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How the Nupilal movement contributed to the making of Manipur

The Impact of Nupilal on Manipuri Society: It sowed the seeds of economic and political reforms. It was a turning point in the political lives of several great leaders of Manipur.

ByMilan Luwang

Updated on 12 Jan 2022, 3:18 pm

(Photo: IFP)

(Photo: IFP)

Manipur lost in the Anglo-Manipur war 1891 in the hands of the mighty British. Accordingly, it became a colony of Imperialist British, which took control of the administration of Manipur. The then political agent Major H Maxwell appointed a five-year minor Churachand, the great grandson of Nara Singh Maharaj, as the Raja of Manipur. On his attaining 10 years of age, he was sent to Mayo College, Ajmer in Rajasthan, for study by the British officials. The British, meanwhile, started to collect various taxes from both hill and valley people. New systems were introduced. Western education was introduced. The British set up schools and courts. Many changes were seen in Manipur.

However, the people suffered great moments of grief under the foreign rule. The British divided Manipur’s administration into hill and valley. They directly ruled the hill. The Maharaj looked after the valley. But the Maharaj could not do anything without the permission of the British. The British was above the Maharaj. The punishments meted out by the British were cruel. Bir Tikendrajit and General Thangal were hanged to death on August 13, 1891. As many as 23 heroes, including Maharaj Kulachandra were exiled to Kala Pani.

The beginning of Nupilal 1904

The grievances and displeasures faced by the people of Manipur under the British rule increased by the day. Manipur’s economy depended on agriculture. The British took a sum of Rs 50,000 from Manipur as annual tribute of war. Of course, it was a big amount then. The public suffered great sorrow to give this tribute.

As a first sign of obstacle against the British, some unknown rebels set fire to the residency of JJ Dunlop, assistant political agent, on the midnight of March 15, 1904. This led to the first Nupilal (war led by women) 1904. Second, some rebels again burnt down 28 Khwairamband market sheds for about 3,000 women vendors in the early morning of July 6, 1904. Consequently, the British announced a reward of Rs 500 to the person who can arrest or to trace the offenders. But the police could neither arrest nor identify the offenders. Subsequently, the political agent, H Maxwell, announced an order regarding the dual burnings on August 4, 1904.

The order stated that one man from each family of Manipur, particularly from Imphal area, should go to Kabo valley to fetch timber for rebuilding the residency of assistant political agent which was ravaged by fire. The order also included reintroduction of Lallup system that was abolished in 1892. Lallup system is a sort of forced labour where the male member of society between the age of 17 and 60 should work freely for 10 days in every 40 days of work.

The women folk of Manipur strongly objected the order of political agent. They demanded the immediate withdrawal of the order. Many hundreds of women spontaneously gathered at streets and Khwairamband market and shut down the Khwairamband. They agitated against the British authority. Thus, the first Nupilal 1904 occurred. In continuation of the agitation, on October 5, 1904, about 3,000 women laid siege the residence of JJ Dunlop assistant political agent. In the evening of the same day about 5,000 women gathered at Khwairamband and shut down the markets. The police lathi charged the crowd. A few women were injured in the incident. But the agitation continued.

The movement became widespread. Eventually, the British government withdrew the order of political agent. Thus the agitation of the women ended successfully. Peace was restored and the government had to rebuild the residency on their own expense. The brave women thus created history.

New laws were implemented

After the first Nupilal, the British Government imposed various taxes to the subjects. New laws were implemented. At that time the worst difficulty of the public was to pay taxes to the colonial British rulers. Besides, there were some social evils under the initiative of Maharaj namely, pothang, yareksentry, peon chakthak, aminchakthak, dolaireng, prohibition on Tera, khewa, jalsambandhi, chandalselkhai, amangaseng, etc. The aforementioned prohibitions caused much grief to the people. At this juncture, Neta Erabot emerged to lead the public. Under the aegis of Maharaj, the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha was established in 1934. Maharaj Churachand was the first president and Erabot the vice president of the mahasabha.

The 4th session of the mahasabha was held on 29 and 30 December 1938 at Chinga, Imphal. Maharaj Churachand didn’t attend the session. In the very session the word Hindu was removed from the organization and the name of the organization changed as Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha. The mahasabha was converted into a political party in the session. The session unanimously appointed Erabot as the president of the mahasabha. Maharaj didn’t approve the resolutions of the session. He had warned Erabot. Maharaj announced that the government employees are not allowed to join the mahasabha. Ultimately Erabot quit the sadar panchayat member and remained in the mahasabha. The session also resolved to install a responsible government. AccordinglyMaharaj announced that he was not related anything further with the mahasabha. The 4th session was so important that it openly challenged the colonial rule as well as the monarchy. It also led the replacement of monarchy by democracy. It guided the way for survival and struggle. It also encouraged the people and created political awareness.

The culture of pure and impure

There was a culture of pure and impure. The supreme authority of this culture was the Brahma sabha. Maharaj Churachand was the head of the Brahma sabha. Some Brahmins having the knowledge of vedsastra assisted him. The important duty of the Brahma sabha was to identify who is pure and who is impure. If a person is found to be impure, then he may be changed to pure after fined. Erabot launched movements against the Brahma sabha. Erabot and his band of people had cremated the dead body of an impure person free of cost. They also performed the shrada karma. Ultimately, the Brahma sabha became useless. At the end, the people neglected it. Thus, the movement of Erabot against the pure and impure succeeded.

The outbreak of Nupilal 1939

Agriculture is the main economy of Manipur. Accordingly, rice is the main trade of Manipur. Rice trade was only the means of getting cash from outside Manipur. The women of Manipur take equal responsibilities as their men counter parts regarding the economy. The efforts of women to improve the economy is not less than that of the men. After harvesting, the men villagers will bring paddy grains to the markets and the women traders took it. The said paddy grains will be converted into rice. Then the women traders will sell the rice at the market.

The Marwari traders use to collect the rice from the women traders. Thus, the rice trade benefits many households of Manipur. In short, the economy of Manipur totally depended on agrarian. This would be the crucial factor of outbreak of Second Nupilal 1939. It is noteworthy that in the beginning of 1939 there were altogether 14 rice mills in the state. Only one was for Meitei owner and the rest were for Marwaris. The work done by 100 women had been replaced by only one rice mill. The ownership of 100 women were replaced by one Marwari trader. Besides, the farmers began to sell their paddy grains to the Marwaris. This made more profits to the farmers. As a result, the rice trade of women collapsed. The rice collected by the Marwaris was exported outside Manipur.

In December 1939, the price of rice had rocketed suddenly like never before. Rice could not be bought even though money was in the pocket. Mass export of rice to outside Manipur was the main reason of scarcity of rice. On December 10 and 11, no rice was available in Khwairamband Keithel. A few people fasted due to the non availability of rice. On December 11, many women folks went to meet the political agent C Gimson, but failed. The women came to the office of Manipur state darbar requesting not to sell rice to the mill owners and export of rice to outside Manipur. The members of darbar replied to come the next day.

On December 12, many hundreds of women spontaneously gathered at Khwairamband keithel and shut down Khwairamband. The crowd of women marched to the Manipur state darbar. They requested the president of darbar T A Sharp not to export rice outside Manipur. On his reply, the president said that he could not order without the permission of Maharaj who stayed in Nabadwip. The crowd urged the president to send telegram immediately. Sharp moved with the women to the Telegraph office on foot and sent a message to the Maharaj. At that time, more than 3,000 women gathered at the Telegraph office. The crowd cordoned president Sharp till the reply from Maharajis. Around 2:30 pm a platoon of 4 Assam rifles reached there. After the warning, the sepoys had stormed the unarmed women. The women were severely lathicharged and swept away from the campus of the telegraph office. At least 20 women were injured in the incident. Five of them were critical. They were hospitalized. Some proactive women confronted the sepoys. Thus, bloodshed marked the second Nupilal 1939. Next day, thousands of high tension women gathered at Khwairamband keithel and completely shut down Khwairamband. Shabi, Tongou, Chaobiton, Leibaklei, Khongnang, etc were worth mentioning leaders who spearheaded the movement.

The women demanded the political agent to hand over Babu Kasturchand because he allegedly expressed that all the rice should be collected, then the Manipuris have to eat paddy husks. Later, Kasturchand sent an apology letter to the women and appealed to forgive him. Only then, the agitated women folks cooled down. In the evening of December 13, political agent C Gimson came to Khwairamband and met the women folks. He told them that the Maharaj agreed to ban export of rice outside Manipur with immediate effect. A telegram was sent in this regard, he reiterated. On December 13 and 14, all the rice mills in Manipur were shut down by the women folks. The agitation continued for some days. At last, the government officially announced that both export of rice to outside Manipur and use of rice mills had been banned with immediate effect. Thus, the agitation of women folks concluded successfully. Normalcy was restored. This movement of women folks is still known as the second Nupilal 1939.

The impact of Nupilal  

Historians opine that the Nupilal movement contributed much to the making of Manipur. It sowed the seeds of economic and political reforms. It was a turning point in the political lives of leaders like Jana Neta Hijam Erabot whose major focus was social reforms.

We can notice from the two Nupilal movements that the valour of Manipuri women folks was extraordinary as compared to women in other countries. The two Nupilals gave great impacts to our society. Today’s women folks are following the footprints made by the women who took part in the Nupilal.

The emergence of Meira Paibi and Nishabandhi are the impacts of Nupilal. The women folks take proactive roles in stopping drugs and other substance abuse. The women took put protest demonstration against the imposition of the draconian law, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, in the state. The agitation is going on still. Irom Sharmila had agitated for about 16 years, demanding repeal of AFSPA by fasting unto death. As a result, the authority removed the disturb area status from seven assembly segments of Imphal area. Moreover, the women took important role in the movement for inclusion of Manipuri language in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Condemning the atrocities and excess committed by the Assam Rifles personnel, 12 mothers disrobed themselves in protest at the western gate of Kangla on July 11, 2004. They bravely  challenged the Assam Rifles. Consequently, the Assam Rifles were removed from Kangla. The women took proactive roles in demanding the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Manipur. Eventually, the union Government implemented ILP in Manipur with effect from January 1, 2020. The aforementioned agitations launched by the women folks of Manipur could be regarded as impacts of the great two Nupilals.

(The views expressed is personal. The writer can be reached at milanluwang847@gmail.com)

First published:12 Jan 2022, 4:59 am

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Milan Luwang

Milan Luwang

Imphal, Manipur

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