Indo-Japanese Soldiers In The Khuga Valley Of Churachandpur, April to August, 1944

Prof Lal Dena *

Cycle rally marks World TB Day observance on March 24 2014
A poster from the short film 'IMPHAL 1944'
Pix Courtesy : Junichi Kajioka

Indo-Japanese forces entered the Khuga valley of Churachandpur in Manipur and stayed for five months during Second World War beginning from April 7 to August 29, 1944. Much has been written about their military encounters and battles at Imphal, Ukhrul, Kohima and elsewhere. A comparatively less known yet equally important historical theme is the untold story of the Indo-Japanese occupation of the Khuga valley and the nature of the local people's response to it.

Well aware of the rapid penetration of Indo-Japanese forces deep into Indian soil on the eastern side of Manipur bordering Burma, the local officials hurriedly convened an emergency meeting with the tribal chiefs of Churachandpur at Gangpimuol near old Churachandpur mission headquarters in March 1944. In this meeting, it was decided that all the civilian population residing within the radius of about seven kilometers from Tiddim road should immediately be shifted en masse to Guwahati and some other places in the Brahmaputra valley of Assam.

The American missionary, Rev. Paul Rostad, and his family, had already evacuated the mission compound leaving behind a typewriter, harmonium and many other precious belongings and gone to Nainital, U.P. But a majority of the tribal people fled to the interior parts of south-west Manipur and Mizo hills. Perhaps, not because of their bravery, but because of their equanimity and ignorance, some tribal chiefs and their villagers decided to stay on to face any possible consequences that might come.

Coming of Indo-Japanese Soldiers:

As anticipated, just after morning meal on April 4, 1944, four Japanese soldiers in civil dress suddenly intruded into Saikot village (Churachandpur), enquiring where the village soncho (chief) was. They forcibly whisked away Kawlvelthang, then chief of Saikot, to an unknown destination. No one expected that Kawlvelthang to come back alive. On his return late in the night, he reported that he had been taken to such places as Saidan peak, Kaprang, Bijang, Gangpimuol and other places in and around Churachandpur town which had recently been evacuated.

Three days later, on April 7, hundreds of Indo-Japanese soldiers, their faces covered with branches of green leaves, suddenly streamed down from the deep jungle of Lentlang ranges into the Khuga valley and then encamped in several places with Saikot as their headquarters. Zema Hmar, son of Kawlvelthang, said that the commander of the Saikot camp was Bujia Musta Hasbe who was a very good and kind-hearted man with whom he later on became close friends.

Soon they constructed an observatory post at the Saidan peak from where they could have a good view of the Imphal valley. Below the peak was the Saidan village which had already been evacuated earlier.

Behavior of Indo-Japanese Soldiers:

The immediate problem for the Indo-Japanese leaders was how to get the support and confidence of the local people. For the people, supporting the Indo-Japanese soldiers meant being an enemy of the British and vice versa. To get local support, the Japanese commanders initially adopted two methods-intimidation and friendship. To prove that they meant business, they captured nine local men who had gone to Bijang village (now district headquarters) to enquire about their abandoned properties there on mere suspicion.

Of the nine, three persons miraculously escaped; but the rest were tied against standing trees near the village and were all shot dead. On another occasion, a patrolling party caught two chiefs but released them on the promise of regular supply of arum (sato imo in Japanese) at least twice a week.

Response of the Local People:

The Japanese conversed with the local people through the Gurkhali sepoys serving with the Indian National Army (INA). Later on, (late) Vungthanga, (retired head clerk, Lamka College, Churachandpur) was caught and forcibly used as the official interpreter for four months till his escape to Silchar in July 1944. Vungthanga practically lived and stayed in the army camps and his main duty was to make known the orders of Japanese officers for requisitioning ration in the form of rice, arum and chicken to the chiefs within the occupied areas.

A week after their settlement, commander Hasbe opened a school at Saikot where common Japanese vocabularies were taught. It was compulsory for those attending the school to memorize the Japanese national anthem. Some of those who attended the school remember the anthem as (as retold by (late) Zema who succeeded his father Kawlvelthang as chief of Saikawt):

Aronga Khitah,
Aronga Khitah,
Kokhoni Khitah:
Jammani Khitah
Nanimo Khitah

But, because of frequent bombings on Churachandpur town and its surroundings not less than two times everyday, the school could not be continued for long. At the same time the Japanese commanders were aware of the fact that some local people were acting as informers of British army intelligence. One evening, the Japanese patrolling party shot dead three British sepoys who probably came from Sugnu, within a few kilometers from the eastern side of the Khuga valley. Again, indiscriminate bombings on Churachandpur, Gangpimuol and the hills surrounding Saikawt village continued unabated.

Unable to get continuous supply by air, the Japanese and INA personnel had to depend more and more on the ration and livestock of the local people. An eye-witness account maintains that all the male folk and young women in the occupied villages were engaged in pounding rice day and night to feed the soldiers. At other times, the male folk also served as coolies and porters carrying ration and ammunition to different camps.

Zathuoi, who was a volunteer, also testified that he and his two friends one day carried a wounded Japanese soldier whose leg was completely torn asunder just below his knee, from the Saidan peak to the Saikot camp. Deeply impressed by his forbearance, Zathuoi further stated that not even once did the soldier groan.

Surprisingly some of the occupying soldiers were Christians. According to Zema, one Sunday evening in the month of August 1944, thirteen Japanese soldiers not only joined the Church service, but also presented a Christian hymn led by one soldier called Nihei Khome and the second stanza of the hymn in English runs thus;

How sweet the tie of hallowed love,
That binds our heart in one;
We gathered on the blessed name
Of Christ, the Father's Son,
And though the parting soon may come;
Yet in His word is given,
The blessed hope that by and by;
We all shall meet in heav'n.
We all shall meet in heav'n

What a befitting hymn! Zema nostalgically recalls, "We knew the hymn and its tune. As they were singing the hymn, tears were rolling down our cheeks." Rev. (late) Lerthansung, a well-known pastor in the United Pentecostal Church in North East India, who happened to preach at the Kyoto United Pentecostal Church on one of his visits to Japan, met an old man after the church service who apologetically said, "Reverend, I have been to Imphal, Jessami, Shangshak (Ukhrul) Kohima, Churachandpur and Saikawt. I still have maps of the places I visited with some photos of the people. We ate a lot of arum at Churachandpur and Saikawt, you know. But we caused a lot of harm to you people. Please forgive us." At this, Rev. Lerthansung replied "The British officials told us that you are our enemy. But when we see your faces, we realize that we are one and brothers."


Things rapidly turned against the Indo-Japanese army in Manipur. To make matters worse, many of them started suffering from malaria and dysentry. This told heavily upon their morale. As they had sung in the church service, the time for parting soon came. One of the top-ranking INA commanders came and met Kawlvelthang one evening and thanked him profusely, saying, "I have come all the way from Rangoon and met many people who have been supporting us. I am so thrilled and particularly grateful to you for what you and your villagers have done for my soldiers. In fact, it is only because of your help and co-operation that my soldiers could survive till today. But now many of them are suffering from malaria and dysentry, we are leaving soon.

When India achieves her freedom, you folks will never be forgotten." Who was this officer? Kawlvelthat claimed that this officer was no other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. It might not have been possible for Subhas Chandra Bose to visit Churachandpur at such a crucial juncture when the Axis powers were on the retreat. This much is clear to us that the officer might have been one of the top-ranking INA leaders. The next day, the officer went to Thingkangphai and hurriedly left for Burma.

Soon after this, the painful yet inevitable decision to leave Manipur was taken and the Indo-Japanese soldiers left bidding, "SAYONARA" to their newly found friends with tears in their eyes!

Even in defeat, the Indo-Japanese soldiers earned the respect and admiration of the simple tribal folks. Their unfathomable patriotism, their spirit of sacrifice and their long forbearance are still the talk of every household in the Khuga valley of Manipur even today.

* Prof Lal Dena wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
This article was posted on March 28, 2014

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