By Khuraijam Athouba
Justice Committee for Anglo-Manipur War 1891
Martyrs and Victims of Kangleipak (Manipur)
War of a nation has always been an act of violence with their might of military capabilities with an objective either to secure of defend the sovereignty, to protect the life and property of its citizen no matter what. This principle has prevailed since time immemorial across various wars of the nations. The Anglo-Manipur War or Manipur British War as given in the theme of this Seminar is no different from the given reality and situation which led to the break out of most significant War in the history of Manipur and British Colonial period. To win or lose a war depends extremely on the might of the military power they possess, therefore that the Military Power, Economic Power and Political Stability define the status/position of a nation is absolutely true. Manipur, despite being a small sovereign state has a complete Political system with the three main entities with a written constitution that has been in existence for 1000s of years as an Asiatic sovereign power. Manipur’s decline of political position in the later part of the era was due to the weakening of its military strength and political instability due to conflict of interest among the ruling royal families and hence they faced defeat at the aggression of the Ava/Awa which led to the terrific Seven year Devastation (1891-1826’AD). Post Seven years devastation, as the Manipur kingdom return to its throne again with the help of the British. With the first Anglo Manipuri Treaty on 14 September, 1762 was stamped between Jai Singh, the King of Manipur and the British Empire through East India Company. The Article of the treaty between Haridas Gossain (on behalf of Jain Singh) and Mr. Harry Verelset, Chief of Chittagong factory (on behalf of the British) clearly indicates the intent of the British to use the king, his power, land and military for and on behalf of the British against the Burmese and even to all the enemies of the British with a time period of forever logically shows the intent of the British to breach in the sovereignty of Manipur. Such mode of the British agreement can never be considered as a mutual agreement, it was rather a compelling or conditional deal which would definitely amount to a conflict situation between Manipur and British in due course of time. Oja N. Sanajaoba quoted the only two treaties between the British and Manipuri as “Manipur’s love hate and war relationship commenced with a treaty in 1762 and was put to test in two successive wars in 1891, which created storm in British public opinion in Britain”.
Many scholars observe and share common opinion about the causes of Anglo-Manipur War/Manipur British War as follows:
1.The treaty of 1762 and 1833 (Jiri Treaty) followed by opening of a Political Agency in Manipur in 1835 post Treaty of Yandaboo (1826).
The main aim of 1762 Treaty by King Jai Singh of Manipur was to get military assistance from the East India Company against the Burmese. But it was abandoned as both the party had a reason of their own interest to not proceed with it. They found it expensive and unfruitful whereas Court of Directors of East threatened the British District of Sylhet, then a part of Bengal. With reports of Burmese overrunning of Manipur and Assam, the panic seized population of Sylhet made immediate call for action and at this critical moment Gambhir Singh, son of Jai Singh made an alliance with the East India Company and defeated the Burmese and drove out them from the Manipur soil and pursued them till beyond the Chindwin River taking control of the Kabaw Valley. Under the Charter Act of 1833, the East India Company ceded Jiribam in perpetuity to Manipur. But when the Supreme Government of British India opened a Political Agency in Manipur even though the objective was preservation of a friendly intercourse and to prevent border feuds and disturbances which might lead to hostilities between the Manipuries and the Burmese, it marks the breach in the Sovereignty and Security of Manipur Kingdom and which could never remain forever. Manipur never accepted Subsidiary Alliance and never paid tribute to the British anytime before 1891 nor ceded any territory to them even if the 1762 agreement exposed the intent of the British towards Manipur. As the kingdom of Manipur was very much sovereign post 1835, the existence of British Political Agent in Manipur it was a time bomb ticking to explode any conflict of interest that might erupt in due course of time and situation. No doubt the 1762 treaty was signed between two sovereign powers, but due to the prevailing political situation, the Maharaja of Manipur was too much submissive to the British and hence the much advanced British got an opportunity to pave the way for interference in the internal and sovereign affairs of Manipur. In the initial period of the establishment of the Political agent in Manipur, the power and function of the agent was strictly, limited and its participation in the internal affairs also did not occur much. But in course of time the British enhanced their role and activity day by day. Later when the Royal brothers in constant confrontation for the throne increased and the members of the royal family started approaching the Political Agent for it, the British got its strength in involving in the internal politics of Manipur. By the time, the British began to feel that the existence of Manipur as a buffer state between British India and Burma is no longer required, they started waiting for an opportune time to annex Manipur, and the time was given by Surchandra when he approached the Viceroy Lord Landsdown during the chaotic political crisis among the Princes. As the groupism and rivalry among the heirs in the Royal family escalated, the British took sides and since Surchandra ascended the throne in 1886, on September 21, 1890 a revolt attack took place in the palace and as a result of this revolt Maharaja Surchandra and is brother fled from the palace and took shelter in the residency of the British and later went to Vrindaban. Kullachadra Dhaja succeeded to the throne of Manipur. When Surchandra requested the British to extend support in regaining his lost throne, the Governor of India decided not to reinstate Surchandra but to recognize Kullanchadra as the King of Manipur with a condition to deport Koirengsana (Tikendrajit) from Manipur as he was the main factor behind and who would create obstacles in the smooth functioning of the policy of the British in Manipur via its king. The final order was explicitly written as they would recognize Kullachandra as the King of Manipur if he accepted the following terms and conditions.
1. Kullachadra should allow the Political agent to keep 300 soldiers in the Residency.
2. He should administer the country according to the advice of the Political Agent.
3. He should agree to the examination of Koirengsana (Tikendrajit) from Manipur and help the British Govt. in this respect.
Post Palace revolt, with the infallible order of the government of India, Mr. Quinton, Chief Commissioner of Assam’s arrival with 400 sepoy at Manipur on 22 March, 1890, loaded with arms was a psychological threat to the Manipur sovereignty and that such threat perceptions would not be tolerated by the brave Manipuri soldiers was a fact as the Manipuris had lived in complete freedom for ages. On the other hand Maharaja Kullachandra, in the way in which he had been made the king, was in no position to raise any objection to the Chief Commissioner’s proposal to hold a durbar in Residency, the hidden purpose of which was to arrest Koirengsana. But the plan failed repeatedly and the frustrated, but arrogant and over confident Chief Commissioner Quinton attacked the house of Koirengsana to arrest him but failed. As retaliation to the attack heavy fighting took place, the British troops destroyed many structures including temples and killed many innocent people including women and children. Following that, anxious Maharaja ordered and attacked the British residency under the leadership of Yaishkul-Lakpa and Wangkheirakpa and the British failed in defending the attack of the Manipuri Army due to which they were compelled to declare a ceasefire by 8pm and the Chief Commissioner wanted to make a peace deal. In response to the violent act that took place, the king wrote a letter to the British Chief Commissioner clarifying that the Manipuri are not waging war against the British and they fought only to protect themselves and the action of their (British) attack to the Palace was an illegal act.
An emergency Durbar was called and held in front of the Durbar Hall where the furious near and dear ones of the midnight British attack were also present. On the side of Manipur, Tikendrajit Jubaraj, Thangal General, Colonel Shamu, Giridhari Singh, Angom Ningthou, Haobam Devan, Chongtha Mia and many others including Pukhrambam Kajao were present. As the incidents resulted in death of innocent lives and loss of huge properties, the two parties could not come to an agreement and the Durbar was postponed till next morning. At the moment furious crowd suddenly attacked the British denying the postponement of the Durbar. Mr. Grimwood P.A. was fatally speared by Pukhrambam Kajao, Lt. Simpson got his head banged on the wall, Chief Commissioner Quinton, Colonel Skene, Lt. Simpson and Mrs. Cossin were taken as prisoners in the fort for several hours but later beheaded by the Manipuris. This tragic event of executing the Chief Commissioner of Assam destroyed the friendly relations between Manipur and the British and hence in the following days the British government responded by declaring war against the Manipuri Kingdom. This marks the breaking out of Anglo-Manipuri War 1891.
Observation narrated above led to the immediate cause for Anglo-Manipuri war of 1891, the political situation was such that sooner or later a war like conflict between the independent sovereign kingdom of Manipur and the colonial British Empire was more or less inevitable.
Timeline review of the post 1981 War till 1949 Annexation of Manipur by India gives a very clear picture in various aspects where the geo-political situation of Manipur was in such a position that Manipur was never beyond the proximity between two giant political ideologies i.e. between Democracy of the West and Communism of the East. For example, during the Second World War in 1939-45, without much involvement of Manipur in the international polity, Manipur became a hot bed of the two confronting groups (Allied forces and Japanese & INA forces). The Imphal battle of 1944 was declared as one of the greatest battles in the history of Allied forces during Second World War with maximum casualties and also the beginning of the end of Japanese Imperialism too (New York Times report 21 June, 2014 by Gardiner Harris). Another aspect is also during the decolonization period of 1947 by the British empire, Manipur due to its geo-political location between two conflicting systems, vis., emerging Democracy in India and gradually growing and ideologically threatening Communist moorings of Asiatic region and today’s Northeast region and neighbouring China and Burma (Myanmar) made the new independent India to annex Manipur with a forced merger agreement on 21st September, 1949 to resist any further penetration of Communism from Burma inside the mainstream India territory. Such is the geographical position of Manipur in the transcontinental map of southeast Asia and therefore no matter what the British did nor not, Manipur by nature is and will be facing serious political conflicts in course of time.
2. Family disputes among the sons of Meidingu Chadrakriti Maharaj and dissent group seeking asylum to the British:
Family dispute among the heirs of the King in Manipur is not a unique phenomenon of disunity among the royal families. Every royal family in the history of almost all the kingdoms across the globe has had such phenomenon of disunity among the heirs for power and privileges. However, all those kingdom did not face what Manipur faced during 1890-91. So, we cannot say that the family disputes among the sons of Meidingu Chandrakriti Mharaj and seeking asylum to the British could be one of the main cause for the outbreak of Anglo-Manipuri War 1891. It was the British, who falls prey to this tiny independent kingdom which was self sufficient and had enough courage to face death to defend its pride and honor for their motherland which was underestimated by the then British who were posted and involved in the affairs directly or indirectly.
Impact of Anglo-Manipuri War 1891
Since the past one and a half years just after the inception of a committee to review the history and aspects of Anglo-Manipuri War 1891, The Justice Committee for Anglo-Manipuri War 1891 Martyrs and Victims of Kangleipak Manipur has come up with several views and opinions which was not looked upon with due significance and assessed by many as the possible impact of the War. Post Anglo-Manipur War 1891, as the kingdom of Manipur faced defeat with the death of so many brave and courageous patriots during the war and soon after the war, the British Government of India ordered to arrest all the royal princes who were allegedly involved directly or indirectly in waging war against the British government and all other who were directly involved in the murder of British Officers.
The first execution post War took place at the western gate of the Kangla on 25 May, 1891 where Pukhrambam Kajao (Phingang) was hanged to death all the western gate of Kangla and left hanging for many days to set a lesson to the public about the consequences of revolting against the British.
On june 8, 1891, Niranjan Subedar was executed by the British for taking part in waging war against the British despite his earlier service in the British Army.
On 13 August, 1891 Senapati Koirengsana i.e. Bir Tikendrajit and Thangal General was executed by hanging in front of around 5000 people gathered who were expecting the release of the two heroes of Manipur at Pheidabung (Present BT park). This instance of executing our own patriots in front of women and children has given a shocking psychological trauma and set back to the morale of the entire people of the kingdom who loved celebrating braveries and courage.
On 23rd November of 1891, twenty two (22) brave patriots of Manipur including the King Kula Chandradhaja Singh, Angousana, Senapati Aya Purel Major, Chongtha Mia Maj. etc were deported in exile for taking part in the war against the British. Out of the 22 exiled, only seven (7) from among them were allowed to return and settle in Manipur from 1901. All the others either died or were not allowed to enter Manipur for lifetime. (as per the list of Political Prisoners deported from Manipur to kala pani at Andaman & Nicober Island by Justice Committee 1891 from United Chongthas archive).
Witnessing such a tragic end of the proud kingdom and its heroes post Anglo-Manipuri War, the people of the state couldn’t overcome to regain its past glory and courage immediately. Even though Manipur continues as an independent state after the War new sources of information and recorded media and archival documents now revealed the truth of the then Manipuri Kingdom and the injustice done by the British to its friendly nation called Manipur.
The Daily Argus News on 10, 1891 made a headline in these words, “WHY QUINTON WAS KILLED? He Burned Helpless Manipur Women and Children,”
The New York Times in its May 16, 1891 issue writes, “The Manipur Blu Book established most decisively the fact that the Government is responsible for the Manipur Disaster.”
(neScholar.vol 2. Issue 3)
The New York Times in its June 23, 1891 issue published the news again under the heading “…Sur J.E. Gorst resign”, (neScholar.vol 2. Issue 3)
In short the impact of Anglo-Manipuri war across the globe was a hit and the little State whose name has been on all English lips for the last fortnight, presents a somewhat thorny question to the British Indian Government. (neScholar.vol.2 Issue 3)
The trials of the Manipuri Soldiers who were later captured or surrendered were tried without following proper trial procedure. Telegram among British Officials clearly indicate that capital punishment should be given. It clearly shows that what they did was a mock-trial. The trial was purely a formality and awarding capital sentences has already been prejudged by violating their own established principle of criminal trial. The request to engage a defense lawyer from Kolkata for Tikendrajit and Thangal was rejected and therefore the least done from the British Authority was to engage a Bengali trader namely Janakinath Basak to assist the court on their behalf just because he can translate the Manipuri language in to English for them. From these realities of the nature of trial it is quite clear that trial conducted against the princes and patriots of Manipur was highly prejudiced and biased as they already had predetermined to award death penalty before it had actually happened.
Fifty four (54) years after the dramatic and disastrous experiences of a foreign, the arrival and establishment of the deadliest ground with modern weapons, arms and ammunitions has exposed the people of Manipur to the another aftershock of Anglo –Manipur War where huge number of precious lives of the land were lost during the Second World War.The cumulative effect of this two dreadful events in the course of Manipur history has made the people and its system to hold back themselves from another military aggression or an invasion and beacouse of that , when Manipur was forcibly annexed by the new Independent India in 1949, the people of the state and the masses couldn’t rise up against it. Few braved to revolt against it under the leadership of Lamyanba Hijam Irabot with a communist ideology but the general masses were traumatized enough by the recent past historical experiences and therefore couldn’t come out to oppose or confront courageously against the forced conspiracy during 1949 affairs to protect or defend its freedom/independence.
Some contentious impacts are also as follows:
Anglo-Manipuri War has made the Political Identity of Manipur in confusion forever since.
This War is the War between two sovereign nations and it should not be considered as the War of few Legendary Manipuri Soldiers, it’s a people’s War against colonialism.
All Martyrs of the War should also be honored equally.
Positive impact is also significant among the Manipuris, when the generations remember and celebrate its past heroism and the act of valor shown by the legendary rulers and soldiers of the soil. Very few tiny states like Manipur is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to feel proud of their forefather and their spirit of being a free nation and to defend it with pride and honor until their last breath. Annual commemorations and celebrations of the heroes set an example to younger generations and also contribute significantly in inciting the spirit of patriotism and nationalism which will have its relevance forever.
Inception of Civil Societies Organization exclusively for Anglo-Manipuri War 1891 like Justice Committee for Anglo-Manipuri War 1891 Martyrs and Victims of Kangleipak Manipur with the objective to seek justice for the War, to recognize and develop memorial sites for various Battle fields of Anglo-Manipuri War, remember all the heroes and organize commemoration day with pride and honor is the real time impact of the war of the people of Manipur.
Anglo-Manipuri War 1891, is a Victory in defeat for we Manipuris but a big loss for the mighty British in Victory.
Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 15+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents.
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