Article details
The Transcendental Role Of Women In Manipur History

Dr. M. C. Arunkumar & Irengbam Arun

Related Notes of Interest while on this topic

2. Manipur's counter-View of the Nupi-Lal

As in case of the then India, the British did not take long in Manipur to graduate from the status of carpet-bagging colonialists into full-fledged imperialists. In the process it also brought along a long period of social tension stemming from its policy of racism and discrimination. As a matter of fact, the West-East encounter also brought in its train new institutions, ideas, and various modernizing impulses from the occident to an ancient civilization. In brief, the Anglo-Manipuri encounter proved both degenerative of the inherently self-sustaining system on the one hand; and simultaneously regenerative through impulses of western precepts on the other. As between the two, the former (negative) would appear in full vigour, while the latter much less pronounced. The British view of things has already been laid out above in Note 1. However, the indigenous viewpoint is entailed below under different headings so that its divergence from the exotic standpoint would become clear.

A. Servitude and Colonial Administration:

Manipur lost its independence and became a Crown colony in 1891. Infant Churachand was placed on the throne of Manipur. Alien forces did thence occupy and trample the lofty ramparts of the ancient Kangla fortress. Along with a host of other patriots, Tikendrajit and Thangal had been served capital punishment, after publicly blandishing and charging them with 'treason and deceit' to the Crown. Deeming the 1891-episode as exemplary enough, the British began to articulate that henceforth the Manipuris would never be able to raise their heads. However after less than 13 years thenceforth i.e. in 1904 the Manipuri womenfolk pioneered the all-out 'First Nupi Lal (Women's War)' against the then upcoming and all too powerful British _ thereby showing that the Manipuri public could not be so easily subdued in bondage. Then, one after the other, the British had to face the Kuki War in 1917; the Kabui Uprising in 1930-32; and the 'Second Nupi Lal' in 1939, involving both the hills and vale of Manipur. Whereas political awareness dawned in other southeast Asian polities only during the Second World War when the Japanese vanquished the European colonial masters, but in Manipur such awareness came much earlier in two waves of Nupi Lal. Hence it could as well be acclaimed that in the case of Manipur, W. War II only replenished the earlier gender empowerment.

After 1892 the British behaviour had shown extreme colonialism both in flavour and content, approximating to perversion. The Brahma Sabha consisting of Maharaja Churachand and the inward-looking Brahmins did prove to be the right weapon in the British hands to oppress the general public. Since 1908 when infant king Churachand, on gaining adulthood, took upon himself the reins of State administration, the British provided an unobtrusive prop to all his oppressive policies. By means of this very Brahma Sabha, the British could unleash a reign of terror in the minds of the general public; create communal rift and religious dissensions among the Manipuri subjects; and deliberately keep them too preoccupied with these dissensions so as to keep them shut-out from any wind of change then being discerned elsewhere.

All well-intentioned rules, earlier enforced by those benevolent Manipuri kings, had now been rendered oppressive. For instance, earlier while road communication was very poor, all touring officials used to be rendered free lodging and boarding by the host-villagers by turns, in addition to transporting their bags and baggages; as well as overseeing safe conduit during tour. But now during king Churachand's reign, even Amins and tiny officials would start oppressing the host-villagers by alleging undue damages, and other personal or official effects. Besides requisitioning free-transport in respect of official equipments, villagers were required to carry heavy personal effects. Any default on their part could have meant penalty or imprisonment.

Where fishery lakes were auctioned the lessees would apply the 'Jala-sambandhi' rule in such wise that in monsoon wherever the high lake water would overflow over to private ponds etc., they would exploit all the nearby private water area, much to the chagrin of general public. But should any poor villager ever pluck even some lotus leaves, fruits or roots, they were prohibitively penalized. Once again, should any tera plant grow in any person's patta-land, that very tree and even the vicinity land would belong to the monarchy and the land-owner would be heavily penalized in case the land around the tera plant would be used for gardening etc. There used to be so many litigations for non-compliance of all these new rules of administration. The hillmen were forced to carry litters or palanquin for touring officials, besides escorting the official's palanquin in front, sideways and also in the rear. It was such a difficult time when even the Amins and Chowkidars from the plains thrived by exploiting the hillmen, reminiscent of the Britich administrative tenet of a 'Predator State'.

Hill administration had long since been taken away from the Maharaja in pursuance of the British policy: divide and rule, and entrusted to the President of the Manipur State Durbar. Thus the reactive impact of these harsh measures of the Maharaja and the Durbar did in fact fall squarely on the valley people. Particularly for the Hindu Manipuris, yet other repressive measures from the Brahma Sabha like 'mangba-sengba'in the name of religion fragmented the valley society further. The Maharaja and the Brahma Sabha according to their own convenience would use each other as the 'real hand inside the glove'. The Maharaja used to function as the head of the Brahma Sabha; and either of the two would thus find an excuse to act in the name of the other.

A combination of the two did so much terrorize the general public that no one could ever ignore the mangba-sengba issue. For, even the slightest disobedience or default of any such ruling would make one liable to this extreme form of excommunication from the then valley society. On the top of it all, even such other persons who come into contact with these excommunicated souls were deemed as susceptible (as if exposed to any contagious epidemic disease). Hence the whole leikai or neighbourhood or even a village could be wholly excommunicated. Ultimately, Maharaja Churachand Singh was found resorting to such means even against his political dissenters.

The strange aspect of the whole system was that any excommunicated person can pay a retribution charge to the Brahma Sabha and regain his lost socio-religious status. This would sound most incomprehensible to the then generation. Yet other repressive measures were in store for the Manipuri Hindus. If any relation of Shantidas Gossai would ever come to Manipur, every Hindu had to pay obeisance and even contribute chandan sen-khai. In the faraway corners of the country, story went round of the villagers headed by the village chowkidars to hand over basketfuls of paddy to these visiting relatives of Shantidas Gossai. Similarly repressive were the compulsion to engage non-Manipuri barber (napet) and pay them either a remuneration or at least some paddy on the occasion of 'yum-sengba' ritual; after either birth or death in the Manipuri household. For some extremely poor households the incidence of such a practice proved too heavy and prohibitively costly.

The British well knew of all these out-dated methods of administration then being perpetrated by the Maharaja and Brahma Sabha to oppress the people. However, they supported the Maharaja in his pursuit so long as their interest was not jeopardized. On their part the public, torn between the British and the king, had to support the Maharaja, thereby unduly pleasing the Maharaja. On the whole, the British made good use of the manifest policy of non-interference in the autonomy of the Maharaja, although inwardly their real interest lay in shutting out the Manipur populace from the freedom struggle then gaining ground against British colonialist in British India. Altogether blinkered to all those public sufferings as such, it turned out to be a fitting model of colonial vestige in which the sick and the weak could barely survive.

B. Non-Manipuri Officials & Traders as British Intermediaries:

There were then two groups of people wholeheartedly helping the British in the administration (Babu) and trade (Bania) of Manipur. Through their long association elsewhere, the first group proved to be the more faithful and trustworthy in running the administration. In Manipur too those, brought along with them, did prove to be the right persons in the then overwhelmingly Vaishnavite Manipuri society, where long since the Manipuri kings like Bhagyachandra preempted the service of the vakil or lawyers in their contacts with the East India Company.

The British used to entrust the responsibility of the heads of office, whenever not handled by themselves, to these Babus. Both Babu Rasik Lal Kundu, the then Superintendent of the Political Agency Office, and Babu Bamacharan Mukherji the then Superintendent of the State Office were pioneers in this area. Close in their footsteps yet other Babus followed viz: Babu Nithor Nath Bannerji, Babu Ambika Charan Ghosh, Babu Upendra Krishna Chakravarty, Babu Gaganchandra Aditya, Babu Manmohan Kundu etc. In their heyday the Bengali Babupara locality used to be the place of pride at Imphal. And the Victoria Club (estd.1910: during the reign of Queen Victoria), located in that propitious setting in Babupara, used to determine the destiny of Manipur.

However crafty the Babus could become, they were the lesser evil, as they could not have passed on their mantle of office to their descendents. But the same would not be true of the other non-Manipuri traders who came to Manipur as British protege. Although they came as petty traders, they became richer within no time; and much richer in terms of property and scale of operation with each passing generation. Functioning very much inside the Khwairamband Bazar within the British Reserve area of Imphal where British laws used to be enforced by these Britishers with the help of the Agency Police, these traders could function fearlessly. They were initially quite few in number; and debarred from buying or selling land. But they soon became powerful enough to control the entire economy of Manipur by subterfuge.

It used to be common practice for these traders to exploit the Manipur farmers, in more than one way, in the course of buying paddy from the latter. The first and foremost form of exploitation was the unscrupulous effort made by them to reduce paddy-price even below the rock-bottom price with the covert connivance of the Britishers whose interest would be served as long as such an alien system could be posited thereby serving the interest of either. The net effect of such an econocide was that the average farmer, in stead of thriving under the new system, became more and more indebted, so much so even their farms had to be vended in most cases, while in some just exchanged for a pittance because they were not in a position to pay the nominal land revenue; let alone the accessed yield and other benefits from farm land. (See also Chpt. 11: Note 9.)

Econocide is used herein to denote the deliberate destruction of a profitable and established economic order with the clear further implication that it be destroyed by forces from outside the system itself. The murdered economy in this instance was that of the valley farming system in Manipur towards the fag end of the British colonialism. However much it would become necessary to measure the extent of economic decline during the British period, there is no such precise measure.

Even otherwise, some loose ends remain which are outside the framework of this particular anthology. On another dimension, may be, it was a pure case of 'overkill' by those traders who then entered Manipur on payment of Foreigners' tax and perhaps in league with the Manipur administration. And such a stylish flourish on the part of the Britishers is tantamount to a kind of slavery _ or paradoxically enough, British neo-slavery in the Era of Abolition of Slavery itself. Such economic decline theory may have various variants, once again falling outside the scope of the present exercise.

On top of such price-exploitation, it used to be another open secret that these traders did exploit the innocence of the farmers by imposing a queer system (or unwritten rule) that the fresh paddy stock would lose weight, even as and when milled and weighed, as dry rice and therefore that one maund of paddy ought to be made equivalent to 48 seers, against the legal conversion rate: one maund = 40 seers. In a monopsonistic market where the farmers compete on the supply side to sell their paddy soon after the harvest to these few non-Manipuri traders (all united in terms of price margin; overweight in buying; etc.), the farmers could only curse themselves for becoming farmers so that the traders bounce upon them with such unfair trade practices with the Britishers only looking the other way, even if anybody had the audacity to lodge complaints to them.

Even the price of yarn sold by these very traders to the Manipuri female weavers used to be fixed in kind (in terms of the woven fabric Koyet-macha or turban cloth to be sold back to the same yarn-seller), while the price of the woven fabric purchased from these weavers would also be fixed by the same traders en bloc just marginally above the yarn-cost. It was common place knowledge that they would smuggle out layers of Ganja hidden in the fabrics when ultimately they export these cloth in bales. Further in the inward-coming packages of merchandise they would regularly smuggle in opium into Manipur. For that matter, they used to import into Manipur kerosene oil, betel nut, clothes, yarn, iron goods, shoes, salt etc., while they would export from Manipur mostly rice, fried rice, boiled paddy, live cattle, horse, agar (resinous substance from agar trees, much fancied by Arab Sheikhs etc.). Through all these nefarious trade practices and associated smuggling-in and -out of illicit articles, Manipur virtually proved to be the coveted gold mine, the El Dorado for these non-Manipuri traders, ever since British occupied Manipur.

Hence the public ire on these traders used to be quite deep-seated, instead of being skin-deep. By 1920, the Manipur public openly boycotted their shops for having unduly escalated prices. The Khwairamband marketplace remained closed for quite a long time. And the Manipuris were flogged and otherwise punished even for casting furtive and disdainful looks at these traders _ by now having safely lodged themselves as the British henchmen. Because of persistent complaints that the innocence (lack of calculative or reckoning faculty) and inarticulation of the female traders in the exclusively all-female traditional market had so long been fully exploited by the over-cunning traders, some interested males went to the extent of deliberately starting an all-male market.

Kisturichand Saraogi and his family members became the pioneers among compatriot businessmen to exploit the then burgeoning Manipur market upto the hilt. Yet other notables were Ganeshlal, Guru Dayal, Ramkumar etc. Public angst against these non-Manipuri traders coupled with the large number of rice-mills run by some Manipuris on behalf of these traders were the ultimate rootcause of the Nupi Lal. The Manipur public was, as it were, the shuttlecock of hard-hitting blows (smashes) received from all the concerned viz. Maharaja, Durbar, law courts, Brahma Sabha and even the underhand dealings of these traders. And on conjecture it would be difficult to judge who was the greatest oppressor (smasher). This was the sort of administration fancifully propped up even by the British. Hence there was none to whom the desolate common public could turn for some solace. Likewise, the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha, established in 1934 by some literate middle-class Manipuris, could not appreciate the extent of public sufferings, even if asked.

The Mahasabha failed to contribute by way of any public good, except do away with some outdated religious custom and precepts. In its 1938-session at Chinga the Mahasabha undertook some political resolutions, but could not rise to the occasion and provide the leadership role. The most it could do was to suppress and obfuscate issues in utter hopelessness and dissatisfaction. Hence all these suppressed feelings had to give vent like a volcano in the Nupi Lal.

C. Paddy Supply Position in 1939:

As long as the annual paddy stock could be replenished at harvest time, the Manipuri public could, as a matter of habit, remain very much tolerant of all other oddities and hardships. But heavy rains in July-end and the beginning of August destroyed almost all the standing crops in 1939. Then came the further rains of September-end and early-October, which submerged all the surviving standing crops, and flooded all low-lying fields for quite long. Hence the villagers became apprehensive of a famine right in the month of Hiyangei and Poinu (November/December).

Even the Manipur State Durbar was well aware that the state, itself dependent on Monsoon, would experience rice-scarcity this year. Hence, right from September 13 a Durbar Resolution No. 11 had initially been adopted banning all forms of export of rice. However in the face of Maharaja Churachand's stiff resistance, rice had to be exported to provision the Assam Rifles' garrisons in Kohima and Sadia under the Lal Pass system as earlier acceded to by Manipur Government. But at the insistence of the then Political Agent, Mr. Christopher Gimson, the Durbar adopted another resolution on September 23 to export 800 md of rice for September and another 2,000 md every month thereafter, to be destined for the civilian population of Kohima, Sadiya, etc.

At that time the traders never stopped smuggling out rice from Manipur. As Mangalchand Kisturichand & Co. was already entrusted with the monopoly task of collecting tax from all those motor vehicles plying along the Kohima road, their compatriot traders used to get lot of advantages. Not satisfied with the subterfuge, these traders lobbied with the king to allow export of fried and parboiled rice, even though export of rice itself was already banned. The Maharaja took their side and vetoed the Durbar resolution and allowed export of fried and parboiled rice, by advancing such a lame excuse that all those rice already fried and parboiled could not be kept long in stock. (Table 11-10.)

In the name of old stock, fresh paddy had then been secretly used by these traders for making fried and parboiled rice. Just like addicts who cannot be kept away from intoxicants, capitalist Kisturichand Seraogi found it impossible to withstand the continued export-ban on rice itself. He submitted a petition to the Government praying for allowing rice-export. The scheduled Durbar meeting on November 7 was adjourned, pleading for time to conduct a spot-enquiry so that a proper decision thereon could be taken in the next meeting. But Babu Kisturichand became grossly impatient.

He filed yet another petition insisting on the Maharaja to convene a special meeting on November 9, just to consider this issue. Hitherto all Durbar meetings used to consider and adopt between 10 and 20 resolutions. But on this specified day a single resolution was passed allowing export of rice outside Manipur from November 24 onwards. Even this could not satisfy Maharaja Churachand, who ordered on November 21 that rice export would be allowed with immediate effect. Thus under great duress the Durbar members had to very reluctantly yield to the pressure applied by these profiteers.

D. December 11:

Those directly impinged by such rice-export were naturally the daily bread-earners who lived from hand to mouth. The rich traders began to procure even the standing crops through their agents. Those average farmers who used to dispose their frugal annual surplus paddy output just to buy some clothes and pay revenue or instalments towards common fund etc. could not escape themselves from the attractive offers received from these traders. Hence these farmers would secretly ferry at night their stocks in bullock carts for disposal to the traders and other rice-mill owners. Under the circumstances, it had its very unnatural impact on the price-level and overall supply-position of rice.

In any normal harvest year at this time one sangbai of paddy would cost hardly four annas and a few pices, and with one rupee one could easily forget all worldly woes by procuring four or five sangbais of paddy with 100 delicate (ngaton) fishes for just one pice. (For conversion see Footnote 2: Table No. 11-7.) But within just 4 or 5 days the price shot up to two rupees per sangbai of paddy. The hardest-hit were those traditional 'rice-pounders' who could earn just sufficient margin for her sustenance (to buy vegetables and other essentials) by procuring one sangbai of paddy for handpounding and subsequent retail-sale of the dehusked rice in the market. However even all these self-employed females would now find it difficult to sustain themselves, and were forced to remain starved in the harvest time. On this particular day (December 11) the avaricious traders procured even all those handpounded rice from these pedlars early in the morning as immediately as they brought rice for retail sale. Forced to part with their paltry basket-load of rice stocks, all the rice-vendor females left the market early in the day.

By the afternoon, all the female vendors reached the Khwairamband marketplace with whatever merchandise they had: vegetables, utensils, pots, grocery and loom-clothes. Worthwhile recalling is the fact that they collect these merchandize from mofussil or outlying markets in the morning. Quite naturally almost all of them would belong to those living from hand to mouth by procuring rice and other essentials on a daily basis for only the night meal and the following morning. All day long they were busy selling their wares, utterly oblivious of the fact that there was no rice in the market at all to be procured for their night meals. This fact dawned on them only in the late evening when they went to buy some rice on their way back home. Everybody then started blaming traders who collected all the available rice stock from the market in the morning itself. Utterly helpless and dumbfounded, those 50-60 market-women vendors were silently conjecturing what to do. (See Note 4 below.)

At this juncture Laishram Kanhai and Takhellambam Bokul came back southward after canvassing among cinema-goers in Ramkumar's Cinema Hall not to witness cinema shows in the face of such acute rice-scarcity. Perchance, these two persons met those helpless and dumbfounded market-women. They immediately realized the gravity of the situation from these womenfolk. Infuriated, they led the women towards the shops accompanied by all those women after leaving behind 2/3 women to look after the merchandize of the womenfolk. By now those disheartened womenfolk became somewhat spirited. They started rebuking right and left all those Manipuri farmers for bringing their paddy to these shops in bullock-carts in the dead of night.

Meanwhile, the woman activists could somehow drag out over twenty farmers with their bullock-carts from different lanes and bylanes in the traders' vicinity in that cold winter night around 12 P. M. The womenfolk brought them along in a procession to be produced before the Imphal Police Station on the allegation that paddy was being secretly siphoned off to traders, while stark famine was threatening and staring into every household in the entire society. By that time the few police constables then on night duty went to sleep in the thatched house behind the Police Station. With some difficulty, the womenfolk woke them up and informed them the purpose of their mission. But the police refused to open the door pleading that they were only doing their night duty but unable to entertain any complaint as there was no officer to handle the case.

The women-leaders were thus in a fix. On the one hand, they dragged along over twenty bullock-carts to be produced before the Imphal Police Station, while the Police Station refused to entertain at this time of the night in the absence of any competent officer to arrest the culprits. By that time the cartmen did not reach the Police Station, because the women-leaders came ahead of the cartmen. Exhibiting sound presence of mind, Kanhai and Bokul turned back to confront the cartmen. The cartmen were then found approaching the Imphal Post Office (just next door) on their way to the Police Station. Kanhai and Bokul found a way out to negotiate with these cartmen. The latter were asked to apologize to the women leaders enjoining that they would never again sell paddy to the traders, so that they could be saved from all the botheration.

The apparent climax of such a heated event was thus averted through such a showdown, arranged post-haste. And the cartmen were all too happy to be let off and hurried back home by crossing the Sanjenthong bridge. The time then must have been well past midnight. Till then these women folks were the least concerned with the legality of their action. There was none to sober them with sound advice. Somehow thereafter they scampered home, feeling half-heartedly satisfied with their queer adventure.

E. December 12:

Those market-women hardly imagined in their weirdest fancy that they had just heralded a new chapter in the recorded gender history of Manipur. They must have been fast asleep that early morning, when people throughout the entire valley woke up trying to verify the rumour that 'market-women handed over bullock cartmen to the Police.' Emboldened by such rumour, womenfolk further rounded up yet all other bullock carts moving along the road in the early morning of December 12 and forced them to follow the activists towards the Imphal Police Station.

Through relay messages the market women succeeded in marshalling more and still more women. Gradually thronging at a distance of 2 miles from the State Durbar (present day Secretariat building) were tens of thousand of women, row after row in all directions of Imphal. Their number swelled with each passing moment. The roads being then unmetalled, even the air in the entire area on that winter morning became suffocatingly dust-laden with the excited movement of these womenfolk. Each woman was dressed in symbolic white with their heads covered with one end of their white wrapper, as of now. Some women were seen tightening a thin cloth around their waist, while yet others were carrying small babies on their backs.Each one came out with her own version of the acute shortage of rice. None listened to the other. But all of them knew fully well without anybody telling that the greedy traders were at the root of the entire malaise.

The President of the then Manipur State Durbar was one Mr. T. A. Sharpe, a barely thirty-year old Britisher, who had recently passed the I. C. S. He was himself new and only from August 1 he took charge of his office from Mr. McDonald. As luck would have it, the brunt of facing those very headstrong Manipuri womenfolk lay on the shoulders of this youngest officer (Unfortunately he himself died in Manipur during World War II).

The other Durbar members were Shri Nongmaithem Shyamacharan Singh Selungba, Shri Rajkumar Bhaskor Singh Khurailakpa, Shri Maharajkumar Priyabrata Singh, Shri Sougaijam Somorendra Singh, Shri Lairenmayum Ibungohal Singh, and Shri Sanjenbam Nodiachand Singh. The last three were the Additional Durbar Members, the other three were ordinary Durbar members. Since the first had been on pre-retirement leave the target of the women activists was naturally the five Durbar members. All the Durbar members were simply surprised at the sudden mobilization of over ten thousand activists on this wintry morning. There was no foreboding of such a turn of events and even the Political Agent, Mr. C. Gimson was himself away on tour.On this day, some Durbar members came all by themselves ahead of the regular office hour, so others were summoned, and all members were in attendance. Mr.Sharpe reached the Durbar Hall with great difficulty in a bowler's hat riding an open car. As soon as he arrived, all the womenfolk shouted at him:Stop Rice Export!, Just Now!', 'Shut down all the Rice-Mills', of course, in Manipuri language.

Mr. Sharpe did not understand a word of Manipuri, while the women activists wouldn't know a word of English. However, Mr. Sharpe could easily guess from the wrenched fists and accusing fingers of women activists' (themselves in cummerbunds) and entered the Durbar Hall after telling the activists that the matter would be considered by the Durbar then and there. All the women remained glued around the Durbar office, while Mr. Sharpe and the Durbar members began considering the agenda. With every passing moment more and yet more women joined the congregation, although there was till then no public fury, as they were hopeful that the Durbar would comply with their demand. However the Durbar members became divided when they considered a way out of the impasse. Three members: Sougaijam Somorendra, Lairenmayum Ibungohal and Sanjenbam Nodiachand were in favour of a complete export ban. But Mr. Sharpe and Rajkumar Bhaskor were unyielding.

Their argument was that one couldn't be so sure of a famine only on the basis of the present price-rise lasting a bare 18 days. Even the on-going harvest was not that poor. Hence there was bound to be some more paddy stock destined for export outside the State. (See also Chpt 11: Note 8.) Thus these two favoured a decision on the matter in the next Durbar meeting. It therefore implied that the on-going rice-export might continue at least till then. But M. K. Priyabrata Singh was against a complete ban, although as an interim measure or pending the final decision, rice export could be banned. Hence the Durbar members proved themselves completely unconcerned with the gravity of the agitators, then 'gheraoing' them. Although divided in their approach, they agreed on one thing: the need for an immediate public inquiry. They also preempted to pass the buck to the Maharaja and await an order from the Maharaja, then camping in Nabadwip.This resolution was arrived at, despite their complete awareness about the lengthy process involved in obtaining a decision from the Maharaja. Some of the Durbar members were on the verge of decamping from the scene through the backdoor after passing such a mismatched resolution.

By that time the woman-activists, already exhausted in the heat of the sunshine through the day, had become impatient. At this juncture someone shouted that 'Durbar members had run away.' Then the assembled crowd ran towards the State Military Police Quarter-Guard (present 1st Manipur Rifles compound) and brought back Lairenmayum Ibungohal. Yet others forced their way into the Durbar Hall and brought out Mr. Sharpe. The women agitators then demanded that rice-export should be immediately banned. Mr. Sharpe argued back that he was helpless unless the Maharaja intervene on the matter. Then in that din of so many activists trying to shout the other down somehow, Mr. Sharpe's point that he should send a telegram to that effect had been appreciated by the women agitators, who thus condescended to it. At this juncture the Civil Surgeon, Major P. H. Commins, came to help Mr. Sharpe. Thus the three of them (Mr. Sharpe, Mr. Commins and Durbar Member Ibungohal) had been brought over to the Telegraph Office by the encircled ring of women agitators just to send a telegram to the Maharaja. It must be about 1 P.M. when Mr. Sharpe sent the telegram to the Maharaja requesting for permission to ban rice export.

After sending out the telegram, Mr. Sharpe wanted to go home, but the activists retorted saying that he should remain there itself till the reply comes back from the Maharaja. Repeated entreaties from Mr. Sharpe to be allowed to go home were flatly denied by the females who encircled the Telegraph Office building from outside. By that time some male spectators had also joined in. Even the rank of the female agitationists increased minute by minute drawn by the excitement of the event. By about two-thirty P. M. Mr. Bulfield, the Commandant of the 4th Assam Rifles got news of the event from the driver of Major Commins. Immediately, he rushed to the Telegraph Office along with some armed sepoys. But the infuriated activists prevented his entry. Thereupon Mr. Bulfield left one bugle-carrying sepoy at the Telegraph Office, while himself remaining at a safe distance at the foot of a tree along with his sepoys. The activists seemed a little cowed down by the readiness for a deterrent action shown by Mr. Bulfield and his soldiers (e. g. fixing the bayonets to the rifles), as also by the preparedness of the other remaining sepoys in the Assam Rifles compound from across the moat towards the north of Telegraph Office.

Not to be cowed down by all these, some male accomplices started shouting slogans repeatedly and pointing their outstretched hands skyward: Bande Mataram! and Victory to Motherland Manipur! _ the then fad; albeit with a Sanskritization tinge. This had the dramatic effect of exciting the discouraged activists. Initially there was no response, but after a short while the entire activists echoed back in unison, thereby achieving the desired mob effect. By chance, one Nongyai from Sagolband cited that his own mother had become untraceable, having perhaps been rounded up and detained inside the Telegraph Office.

That proved the turning point among the hitherto non-violent crowd. Because then some male activists threw stones at the Telegraph Office windows. That marked the beginning of the violence. Then the sepoys under the command of Major Commins charged at the crowd with their bayonet-fixed rifles. Some brave male activists caught hold of the sepoys and threw them on the ground. Seeing the outbreak, some outer-ring activists started running away from the scene, which was however stopped by the activists from inside the ring. Ultimately some women lay injured and all the activists driven out of the Telegraph Office. In all twentyone female activists lay injured with bayonet-injuries. That embodies the scene being depicted in the Nupi Lal Memorial constructed recently (Photoplate 13:4) in a record time in late 1990's with donations and contributions through the good office of then Manipur Governor, O. N. Shrivastava.

(The above purports to be a transliteration, with emphasis, of the articles in Manipuri, published in the Souvenir entitled: Macha Leima: December 12: 1999: published by the Manipuri Chanura Leishem Marup, Palace Compound, Imphal.)


     Powered by: