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E-Pao! History - Nupi Lan Still Alive

Nupi Lan Still Alive
MSAD *



Nupi Lan 1939

We begged for rice and in return received bayonet wounds and wounds from the gun-butts. For one handful of rice we paid two handfuls of blood” [1].

On 12 December 1939 several hundred women demanding an end of the export of rice from Manipur[2] besieged the president of the Manipur State Durbar[3] , Commandant of the 4th Assam Rifles, Major Bulfied, and the Civil Surgeon, Major Cunmin, who came to the rescue of the president[4] .

Though the club bearer was allowed to bring drinks for the officers, they refused to allow them, to leave, even to take food[5] until 11-30 pm[6]. A scuffle[7] broke out between the women agitators and Assam Rifles[8] leading to the injury of 21 women and one Indian officer and 7 other ranks of the Assam Rifles and damaging of the telegraph office[9] .

Next day a message was received from the King of Manipur asking the British Political Agent in Manipur to help prevent the export of rice and an order forbidding it was promptly issued. The women then turned their attention to the rice-mills, extorting written promises from the mill-owners that they would not work their mills[10] .

But that night, an angry crowd of some 1000 women[11] march to one of the largest mills and after a lot of talk, in which threats of smashing up houses and boilers were freely used, they did finally disperse about 8:30 pm when the main fuses had been removed from the buildings”[12] .

During the succeeding days the main bazaar in the British Reserve was boycotted and meetings were held in the Police Bazar[13] . Women formed themselves into vanguards and forced the rice carters carrying paddy for sale to leave the bazaar with their carts[14] .

Such opposition continued for weeks and on 28 December agitators threw cartloads of rice into gutter[15] . In January 1940 about 150 carts were help up at Thoubal and other villages. Villages held up Imphal going carts filled with rice and paddy or made the shopkeepers in bazaars not to chalan goods.

Through out the course of their agitation women encountered several confrontations with the security personnel[16] . For instance on 29 December a large crowd of women, who shouted to murder the inspector who attempted to arrest women protestors, besieged the State Thana[17] .

There was pitch battle between security personnel and women agitators on 14 January leading to the injury of about 40 women agitators and some men[18] .

On the same day women protesters of Sagolmang village organized a gathering where Rajani Devi and Wangkhem Kumari along with Amushelung of the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha “advised the women to arm themselves with a ‘tem’[19] and wear two ‘phaneks’[20] . Armed so, they were told to accost all officials who approached them to auction their properties if they didn’t pay the exorbitant fishery tax”[21] .

The whole events have been recorded as ‘NUPI LAN’. What is significant of the Nupi-Lan was that hundreds of women from various community backgrounds[22] and various parts of Manipur had taken part in the movement to save their country from colonial economic oppression[23] .

The context of Nupi Lan

Nupi lan had its immediate cause in an artificial famine of rice due to profiteering activities of speculators drifting the people to ruin and famine[24]. All these took place under British colonial policy of exporting Manipuri rice to supply colonial garrisons outside Manipur.

In November 1939 when the harvesting was in full swing, the ban hitherto enforce in the export of rice[25] was suddenly lifted, with the result that the mill-owners started heavy buying of the new paddy with the object storming it up and making large profits afterwards. The price of paddy soared up; the numerous petty traders and poorhouse holders were thus deprived of their supplies of paddy; so that in midst of plenty there was starvation .

The attack against Mayang[27] control over the economy of Manipur that was one of the focuses of the Nupi Lan has to be seen against the background of the rise of Mayang power in Manipur.

By 1939 the Mayangs, being the protected British Subject in Manipur, were able to establish as monopoly rights holders in cotton trade, vehicular traffic[28] , tea-seed trade, silk manufacturing right, growing mulberry or silk farming[29] right to fell and log some of the trees on the borders of the Kabow Valley[30] , bees-wax and agar[31] , elephant tusk, deer horn and orchids[32] , Rubber Mahal[33], jade[34] and Chalmugra Seed Mahal[35] , Orchid Mahal and so on.

Mayang control of the economy under British rule and their economic oppression of the people is revealed in an application addressed to the judicial members, Manipur State Durbar dated, 28 September 1920;

...that your humble petitioners are extremely aggrieved at the hard lot of the carters or cart owners who owe money to the Marwaris mahajans. They are compelled to carry the goods of their mahajans at a lower rate of annas /8/ or /12/ or even Rs 1 per maund than the ordinary market rate of hire, as they are not allowed to look to any means for their gains.

In above this they owe to their mahajan according to the system of compound interest and to carry a few maunds in excess in every cart gratis. Moreover, there are the occasional insertions of fake and real accounts against their name in the khata for taking some necessaries of the cart. They even take interest on the value of the articles after turning them into capital.

Thus after the end of the year when all accounts are settled and the interests are changed into capital, is spite of their hard labour throughout the year to clear the debt by occasional payment of the little savings of the wages they find to their great astonishment that about the same of even greater capital than that of the last year. Then they are compelled to write another bond in the khata for the coming year. Thus…they…gradually increases year by year till it is beyond their power of clearing it...


Under the forced ‘liberal trade’ and forced taxation of the people there was underdevelopment of Manipur, which was marked by a decline of local production and increase both in the quantity and volume of import, which had a corresponding adverse impact in the balance of payment[36] .

Colonial economy was largely responsible for an objective material condition of ‘underdevelopment’ characterised by decline of Manipur’s economy from ‘self-sufficiency’ into an economy that fully depended on imports from other regions.

It subverted interests of various sections of the peoples[37] in varying ways. In other words there was collective subordination of the people and their national aspiration.

Therefore, the Nupi lan was not a mere historical juncture of anti colonial movement but a culmination of anti colonial feeling as expressed in the individual cases of resistance such as defying the authority to pay tax[38] , defying prohibition against entering the reserved areas and Mahals[39] and organized resistances such as the First Women War in 1904, anti-Pothang Movement and Water tax agitation in 1910s, the Thadou- Kuki resistance in 1917, Bazar Boycott against the profiteering activities of the Kayas[40] and famine in 1920 , the Zeliarong Millenarian movement under the leadership of Jadonang in 1920s, and so on. It was an integral part of the movement of the oppressed people against colonial rule in various parts of the world.

Nupi Lan Still Alive

The history of Manipur reveals the active role of the women in every aspect of national formation and the Nupi Lan 1939 has been a glaring example of the series of the organised activities that the Manipuri women had initiated. The special social position that a woman enjoys in her family, the society, the culture and the belief system explains both the leadership quality and revolutionary potentials inherited in Manipuri women.

For the Manipuris a woman is a mother and gives birth to the past, present and future; revolutionary spirit latent in her as a ‘self’ that is released in the form of expression to defend ‘honour’ and ‘justice’ paves the way to collective assertion for rights and self- rule. The Meeteis have a legend that upholds the Manipuri women as having equal partner with men in politics, society, economy, and cultural and ritual practices.

It says “in order to successfully complete the creation of Malem Leikoi Pung (the earth) Atiya Sidaba (the creator) commissioned Mitlu Leima (a goddess) to incarnate in the form of love and passion; kept Konjil Tuthokpa (who attempted to destroy the creation) arrested (by her beauty and charm), thus the creation was completed.”

The prestige, honour and chastity of Manipuri women constitute important markers of Manipuri national identity; they carries in themselves the obligation to defend their fathers, brothers, husbands and children from all forms of colonial oppression.

They are gifted with the qualities to fight against crucial historical junctures when the men were totally paralysed and succumbed to colonial military repressions. They fought against the British in 1904 i.e., the first Women War, as they could not remain silent and tolerate excessive tortures and subjection such as forced labour, forced conscription to imperial army and labour corps, social injustice, economic coercion, political subjection and military rule.

With their courage, rational approach, collective might, sacrificing spirit, organisational skill and tactics they have been spreading a ‘national revolutionary’ message for the purpose of relieving the society from the undemocratic repressive regime of the ruling class.

Since 1975 onwards Manipuri women have been launching anti- intoxication campaigns to save the society from social crimes as a result of addiction to alcohol and drug in Manipur.

The Meira Paibee movement since 1980[42] conveys to the world Manipuri women’s legitimate concern for the establishment of democracy that uphold democratic rights and national aspiration of the Manipuris. On 15th July 2004 a dozen of Manipuri women stripped themselves in protest against state terrorism and it is the harbinger of another ‘Women War’ in Manipur.

Today, 12 December 2004, we commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the successful Nupi Lan that had been fought against colonialism. We pay our tribute to the women and all those who had sacrificed their lives for the purpose of defending democracy and the revolutionary spirit for democracy and justice that they keep alive even today.

Be determined...it is not right to be afraid of the jail walls. Rise, up, be united, the women’s work is finished and now has come the time for the men” [43] .

References:
  1. Manipur had been an independent princely state till it was annexed by India following the enformcement of the Manipur Administration Order on 15th October 1949. Since January 1972 it has been one of India’s Northeastern States. (2) Testimony, Personal Witness 2. Salam Tomba Singh SI No. 10/s/0 13th March 1940. Manipur State Durbar Criminal Case No. 4 of 1940.
  2. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1939-40
  3. Disturbance at Imphal, December 1939; Confidential File, Manipur State Archieve
  4. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1939-40
  5. Press Communiqué. Political Agent Manipur State, 16 December. 1939.
  6. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1939-40.
  7. “They (women protestors) surrounded them (Captain Stone’s men) and tried to snatch the rifles from their hands and men in the background threw stones”; Letter from the commandant, 4th Battalion, AR, Imphal To the Political Agent in Manipur: letter no. 2014/ IV-18 (B) dated 13th December 1939.
  8. (Press Communiqué).
  9. (Disturbance at Imphal, December 1939).
  10. There were as many as 18 mills operating in the state in 1939 and most of the political thinkers felt that these mills “with a daily outturn of 11,200 mounds of rice, absorb all the available paddy in the state thereby creating unemployment amongst the women”; Resolution passed by Manipur Praja Sanmelini. They considered that mills consumed thousands of maunds of paddy daily, which suggested throwing out of employment the masses that lived by husking, thus perpetuating problem of unemployment in Manipur; Resolution passed by Manipur Praja Sanmelini. 7th sitting: Police Bazar Field; 2 pm. 7-1-40.
  11. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1939-40
  12. Letter to Mills by Gimson: Confidential, Imphal 14-12-39.
  13. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1939-40
  14. Letter to the PA in Manipur 15th December 1939.
  15. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1939-40.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. It is recorded that “in the case of three women the injuries were rather severe. A woman, Oinam Ibemahan by name was subjected to the most inhuman treatment by the police members of the Durbar (the 2nd son of the King) who kicked her in the private parts, as the result of which the women fell down senseless and bleeding; Irabot’s letter
  19. A long wooden appliance used in weaving cloth.
  20. Sarong type worn around the body by the women.
  21. Miss. Mayanglambam Kunjeshwari, The women movements in Manipur, M. Phil. Dissertaion, Manipur University. 1992, p.65, P.42.
  22. There is information that besides the Meeteis many other community backgrounds took part in the movement: Mrs Cheirillu Golmeipui, w/o Meibungu Golmei of Majorkhul, Imphal; Mrs Pouginglunghu w/o Shachuirung Thaimei of Keishamthong Imphal; Mrs Lukuna w/o Pikokpu Gangmei of Muchikhul Imphal, Mirs Thurilu of Muchikhul; mrs Atem w/o Gaipuiga Gangmei and Mrs Tombi of Keishamthong; Mrs Amupi Remeipui of Chingkham Village; Mrs Peirill Kamei of Muchikhul and so on. Information by Ibotombi Khuman, President, International Peace and Social Advancement Manipur.
  23. Application by Irabot Singh, President, MPS, 26-1-40.To His Excellency the Governor of Assam, Shillong.
  24. Resolution passed by Manipur Praja Sanmelini. 7th sitting
  25. The export system was carried on under two categories i.e., Cart Tax and Lal Pass. Under the Cart tax system, the free movement of rice after paying cart tax was allowed and the second one was made through an agreement between Manipur state and Assam. Under this second category rice was exported to Kohima and Assam Rifles stations posted in different areas. tarted in November 1932 States right to levy Export Tax and collection of it was transferred from the Political Agents’ Office to Monopoly Traders’ Firms.
  26. Letter to His Excellency the Governor of Assam, Shillong.Magho Singh, Lalitmadhop Sharma, Banka Behari Sharma; Imphal 6-2-40
  27. Indian people of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian origin who are not considered as aboriginal inhabitants of the present day Northeastern states of India.
  28. A. Balkrishna Sharma, Irabot and his time; a brief History of Colonial Manipur, Based on the Biography of Neta Hijam Irabot. National Research Centre (NRC) library, Imphal, p. 13.
  29. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1907-1908.
  30. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1915-1916.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1935-36
  33. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1909-10
  34. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1937-38
  35. Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1935-36
  36. Indebtedness had crept in since 1916 and at the close of the year 1923-24 the state was indebted to Government to the extent of Rs 268750; Manipur Administrative Report for the year 1923-24
  37. “Marwaris in the business atmosphere of Manipur meant exploitation in every available products of the state, at the expense of your humble subjects ¬–– who have no capital and resources enough to compete with them in their new struggle. Thus they are left in a critical position –– to choose either their own destruction or the thralldom of the Marwari capitalists –– who eat up every moment into the entrails of the state”; Application to the judicial members, Manipur State Durbar. 28 September 1920. By Manipur State Subjects for redressing the wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Marwaris.
  38. Besides the annual tribute British Imposed several forms of taxes such as land revenue tax, hill house tax, valley house tax, fisheries tax, zamindari tax, ferry tax, salt tax, forest tax, teas-seeds tax, law and justice fee, jail fee, stamps fee, excise tax (including duty on matches), Kabow valley compensation, income tax and trading license fees, cart tax, cattle tax, registration fees, fines, vehicle tax, mail fee and so on.
  39. There was demarcation of geo-administrative boundaries and fixation of the boundaries of reserved areas. Kangla declared as reserved areas. Many forested areas were taken over as state properties, depriving the masses from their traditional sources of food, fodder and fuel. Forest laws were so strict that an individual could not cut down the tree from his own private compound, the peaking of the silk cotton was prohibited, fishing in the lake, channels in the fields and canals could not be done without paying tax to the Government.
  40. Like the Marwaris the Kayas in Manipur constituted an Indian Trading Community.
  41. The suffering of the people had reached an unbearable situation that many poor people survived on Kachu, Lon, Heikrak, etc, instead of rice; Application to the judicial members, Manipur State Durbar. 28 September 1920. By Manipur State Subjects for redressing the wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Marwaris.
  42. Literarily meira paibee means woman torchbearer. The term meira is also occasionally used to connote initiative, progress and achievement or to signify a mechanical means for enlightening darkness. Therefore, a meira paibee, as an activist, is sometime defined as the repository of enlightenment whose utmost obligation is to defend and save society. Such an embellishment of the term meira paibee reveals a new development of the legend of Meira Paibee Movement as an integral part of the national movement in Manipur.
  43. Excerpt from Comrade Irabot’s Public Speech on 14 January 1940.

* Released & circulated on the occasion of the observation of Nupi Lan by the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi, 2004 . This article was made available by Malem Ningthouja - mningthouja(at)yahoo(dot)com . This article was webcasted on December 29, 2007.


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