It's a privilege to be a Rongmei

Puanthanh Gangmei *

 Rani Gaidinliu Birth Centenary / Golden Jubilee Celebration at Thanagong village, Khoupum in Tamenglong :: December 15-17 2015
Rani Gaidinliu Birth Centenary at Thanagong village, Khoupum in Tamenglong on December 15-17 2015 :: Pix - Nongpok

To be a Rongmei is a privilege. There is something peculiar about the Rongmei people. And if I am allowed to specify it, I will say that the Rongmei are unique people perhaps with a special gene. Naturally, Rongmei are meek, kind, merciful, just and loving, the very qualities propagated by the saints of the past. These precious dispositions traditionally handed down from our ancestors are praiseworthy.

It helps us to be humble and noble, give meanings and purposes to our life and finally die with pride. We were once oppressed by the British. Many of our forefathers were targeted by the British and were forced to do the lowest job on earth, and all that occurred just because our forefathers wanted to be free. When most of the kindred tribes were busy engaging themselves in inter-village tribal warfare and headhunting, in 1891, the Rongmei people rose against the mighty British colonial rulers.

The refusal to pay house tax by the Rongmei was taken as a lightning strike to the pride of the British colonial rulers that had an ego at its peak, at a time when there was no sunset in the British Empire. The Rongmei in defiance of the house tax refused to pay any tax during 1891-1894. As a result, the Rongmei people were treated harshly by the colonial rulers by imposing force labor to construct the Cachar road, also making them porters and sweepers.

Many villagers were kidnapped and never returned home. Maximum humiliation, ill-treatment, harsh punishments were perpetually meted out to the Rongmei during the expansion of British rule and this was highly commended and recorded as "good work". C.L. Crawford, the Assistant Political Agent of Manipur, used force in collecting the house tax from the Tamenglong hills in 1894.

The Manipur Administrative Report, 1893-94 states, "Good work was done by Mr. C.L. Crawford, when on special duty on Kabui tract on the northwest of the state; no less than 7,000 having been realized by him from villages which had neither paid a Rupee nor furnished a coolie since the occupation of the state in 1891." Defiance of the house tax payment for four years aroused national consciousness. Eventually, in the early 1920s, when Haipou Jadonang blew the call for the national movement against the British rule, in no time, it became a mass movement, especially in the Zeliangrong region. The British government called the movement of Haipou Jadonang as "The Naga Raj Movement".

The British colonial ruler arrested Haipou Jadonang and hanged him to death on 29th August 1931 at Imphal, Manipur. When the Zeliangrong Research Society interviewed Rani Gaidnliu at her residence in Kohima on 14 October 1990, she has this to say concerning the hanging of Haipou Jadonang, "Jadonang's hanging was not on a murder case, but basically to kill the spirit of his people."

The death of Haipou Jadonang angered the people more and the movement spread furthermore under the leadership of a young Naga girl called Gaidinliu (later known as Rani Gaidinliu). The British hunted Rani Gaidinliu, which in the words of Ursula Graham Bower, was "comparable to the hunt for Prince Charlie" and as the "Joan-de Arc of the Nagas". She was captured on the battlefield on 18th October 1932 by the British colonial soldiers at Pulumi Village, Nagaland.

After the arrest of Rani Gaidinliu, the deputy commissioner of Naga Hills, Mr. J.P Mill made a secret note cautioning the British administration that the real danger of the Naga Raj Movement has spread to the other Nagas (Assam Secretariat Political, June 1933). The policy of the colonial government did not come to an end with the arrest of Rani Gaidinliu and the hanging of Haipou Jadonang to death.

The British's wrath felt towards the tribesmen of the two leaders. A punitive fine was imposed upon the Rongmei. If a Rongmei had offered one mithun to Haipou Jadonang, he had to give two mithun to the colonial government. Money offered to Haipou Jadonang had to give a double amount, any kind of service rendered to Haipou Jadonang had to render double to the colonial British government. This punitive punishment was imposed upon the Rongmei villagers and hundreds of people were imprisoned and many of them died in jail.

Today, we the Rongmei people remember this dark era of our history with a sense of pride and honor for what our leaders and forefathers struggled and suffered for our freedom. The Hereka religion started by Haipou Jadonang and later propagated by Rani Gaidinliu is a reformed religion. It is now a topic of study by world religious scholars and theologians worldwide. It is hard to believe that in those days such socio-religious reformation could have occured in the remotest region of northeast India. The Hereka socio-religious movement removed many social taboos and many ritualistic practices.

And Rani Gaidinliu, a woman by birth, leading an entire army of men and women in those days is inspiring and is a matter of pride for the Rongmei today. Because of the Heraka movement's hostility towards western acculturation and religion, Gaidinliu's heroics were not acknowledged highly among the Nagas, as most of them had converted to Christianity by the 1960s.

The Naga nationalist groups don't recognize her either, because she was considered close to the government of India. In 2015, when the central government and T. R. Zeliang's state government decided to construct a Rani Gaidinliu memorial hall, several civil society organizations in the Nagaland state of India opposed the move.

No matter what, no freedom fighter in the entire Indian sub-continent is celebrated and honored like Rani Gaidinliu. A yearlong birth centenary celebration was kick-started by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi in 2015. In the commemorative function held in New Delhi, the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi released two coins of Rs.100 and Rs.5 denominations in her memory. The commemorative function saw a galaxy of national leaders and hundreds of her admirers. Besides several cabinet ministers, Chief Ministers of both Manipur and Nagaland were present.

Rani Gaidinliu's legacy is a museum of honors and awards. She won the Freedom Fighter Tamrapatra in 1972, Padma Bhushan in 1982, Vivekananda Sewa Samman in 1983, Birsa Munda Award in 1966. The Postal Department released a commemorative postal stamp of her in 1996. The Union Government instituted a national award (Stree Shakti Puruskar) in her name in 2000. In 2010, state-owned Hindustan Shipyard Ltd launched an in-shore patrol vessel for the Indian coast guard called "Rani Gaidinliu."

I am proud to be a Rongmei.

And in response to Rani Gaidinliu's message to the younger generation, "My life is my message. And my people are my hope," I will try my best to walk worthily in her footstep, and in the welfare and prosperity of my people lies my happiness. I take this opportunity to encourage my fellow Rongmei to study and understand her past.

If they do not understand her past, they may not appreciate where they are going. In the past few years, almost all Rongmei were pricked by the criticism of the Rongmei and her leaders by other communities. But as I observed, the most vocal refutation, usually not in a civil manner, were thrown back by those who knew little of the Rongmei's past and history.

It was perhaps not their lukewarm love and concern for their tribe but intolerance and toxic tribalism that is doing the talking. As a matter of fact, it was firstly the Rongmei who started the rhetoric against Rani Gaidinliu on religion line, the other just embellished and repeated them. Today we stand at the end of an era and on the threshold of a new period of history.

Standing on this watershed which divides two epochs of human history and endeavor, we can look back on our long past and look forward to the future that is taking shape before our eyes. A change is coming over the scene now and Rongmei is again finding herself. We live in an age of tremendous transition and already the next step takes shape when Rongmei assumes her rightful place with the other peoples.

The strength of the Rongmei will increase in the measure we can march together. The Rongmei must break with much of her past and not allow it to dominate the present. But that does not mean a break with, or a forgetting of, the vital and life-giving in that past.

We can never forget the ideals that have moved our tribe, the dreams of the Rongmei people through the ages, the wisdom of the ancients, the buoyant energy and love of life and nature of our forefathers, their spirit of curiosity and mental adventure, the daring of their thoughts, their splendid achievement in art and culture, their love of truth and beauty and freedom, the basic values that they set up, their understanding of life's mysterious ways, their toleration of the other ways than theirs, their capacity to absorb other peoples and their cultural accomplishments, to synthesize them and develop a varied and mixture culture; nor can we forget the myriad experiences which have built up our ancient tribe and lie embedded in our subconscious minds.

We will never forget them or cease to take pride in that noble heritage of ours. If Rongmei forgets them she will no longer remain Rongmei and much that has made her our joy and pride will cease to be. It is not this that we have to break with, but all the dirt and dust of ages that have covered her up and hidden her inner beauty and significance, the excrescences and abortions that have twisted and petrified her spirit, set it rigid frames, and stunted her growth.

We have to cut away these excrescences and remember afresh the core of the ancient wisdom and adapt it to our present circumstances. We have to get out of traditional ways of thought and living which, for all the good they may have done in a past age, and there was much good in them, have ceased to have significance today. We have to make our own all the achievements of the human race and join up with others in the exciting adventure of man.

Religions have helped greatly in the development of humanity. They have laid down values and standards and have pointed out principles for the guidance of human life. But with all the good they have done, they also have tried to imprison truth in set forms and dogmas, and encourage ceremonials and practices which soon lose all their original meaning and become mere routine.

Religion, though it has undoubtedly brought comfort to innumerable human beings and stabilized society by its values, has checked the tendency to change and progress inherent in human society. We must honor reason more and test everything by the light of that reason, however feeble it may be. There is no room for bigots in the modern world. We must cultivate the spirit of inquiry and welcome all knowledge whether the source of it is the East or the West.

Above all we must get rid of the gross abuses that have crept into us and threaten to poison our whole system. If we cannot conquer these weaknesses of ours then we sink deeper and deeper into the morass and perish.

Rongmei Ringcsaeng diu!

* Puanthanh Gangmei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is editor and publisher, Ashramedia
This article was webcasted on February 08 2019.

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