Ourselves No Longer Alone
- Part 1 -

L. Memo Singh *

Unlike the previous years, Manipur Baptist Convention Centre Church celebrated Christmas, 2008 to adore Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace with the attendance of the Christian of different communities and people belonging to other faiths including of the Meitei Vaishnavaits. Usually the Baptist Convention as a centre church held its affairs and doctrines simply through the bond of faith. As a part of its involvement in community life, the church had been the guardian of the faith professed by the great majority of Christians.

But today the public image of the Manipur Baptist Convention has changed considerably. A notably new development in the history of church of Manipur is that the Manipur Baptist Convention is taking a leading role in initiating the apostolic movement in the state. It is an undeniable fact that the MBC has become a volunteer force devoted to social works and spiritual rehabilitation. It has also acquired a dignified position as the legendary cathedral which demonstrates Imphal as the centre of learning and arts.

Despite the avoidance of any extravagant celebration outwardly, the organizers of the MBC made an effort to spread the message of love, unity, equality and brotherhood among all the people and religions of Manipur on the occasion of Christmas with a promise for peace and stability in the state. People irrespective of different social and standing backgrounds came out braving the winter chill and offered prayers with the hope that their minds would be free, at least for a while from the mixing of shock, grief, angry and aguish due to everyday killing, violence, extortion and abduction in the name of insurgency and counter insurgency as well as the lack of balance between the external lives amidst the uncertainty and turmoil of the socio-politico-economic conditions of Manipur. Everybody remembers that Jesus was devoted to serve, heal and restore unfortunate and rejected class of people and the teaching of Jesus was characterized by simplicity, straightforwardness, fresh, noble, grandiose and spiritual principle.

Manipur Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh attended the Christmas, 2008 at the MBC Centre Church and participation of the state Chief Minister in such a function was the first ever of its kind in the history of Manipur Baptist Convention. He had expressed in his dignified speech that it is a great fortune for each and every Indian to have a democracy of which the constituency guarantees religious freedom to all sects and creeds. Shri Rishang Keishing, MP of Parliament (RS) has invoked in his solemn the words of sympathy and act of love of Jesus Christ and the comparison thereof with that of Augustine: "In essentials, unity; in non essentials, liberty; in all thing, love."

The much awaited speech of Justice WA Shishak, former Chairman of the Manipur Human Rights Commission was like a thunderbolt inside the auditorium of the MBC. The tone of his thrilling speech was smooth. The speech was so straightforward and not stylish at all. But there was a hidden force beneath his appealing contents which left an indelible imprint on the minds of audience. He uttered:

This land is the most beautiful of all.
But we are far and far away from each other.
How can't we unite ?
Once I was shock at the loss of a large number
Of lives due to Naga-Kuki clash And I am still shock at the enigma
Of her territorial integration.
Unless there has been mutual trust
Unless there has been love among each other
As long as there has been hypocrisy and hatredness
Unity is almost incredible and impossible.
There have been too many hypocrities
To extent of their love of Manipur.
But we should love this beautiful land.
That Love is nothing but the spiritual love.
Here breaks out an eruption of clash
Of isolationism among ourselves
But the space is only one and the same"

This Church auditorium speech of the WA Shishak was extensively forceful. It was as valuable as the Parliament speech or State Legislative Assembly speech. No doubt, it was a long awaited speech amidst the searching of an elder or elders who would deliver such speech conveying these words or message to all the sections of Manipur. Fortunately, Justice WA Shishak had stood before the MBC audience. Standing on the pulpit of the MBC Centre Church the Justice had uttered his words to the compact audience on this occasion of the Christmas celebration.

It is almost rejoicing in the good signs that myriad sufferings and frustrations of the Manipuris in this beautiful yet stormy land lie in the past. Everybody has sympathy with Manipur defined by history and religious ethos and the mutual experience of life on the parameters of Assam, Cachar, Tripura and Burma before the advent of the British, during its colonial rule and within the domain of the present decolonized India.

Manipur is not a land of the Utopian ideal. It is situated in between the South Asia and the South East Asia, in the area settled during the migration period at the beginning of the first millennium AD by mongoloids. Pakhangba became king of Manipur in 33 AD just after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in 30 AD. King Tompok of Manipur introduced big drums around 154 AD. It was the period of Kanishka in India. The Roman Empire reached its greatest extent under Hadrian during the period.

Despite the isolation from the then neighbouring kingdoms by a long and encircling range of mountains, the independent existence of Manipur was the gift of nature to herself to take a role in the affairs with the neighbouring countries out of the proportion to its territorial size and political power. Manipur has stepped on the toes of both the East and the West. RB Pemberton has described the military and commercial routes of Manipur in his book, 'The Eastern Frontier of India'" still the centrical situation of Manipur, its peculiarly fine climate, and its present intimate connection with the British Government, mark it as a spot peculiarly fitted to become the entrepot of a trade between the northern provisions of Ava and the north-eastern districts of Bengal."

Before the enactment of the India Act, 1858 the British expansion carried on by the East India Company was the major factor to determine the futures of Tripuara, Assam,. Cachar and Manipur. In 1733 Tripura which had been independent since the birth of its kingdom became annexed to the Moghul Empire. That time Manipur under the king Garib Niwaz was heavily engaged in the invasion of Burma. On the other hand the rise of the Ahom kingdom in the Brahmaputra valley had set a limit to the eastward extension of the empire of the Moghul conquerors of India. The history of the Ahoms of the seventeenth century was mainly the history of Assam-Moghul conflicts.

Although there was a formidable Burmese Empire in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the country was subsequently in a state of chronic civil war, from which it recovered in the middle of the eighteenth century under the ambitious ruler, Alompra of Ava. The Burmese historical works had exclusively acknowledged the victorious career of Garib -Niwaz and the defeat of the Burmese at the hands of the Manipuris who had acquired very considerable power. But shortly after his death, the Burmese-army commanded by a relative of Alompra invaded Manipur for the first time in 1755 and this was known in the Manipuri history as the "Koolthakahalba" or primary devastation. In 1758, Alompra in person undertook the conquest of Manipur and he remained thirteen days in possession of the capital, and intelligence being then received of the revolt of the Peguers, he returned with the utmost expedition to Ava.

This invasion of Alompra must have been most disastrous in its consequences to the Manipuris, as they then for the first time sought external aid, and appeared a few years afterwards as supplicants for British protection. The king Jai Singh deputed his confidential messenger, Hari Das Gosai with a letter to the Chief of Chittagong, Mr. Verelst. A nine point treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, was negotiated on 14 September, 1762 with Hari Das Gosai, on behalf of his master, King Jai Singh, by Mr. Verelst. The Tripura Raja Krishna Manikya who ascended the throne in 1760 A.D. had appeared perfectly satisfied with the statements as stated in the letter and accordingly the British authorities prepared to support Jai Singh against his machinations and the aggressions of the Burmese. In 1761 the East India Company through Mr. Verelst had annexed Tripura without any fight with Maharaj Krishna Manikya with regard to the country in lieu of an annual rent of Rs. 1,00,001.

Despite the failure to give effect to the proposal of this friendly treaty due to the silence on the part of Manipur and the return of Mr. Verelst from Khassipur, the then capital of Cachar in accordance with the circumstances of a political nature rendering the recall of his force necessary, on the other, it was the first communication between the British and the Manipuris. After the death of Gourasyam, Jai Singh had resumed the reins of the country. But a short time, when another invasion of the Burmese under Shembegwen in 1765 overwhelmed Manipur, he fled across Cachar into Assam. The Cachari Raja Sandhikari had given him shelter. The Ahom king Rajeswar Singh summoned the Cachari monarch to be present in his palace. At first the latter had refused but later on he came in and made his submission. He was accompanied by Raja Jai Singh. Both rulers were taken before Rajeswar Singh, who, after admonishing the Cachar Raja, allowed him to return to his country.

Jai Singh made an urgent appeal to Rajeswar Singh for help, and the latter, after consulting his nobles, agreed to send an army to Manipur to reinstate him. The army started under a commander. But the king ordered the troops to return on-receiving the report that it had suffered great hardships in the midst of the dense of forest and many died from the effect of the exposure and insufficient foods and smoke-bite. In November 1768 a second force was dispatched by way of the Cachar country. A force of ten thousand men accompanied Jai Singh as far as the Mirap River, where it remained until Jai Singh raised a force of Nagas and thus the king regained his kingdom, Manipur by driving out the usurper, Khelemba.

Jai Singh knew the unavoidability of Manipur to face the overt war with Burma and the covert wan with the British. He was anxious over the aggressive and expansionist policies of the Burmese Empire on the one side and the British Empire on the other. Alompra had broken the friendly ties of Burma with Manipur. But it was not surprising in view of the fact that the competition between Burma and Manipur was predictable because the two countries did not enjoy mutual trust and there were overlapping perceptions of their historical spheres of influence and interest. Given the inherent rivalry and geopolitical interplay, the nature and degree of friction between the two countries was a constant concern for the neighbouring kingdoms.

Between 1775 and 1782, Jai Singh had made no less than four successful attempts to regain his throne, but was as often expelled by a fresh Burmese force, and on each occasion was compelled to fly into Cachar, where he obtained a temporary refuge. In 1782, he however appeared to have made some compromise with his enemies, and from that period, until 1789, he seemed to have been allowed to remain in quiet possession of his devastated country.

As a ruler who could establish political and cultural ties with kingdoms such as Cachar, Tripura, Ahom and various principalities like domains of Nagas and Kukis. Jai Singh thought about the security of these kingdoms including his kingdom and the principalities vis-a-vis threats posed to them by Burma and powerful challengers from within. It had appeared to him that there was the necessity of having a firmly established ruler owing allegiance to the kingdom to have a tradition of strategic thought of security.

Unlike his rebellious uncles who were depending on the suzerainty of Burma, Jai Singh never compromised the aims and interests of the kingdom with the enemies. He was always prepared to fight with the immediate and vital bearing on the integrity of the kingdom. For such preparedness, he was imbuing the people with a will to fight. He had formulated the strategy for security to ensure the achieving of the political aims and interests of the kingdom. He knew that Manipur's posture and strategy had thus vitally affected not only her own security, but also that of the rest of the western neighbours.

Therefore, he thought of the inevitability that Manipur had the strength and the will to fight and counter the threats posed.

To be continued....

* L. Memo Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted at on 19 July 2010.

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