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The Transcendental Role Of Women In Manipur History

Dr. M. C. Arunkumar & Irengbam Arun

Related Notes of Interest while on this topic

1. British View of the Nupi-Lal

The British view is preeminently incorporated in its official releases namely Annual Administrative Reports:

"The most important event of the year was the outbreak in December 1939 of disturbances known as 'Nupi Lal' or the Women's War. There had previously been a similar outbreak of in 1904 when the then Political Agent issued orders for the rebuilding by forced labour of the Assistant Political Agent's bungalow which had been burnt down by inhabitants of Imphal. For a week there were demonstrations by market women which had to be dispersed by force."

"The present outbreak had its immediate cause in a rise in the price of rice. Foreign merchants in Imphal who had set up rice mills, were buying all the paddy they could get, milling it and exporting it. This and disappointing harvest hit poorer townsfolk hard when they were already suffering from the loss of earnings from husking paddy. Demonstrations were therefore held demanding the cessation of exports and the closing of all rice-mills. The first of these was on December 12th, when several hundred women came to the State Office and insisted that the President of the Durbar, Mr. Sharpe, should forbid the export of rice. The President pointed out that such an order would require the sanction of the Maharaja and the women accompanied him to the Telegraph Office so that he could wire to His Highness who was at Nabadwip. When he had done so, they kept him there to await the Maharaja's reply and the Commandant of the 4th Assam Rifles Major Bulfield, and the Civil Surgeon, Major Cummins who came to the rescue, were kept there too. Finally, the compound of the Telegraph Office, which is in the British Reserve, was cleared by a detachment of Assam Riles, but though the club bearer was allowed to bring them drinks, the officers did not get out until 11.30 p.m. "

"Next day a message was received from the Maharaja asking the Political Agent to help prevent the export of rice and an order forbidding it was promptly issued. The women then turned their attention to the rice mills, extorting written promises from the mill owners that they would not work their mills. But that night, news that a mill-owner had soaked and boiled some paddy to make parboiled rice caused an angry crowd of some 10,000 women to march on one of the largest mills and only after the electric switches of the mill had been removed by order of Mr. Gimson, the Political Agent, could he persuade them to go home."

"Excitement died down, only to flare up again on December 29th. The day before, some carters whose rice had been thrown into the gutter lodged a complaint in the Court of the Political Agent, naming five women as their assailants. The Agency Police thereupon asked the State Police to produce the women so that their statements could be recorded. A large crowd of women objected and besieged the Police Inspector in the State Thana for several hours, alleging quite falsely that he had kicked an elderly Brahmin woman. Threats to murder the Inspector were shouted but he succeeded in spiriting himself away to the Palace _ a creditable and surprising achievement for a man of his bulk."

"During the succeeding days the main Bazar in the British Reserve was boycotted and meetings were held in the Police Bazar. Men now began to take a more prominent part in the agitation, which is said to have been fanned by an old prophesy that the appointed time had come for the arrival of a new Maharaja riding on a white elephant. The Mahasabha, a local body with Congress affiliations, also took advantage of the unrest and suggested that their leader was the rider of the prophesy. A particularly violent speech on January 9th however, caused his arrest and the continued agitation led the Darbar on January 13th to forbid meetings in the Police Bazar. A large meeting was held that night in defiance of the Darbar's order, and a crowd which assembled the next day had to be dispersed by the State Police assisted by a posse of hastily recruited lathilals. The success of the lathi charge had a steadying effect and the women, whose interest had gradually waned as the men joined in and who by this time were no longer very clear as to what the hullaballoo was all about, had themselves split into two opposing factions. With a fall in the price of paddy, condition gradually returned to normal, but it was not for over a year that the main Imphal Bazar was fully occupied."

"Though the immediate causes of the Women's War had been economic there was also a strong feeling of dissatisfaction among people with the administration over the Mangba-Sengba scandal of the year before. Well-to-do Brahmins had gone round the village informing people that the Brahma Sabha had declared them Mangba or outcast and offering for a consideration to have been declared Sengba or purified. Similar methods were also used to persuade villagers to pay Brahmins for the recovery of cattle which the Brahmins had themselves stolen. Although such Brahmins were often not members of the Brahma Sabha and were in any case usually acting without its authority, the fact that the Maharaja was the head of the Brahma Sabha caused a loss of confidence in the Administration. The Darbar, who were somewhat out of touch with the public, shared in this loss of confidence in this case unjustly, having taken rigorous and successful action to put a stop to this scandal. Coming on the top of this loss of confidence, the Women's War caused a breakdown of the Administration manifested mainly by the inadequacy, both in numbers and efficiency, of the State Police. The questions of the reform of the administration was accordingly taken up and was under discussion when the year under report closed." (Extract from Manipur Administration Report: 1939-40)

Further rises in the price of rice during 1940-41 had simulated the near equivalent of a booby trap of what the Britishers euphemistically called 'Women's War" as may be seen from their own eventful account:

"Average price of rice was Rs. 2-8-0/per maund. During the previous year it had risen to Rs.1-12-0 to Rs. 2-0-0 ( a rise which had its share in provoking Nupi Lal). 2,52,602 maunds of rice were exported during the year...."

"The disturbance known as 'Nupi Lal' (or Women's War) which took place during winter of 1939-40, brought to a head this question of introducing reforms into the Manipur State. The first request for this introduction had been made as far back as November, 1938, when His Highness the Maharaja (king) received a petition signed by 356 members of the public asking for the setting up of a Legislative Council and nomination of Durbar (King-in-Council) members from members of the Council.... and for abolition of budget grant for temples etc. (mangba sengba*, judicial delay etc. ) of Rs 72,000 a year on Maharaja's head of Account."

"This somewhat unrealistic contribution was followed in December by 'Women's War', which, while delaying further consideration of reforms, emphasized the need for them. The 'War' which started as an agitation by the Bazar Women of Imphal against export of rice was gradually taken over by the Mahasabha ( a political forum) and by it used as a tool of fermenting agitation on Congress (national party led by Mahatma Gandhi, among others) lines. The situation was soon completely out of hand and the climax was reached on January 13th, when the State Police were unable to prevent a large meeting being held in the Police Bazar in defiance of the Durbar's order. Control was with difficulty reestablished next day with the help of recruits...."

"As a result... Mr. Hughes-Hughes was sent to take over the Civil and Military Police and the reductions in the Civil List were incorporated in the budget for the following year. The remaining reforms in particular the resurvey and re-settlement of the Valley and the constitution of the Chief Court remained to be put into effect later on." (Extract from Manipur Administration Report: 1940-41 p. 5).

*N. B. Mangba-sengba used to be the then king's oral command to excommunicate a Hindu subject. Often, repentance, request for pardon (with or without penalty) might help the reversal from mangba (unclean, polluted, excommunicated status) to sengba (free admittance in social gathering/royal audience and favour). (See also Chpt 5B: Note 5; & Chpt 9: Note 7 above.)


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