E-Pao! Oinam Anand - Another December 12

Another December 12
Oinam Anand *

Ngasi Ahing lelle/
Numit Ama chatkhre/
Sham Punshillu Devi/
Epha pharibado/
December 12 ama houkhre/
December 12 ama lakle/
(This night has passed/
a day has passed/
Devi, put your hair in a bun/
one December 12 has passed/
another December 12 has come)

These lines penned by Hijam Irabot in his poem ‘Imagi Puja’ is repeatedly quoted by those who want to contribute a few lines with the coming of December in the memory of the bravery shown by the women of Manipur in Nupilan of 1939 on the 12th December and lasted for about a year.

Actually, the Women’s’ War of 1939 was the second of its kind. The first women war was in 1904.

From 1891-1904, it was too short span of year to wipe out the memory of the martyrdom of Tikendrajit and Thangal General and host of other heroes we died for their motherland. The King was only in name and all the authority, and power of the King was exercised by the political Agent Mr. Maxwell.

There were many repressive measures, Many do’s and don’ts were imposed on common man. For example; all the common people were forced to put veil on their head when they came out in the open street more specially when the political Agent was on the way. Even Umbrellas were not allowed to unfold before them and people suffered all the hardships.

One day, all of a sudden, the Bungalow of the Political Agent (The areas which is used as CM bungalow now) caught fire and the British smelt rat that it might be the handiwork of some Meitei miscreants.

The authority forced all the menfolk of the nearly area to build anew bungalow immediately. At this a group of women led by Irungbam Ongbi Sanajaobi from Lamabam Leikai Imphal blocked the way and resisted the forced labour imposed on their men when the authority failed to find the real culprit.

Soon the agitation spread out and women came out in large number to stop their men used as forced porter in the Tongjei Maril route (an ancient route connecting Imphal and Cachar in Assam). That was the first Women’s’ war of 1904 against bonded labour.

Nupi Lan Memorial Complex in Imphal

December 12, 1939, the second Nupilan (The Women’s’ war of 1939), the crimson blood that came down freely from the delicate skin of the mothers turned into golden ink to write on the pages of the history to tell that women of Manipur are always in the forefront in any field, social, economical and political.

As historian put it, the Women’s’ war of 1939-40 was not a war waged against the scarcity of rice at that time. It was a revolt to show the deep rooted sufferings of the people.

It was a revolt lasted for about 14 months against a system of monarchy that rule in the state with so many severe laws and repressive measures against its people.

To mention about some of the draconian laws imposed during that period of time were:
  1. The state fined or levied a tax of one rupee, too much value at that time even to settle a case concerning with the divorce of a husband and a wife.
  2. The state controls all the lakes and rivers in the state. A tax of half a rupee was imposed in every fishing post or spot made in the rivers and lakes which were made by the common people.
  3. Even in the Pattaland of a man, if a Tera tree was found growing, then the law of the land prohibited the land owner from using the tree for his personal purpose. If any Government official found a branch of the tree or the fruits of the tree scattered there it was taken that the man used the tree and a penalty of Rs. 50 with six months imprisonment was given to him.
  4. If an Amin happened to halt in a village for his official purpose of land demarcation and measurement, he should be given proper guard duty and should be provided food and shelter freely by the people.
  5. There was a tax known as ‘Chandan Senkhai’ from every person who smear chandan in their forehead and no one was allowed to go in the open without ‘Chandan’ in their forehead.
  6. Common people were not allowed to use umbrella in the palace campus, were not allowed to tread on the ‘Tingthou Napi’ (a grass) that were grown on the palace ground.
  7. Other than the Royal princes, women were not allowed to wear a certain design of embroidery put on the border of ‘Phanek’ known as ‘Hijam Mayek Phanek
  8. If a family was declared untouchable for being a low caste or for being offended a certain religious rule, that family was not allowed to mix with neighbours even the near relatives in the social functions and ceremonies. If anybody found violating that rule they were also declared untouchable. The only remedy that time to return to the main stream was to approach the Bramha Sabha with a huge amount of money for cleansing ceremony.
Human rights were mostly violated in those days as there was little idea of Human rights under the monarchy. But the woman of the time dared to revolt against those atrocities.

In the month of December 1939, when the harvest had been completed, almost all the paddy were bought in cheap price or forcibly levied by the Mahajans (Rich non-local businessman) and ready to export outside the state.

This had made a man-made famine even a handful of rice from the open market. Women came out in the street without asking for it to protest and to complain. And the Women’s’ war of 12 December followed.

Nupi Lan Memorial Complex in Imphal

Thus the war can be taken as a revolt of the women not only for the famine but for a long cause of suffering and hardship and the day was a chance to explode, to burst out the already accumulated lava which was kept for a long time back.

As a Manipuri we should salute to the bravery of our mothers of that time.

* Oinam Anand writes regularly for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on December 21, 2007.

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