The Kangla Impasee


The Kangla Fort, located in urban Imphal, has been the centre of many social discontentments among the Manipuris ever since its occupation by the British forces in 1891. Manipur’s independence in 1947 somehow did not seem to matter in the case of the Kangla Fort, where there was only a change of guards. As the British left, Indian troops moved in.

For about 2000 years, the Manipur Kings ruled from the Kangla Fort (which the British referred to as the Manipur Fort). In Kangla, the history of Manipur is embedded. In Kangla, the socio-religious roots of the Meeteis – the dominant group in the central Manipur valley – is traced. In Kangla, the social identity of the Meeteis and the surrounding tribes is reflected.

It’s continued occupation by military forces seem like a constant reminder of the power and dominance of authoritarian rule of the Manipuri despots and of colonial administration, in these of days ‘democracy’. The Manipuris love and revere this place, but without the sense of dominance.

The History
The recorded history of Manipur begins with the coronation of the first known Meetei King, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba in 33 A.D. The coronation ceremony was said to have conducted at the sacred Kangla and the site is still known as the Kangla Men (An annual ritual worship is still performed here, known as Kangla Men Tongba). Since, then, Kangla became the seat of power for Nongda Lairen Pakhangba and his successors.

In 1892, taking advantage of the internecine wars between the princes of the royal faamily, the British forces swept down on Manipur and defeated the Manipuri forces. The Union Jack was hoisted inside the Kangla on 27 April that year.

From that time onwards, till they left Manipur in 1947, the British occupied the Kangla, declaring it and  a major portion of urban Imphal as the cantonment area or the ‘British Reserve’.

When the British left Manipur, The ownership of the land comprising the Kangla Fort area was transferred to the Defense Ministry of the Dominion of India. The Garhwal Rifles of the independent India replaced the British troops, later, it was replaced by the 4th Assam Rifles. Ever since then, the Assam Rifles have occupied Kangla.

The Background
Apart from being a seat of power, Kangla is the nerve centre of Meetei cosmology and in fact, a miniature version of the land of Meeteis and the surrounding tribes.

It is the very embodiment of the myths, the State, the philosophy, the culture, the arts and literature, the cocept of design and architecture all rolled together.

According to belief, there are as many as 108 sacred sites located inside the Kangla complex. Some of the most important ritual worships for the Meeteis are observed here. In fact, for every auspicious day, people visit the Kangla to seek the blessing of the deities there.

The entire fort area, measuring approximately 236,84 acres, is directly under the Defense Ministry of India, represented in the field by the Assam Rifles, a central para-military force.

Out of this total area, 36 acres handed over to the Manipur Government in 1996, is presently manned by the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB), another centrally sponsored force.

Devotees and visitors have to obtain prior permission from the Assam Rifles and the IRB office located inside the Kangla, to be forwarded by the State Archaeology office, before entering the complex.

The entire Kangla Fort area is protected under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monument & Archaeological Sites & Remains Act, 1976 and Rules 1979.

Besides, the Kangla complex was brought within the ambit of the Imphal Capital Project of the State Planning and Development Authority and the foundation stone for construction of the new Manipur Legislative Assembly was laid at the Uttra site inside the Kangla in 1976.

The Turnabout
Then, the Manipur Government negotiated for shifting of the 4th Assam Rifles from Kangla by providing a new site at Matai Luwangsangbam, located around eight kilometers north from Imphal on the National Highway No. 39 (Imphal-Dimapur highway).

The Assam Rifles authority came up with a nine-point demand to the State Government, which included among others construction of two approach roads, electricity and free water supply and rest house for the officers of Assam Rifles stationed at Kangla.

The demands were fulfilled and the new site was ready by 1986. However, the Assam Rifles authorities chose not to fulfil their obligation and moved in another battalion (the 24th) at the new site while replacing the 4th battalion with the 30th battalion at Kangla.

Years later, a new site was again provided at Maha Koireng near Sanakeithel, a place on the National Highway No. 53 (Imphal Jiri Highway).

In August 1992, the then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, M.M Jacob came down to Imphal, and as if to herald the final departure of the paramilitary from the Kangla, he flagged off a column of the Assam Rifles personnel stationed inside there.

The day was 13 August, a sacred day remembered for the supreme sacrificed made by the brave sons of Manipur in defense of their motherland in 1892.

The demonstration, however, was an eyewash. It was a move initiated just to quell the discontentment over the continued military occupation of the sacred place. The Assam Rifles column that left the Kangla in the morning only returned by nightfall. This strengthens the people’s belief that the Government of India had no plans to vacate this strategic and imposing position.

In 1996, a contoversy flared up when both the Assam Rifles and the IRB sentries manning the southern Kangla gate barred officials of the State Archaeological Office from carrying out survey work related to future development of the Kangla complex.

In early 1997, a high level committee meeting of representatives from the Central and the state Governments was hels at the Manipur Bhavan in New Delhi to discuss the Kangla issue.

In the said meeting, the central Government representatives informed the committee members that the Centre had positively fixed the date of the complete vacation of the Assam Rifles from the Kangla on 1st July 2000.

However, the 1st of July 2000 has come and gone. The Assam Rifles are still there at the Kangla. Reports said work progress at the Maha Koireng site is unsatisfactory and the Assam Rifles have no intention to move out of Kangla on the stipulated date.

For the Manipuri people, the Kangla is not only a historical tressure but an embodiment of the social, cultural and religious life of the people, also. The restoration of te Kangla to the people would relatively heal the festering wound of military presence. Otherwise, it may be said that the social, the cultural and the religious rights have in more than one way been deprived for the people in Manipur

Courtesy : Salam Rajesh
Also 'Manipur Update' March 2000 -  (Human Rights Alert)

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