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The Synthesizing Role of The I.N.A. Martyrs' Memorial: Moirang & The Indo-Japanese Peace Cenotaph: Lotpaching (Red Hill)

Manindra Singh Mairembam


2. Manipur in the Freedom Struggle:

Apart from the historic wars fought by the zealously patriotic Manipuris against the Burmese earlier in the 17th and 18th centuries, and afterwards against the English themselves at the fag end of the 19th century (1891), Manipur had a continuously distinct record of struggle for any righteous cause. Immediately at the initial decade of the oppressive British rule, Manipur itself saw the first Nupi lal or the Women's War in 1904 completely putting the block on the British for ordering that all the male residents of Imphal should compensate by rebuilding the bungalow of an Assistant Political Officer on the ground that some unknown miscreants burnt it down and could not be traced then to any.

The agitationists stood firmly against the order demanding review of the order and punishing the actual culprits and the Government had to ultimately yield. This uniquely successful agitation was led by such women activists as Irungbam Ongbi Samujaobi Devi, Leishangthem Kwathabi Devi, Irungbam Ningol Dhabali Devi, Laishram Ningol Juboti Devi and R. K. Tharosana Devi.7 Did this kind of peaceful and nonviolent civil disobedience movement in any way anticipate Gandhiji by a decade and a half? At least the Britishers were tempted to treat it not as an aberration amongst Manipuris 'with a tendency to revolutions', as most famously put by the then Political Agent in Manipur in his official report to the Chief Commissioner of Assam so as to underplay its spontaneity. It was followed in close heel by the historic Kuki Rebellion in 1917-19.

For, consequent on the decision of Maharaja Churachand Singh to render help to the British during the First World War, a rally for war recruitment of 2,000 hillmen to Double Company of Labour Corps to work in France was being conducted in both the hills and valley of Manipur. But the entire Kuki ethnic group not merely objected, tooth and nail, to such recruitment but they even organized a rebellion. The uprising was later put down firmly but in the process many Kuki leaders got killed, while twenty convicted to jail, notably including Chengjapao Doungel, Lhukhomang Haokip and Chasat, for 3-4 years; and one Chingakham Sanajaoba Singh of Nambol (imprisoned for life). 8 Further during the next decade (1927-32) Manipur became again embroiled in the Zeliangrong Naga uprising, in which another ethnic group _ the Kabuis or the Zelianrongs _ rose in a body all over the western hills of Manipur. The immediate cause of the conflict might have been the manifest killing at Kambiron village along the old Cachar route of five Manipuri pedlars and hawkers at the instance of Jadonang Haipu, and a teenaged Kabui girl Rani Gaidinliu. As on the earlier occasions the British stamped out the revolt through blatant use of force. Jadonang Haipu was hanged, while Rani Gaidinliu convicted for treason and jailed for 7 years.

Then came the next decade (1939-40) when once again Manipur saw the Second Nupilal or the second Women's War which saw an unusually widespread and heightened mass movement although initially spearheaded by women activists. For, due to irregular monsoon the then British Manipur experienced rising food prices in 1939 compounded by acute shortage of rice, which became very much irritating for the Manipuri womenfolk, who then seized some rice-laden trucks on 12th December 1939 bound for export to Assam (British India). In the process, many women agitators suffered bayonet charges, whose ghastly act then added fuel to fire. [These bayonated women victims have just recently been glorified at the same spot (where they were charged) by their statues in the Nupi Lal Memorial (Imphal), dedicated to their everlasting memory.]

Yet apprehending a serious turn, the Britishers detained over hundred agitators and jailed many women leaders, notably Tong-gou, Mukhi, Ibemhal, Khong-nang, Kumari, Sanatombi, Rajani, Leibaklei and Thongam Ongbi Amoobi.9 In particular, Hijam Irabot, after resigning from the State service, (then designated Neta Irabot) started the mass movement on the failure of the then government to ameliorate the economic condition of the people. The pioneering revolutionary leadership provided by Irabot led to an unprecedented launching of many strikes and boycotts of important bazaar etc. Ultimately he had to go underground, apparently quite determined to take on the British. 10

Earlier at the outbreak of World War II, Manipur itself became gravely concerned with the disturbing news from the war front in both Europe and Asia. All the while, the British army had been converging to Imphal which then looked more like a British Fort quite unnerving the entire Manipur population. And almost suddenly just after two successive Japanese bombings (on Sunday, the 10th May and Saturday, 16th May 1942) the war-ravaged and since-panicked population of Imphal, the capital of Manipur, fled their homes and took refuge in the remotest and far-flung villages. The depopulated Imphal town then became the forward base of the new forces commandeered by the Allied Forces.

Even the State Durbar, the highest administrative seat, had to be shifted to the house of one Khomdram Angangjao Singh (retired engineer) at Kwakeithel, a suburb of Imphal while all other important offices shifted to different places. All schools were closed and Imphal wore a deserted look. As a result Manipur became completely cut off from other parts of the world in respect of nonmilitary transport and communications. With market closed throughout, even the most essential commodities like salt and kerosene were to be carried along by headload from Silchar through the over-200-km. road. The prices of salt and kerosene touched fantastic levels at Rs 5 per seer and Rs 150 per tin respectively. To make matters worse, nearly two lakh Indian war refugees were fleeing from Burma and elsewhere through Manipur to their homes in mainland India. 11

Meanwhile a special emissary brought a message from Netaji appealing to the leaders and workers of the Indian National Congress, social activists in particular and to the people of Manipur in general to extend unreserved support to the Indo-Japanese personnel who had crossed the Indo-Burmese border and reached Manipur. The message was brought from Chamol (INA Advance Camp) by one Kuki named Lungdim and handed over to Dr. Gulapchand Singh, the then Medical Officer posted at Sugnu. It was then passed on to Thokchom Angou Singh of Singjamei, Imphal. And the leaders and workers of Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha who had identical ideas with Netaji welcomed the appeal of Netaji. Being a princely state, Manipur was not allowed to form the Congress party and in particular Gandhiji was not even allowed to enter Manipur. Hence the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha was the only proactive political party in the then Manipur. Among war-refugees after the Imphal-bombardment in May,1942 there was one Sinam Krishnamohan Singh who fled Imphal and took shelter in Jiri.

Almost in tandem, Laishram Jogeshwar Singh and young Hawaibam Ranbir Singh went as far as Jiri, just at Manipur's border with Assam to organize a meeting in the house of one Meitram Kanglenjao to have a resolution passed for receiving the Japanese as liberators on the condition that Manipur should be declared as independent of British imperialism and be taken as the liberated part of the Indian subcontinent. Only on that condition it decided to support INA and its creation, the Azad Hind Government. In this context, one K. Kunjabihari Singh was entrusted to secretly contact the Japanese monks in the deep forest of Mahabali sanctuary, right in the heart of Imphal. Initially, some leaders of Mahasabha and the Praja Sammelani (the newly floated Irabot-led party) joined INA. The notable ones were: Thokchom Angou Singh, Potsangbam Tomal Singh, Laishram Kanhai Singh, Longjam Bijoy Singh, Kiyam Gopal Singh, Mairembam Koireng Singh, Hemam Nilamani Singh and Laishram Guna Singh. Meanwhile, Irabot did not come back to Imphal, after his release from the Sylhet jail. In fact, he joined the Communist Party of India and became inactive in Manipur firmament during the war.

All those INA recruits and sympathizers were shadowed by the military police and many of them were arrested and tortured in the Langthabal Military Jail for the covert reason that most of them led their unique lifestyle (Khadi-clad & Gandhi-capped etc.) as prototypes of Congress. Two octogenarians viz. Maisnam Gopal Singh of Lamshang and Angou Singh of Lamlong (Khurai) were so inhumanely harassed and tortured at Langthabal Jail (Concentration Camp) that they died soon after their release in the midst of the war. Earlier L. Jogeshwar Singh was arrested by a posse of policemen on the false charge of transmitting secret classified information of Kumbhirgram airport to the enemy in mid-1942. Meanwhile, the State Police began to round up the members of the Irabot-led Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha, whereupon many took to heels and fled to Burma and joined the INA under the leadership of Netaji. Like the Manipuris, many other natives of Burma, Nepal, Karens, Shans, Kachins, Nagas, Chins, Lushais, Kukis and other tribes either fought for the Allies or against it during 1942-44. Eventually, all those Manipuris who fled their homes to Burma for shelter accompanied the INA back to Manipur.

Gradually the INA and the Japanese army began to capture the British camps located in different parts of surrounding hills and the valley areas and were lying in wait for a bid to swoop down on the British camps in the valley. Thus, when the INA along with the Japanese army crossed the Indo-Burmese border on 18 March 1944 Manipur became a vast war-field. No longer able to withstand such joint INA and Nippon advances, all the British soldiers receded from the encircling hills and concentrated in the valley. On 11 April 1944 the British army retreated to Phubala and Ningthoukhong. Further on the 13 April all the British army had been evacuated from Moirang to Potsangbam. But the 17th British Division stayed put at Bishnupur camp.

The following day, the INA and Japanese army reached Tronglaobi and captured the British camp. Some adventurous Moirang residents: namely L. Sanaba Singh, M. Koireng Singh, and K. Kanglen Singh went to Tronglaobi and invited the advancing heroes on the 14th April 1944 to Moirang Kangla (ancient seat of power) for the formal flag-hoisting on the Indian soil. They came to Moirang along with S. A. Colonel Mallick, Leader of the Bahadur group of INA for ceremonial hoisting of national Tri-colour in the evening (around 5 P. M) on the same day (14th April 1944) at the historic Moirang Kangla, the sacred soil of India for the first time as a liberated area. After receiving, in the presence of Captain Ito of the 33rd Mountain Gun Regiment (of Japan), all the arms and ammunitions abandoned by the Allied forces and collected by the local people, Col. Mallick addressed the gathering on the occasion of such planting of the Tri-colour flag of INA with the symbolic Springing Tiger as emblem at Moirang where the INA Memorial Complex has since come up; and M. Koireng Singh, the freedom-fighter of Moirang (who later became Chief Minister, Manipur) interpreted the historic speech of Col. Malick, which ran as:

"The Provisional Government of Azad Hind had declared war on England and America with a commitment to complete with the creation of Greater East Asia and bring welfare to the people of India by defeating Anglo-American forces. The Indian National Army with unstinted support of the Japanese Government has now crossed the Indo-Burmese border and in the course of its struggle for the liberation of the people of India from the British yoke we have now reached Moirang, the ancient citadel of Manipur. Our commitment is to march to Delhi and unfurl the Tri-Color Flag there at Lal Killa. Many had died on our way to reach here (Moirang) and many would die on our way to Delhi. However, expulsion of the enemy from the sacred soil of India is a compulsion for us. We shall fight; and people of Manipur would provide supplies to us. Nothing about us shall be passed on to the enemy; everything about the enemy should be passed on to us. This is a way that people ought to do as a part of their contribution to our single-minded mission _ expulsion of the Imperialist forces from India. Freedom of India is very near; near at hand; we shall win it and we shall have progress and prosperity of the people of India after itů So give us your hands; our collective efforts should cause India free from slavery." 12

Afterwards, Moirang became the 'advance Hqs of the INA' for about three months. The Provisional Government of Azad Hind Fauz administered all the liberated areas of Manipur for all these three months. And the people of Manipur valley and hills extended full cooperation to the INA by supplying food, donations and other materials. In addition, many more Manipuris joined the INA movement and there used to be as many as 200 such persons in Manipur, better known as freedom-fighters since then enjoying a paltry pension awarded by the Government, in addition to certain other facilities respecting children's education etc. (see Table 10-3)

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