehaving with their daughters, rose in one fell swoop and punished those perpetrators of the crime. In the eyes of the indigenous patriots, the attackers on the sacred capital of the land had perpetrated an unpardonable crime, and the capital punishments was deserved, sanctioned by tradition.

In the reckoning of the powerful empire, the murder of the four British officers was a severe insult to the might and prestige of the Victorian Empire.The Asiatic state was attacked from three sides. The warriors of Manipur, aware of their inferiority of arms and superiority of the enemy in technical aspects of warfare, retreated from the three mountain strongholds, but finally made a resolute stand at the fields of Khongjom, some 22 miles at the south of the capital, and from 8 am till 5 pm engaged in hand to hand combat, swords and shields against bayonets and cannon ball fire and the river Khongjom ran with blood! The Gurkha regiments who fought with the Manipur army later recognized that the Khongjom battle was one of the hardest and toughest they had ever fought for the prestige of the British Empire.

As for Tikendrajit, for his personal leadership in the conduct of the war, in his heart of the hearts, must have felt it as an avoidable engagement. He saw to it that Mrs. Grimwood, in her flight to Silchar was not pursued by the Manipur army. He saw to it that those who had been captured in the early confrontation should no longer be kept in prison. Those fifty one soldiers who had been imprisoned due to the Quinton attack on the sacred capital were released and given rupees five each for their expenses on the way back.

When the war became unavoidable, appropriate measures were taken for all defence in the three hill routes, yet attempts were made to have negotiations at the Thoubal battle in early April. But it was impracticable. The disaster at Khongjom in late April which was the last resistance, led to the final decision to leave the capital. There was a serious discussion whether YubarajTikendrajit should lead a final confrontation, but realistic appraisal felt it was better for the prince to think of a resistance seeking the support of a foreign power i.e. China.

The prince along with the Maharajah and some fifty armed men left the capital on horseback on the 26th April, and attempt to reach the Chassad region in the northeast where the Kuki friends of the state awaited. Unfortunately, the help of the Kuki chieftain Tonghu, at Chassad could not succeed, since the British forces had sealed all routes, since Burma had earlier been conquered. Tikendrajit, his brother king and the group returned in hiding, each on their own.

He was later in May arrested from the home of his mother's elder sister and it was a Manipuri Subedar, Khelendra of the Konthoujam family, who was himself a distant relative from the line of prince Nar Singh, a colleague of Tikendrajit's grandfather Gambhir Singh, the heroes of the Manipur freedom struggle against the Burmese was of 1824-26. It was secretly rumoured that the prince Tikendrajit let himself be arrested by none other than a Manipuri soldier from the Surma valley military police, who had accompanied the British invading force from Silchar, under Lieutenant Col. R.H.F. Rennick, the Commander of the Silchar Column, who reached Imphal and entered the capital Kangla on the 27th April, 1891.

A Dark Page in 'Indian' History

After the occupation of the sacred capital, the British forces organized a systematic destruction of the legacies of the kingdom. The sacred caves of the ancestral serpent dragon were filled up with sand and clay. The brick lion figures at the gate of the Kangla Uttra were blasted with dynamite. The space of the female deity of Nungoibi where human and animal sacrifices were held was also blasted. The brick walls surrounding the capital site were destroyed. The occupying army started looting the villages for forcing the collection of paddy.

The citizen representatives of the four territorial divisions (Pana) were forced through whip-lasses to carry salt and flour for the occupying forces beyond the frontiers of the state. The domestic animals under the former care of the princes, namely the elephants, horses, cows and buffaloes were sold in auction and were purchased by British Indian subjects and traders. The ancestral properties in land and private homesteads of the princes were confiscated. Fisheries were leased out and there was a period of artificial famine when salt, fish and grains were not available. Thefts and burglaries abounded.

The heroes of the Manipur war were tried summarily through a military court manned by British military and civil officials and British Indian laws were enforced on the conduct of the trial and systematic hangings till death for the murder of the British officials were meted out to direct perpetrators and those who abetted the murders. A British Indian Subedar named Niranjan, who sympathized with the Manipur cause was hanged. A native ethnic called ChiraiThangal from the northern hills who massacred two British telegraph officials was also hanged. So also a patriot from the village of Kangmong speared the Political Agent Mr. Grimwood to death. PukhrambaKajao, his charmed spear is still worshipped in secret in his native village.

As regards the trial of the more important leaders of the struggle, namely the Yubaraj Tikendrajit, the octogenarian Thangal General, the king Kullachandra and other princes and higher officials, the entire conduct of the trial and punishments were severely criticized by later scholars, lawyers and historians. To cite a few; John Parratt and Saroj Nalini Parrat, in their study of Queen Empress Vs Tikendrajit Prince of Manipur : The Anglo Manipur Conflict of 1891 (1992), revealed that the special court was in no way a court established on the basis of British law in India, nor were the procedures of the British law followed. None of the prisoners were represented by counsellor by anyone at all familiar with the law. Indeed the request of Tikendrajit to call a defence counsel from Cachar were peremptorily rejected.

Furthermore, each of the accused was subjected to a cross-examination of a kind wholly at variance with normal legal practice. Again, the trials were conducted in three languages English, Manipuri and Urdu, and the records were kept only in English. In the case of the Manipuri witnesses for the prosecution, each witness was allowed to state his evidence, speaking for two or three minutes at a time, and it was then translated in summary into Urdu. The quality of the translation was poor, and was several times corrected by the trader, and on occasion, even the President of the court himself found fault with the Urdu interpreter.

To be continued....

* Dr. Lokendra Arambam wrote this article which was published at Imphal Times
This article was posted on 26 August, 2018 .

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