TODAY -

Popular Movements In Colonial Manipur, 1891-1947
- Part 1 -

K. Ruhinikumar Sharma *



Manipur an erstwhile independent kingdom in South East Asia came under British colonial domination consequent upon her defeat in the eventful Anglo-Manipuri War in 1891. She formally became a part of India since 15th October 1949 which was described as signed under duress.-1 Though Manipur got defeated yet it didnot directly annexed into the British Empire. Rather she was put under the system of indirect rule by restoring the monarchy-.

Under the system of indirect rule, no colonial official was allowed to undertake any major reform or changes. Through this system the British colonial authorities could extend their Influence without the economic and political costs of direct annexation. If there was any necessity for affecting changes it was done in the name of the king of Manipur. In other words the colonial authorities exercised authority without responsibility.

After the war of 1891 it was expected that Manipur would be annexed to the British-India. However the British authorities had other schemes in their mind and accordingly native rule was reestablished in the state by appointing Churachand Singh a young boy of about five years old and a great grandson of Nar Singh the late king of Manipur.

During the minority of Churachand, administration of the state was carried out in his name by Maxwell, the British political agent in Manipur. The regency administration operated in the state from 1891 to 1907 and this period was fully utilized for making all major decisions and also introduced several changes in the administrative set up of the native state which the raja even after his formal installation of the gaddi of Manipur with full power would find impossible to change.2

During this regency period, Maxwell, the political agent and superintendent of the state dictated by imperial interest introduced a number of new socio-economic measures which affected the people in different ways.

People's response to the administrative changes and policies of the colonial authority were of mixed feelings. The abolition of slavery and lallup system freed people from servitude and introduction of patty system in land enabled common people to own land however were subjected to strict payment of land tax. The imposition of annual house tax in lieu of lallup,3 the forcible disarmament of local populace, unpopularity of the new ruler which was appointed against the wishes and expectations of the people coupled with the declining authority of the Rajkumars and Brahmins made the new regime unpopular in the eyes of the people.

To worsen the situation, the free trade policy adopted by local officials under whom huge quantity of rice was exported outside the state without any restraint created an economic crisis and acute scarcity of rice in Manipur by the beginning of 1904. Thus people began to feel the impact of colonial rule in Manipur and a conflict between the people and the authority was imminent.

On the night of 6 July 1904 the women market at Khwairamband (the main market) with twenty eight sheds were burnt down by some unidentified persons. Again on the I5th of the same month the official bungalows of two colonial officials were burnt down4. Further on the 4th of August another bungalow was burnt down after midnight.

Taking a serious note of these acts of incendiarism, Maxwell issued an order that the people of Imphal should make contributions towards rebuilding of the bungalows. Maxwell further announced the stationing of a punitive force at Imphal for which expenses have to be borne by the people if his orders are not carried out. However, people considered Maxwell's order as an act of punishment under the lallup system which had been abolished long ago.

The people in and around Imphal were not prepared to accept such unreasonable orders of the authority. A big protest meeting attended by about 5000 people was held near cheirap court on 30th September, 1904. Prohibitory order was issued from the side of administration. However paying no heed to the order the meeting continued and resolved to oppose the orders of the government to rebuild the bungalows.

As a reaction to this the authorities arrested six persons belonging to Rajkumar families. They were tried and charged for instigating against the government and Maxwell passed an order for expulsion of the Rajkumars outside Manipur5.

As a reaction to the actions of the administration on September 3, 1904 thousands of women at the market came out spontaneously and began to launch demonstration. Hence it may be mentioned that women of Manipur had played a crucial role in socio-economic life of the state throughout history. Having felt that the colonial authorities are acting in an unjust manner the agitation of the womenfolk continued for several days.

During the days of agitation the main market remained closed and situation became so serious that the government was compelled to requisition forces from outside the state. Security forces resorted to lathi charge against the demonstrators and many got injured. On the other hand the issue became so serious that administration could not be carried out smoothly and normal life in the capital came to a complete halt.

Under these compelling circumstances the government decided to withdraw order for the reconstruction of the houses. Thus the women of lmphal could achieve what their male counterparts could not accomplish. This event of 1904 came to be popularly known as Nupilal Ahanba (First women's war) in the history of Manipur. Though short lived it paved the way for future anti-imperialist movement in the state.

The next episode in the history of popular movement in Manipur came from the southern hills of Manipur which was more widespread and more violent was the Kuki rebellion. The rebellion of 1917 is an act of open challenge to British imperialism in the state which successfully exposed the shallowness of British control over Manipur.

The immediate cause of the movement was the forced labour recruitment policy of the government to raise a labour corps for the allied forces during the First World War. The economic hardship of the people faced during the colonial rule, penetration of monetised economy in the hills, coming of Christian missionaries under colonial patronage, the decreasing power and authority of the traditional chiefs and dubious power and authority of lambus (a mere interpreter) pertaining to hill affairs caused lot of discontentment among the Kuki tribes.

to be continued....


* K. Ruhinikumar Sharma wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer is at Department of History, Ideal Girls' College, Akampat-Imphal
This article was posted on October 11, 2016.


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