Nupi Lan : The Great Second Women Agitation of Manipur, 1939-40
- Part 2 -

Budha Kamei *

Nupilan Ningshing Numit : Nupi Lan Observation :: 12th December 2012
Nupilan Ningshing Numit : Nupi Lan Observation :: 12th December 2012 :: Pix -Jinendra Maibam

According to B.C Allen, "the profane foot of a white man must not enter even the compound of a Brahmin, and if he steps on the verandah of an ordinary villager will be instantly abandoned and another erected in its place." (1980:61) It was the most painful and oppressive system, Mc Donald the then President of Manipur State Durbar (PMSD) called it 'Plague'. (K. Manimohon 1989:86) The growth of political consciousness was another cause. In the early 1930s the Manipuri educated middle class emerged as a recognizable social force, began to launch systematic campaigns against various social problems.

The greatest achievement of the middle class elites was the establishment of the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha in 1934. Through this organization they tried to get rid of the contemporary socio-economic and religious problems, later on demanded for a broad political change in Manipur in tune of the developments which were taking place in other British provinces particularly in Assam. Land records were in deplorable state.

Various taxes were imposed upon the poor people like Kumjashen, Panch Napet, Wakheishen, Chandan Shenkhai etc. Discontentment of the people was very deep, though not laud. People began to lose confidence in the administration of justice in the lower courts. Even in the Revisional Court of the Maharaja, cases were kept pending for years. (N. Lokendra Singh 1998: 46-47, 115-116, 150-151; R.K. Jhalajit Singh1965:306; see also K. Manimohon Singh 1989:70-72)

During the first half of the 20th century, the British introduced free trade policy. They used Manipur mainly as a source of rice, cattle and timber and also as a market for manufactured goods of Europe and other parts of British India. John Hurd II in 'Indian Economics and Social History Review' wrote that in trade the colonial ruler "pursued a consistent policy of encouraging and facilitating the free movements of goods both within the state and across the state." (1975:418)

In Manipur, it was in the early of 1880s, James Johstone the then Political Agent had induced the Manipur State Durbar to cut the taxes on a number of imports. (1896:116) And there was tremendous development in transport and communication. The construction of a cartable road from Imphal-Dimapur and also the renovation of two bridle paths namely, Cachar road and Impha-Tamu road made easier to the growth and expansion of both export and import of the State.

The valley of Manipur is fertile for cultivation and rice is the main product. While trade between Manipur and Assam was conducted even before 1891, it was only after 1891 with the introduction of free trade policy that large scale export of rice began. Rice was usually transported by bullock cart to Dimapur and from there it was sent by Indian Railways to different parts of British India like Assam, Punjab and Rajasthan. In 1898-99 the British exported 36,436 maunds of rice. (Administrative Report for the State of Manipur 1898-99:2)

It was a sharp increase of 25,230 maunds as compared to that of 1897-98. Then in 1922-23 the volume of quantity reached 80,000 maunds of rice and in 1923-241 it was 81,370 maunds. (N. Lokendra Singh 1998:62) After 1925, the Marwaris traders began to take over the monopoly of export industry from the local traders. The quantity of the rice export in 1932 reached 277,389 mounds as against 105,287 mounds in the previous year.

According to Prof. N. Joykumar, "In 1925-26 the total area under cultivation was 175,537 acres and in 1938 the total areas was 1, 85,213 acres. The increase was only 10,322 acres. On the other hand, the volume of the export of rice in 1925-26 was 155,014 mounds and in 1938 it was 372,174 mounds before the outbreak of Nupi Lan."(Lal Dena (ed.) 1991:146) In 1905 as many as 1700 bullock carts were used for trade and commercial activities. (N. Lokendra Singh 1998:62) But due to the introduction of lorry the export of rice could be carried on very rapidly. Thus, the volume of the export of rice increased very sharply and it caused a serious economic effect on the normal life of the common people.

The export of rice was carried on under two systems. One was the cart tax and the other was land pass system. Under the first system, free movement of rice was allowed after paying the cart tax and the second system was made through an inter-state agreement. Under the second system rice was exported to Kohima and Assam Rifles stations in different areas of British India. The state could earn a lot of revenue from the cart tax. Later on the mode of collection of the tax was entrusted to a trading firm and a fixed payment was made half yearly to the State.(Lal Dena 2008:108)

The British Government introduced a new policy of export and import. Outwardly the British encouraged free trade in the State, however in reality they gave the monopoly of external or export trade to the few merchants from the Marwar who were known as Marwaris or Kanias. This community got favour both from the colonial authority and Raja of Manipur. The British did not encourage industrialization. (Gangmumei Kamei 2012:84)

The question of rice export from Manipur to outside/British India was closely linked to the growth and consolidation of Marwari capital in Manipur. The Marwari businessmen were settled in the British reserve areas (Sadar bazaar or Paona bazaar and adjoining areas constituted the British Reserve areas) which was beyond the jurisdiction of the state police. People who settled in the reserve were also classified as foreigners. (Lal Dena 2008: 107)They gradually captured the cotton and handloom trade. Some of the prominent Marwaris were Kasturichand and sons, Ganeshlal, Guru Dayal, Sadasukh, Sanoiram, Kaluram, Gobindlal Chunilal, Khetraj, Suramanj, Dulichand Kundalal etc. (The Lamyanba 1973; see also N. Lokendra Singh 1998:63)

They made further progress when the Maharaja and the Durbar gave them monopoly of cart tax. In 1932, the task of collection of Cart tax revenue was given to one Sardasak Mansuka Roy Saroagi. (N. Joykumar Singh 2002:139) In 1933 the contract of cart tax was changed from Sardasakh Mansuka Roy Saroagi to Mangolchand Meghraj. In the subsequent year Mangolchand Meghraj earned Rs 33,215 as profit from the cart tax monopoly after paying Rs 73,000 to the State. (Administrative Report for the State of Manipur 1933-34:7)

A year later the state had collected Rs 91,250, out of the total amount of Rs 1,24,865 released by the cart tax monopolist. (Administrative Report for the State of Manipur 1934-35:6) In 1936 Mangolchand Kisturchand got the contract of cart tax and collected Rs. 38,530 and Rs 37, 386 respectively and the State received Rs 59, 000 as cart tax revenue. (K. Manimohon Singh 2006:165)

In contrast to the Marwaris, the Manipuri traders did not play any role in the external trade. Their position was confined to the level of the retail sellers of the bazaar. One of the important reasons for crippling character of Manipuri traders was that medieval Manipur did not have an organized trading caste, which could have evolved into modern traders. All the traders in medieval Manipur were retail sellers, who were meant to look after the local consumption needs.

The main items of import from outside were mineral oil, betel-nut, dried fish, cloth etc. M. Bhattacharya wrote that except for the agricultural products, all the consumption goods were met by imports. (1960:259) Indeed, Manipur became a market for manufactured goods of outside. The British authorities through the Marwari traders imported a large quantity of Liverpool salt to Manipur through Burma as a result the salt industry in Manipur (manufacture of salt cakes from brine) was greatly affected.

The import of Liverpool salt was to compete with the production of the brine wells of the State. Since the imported salt was cheap, the local sellers used to melt the imported salt and gave it the shape and appearance of the local salt so that the people would buy it (T.C. Hudson 2011:33) The import trade was also controlled by the Marwaris. All these factors, ultimately led to the decline of the indigenous cottage industries.

The immediate cause of the outbreak of Nupi Lan was directly related to the scarcity of rice and rise of price rate. In 1939, while the world saw the outbreak of the World War II, Manipur witnessed the uprising of its women. Excessive rain during July-August, 1939 severely damaged the standing crops in various parts of the valley. Further heavy rain coupled with a severe hail storm in mid-November had adverse effect upon the harvesting of early paddy (Administrative Report for the State of Manipur1939-40:5) and the incoming grain was less than what was expected.

In the mean time, the Marwaris took advantage of the situation and brought up the entire paddy that they could find. Seeing the unusual market situation, Manipur State Durbar, by a resolution, banned the export of rice. However, on 23 September, reversed the former order and permitted the export of rice to Kohima civil station.

It would perhaps not be wrong, therefore, to presume that the decision to lift the ban of rice trade by the Durbar was taken under the heavy pressure from the Maharaja, who in turn was pressurized by the cart tax monopolists and merchants. Thus, the export policy of the authority was the main responsible factor for the outbreak of Nupi Lan. Then the price of the rice went up from Rs 1/12 per maund to Rs 2.

The condition became very serious but the traders continued their activities that they purchased the paddy, milled it and exported it outside. As a result, the poorer townsfolk were suffering from loss of their old earnings from husking paddy. It is said that in 1938, there were as many as 48 rice mills, out of which the Marwaris owned 15 and the remaining 33 belonged to the Manipuris. (N. Lokendra Singh 1998: 138)

To be continued ...

* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on January 12, 2013.

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