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Nupilal and its impact in Manipuri society

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By: Milan Luwang
Manipur lost in Anglo-Manipur war 1891 in the hands of mighty British. Accordingly, it became a colony ofImperialist British.The British snatched the administration of Manipur. The then political agent Major H Maxwell appointed a 5 year minor Churachand the great grandson of Nara SinghMaharaj as the Raja of Manipur. On his attaining of ten years, he was sent to Mayo college Ajmer, Rajasthan for study by the British officials. The British looked after the administration of Manipur. British started to take up various taxes from both hill and valley. New systems were introduced. Western education was introduced. The British set up schools and courts. Many changes were seen in the state. On one side the people received many griefs under foreign rules. The British divided Manipur’s administration into hill and valley. British directly ruled the hill. TheMaharaj looks after the valley. But the Maharajcouldn’t do anything without the permission of British. British was above the Maharaj. The British punishments were so cruel. Bir Tikendrajitand Thangal General were hanged on 13 August 1891. 23 heroes including Maharaj Kulachandra were exiled to Kala Pani.
Thegrievances and displeasures faced by the people of Manipurunder British rule increased day by day. Manipur’s economy is depend on agrarian. The British took a sum of Rs 50000 from Manipur as annual tribute of war. Of course, it was a big amount. The public attained the peak of sorrow to give this tribute. As a first sign of obstacle against British some unknown rebels set fire to the residency of JJ Dunlop, assistant political agent on the mid night of 15 March 1904.This was the immediate cause of occurring the first Nupilal1904.Secondly some rebels again burned down 28 Khwairamband market sets for about 3000 women vendors in the early morning of 6 July 1904.Consequently the British announced to give 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 4 August 1904.The order states 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 includes 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 ten days in every forty 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 Khwairamband. They agitated against the British authority. Thus, the first Nupilal 1904 occurred. In continuation of the agitation, on 5 October 1904 about 3000 women sieged the residence of JJ Dunlop assistant political agent. In the evening of the same day about 5000 women gathered at Khwairamband and shut down the Khwairamband. The police lathi charged the crowd who sieged the residence of JJ Dunlop and swept out the crowd. A few women injured in the incident. But the agitation was continued. The movement became widespread. Eventually the British government withdrawn the order of political agent. Thus, the agitation of the women ended with a successful.Peace was restored and the government had to rebuild the residency on their own expense.The women thus created history.
After the first nupilal, the British government had 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 resulted griefs to the public. At this juncture Neta Erabot emerged to lead the public. Under the aegis of Maharajthe Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha was established in 1934. Maharaj Churachand was the first president and Erabotthe vice president of the Mahasabha. The 4th session of the Mahasabha was held at Chinga, Imphal in 1938. 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. 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 quithe panchay member and remained in the Mahasabha. The session also resolved to install a responsible government. Accordingly, Maharaj 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 gave political awareness.
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 whom is pure and whom 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 pure and impure succeed.
Agrarian is the main economy of Manipur. Accordingly,rice is the main trade of Manipur. Rice trade was only the measure of getting cash from outside Manipur. The women of Manipur take equal responsibilities as the men regarding the economy. The effort 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 tradebenefits to many households of Manipur. In short, the economy of Manipur totally depends on agrarian. This would be the crucial factor of outbreak of Second Nupilal1939. It is noteworthy that in the beginning of 1939 there were altogether 14 rice mills in the state. Only one was for Meitei 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 trade of rice for the women collapsed. The rice collected by the marwaris were exported outside Manipur. In December 1939, the price of rice had rocketed suddenly as never before. Rice couldn’t 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 available of rice. On 11 December, 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 next day. On 12 December, many hundreds of women spontaneously gathered at khwairamband keithel and shut down Khwairamband. The crowd marched to the Manipur state darbar. They requested the president of Darbar T ASharp not to export rice to outside. On his reply, the president said that he could not order without the permission of Maharajwho stayed in Nabadwip. The crowd urged the president to send telegram immediately. Sharp moved with the women to the telegraph office by foot and sent a message to the Maharaj. At that time, more than 3000 women gathered at telegraph office.
The crowd cordoned president Sharp till the reply from Maharajis met. Around 2:30 pm a platoon of 4 Assam rifles reached there. After warning, the sepoys had stormed the unarmed women. The women were severely lathichargedand swept away from the campus of telegraph office. At least 20 women injured in the incident, 5 were critical. They were hospitalized. Some proactive women confronted the sepoys. Thus, the second Nupilal 1939 broke out with blood shed. Next day, thousands of high-tension women gathered at Khwairamband keithel and completely shut down Khwairamband.Shabi, Tongou, Chaobiton, Leibaklei, Khongnang, etc. were the worth mentioning leaders who spearheaded the movement. The women demanded the political agent to handover Babu Kasturchand because he allegedly expressed thatall the rice should be collected, then the Manipuris have to eat paddy cover. Later Kasturchand sent a letter to the women folks mentioning that he was so sorry and to forgive him.Then the women folks cool down.In the evening of 13 December, political agent C Gimson came to the Khwairamband and met the women folks.He told that the Maharaj agreed to ban export of rice to outside Manipur with immediate effect. A telegram was sent in this regard, he reiterated.On December 13 and 14, all the rice millsin 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 with great success.Normalcy was restored.This movement of women folks is still known as second Nupilal1939 .
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 to the political lives of leaders like Jana Neta Hijam Erabot whose major focus had been social reforms.
We can notice from the two Nupilal movements that the valour of Manipuri women folks is an extra ordinary as compared with other countries. Two Nupilals gave impacts to our society. Today’s women folks follow the track made by the women who participated the Nupilal. The emergence of Meirapaibi and Nishabandhi will be the impact of Nupilal. The women folks take proactive roles in stopping drugs and other intoxicates. The women agitate against the imposition of the draconian law, the AFSPA in the state. The agitation is still on going. Irom Sharmila had agitated for about 15 years demanding repeal of AFSPA by fasting unto death. As a result, the authority has removed disturb area status from seven assembly segments of Imphal area. Besides the women took important role in the inclusion of Manipuri language in the 8th schedule of Indian Constitution. As a sign of condemnation to the oppression of Assam rifles, 12 mothers in naked position agitated at the western gate of Kangla on 11 July 2004. They challenged the Assam rifles. Consequently, the Assam rifles were removed from Kangla. The women took proactive roles in demanding the implementation of ILP in Manipur. The aforementioned agitations launched by the women folks of Manipur are the impacts and pursuance of Nupilal.
(The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at [email protected])

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