The unsung Anglo-Manipur War Heroes deported to Kalapani

Shukhdeba Sharma Hanjabam / Aheibam Koireng Singh *

The Government and its preminent need to forefront the solemn remembrance of unsung Anglo-Manipur War Heroes deported to Kalapani

Incumbent Chief Minister of Manipur, Shri N. Biren Singh, have on 17 January 2019 made it public that "six small islands of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, locally known as Kalapani, are likely to be named after six freedom fighters of Manipur including two Nagas who were exiled there after Anglo-Manipur War of 1891" as the names were suggested following intimation from the Government of India (GoI). It was a happy moment for the Government of Manipur (GoM) and also for the people of the state that their supreme sacrifices for the motherland is recognised and will gain more prominence.

However, the report that 16 person were exiled to the islands after Manipur was defeated in the Anglo-Manipur War was quite concerning as various sources indicate that there were 23 people exiled at Kalapani at different batch and at different point of time. It has been reported that the first batch includes 15 Anglo-Manipur War Heroes (AMWHs) including Maharaja Kullachandra Dhwaja Singh followed by transportation of the remaining war heroes.

Besides the list from the Manipur State Archives (MSA), another deported war hero named, Abungjao Yengkhoiba, was also reflected in the colonial proceedings of the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891 as well as in the list of first batch of AMWHs deported to Kalapani, but could not be traced in the later correspondence for release from Kalapani.

So altogether, there are 23 Manipur War Heroes of Manipur excluding, Jodh Singh, which was documented by Andaman Administration in contrast to the number quoted in the report. In addition to the AMWHs, a Manipur Prince 'Sana Chahi Ahum' alias Prince Narendrajit alias Prince Ranjit, son of Maharaja Chourjit Singh of Manipur (1803-13) was also transported to Kalapani in the year 1858 for leading the Sepoy Mutiny popularly known as the First War of Indian Independence at Cachar, Barak Valley of Assam. It was mentioned in the report of Captain Stewart who himself as the Superintendent of Cachar, was actively involved in containing the mutiny led by Prince Narendrajit.

The event of Anglo-Manipur War of 1891 is now completing 129 years. Even then, the complete details of the Manipur War Heroes deported to Kalapani still remain enigmatic. It is not that they are being forgotten, as every year the state government is observing two state level programmes for the Anglo-Manipur War which is more or less related to them.

First is the 13th August, which is observed exclusively for the Heroes who were hanged. An exclusive memorial complex named "Saheed Minar" at the place, where they were hanged was built and dedicated to them.

Secondly, the 23rd April is observed to pay tribute to the 1891 AMWHs at the memorial complex built at Khongjom, Thoubal District, Manipur. But unfortunately, the memorial complex is named after Khongjom instead of Anglo-Manipuri War. The AMWHs deported to Kalapani for waging war against British Empire are so far not given their due importance.

The sacrifice of these heroes transported to Kalapani needs to be treated equally with those Heroes martyred in Manipur. Even then, there is still no proper record of their life particularly during and after their Kalapani deportation. The only database which records the names of the AMWHs transported to Kalapani is the MSA of GoM. Apart from the names with some basic information, there are no details particularly about their biographical background during and after life of their deportation.

The two state level observations related to Anglo-Manipur War of 1891 seem to have little relevance and no mention in the observation of 13th August as well as the 23rd April as both the observations are dominated by the narratives of the specific events such as hanging of Jubaraj Tikendrajit and Thangal General and heroism of Paona Brajabashi and the battle of Khongjom.

Their sacrifice for the motherland should deservingly come to public notice so as to not go obliviously in obscurity. The initiatives taken up by the Preservation Committee of Deported War Heroes (PCDWHs) and All Manipur Working Journalists' Union (AMWJU) should be backed by the Government and pursued officially at the highest level.

People of Manipur certainly will not know much about these Manipur War Heroes except that some Manipur War Heroes are transported for life at Kalapani. The freedom fighters imprisoned at the Cellular Jail during the period of 1901-1938 were 513 in number. By that time, there were no longer any Manipur War Heroes at Cellular Jail as the Manipur War Heroes have already been released by 1906.

But it is necessary to include the details of freedom fighters so as to clear the misunderstanding of the people of Manipur. The people of Manipur were more or less reasonably disappointed that the Manipur War Heroes were obliviously not in the list of freedom fighters imprisoned at the cellular Jail. The data is based on that wall inscription of the jail, and is divided into three phase the First Phase (1909-1921), Second Phase (1922-1931), and Third Phase (1932-1938).

Experts and activists are draining the energy of the concerned public for the last many years on disputing debate about the actual date of the battles. Too much preoccupation over this has diverted the attention and the concerned public seems to lost track of the AMWHs. There is still no proper and authentic record of their life particularly during and after the Kalapani deportation.

The MSA also did not have in possession any related official documents which could give a clear picture for these War Heroes transported at Kalapani. Their sacrifice for the motherland should not go in vain and be made known to the present generation and the posterity to come.

In this regard, the initiatives taken up by the PCDWHs and AMWJU should be appreciated and backed by the Government and pursued officially at the highest level. The first initiatives to trace the linkages came from the side of All Manipur Working Journalists' Union (AMWJU) with an 18 member team of Manipuri journalists left Imphal to trace the old links with Kalapani on February 17, 2003.

They also seem to assume that the Anglo-Manipur War heroes were interned at cellular Jail but as they could not find any details in the jail. They further reported that it was only on 27 February, 2003 that they could trace that the Anglo-Manipur War Heroes were interned at Mount Harriet. Shri Wangkhemcha Shamjai, President, All Manipur Working Journalists' U wrote an application to the Andaman Administration on 23rd May 2003, requesting for a piece of land at Mount Harriet, Andaman Island for the construction of the Memorial for the Anglo-Manipur War Heroes and a Guest House at Port Blair.

The letter was responded by Shri S. A. Awaradi, Director (Youth Affairs, Sports & Culture) bearing the file no 10-31/YAS&C/2002/320 dated 13th June 2003, with a positive note. However, the initiatives taken up by the AMWJU, the matter could not be taken forward as the state government seems to have not given any importance to it. So the first initiative to build the memorial of the Anglo-Manipur War Heroes remains inactive. A Second media team comprising of 22-member team of AMWJU visited the island on their external tour also visited Mount Harriet in the year 2013 but could not progress further.

The second phase of initiative was taken up Preservation Committee of Deported Manipuri War Heroes in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The President of the committee, Shri Y Tomba Singh, told us in an interview that, few of the likeminded groups from different walk of life came together to trace the linkages of our deported Anglo-Manipur War Heroes at Kalapani and thus they formed the committee called "Preservation Committee of Deported Manipuri War Heroes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands around the year 2004/5.

It was more like an organic group, where anybody interested in this issue was allowed to be part of the group. They have intensified their movement since 2017 onwards. They informed us that the visit of 2019 was very successfully and they could feel that their efforts are getting results.

The Land Allotment Committee under the Chairmanship of the Principal Secretary (Revenue), Andaman and Nicobar Administration in their meeting held on 27/06/2019 discuss the request of the President, Preservation Committee of Deported Manipuri War Heroes in Andaman and Nicobar Island recommended the proposal for allotment of land for setting of a Museum for the Anglo-Manipur War Heroes.

The intimation from the GoI to name six islands at Andaman could be because of the attentiveness and concern of the present Government at the centre to acknowledge the contributions of Manipur in fighting the British Empire and the initiatives of these organisations. It is high time to pool together the resources and expertise in collaboration with the government and brings out an authentic official report and built a memorial complex for them in Imphal as well as at Andaman.

A detailed report along the line of "Martyrs of India's Freedom Struggle (1857-1947)" commissioned by Ministry of Culture in the year 2016 should be developed and brought out for the deported Manipur War Heroes in particular and North Eastern States in general.

The importance of such an official report and a complex can be seen in the context of the memorial complex being built in Manipur, for their heroes of Second World War by the British as well as Japanese. They visit Manipur every year to pay homage to their fallen heroes, on the contrary, the names of those Manipuri deported to Kalapani for fighting for the freedom of their motherland are not even in public memory.

* Shukhdeba Sharma Hanjabam / Aheibam Koireng Singh wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on November 26, 2020.

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