E-Pao! Manipur - The women's war of 1904

The women's war of 1904

By: Usham Dhananjoy Singh *

On the 15th March 1904, after midnight i.e. early in the morning of 16th March 1904, the State Bungalow in the occupation of Captain Nuthall, tutor to his Highness the Raja Churachand Singh and of Dunlop, Assistant Political Agent, Manipur was burnt to the ground. The fire commenced from the verandah roof of the building and there was at the time a great suspicion of incediarism.

In the early morning of Wednesday, the 6th July Khwairamband Bazar containing 28 sheds with seats for 3000 market women was completely destroyed by fire and so quick was the destruction, although the air was quite still, that it was certain the fire started in several places at the same time.

After the second fire, the Superintendent of State became somewhat distrustful and instituted enquiries whether anything had occurred to dissatisfy the people. But they could learn nothing tending in that direction. Trade was brisk, the people said they had no complaints and all articles of food were cheap and plentiful and the weather had been most seasonable for agriculture.

Police investigation also failed to detect the offenders. Then, in the night of 4th August 1904 i.e early in the morning of 5th April, the bungalow lately purchased by the State from Mr Mitchel, Executive Engineer and in the occupation again of Captain Nuthal and Mr Dunlop was totally destroyed by fire. In this instance there was positive proof of incendiarism, as a bamboo with an oiled rag attached to it was discovered in the ruins. Police enquiries elicited no clue, and the political Agent and Superintendent of State offered a reward of Rs 500 to any person giving information which would lead to the conviction of the guilty persons.

As suggested by chairman of the local Panchayat court, Mr Dunlop, Asst Political Agent interrogated a convict named Nipamacha who stated that he could name the offender, that the convict was sent out underguard to interview the persons indicated, that under very suspicious circumstances he induced two men Haubam Chaoba and Loitongbam Yaima to admit their conspiracy and to charge two of the Raja's servants: Satpam Mittong and Chirom Thabal in line which implied that they were acting under Raja's order.

The charge was false and was got up by enemies of the Raja - Rajkumars who were strongly opposed to the Raja. The persons making false confusion were kept in hajat until further orders.

Meanwhile, the superintendent of State, Mr H Maxwell Lieut Col Temporarily resuscitated lalup in the Imphal town for rebuilding the burnt house. A list showing the Chowkidar's beats in Imphal and a list giving the materials required for rebuilding the house were also enclosed. The Cheirap court was also requested to apportion the work among the several Leikais excepting no one but the Rajbari, foreigners, members of the Panchayat and Cheirap courts and state servants.

Further, the State engineer was to take over the material collected and supervised the rebuilding operation. On the 27th Sept some 300/400 Manipuris of Imphal came to the Residency and presented a petition to the political agent stating that the order came as a severe blow and it would give a cause to grief and suspicion.

H. Maxwell, Lieut Col, the Superintendent of Manipur State issued an order dt 28th September 1904. It reads: 'I am unable to alter my decision. It is far easier for the people to bring to justice a criminal of this kind than the police and moreover the police have tried hard to detect the offenders. The inhabitants of Imphal have rural police (called Chaukidars) selected by themselves and these men have also failed to arrest the incendiary or incendiaries.

In 1891 when anything was done by authorities which was disagreeable to the Manipuris, attempts to burn down houses were made and the present is only a recrudescence of this national manner of showing ill-feeling. Unless the inhabitants of Imphal carry out the orders to rebuild the bungalow, a punitive police force will be posted in the town and the inhabitants will have to pay monthly the cost of the force'.

On hearing the result of the petition, the Rajkumars called larger gatherings together and many well attended meetings were held. He therefore issued a prohibitory order dt 30th Sept prohibiting assemblies of more than 5 persons in one place for the purpose. But it was of no avail. Over 4000 men had collected by 3 pm of 30th Sept and meeting was 50 yards of the Sadar Bazar.

The shopkeepers were at once in a State of terror and expected every moment to have the bazar looted and they reported the matter to the political agent. He felt that the time had arrived to take measures for the safety of British subjects, native and Europeans in Manipur to show the Manipuris that these was a limit to British patience. Three times as they were collecting he had sent orders to the mob to dispose, but the only effect it had was to add to the number.

He then visited the officer commanding the station and asked him for a force of Sepahis sufficient to overawe the unlawful assembly. He next went to the police lines and told off small guards to attend the houses of the European officers under the civil administration and at the quarter where most of the State employee (natives of India) resided.

He ordered 50 police sepahis to put on their uniform, armed themselves with sticks and proceed at once to the evening bazar. In the meantime the crowd had heard the alarm and assembly sound in the military lines close by, and commenced partly to disperse. As soon as the people saw the force marched in their direction, the movement was much accelerated. When they neared the place of the meeting the people were on the run.

On the 30th Sept, the political agent was told by a prisoner and also by a police officer that an attempt would be made by badmashes that night to force in sentries and rescue the convicts in the branch jail at the outskirts of Imphal. He therefore had taken the precaution of marching the population of the branch jail into the main jail.

First Nupi lan
Picture Courtesy: RKCS Art Gallery

In his diary dt 2nd October, he writes, 'Went out for a walk with His Highness the Raja who seems somewhat frightened of being assassinated. We spoke to a number of women to recommence the hats and several at our request took their usual seats at the Moirangkhom market. A short-time after returning home the Raja's eldest brother brought to me a Brahmin Manipuri whom he arrested actually inciting the women at Moirangkhom to leave at once or it would be bad for them'. The political agent at once placed the man in jail.

On 3rd October, he writes: '... they said the majority of their Leikais were in favour of the Govt, but the Rajkumars told them to disobey orders and they would see them through any trouble... with Manipuris, force is the remedy for most things and they trust to find us unprepared... the name of the ring leaders are well known.

On 5th October, the political agent found some three thousand women had got into this compound. And in a very few minutes two or three thousand more arrived and all commenced shouting at once. With his two chaprashis and much exersion he managed to silence them and get them seated. They said their husbands refused to work at the bungalow and as they, the women were the bread earner the cost of any order he gave would fall on them.

Fifteen policemen came to his assistance and shortly afterwards as the women were showing temper, he sent 30 more men and the large crowd remained in front of the Residency shouting and yelling. The political agent noted: 'Of course their male relatives had sent them to put pressure on me'. After two hours they managed to persuade the women to leave and in doing this Cheirap and Panchayat members offered him much assistance. He reports: 'It was very difficult to know how to treat a mob of wild cats like this but I shall take care to disperse them next time before they became numerous'.

He noted on 5th Oct 1904:- 'Arranged to apprehend the seven ringleaders simultaneously by civil police in plain clothes and all cantonment roads and others leading to civil quarter were closed. The Imphal Chaukidars who knew the police by sight were called in to the thanna and kept there'. Kala Sana, a descendent of Bheigyachandra Maharaja, the ringleader and six others were captured and six were quickly removed to the police thanna, the seventh man was left behind as he had suddenly become ill.

They were placed in the quarter-guard. The six Rajkumars were Kala Sana, Magazing Singh S/o Raja Nar Singh, Matan Singh, an adherent of Maharaja Surchandra, Chamu Sana, a descendant of the brother of Maharaja Bheigyachandra, Loitam Sana s/o Raja Devendra Singh and Thangokpa Sana S/o Raja Devendra Singh.

On 6th October his Diary recorded as follows: 'Manipuris men are sulking in their house and apparently are somewhat astonished at the arrests made yesterday, but the women have been sent to take up the cudgels and are giving considerable trouble.

All day they have been trying to force the guard closing the roads to the civil line and military stations and several Manipuris police have been injured. Unless they desist; I am afraid these will be loss of life. The fact is, the men fear being shot and have ordered the women forward to make believe the grievance from which they are suffering is great.

Yesterday's deputation was effected in this way; a small band of women went round the town and informed their sex that the Chirap court had ordered all the women in Manipur under rain of 8 annas each fine to proceed at a certain hour to the political agent's bungalow and say they would open the bazars. Again, provided he would cancel his orders regarding the bungalow and punitive police force'.

That day i.e. 6th October 1904 a German gentleman travelling round the world came in from Cachar. He carried a sporting gun and wore a hat with large feathers stuck upright in it. Manipuris reported a Colonel Saheb had arrived in advance of 800 troops.

On 7th October, the Cheirap and Panchayat members visited the political agent and reported that all trouble was at an end. A bazar with Mohomedan women sellers had been established in the police lines and towards evening many of the Leikais were carrying the bamboos to rebuild the burnt bungalow.

On 8th October the Cheirap and Panchayat members asked that no damage might be done to the town by the troops that were coming. His diary of this day records: 'Ruling People all of one class and with a tendency to revolutions like Manipuris can only be undertaken by a strong force and our military garrison of under 450 men all told is too small.'

The State Engineer informed him that all bamboos required for the bungalow had been brought in that day and on 7th afternoon. The people said that they were cut two weeks ago, preparatory to being brought is but the Rajkumars issued orders not to carry them. The political agent wrote: 'A very simple remedy was accidentally discovered to press back a mob of disorderly women and when applied the crowd at once dispersed. Since the 6th we have had no further trouble'.

Nupi lan memorial Complex
Picture Courtesy: RK Kishore

His Excellency, the Viceroy Simla vide Telegram No 3388-EB dated 8th October 1904 informed His Majesty's Secretary of State, London which runs as follows: “On the 1st October the Chief Commissioner of Assam reported that the Manipuris had shown unrest for some time and had adopted a threatening attitude, ending in the assembly of 5000 men, without firearms, on the operance of a detachment of the regulars and police, the assembly dispersed. The disturbance had resulted from the action of the political agent. in Manipur in ordering the people to rebuild the Bungalow...

The political agent in Manipur writes on 5th October that determination to resist authority is increasing and asks for the hundred military police from Kohima for this purpose. These are being sent by the Chief Commissioner of Assam. The trouble is evidently political and the outcome of opposition to the Raja.

Thus the first Nupilal or first the women's war broke out in 1904 when the then Political Agent issued orders for the rebuilding by forced labour of the Assistant political agent's bungalow which had been burnt down by the inhabitants of Imphal. For a week these were demonstrations of market women which had to be dispersed by force.

Usham Dhananjoy Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 13th, 2006

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