Manipur : As I grew up in
- Part 3 -

Shantikumar Moirangthem *

Again history repeated itself, and Manipur became a victim of its own pride and dignified self respect. When overreached by the British colonialism, the little monarchy reacted defiantly and in the ensuing battle of 1891, Manipur was ruthlessly defeated by the firearm power of the British colonials.

Whether we like it or not, the British paramountcy had consistently maintained that "Manipur is a subordinate Native State" from the very moment we signed a treaty of defensive alliance in 1933, but in hard reality 'Manipur was de jure independent' and 'de facto' dependent on British military resources for its own survival.

Manipur which was living in a cloistered old world of her own ignorance till the battle of Khongjom buried her 'feudalistic obscurantism' in the sacred mound of Khebaching. After 1891, the colonial administration reorganised the system to bring it in an uniform pattern in vogue throughout the British Indian Empire.

The Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891 was started as a retribution campaign against those who shed British blood in the sanctum sanctorum of Kangla, but ended as another addition of White Man's Burden at the Indo-Burma border.

The entire gamut of change, development and reconstruction within a period of two decades after 1891, was far-flung and covered- among others, construction of a new palace complex, opening of the Imphal Dimapur road, widening of Cachar road, introduction of motor vehicles in Imphal Dimapur road, establishment of a potable water filtration plant at Kangchup, modernisation of administrative system and census; and above all, out of the prevailing education system, a knowledge able pool of human resources sprang up which became handy tool during the change of guards in 1947 (Independence) and 1949 (Merger).

All these changes were not easy push overs and behind each development there were dedicated administrators and technicians; administrator like Sir James Johnstone who stood like colossus among the educationists in the State, engineers like Mr Mitchel and C.F. Jeffery who cleared the jungles and moved the hills to push Manipur from the medieval age to the 20th Century- all left their footprints on the sand of time.

At times they had to bend over backwards and bow down to their own beneficiaries to bring forth the changes- Sir Johnstone had to salute Thangal as General and the State Engineer Jeffery had to bear the brunt of the public who had been agitating against the water rate collection till the annual rate was reduced by Churachand Maharajah from "two and half rupees" to "one and half rupees."

The valley was scrupulously divided, into "Lawai and Imphal", the terms being officially used as synonymous to "rural and urban", and the classification was specifically applied to developmental works and revenue collection.

In the Uripok Kangchup road, foot of the Iroisenba Hill was the dividing line of "Lawai and Imphal"; the road from the western gate of Kangla to Iroisenba Hill was paved with bricks by Jeffery and beyond the hillock, it was all mud-road spread with bunches of straw to facilitate bullock-cart movement.

The British colonialism was a blessing in disguise for a long forgotten and isolated place like Manipur. "Manipur is most effectually cut off from the outside world, and 99 per cent of the people censused there in 1901 had been born within its boundaries"- B.C. Allen wrote in 1905.

But the state economy was self sufficient, though at a subsistence level, with the hill and plane living symbiotically- where the hill producing cotton and selling at the valley, at the same time buying salt and iron from the valley which were the sole producer.

Both hill and plain were producing sufficient food, especially rice for themselves. One can easily say that life, then, was at a primitive level: but left to themselves, it could have developed into a cohesive and homogenous society of autochthonous people- like the Seven Salais (clans) of the Meitei- with the same looks and likes which could live together in peace and harmony forever.

Even the religious harmony and homogeneity was in the making because of the all embracing eclecticism in the region. "Theoretically a man must be born a Hindoo and ...proselytism is not admitted. ..." Sir James Johnstone wrote, " however, this rule is ignored on the eastern frontier, and all along it from Sudya down to Chitagong, where conversions are daily taking place."

In Manipur, a tribal "could, if the Rajah choose, at any time receive the sacred thread...and be admitted as Hindoo..." As late as 1929, two ladies, one Sangnu and the other Tonu from Lembakhun were converted to Hinduism by Churachand Maharaj ( * Cheitharol Kumbaba, page 609).

On the other hand, Porom Singh, the first Meetei Christian convert of Reverend Pettigrew in 1896, along with Rajkumari Kaboklei, an aunt of Churachand Maharaj, who converted to Christian faith in early 1890s, became faithful actors of evangelisation in Manipur.

Pettigrew himself organised a Christian Church at Keisamthong for a mixed group of 14 Meiteis, a few Nagas and Kukis. In his book, an interesting scene is depicted by Hudson,- "two lads (tribal) from Mao who came to Manipur as scholars and there adopted the dhoti. It was nearly impossible to distinguish them from Manipuri lads...The rapidity with which Nagas, Kukis, and Gurkhas are absorbed by and disappear in the Meitei population may afford an explanation of the aetiological legends of (their) origin..These people are all of the Tibeto-Burman stock. (* The Naga Tribes of Manipur: Hudson-page 24)"

If the process were allowed to continue, Manipur could have enjoyed the status of an inclusive society with an added mixture of religious communities both in hills and plains without getting a razor sharp division of Hindus, Christians and Muslims.

The discriminatory profiling of the people of our state on different labels of religion, geography, language and constitutional status of tribal and non-tribal could have been avoided. "Ifs of history" are hypotheticals, difficult and belongs to the realms of dream- but for the troubled state like Manipur, to be united is a many splendored dream.

Paradoxically it is the British colonials, the self proclaimed benefactor to educate and civilise the so-called lesser enlightened communities including the tribals and non-tribals, who ultimately divided and Balkanised the North-East including Manipur into the different groups and communities.

In 1891, the British took over the state of Manipur and a year after, regranted back to a minor raja Churachand while the Political Agent continued to administer the state during the minority of the young king. In 1908, with the coming of age of the king, the administration was handed back to the Rajah- but not the whole kingdom. Divide et impera, the most reprobated axiom of colonial rule, began to play its heinous role.

Though the king of Manipur was the de jury ruler of the principality, he was only a de facto king of the valley. The President of the State Darbar, invariably an ICS officer, under the order of the Government of India, were given the entire administrative responsibility of the Hill Tribes dependent on the state of Manipur on behalf of the Rajah but under the direct supervision of the Political Agent.

Thus, the Maharajah became a half-king for only 10 per cent of the land of Manipur and the rest 90 per cent of the area were ruled by the Political Agent. Now, centuries after the event, R.N. Ravi, the interlocutor in the Naga peace talk described the deliberate British colonial policy in the north-east as the raison d'etre for the ultimate breakdown of the geo-cultural, geo-political and geo-economic unity of the region (* Sangai Express. Sept.11,2019)

After eons of existence as sovereign state with a chequered history of defeat and victory, the kingdom of Manipur finally settled on 15th October, 1949 as a part of the Sovereign Republic of India with the controversial merger-agreement signed between Maharajah Budhachandra and V.P. Menon, Advisor to the Government of India on 21st September, 1949.

Born after the merger, I grew up as a full-fledged citizen of India. I remember, during a playtime, we were marching in a procession and shouting "Inquilab Zindabad, Aai-in Sabha Pigadabani", imitating the sloganeering processionists demanding a full-fledged Legislative Assembly for Manipur.

Then, the political parties of Manipur were a disgruntled lot, being frustrated with the Part C status granted to Manipur without any legislative power in 1950. They felt cheated and disillusioned.

The political class in premerger Manipur moved for a tie-up with the democratic India with an expectation to scotch the obscurantist monarchy and enjoy the life of freedom and democracy. What they received was- a truncated democracy.

The kingdom of Manipur which sacrificed its own independence to embrace Indian democracy, in spite of a lot of inside wrangling between pro and anti merger groups, in 1949, attained statehood only after 23 years of long drawn struggle- in 1972.

Now still, a dark cloud looms large threatening its own territorial integrity- India can't play a butcher-machine, cranking in a whole and complete Manipur in 1949 and decades after, cranking out a bleeding and dismembered Manipur. There comes a point in life when one has to say "enough is enough."

Let us hope- sanity prevails.

This article was first published on 11 October, 2019 in the Souvenir , 94th Birth Anniversary of R.K.Maipaksana

Concluded .....

* Shantikumar Moirangthem wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on January 01, 2020 .

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