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1891: Putting The Record Straight ‘Manipur National Day’

There are certain incidents in the history of every society and of every nation which the present generation may not want to mention or talk about because those were unsavory incidents. This is true for every society and for every country. But admitting the past does not belittle the present. And more so, the society which has the courage to admit its past is not dishonorable in any way because admitting the past needs courage and vision. And only few societies have the courage to do so, like the Americans do of the Negro slavery, the German society of the Holocaust of Jews by the Nazis during the war; but it is difficult to say if the Japanese society has admitted their militarism which had caused much injuries and pain to the Koreans, Chinese and some other south-east Asian nations. But man being cunning and basically selfish, it is always the mistakes and the wrongs of the past that are acknowledged; the present wrongs are being left for the posterity.

And a little earlier in this part of the world, the imperial British power had trampled the Manipuris in 1891 and destroyed even its very symbol of the Manipuri nation, the Kangla-Shaa – the Manipur Dragon, which stood in front of the Palace in Kangla, perhaps by using big guns and mortars. Recently after 12 decades, it has been restored by making a replica.

However, the British had very wisely and tactfully erased the blot on them by establishing a new princely State after the destruction, putting all the internal affairs of the State in the hands of the newly appointed king except, education and the affairs of the hills, because probably they had no interest in the affairs of the State as they had enough in their hands in the region. American actions in Iraq resemble what the British did a century ago though the comparison may seem incongruous.

To mention a little from records, it was 120 years ago on March 24, 1891 that fighting broke out between the British and the Manipuri forces in the small hours of the day. It all started by the stealthy attack of the British forces to carry out the order of the Viceroy of the British India Government to capture Yubraj Tikendrajit Singh, a policy of the British in those time – white men’s burden to civilize the natives –  which eventually turned out into a full blown war. The war ultimately ended when three British columns from three directions – Burma, Cachar and Kohima converged on Kangla, – the seat of power of Manipur on April 27, 1891.

The British found their justification for the destruction of Manipur on the ground that five British officers, including the Chief Commissioner of Assam, Mr. Quinton and the British Political Agent to Manipur, Mr. Grimwood were murdered by the Manipuris on the second day of the fight – March 25, 1891. It was a time when relations and diplomacy far outweighed rules or legality; when relations broke violence was the rule and violence has no rule. Whatever may be the British were always right because they were the world power.

The minds of the British were clearly reflected in one of the unfair and contemptuous memoirs of a British officer, one Mr. Grant, who led the Burma column – “The fact is we left them (Manipuris) no bolte-hole, and they thought, after their treacherous murder of the five Englishmen at Manipur, that we would give them no quarter, and so every man fought till he was killed” – referring to the battle of Khongjom. The Burma column incidentally was the first to enter Kangla from the southern gate on that fateful day – April 27, 1891.

The incident of the murder of the five British officers was certainly a blot on the Manipuris, who were fighting against a gigantic power, knowing full well that the war could not be won. But as the Manipuris loved to say, “A moment’s freedom is a thousand times better than a life of slavery”; that was the spirit of the Manipuris who fought against a mighty power, till they were “killed”. And as history has shown the Manipuris have the courage to admit the past.

However, to set the record straight, once and for all, it is to be put on record that, it was the treacherous attack – a plan hatched up by the British Chief Commissioner and the Political Agent, in spite of the relations established between the two since the 1820s, – on the Manipuris in the wee hours of the previous morning, causing fatal injuries to many that had provoked them beyond controllable feelings as the British had no reason whatsoever to attack them. The British forces had also some casualty including fatal injuries to two officers – one British and another native Indian.  And it was in that tensed situation, interspersed by intermittent firing between the Manipuri and the British forces, even using big guns that the unfortunate incident happened.

Now two decades and a century had passed since then and the world has landed on a global village. But the irony is, no society is going to lay its history to rest. And as an English essayist said, “History makes a man wise”; men have become wiser. It might be a right tribute to our forefathers, who had fought till their last moment for what they had believed, if Manipur solemnly commemorates April 27 as the National Day for soul-searching and reconciliation, and service, in right spirit.

*The article is written by Heigrujam Nabashyam

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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