Is the government inviting a third Nupi Lal ?

Seram Neken *

 The 2nd Nupi Lal 1939 (Women agitation against British)
The 2nd Nupi Lal 1939 (Women agitation against British).
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

But for the courage, valour and patriotism of our mothers, Manipur would have already been torn into pieces. Had our mothers not come out with open arms to save the generation in various points of history, Manipuris would not have been survived till today. The whole world has been astonished to witness the varied role of the women of this land in numerous fronts.

Amid the four-month-old conflict which has led to deaths, wounds and displacements of innumerable innocent unarmed valley dwellers, the BJP governments both at the centre and the state have been remaining inactive.

No effective initiative has so far been taken up to bring peace in Manipur. At this crucial moment between live and death, the general public specially the womenfolk of the state may resolve to launch another womenís war in order to save the age-old integrity of Manipur.

Once an Asiatic sovereign, Manipur came under British colonial domination as the outcome of the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891. The Britishers ruled Manipur indirectly by coronating five-year-old Churachand Singh as the king of Manipur, and British political agent Major Maxwell carried on the administration in the latterís name. In such a monarchy, the colonial power exercised authority without responsibility.

During the colonial period, the authority effected numerous socio-economic changes such as abolition of slavery and the Lallup system, introduction of patta system in land with strict payment of land tax, imposition of annual house tax and forcible disarmament of local populace.

Under the prevailing free trade policy adopted by local officials, huge quantity of rice was exported outside the state, thereby leading to acute scarcity of rice in Manipur in the beginning of 1904. Following this, a conflict between the people and the colonial authority emerged.

On the night of 6 July 1904, unidentified persons burnt down the Khwairamband women market with 28 sheds. On the 15 July, the official bungalows of two colonial officials were burnt down. Again on the midnight of 4 August, another bungalow was burnt down. Major Maxwell issued an order that people should contribute towards rebuilding the burnt bungalows.

Maxwell further announced the stationing of a punitive force at Imphal for which expenses have to be borne by the people. People in and around Imphal were not prepared to accept such unreasonable orders of the authority. A big protest attended by about 5000 people was held near Cheirap Court on 30 September, 1904. Prohibitory orders were issued by the 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, authorities arrested 6 persons, tried and charged them for instigating against the government. Further on 3 September, thousands of women came out spontaneously and began to launch demonstration.

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. This event of 1904 came to be popularly known as the first Nupilal (first women's war) in the history of Manipur.

Another womenís movement broke out at the fag end of 1939. Started spontaneously by the women folk of the market due to acute scarcity of rice and escalating costs, the movement came to be known as Second Nupilal (second women's war).

Under the colonial system, outsiders penetrated into Manipur uninterruptedly. Bengalis, Marwaris, Sikhs and others were allowed to settle at British reserves in the heart of lmphal. Manipuri rice, because of its high quality and nutritional values, was of great demand outside the state. Through the business of rice, the Marwari traders in Manipur almost monopolised its export from the state and the state also earned revenue from the export of rice.

Unrestrained increase in export of rice led to scarcity. Moreover, there was an excessive rainfall during the last week of July and first week of August 1939, which caused extensive damage to standing paddy crops and vegetables. There was also another heavy rainfall in late September and early October in 1939. Again, in November, hailstorm damaged standing crops ready for harvesting.

The series of natural hindrances coupled with unchecked export of rice created a sense of possible scarcity of rice in the minds of people. To worsen the situation, the mill owners brought all available paddy and continued to export it non-stop. As a result of this, the poorer section of towns folk were suffering from loss of their earnings from husking paddy.

As a reaction to these developments, on 17 December 1939, the women came out in large numbers and began to organize demonstrations in the streets of Imphal demanding immediate cessation of rice export and closure of rice mills. They marched to the office of Mr. Sharpe, the then Assistant Political Agent and President of Manipur State Darbar.

Then the agitators along with Mr. Sharpe went to telegraph office to wire a message to Churachand Singh, who was by that time staying at Nabadwip, to convey the gravity of situation and secure his approval for cessation of export.

However, seeing the huge congregation of womenfolk at the telegraph office, personnel of the 4th Assam Rifles along with its commandant came out to rescue Mr. Sharpe. Seeing the arrival of armed personnels, the womenfolk assembled there became more militant and aggressive. In the ensuing clash, the soldiers pushed back the womenfolk by using batons and bayonets.

More than 30 women suffered injuries and 10 were hospitalized. And thus started the famous Second Women's War of 1939. After the incident of 12 December 1939, the main market remained closed for months. Necessary orders for banning export of rice from the state were issued on 17 January 1940.

In spite of having issued orders to stop export of rice, the movement of the womenfolk continued. However, by the beginning of 1940, the nature and character took a U-turn. The womenfolk now started demanding that the British rulers should leave Manipur immediately. To such demand of the women, the state acted swiftly arrested 9 women leaders for anti-government activities and put them in jail. The boycott of Khwairamband Bazar continued till early 1941.

The women's war of' 1904 was essentially a reaction against the unjust policies of the colonial administration, the second women's war of 1939 though started out of' the scarcity of rice in the state, later took the shape of freedom movement as it demanded the end of British rule in Manipur.

Now, the prevailing conflict between the armed militants of Kuki-Chin-Zo groups and the unarmed villagers of Manipur valley has almost completed four months. Over 200 people have been killed, many wounded and numerous youths remained untraced. Thousands of Meitei villagers specially from Churachandpur, Moreh and Kangpokpi areas have been displaced.

Still the government at the centre and the state have not yet initiated any effective action to disarm the armed attackers belonging to Kuki-Chin-Zo militant groups. No action has been taken against the ten Kuki MLAs who have openly orchestrated violence against the Meiteis in their demand for a separate administration.

No action has been taken to discipline the militant organisations under the SoO with government of India and government of Manipur. Other than assuring protection of Manipurís integrity, the union government has not seriously intervened into the continued armed attacks on the innocent Meitei civilians.

Even, the government is reluctant to discuss the issue in the stateís Legislative Assembly. At this critical juncture, the faith of the people of Manipur on the popular elected governments at the centre and the state has altogether lost. It is as if the government is inviting a third Women's War in Manipur ?

* Seram Neken wrote this article for
The writer is Senior Columnist. He is available at nekenseram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 05 September 2023.

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