E-Pao! Manipur History :: Nupi Lan – the Women’s War in Manipur, 1939

Nupi Lan – the Women’s War in Manipur, 1939
- An Overview -

Ibotombi S. Longjam *


Nupi Lan –which means women’s war in Manipuri- is one of the important movements in the history of Manipuri women. It sowed the new seeds of economic and political reforms for a new Manipur in the early 40’s.

It was started in 1939 as an agitation by Manipuri women against the oppressive economic and administrative policies ruled by the Manipur Maharaja and the Political Agent –Mr. Gimson- of the British Government (1933-45) in Manipur, and later on, evolved into a movement for the constitutional and administrative reform in Manipur.

How Nupi Lan broke out and how it gave motivation to the people of Manipur to start for a new political revolution are the important questions that have been addressed over the years.

To know the issues related to the movements of Manipuri women, it would be worthwhile to understand their status in the then society.

The role of Manipuri women in the agrarian economy of Manipur is a crucial one to reckon, right from the involvement in the production to the selling and marketing of food grains. They manage most of the internal trade of food and clothing and they hold a free standard of living in the society.

They were the most important buyers and sellers in the main market Khwairamband Bazar – a bazar which was founded by Khagemba Maharaj around in 1580 AD and which is also known as Ima Keithel. This bazar was also ‘the place’ where the out-breaking of the Nupi Lan took place (Lamyanba, 1973).

However the status of a Manpuri woman was not that significant individually, despite their main contribution to the economic prosperity.

The practice of polygamy which was quite prevalent at that time, made them as unemanicipated and unsatisfied participants in the society.

Perhaps, outbreak of two big wars --one against the Awas (or the Myanmars) in 1817 which led to the Seven Years Devastation and the other against the British Empire in 1891 which led to a great reduction of the male population-- made them to a greater acceptance to have the practice of polygamy (one can, even now, see in a family which has very few boys, the boys are much more taken care than their sisters).

After Manipur lost its independence, the women started to play important role in seeking for political and economic independence. It was the women who protested against the then Political Agent -Mr. Maxwell- against the forced labour -lalup kaba in Manipuri- on Manipuri men.

Under their aggressive pressure amounted, the British had to withdraw the use of forced labour in 1904. They also involved in the wide spread demonstration against the increase of Water-Tax by the British Government (Sanamani, 1976).

The point made here is that women played important roles not only in the economic activities but in the political reforms of Manipur also. The rest of the writing is organized in the following manner.

In section II, we see how the policy of rice trade especially the rice export was the main cause the outbreak of Nupi Lan. Section III gives a brief summary of the incidents of December 12 and the developments of various political movements following the Nupi Lan is analysed in section IV. The overview ends with a small conclusion on the overall survey of Nupi Lan in section V.

II. The Export Policy of Rice and Nupi Lan:

As Manipur lost in the Anglo-Manipuri War in 1891, she was put under the British Administration by installing the young boy Churachand as the Maharaja in 1907 and by giving him the responsibility for governing the state.

A Durbar headed by a President chosen by the British assisted the Maharaja in the state’s administration. The Durbar had the highest original and appellant court both in civilian and criminal matters.

Though there was some trade between Manipur and Assam governments before 1891, it became significant when Manipur was merged under the British Empire. Consequently there was a large scale export of rice to its neighbouring states.

But considering the limited amount of rice produced in the valley, exporting of rice was regulated the state government by the turn of 1930’s. Nevertheless, the rice export was going on to a large extant.

One of the factors that had made the export of rice to a large degree was the introduction of the motor vehicles. Before the motor vehicles came to Manipur, most of the major transport of all kinds were by means of bullock, horse or handcarts and local people were able to control the exporting of rice easily.

But since the introduction of the motor vehicles and the increase of the Marwari (also part of the so called Mayangs or foreigner by the local people) Traders, the export policy started changing. The outflow of rice by motorised vehicles, by then, had increased substantially, much to unawareness of its limited stock, and hence the price of rice started soaring high.

The problem of price rise and dwindling of rice-stock was seen because of the high correlation between the increased of the number Marwari traders and the volume of rice exported outside the state. The Marwaris started their business early in the 1900’s and were settled in the British Area in Manipur, which was not administered by the State Durbar.

They slowly captured the trade of cotton and handloom products and also excelled in the rice trading since the arrival of the motor vehicles.

The State Durbar controlled the export of rice under two regulatory actions:
1) the Cart Tax which was levied on the rice exporters and
2) the Lal Pass which was a contract between the Manipur and Assam governments.

In a statistical study by Sanamani Yambem, the rice exported per unit acre of cultivated land increased quite phenomenally from 1921 to 1938. A precarious situation was reached in 1939 when there was an all record of the highest export of rice and any failure of rice harvest in the following year would bring a huge shortage of rice and might bring forth a near famine.

Then, lo! The inevitable came! In 1939, there was the outbreak of the World War II which swept the world over, and there was the excessive rain which continued well beyond the monsoon season -till October- which affected the harvest to a great extent.

Sure enough, with the hailstorm that followed in mid-Nov, the state faced a severe shortage of food. On 13th September, the State Durbar, in apprehension of the food shortage as rain still continued beyond the usual monsoon season, passed a resolution to ban rice export by denying any license for export to any individual (Lamyanba, 1973).

However they had to still commit the export of rice to the Kohima Civil Station in Assam as per agreement to the supply for the battalions of British soldiers. But soon, the rice export was resumed following the Maharaja’ order. This reopening of rice was directly responsible for creating additional shortage of rice and hence to the outbreak of Nupi Lan (Lan Dena, 1990).

As the war broke out and the harvest became low, the price of rice soared by nearly 80 percent. Since the stock of rice produced was the only source of income and livelihood for the peasants, they were forced to sell their limited stocks of rice to the Marwaris who were wooing them by offering to buy at a lower price than the local traders.

This made a huge amount of rice to be in the hands of these ‘foreigner’, and the local women who were traders in rice and paddy were deprived of their means of livelihood by then. Meanwhile, the Marwaris set up their own mills and still continued to export rice to the neighbouring states.

III. Incidents on Dec 12:

As usual, on Dec 11, the women traders have arrived at the Khwairamband Bazar to do their business, but there was nobody to sale an even a morsel of rice. Totally disappointed, they gathered and were all prepared for an agitation.

Meanwhile there was another group of people campaigning against the price-rise of rice. These two groups combined together and started looking for ‘foreign’ traders to check if they were buying rice from any local people.

On Dec 12, thousands of women gathered around the State Durbar Office asking for the immediate stoppage of rice export by shouting slogans and threatening to face various consequences. While the Durbar Members fled through the back door, but Mr. Sharpe, the President of the Durbar could not escape and had to face the agitated women alone (Lamyanba, 1973).

Meanwhile, the number of women going on rampage kept on increasing and all directing towards the Durbar Office. When the President told that the order of banning the rice-export couldn’t be done without the order of the Maharaj --who had gone to Nabadwip on pilgrimage-- the women took him to the telegraph office and confined him there till there was a response from the Maharaj.

Hearing the news of the confinement of the Maharaj of the Durbar President and other officials, a platoon of Assam Rifles arrived then to control the situation.

Second Nupi lan
Picture Courtesy: RKCS Art Gallery

The women raised their moral by shouting slogans like "Manipur Mataki Jai" and they became more aggressive. The situation had become fierce as the soldiers tried to clear the place around the office. However, the women did not dispersed totally as they remained on the road till they received a positive reply from the Maharaja.

In the charge of the soldiers, some 21 women got injured from the bayonets and butts of the soldiers’ weapons. Here, the readers are drawn their attention to note that the firmness of conviction and unity of women cannot be undermined especially in view of the fact that, this was occurred without any male participation or leadership.

This incidence made it clear that once the Manipuri women were convinced of their purpose, they never lacked militancy with the example like sleeping on the road in front of the lorries -a similar kind of reactions which can be seen at the present time also when the their children fall prey in the hands of soldiers.

Then a message came from the Maharaja on Dec. 14. But still the women were still around many mills overnight as they heard of some people converting rice into par-boiled rice and they urged the Durbar to ban all rice export completely as the Maharaja’s message did not give any clear indication of banning all the various groups of exporters or recipients of rice.

IV. Nupi Lan and New Political Movements:

It’s important to see how Nupi Lan helped in bringing the political reforms to move away from the then form of British Administration to a more democratic new Manipur. As Nupi Lan broke out, young political activities like L. Kanhai and T. Ibotombi of Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha started to discuss the issues of the women’s agitation.

However they could not do much as most of the Members of Mahasabha were rigid to do anything in the absence of Hijam Irabot who was away to Cachar by that time.

When Irabot arrived on Dec. 16th, the Nupi Lan entered a new phase as the women received the male support, which were in the dormant state till then. Irabot formed a new political party –Manipur Praja Samelini—, as most of the members of Mahasabha did not agree to support the women’s movement. Large public meetings were held with Irabot being the principal speaker.

But on Jan. 9, 1940, he was arrested under section 124 of IPC on the grounds of inflammatory speeches (Lamyanba, 1973). After Irabot’s arrest, his followers like Kanhai and others took up the cause of Nupi Lan and organised several meetings.

Many people started following sort of Civil Disobedience by refusing to pay feudal dues and taxes. Thus the movement initiated by the women received active support from their male counterparts at a later stage.

As the boycott of Khwairamband Bazar, which started since the outbreak of Nupi Lan, continued almost till the end of the summer of 1940, the economy of the state suffered badly.

Facing the situation, the administrative authority tried all means to force or convince the women to attend the Bazar. They arrested four women leaders and even threatened to sell off the empty places of the Bazar to outsiders, which however did not happened.

In August 19940, the Manipuri women filed a petition signed by Kumari, Rajani, Maipakpi, Sanatombi and Nganbi pointing out their main grievances as given below (Sanamani, 1976).
The unfitness of the Durbar Members,
The unfitness of the Police Member,
The illegal action of the Inspector of Police,
The illegal action of conviction of four women,
The unexpected police assault on the Public on Jan 14, 1940 and
The illegal action of Dulap Singh, Amin.
They assured that once their grievances were redressed, they would attend the bazar. The handling of the women’s boycott of bazar had some appreciation of the militancy of Manipuri women, as there was a great change of degree of handling the crisis from that of Dec 12 incident (Sanamani, 1976).

Though the grievances of the women were not immediately redressed, the women certainly made themselves felt. But the boycott itself came to an end with most of the population of Imphal fleeing for safety as the II World War approached Manipur.

V. Conclusion:

The Nupi Lan, the Manipuri women’s movement of 1939 was a result of the trade policy of the state Maharaja, which was more export oriented irrespective of the limited production of the food grains.

As the production of rice became very low because of the excessive rain in that year and uncontrolled export of rice by the Marwari monopolies continued, the price of rice soared very high which was too much for the local people to continue their trade.

Then the women who were more vocal and volatile than their male counterparts –because they were directly involved in the market activities—initiated the agitation and sustained it till a new political movement of Irabot and his followers took over it.

While the original demand was confined to the banning of rice export, their later demands also included the changes of Durbar and Administrative set-up.

Thus there is little doubt that Nupi Lan which started as a rice agitation against the policy of Maharaja and Marwari Monopolies, later evolved into a movement of constitutional, political, and economic reforms in Manipur.

VI. References:
  • "Nupi Lan, 1939" Lamyanba, vol. 5, no 51, December 1973.
  • "Manipur Itihasta Nupi Lan" Lamyanba, vol. 5, no 52, January 1974.
  • Sanamani Yambem. "Nupi Lan: Manipur Women’s Agitation, 1939"
  • Economic and Political Weekly, 21 February 1976.pp 325-331.
  • Dr. Lal Dena (1990) History of Modern Manipur (1826-1949)

* Ibotombi S. Longjam, while in Mumbai, wrote this article on 11th December 1998. This article was taken from a website that was alive around 1997/98.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • COVID-19 Status 14 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Mining MoUs & Concerns in Manipur
  • COVID-19 Status 13 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Agriculture innovation to achieve food security
  • Lines for Children :: Poem
  • School business: True lies
  • 'Call for PDA Govt to step down is justified'
  • Donation of PPE to Chief Minister by SBI
  • Understanding containment zone
  • COVID-19 and the way forward
  • Licypriya low-cost 'Face Shields' : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 12 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Airlifting of organic Pineapples : Gallery
  • Lies, fabrications & malicious intentions
  • Annual Orphanage Visit at Pune
  • Licypriya Kangujam low-cost 'Face Shields'
  • 9th Manipuri Film Awards (MANIFA) Result
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • Twists & turns in resignation drama
  • Cheers to Tangkhul Forum of COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Status 11 July : Govt of Manipur
  • The Killing Fields 2013-20 : News Timeline
  • 11 July 2020 : World Population Day
  • Let the child LIVE!!!
  • You and Yours :: Poem
  • Webinar: The need of the hour
  • Tears still wet eys of extrajudicial victims widow
  • Yaoshang Halankar @BijoyGovinda #2: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 10 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Webninar: Re-imagine Ethnopharmacology
  • In-Situ & Ex-Situ Transmissions of COVID-19
  • Gyanendro Ningombam- Hockey President
  • Morning Prayer in COVID 19 Lockdown : Poem
  • PDA Nagaland : Meeting Resolutions
  • Wanted : Cooking Gas, Not Laughing Gas
  • The NPP conundrum
  • Save Nambul River
  • COVID-19 Status 09 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Stigma & COVID: Challenge in path to recovery
  • The mystery bird :: Poem
  • A dozen of Ministers is not enough
  • A.I in Modern Era
  • Consider cooperative as career choice
  • Time to strengthen party at grassroot level
  • Manipur & the Lushai Expedition, 1871-72 #2
  • COVID-19 Status 08 July : Govt of Manipur
  • The Flat Keys :: Poem
  • List of plenary talks @ RIST, MU
  • Combating COVID-19 by empowering youth
  • Distribution of Face Mask to Children Homes
  • Essay Writing Competition : My Idea of Justice
  • All eyes now on Thangmeiband, Jiribam
  • Barak waterfall @ Tamenglong #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 07 July : Govt of Manipur
  • NE natives dubbed as second class citizen
  • The changing trend of Media in Manipur
  • When I lost my hope :: Poem
  • Lockdown & its impacts on society
  • Understanding spirit of a coalition
  • Changing nature of Meiteilon- Pabung/Papa
  • COVID-19 Status 06 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Atha Kongyamba, Kimneichin: eMing
  • To my goddess of love :: Poem
  • COVID-19 & 14-day quarantine in Manipur
  • Humanitarian Award to Kuki Kanglai Lawmpi
  • NPF Reply to press statement by NDPP
  • NPCC Reply to press statement by NDPP
  • Sericulture as career choice
  • 157 Films to screen at KASHISH 2020 Virtual
  • Crucial days between collection & result
  • COVID 19 pandemic and Nambul River
  • Kanglen Aarti katpa #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 05 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Land Commission for improving relations #2
  • Honourable Governor R.N. Ravi effects!
  • Observation on Governor Letter to CM: NPF
  • Reconstitution of Jurisdiction of Zones
  • Complete lockdown in Jiribam amid Unlock 2.0
  • Eikhoigi Puwarini Nambul Turel #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 04 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Implication of Draft EIA Notification 2020
  • Plain packaging will aid in ending tobacco
  • The virus and I :: Poem
  • Impact of COVID-19 on students
  • Delimitation & development: Role of Census
  • War on invisible enemy
  • Manipur & the Lushai Expedition, 1871-72 #1
  • COVID-19 Status 03 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Online Painting/ Sketching Competition
  • Covid-19: Impact in Manipur :: Photos/News..
  • Extension of Disturbed Area Act in Nagaland
  • The Politics of South China Sea Disputes : Book
  • Xi Jinping - Know the man, his upbringing..
  • Save Nambul River mission
  • If 'Transparency' is an alien concept?
  • Fashion Show @ Sangai Fest #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 02 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Eikhoigi Puwarini Nambul Turel #1 : Gallery
  • German agency to support NE entrepreneurs
  • Naawa Seidum: 'Best Narrative Film' at MIFF
  • The twilight of nature :: Poem
  • Career scope in Chemistry
  • Condemns non-inclusion of bodo language
  • Compulsion behind 5 days ultimatum
  • Unfolding the menace of Health Department
  • View from Shirui Hills in Ukhrul #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 01 July : Govt of Manipur
  • Power dynamics: Leikai Clubs & Meira Paibi
  • People's charter of demands to PM & CMs
  • A discourse with my soul :: Poem
  • Can antiviral fabrics stop the spread of COVID
  • Design behind 'abnormal' growth ?
  • Apologetic misnomer
  • Kanglen Aarti katpa #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 30 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Land Commission for improving relations #1
  • National Statistics Day & Statistical system
  • Distribution of Face Mask to Old Age Homes
  • A walk on prime meridian
  • Manipur leads a valiant fight against COVID
  • 48 hours later and not yet a word
  • Fate of print media in aftermath of COVID-19
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 29 June : Govt of Manipur
  • July Calendar for Year 2020 : Tools
  • Cyberbullying using social media as weapons
  • Distribution of Face Mask to CRPF Personnel
  • Sports, children & transferability to classroom
  • The rain sings outside the window :: Poem
  • Online learning enrolments during lockdown
  • Morphing from negative to positive
  • COVID-19 and its impact to community
  • Gandhari (Dance Drama) #4 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 28 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Takhelchangbam Kunjabihari : Wari Liba
  • Antrimwanbut Khwan : Inpui emagazine
  • Public services essential to COVID response
  • Rajas & Maharajas in Parliament
  • Naga artist Ket Meth releases music video
  • Extending lockdown till July 15
  • Neire, Mei Taare- words of the new generation
  • COVID-19 Status 27 June : Govt of Manipur
  • E-Conference : New Frontiers in Science
  • COVID mirror
  • Property Sales & Client Support @ R-Square
  • SKY Hospital - 12th Foundation Day
  • Benjamin Tao - Convenor, Manipur, TICCI
  • Online Social Work Alumni Meet at RGU
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Has state BJP succumbed to NPP's pressure?
  • Individual responsibility to battle Corona
  • COVID-19 Status 26 June : Govt of Manipur
  • The Lushai Expedition, 1871-72
  • Intl Day in Support of Victims of Torture
  • Remember :: Poem
  • Yoga as career choice
  • Head count on contentious census
  • In the game of politics
  • I Rise :: Film Scenes : eRang
  • Kits to frontliners @ ISBT : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 25 June : Govt of Manipur
  • International Day against Drug Abuse [Jun 26]
  • Corruption: A National Security Issue
  • Book : Rights & Entitlements at Chandel
  • Power tussle amid pandemic
  • Still no checking on corruption
  • Sangai Fest [Dec 1 2019] #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 24 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Essentials must include reproductive health
  • To peruse a father's heart :: Poem
  • The importance of the way we think
  • Politics of South China Sea disputes : Book
  • Art of running a coalition Govt
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Sports and environment in Manipur
  • Corona stigma dogging even doctors & nurses
  • Mapping the Change Makers in North East
  • TNL knew better meaning of Quarantine
  • The Kukis, Justice and the UN
  • Scripting a high octane drama
  • QC at Saikul in Kangpokpi : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 22 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Impacts of Mapithel dam on forest & climate
  • Kang Chingba (Rath Yatra) Festival :: Book
  • Messengers of hope on World Music Day
  • Sound of environment :: Poem
  • Online Conclave for Women Entrepreneurs
  • Admission for Class XI should not be closed
  • Approaching the four figure mark
  • Demoralizing anti-corruption crusade
  • Lameithanbi - a myth with geological linkage
  • COVID-19 Status 21 June : Govt of Manipur
  • Highways of Life - best film at DocFest B'desh
  • The Unwelcome Delimitation : Part - II
  • We and today :: Poem
  • Yoga - A need of the hour
  • Cupid in COVID times
  • Voices for & against delimitation
  • Amur Falcon Fest @Tamenglong #2 : Gallery
  • Gerrymandering in delimitation of AC
  • Jobs at LMP Technology, Canchipur
  • The gateway to heaven :: Poem
  • Nongpok Sanjenbam village #2 : Gallery
  • Axone & Lingering Question of Racism in India
  • Training : Prevention of Spread of COVID-19
  • Patents or people: Conundrum of healthcare
  • Rahul Gandhi birthday observed at Dimapur
  • Programme on Disaster Risk Reduction
  • Interesting election to lone RS seat
  • Arithmetic doesn't work in politics
  • Great June Uprising @Kekrupat #1 : Gallery
  • Training program on cultivation of mushroom
  • NHRC registered Case to investigate Oil Spill
  • Experience :: Poem
  • Floriculture as career choice
  • Quarantine Center @ Mantripukri : Gallery
  • What Now for Returning Migrant Workers
  • Activation of State Food Commission
  • At a crossroad :: Poem
  • Women Entrepreneurs' program in Northeast
  • 28 days quarantine period : TNL example
  • Arambam Samarendra Anniv #2 : Gallery
  • Class X (HSLC) Exam Toppers : Gallery
  • Leirum and Luirim connotation
  • Class X Exam 2020 : Merit List
  • Class X Exam 2020 : Result Sheet
  • Class X Exam 2020 : Subject Toppers
  • Class X Exam 2020 : Statistics Abstract
  • Adieu to Pi, Themneihat ..
  • Quarantine @ UNACCO School: Gallery
  • Motsillaba Mingsel :: eRang Photos
  • Laibi Oinam : Lady Auto Driver ...
  • Train @Jiri [May 28] #2 : Gallery
  • Measures @ Imphal Airport - 25 May : Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2020 #2: Gallery
  • Items distributed to Tarao -Apr 23 #2: Gallery