You are on page 1of 12

National Seminar on Knowing Manipur from the Endogenous Perspective

Monday-Tuesday, 20-21 October 2014


Jointly Organised by the Centre for Manipur Studies, Manipur University and the Indian Council of Social Science
Research
Theme: Resistance movement against British colonialism

Topic: British Colonial Rule in Manipur and Some Aspects of Resistance from 1891 to 1947

I
Introduction
British colonialism was an expansive capitalist course to gain control of the overseas markets, labour and resources.
It was gradually established in different regions in different times and in different manners. In the context of
Manipur, the British first appeared as an ally, which is recorded in the treaty of mutual trade and defence with the
Manipur monarch in 1762. However, they surpassed and became the patron of the Manipur levy, a regular force
along the modern military discipline and weaponry, which was formed with their support in 1823. In 1826, under
the Treaty of Yandaboo, they exhibited themselves as the champion of Manipurs sovereignty vis--vis Burma. They
further surpassed in pursuing strategic interest. In 1934 they outdid the Manipur monarch in the arbitrary transfer of
the disputed Kabow Valley to Burma. From 1835 onwards the British Political Agent became a permanent
institution in serving their colonial interest in Manipur. They invaded Manipur in 1891 and indirectly ruled through
local puppet regimes till 1947. During this phase of British colonial rule after 1891, there were various forms of
resistances by the recalcitrant and restive sections. My paper attempts to discuss some of these.
II
Conceptual clarification and limiting the focus
The paper uses the term resistance in a lose sense, to refer to both the organised and unorganised expression of either
violent or non-violent assertions against a particular policy or social relations or state system during the colonial period.
These assertions are being termed anti-colonial, as the objective conditions of such resistances were largely structured
within the colonial system and were directly or indirectly challenging to certain aspects of those conditions. Some
assertions might be reformist in character and, thereby, neither apparently nor directly targeting the colonial rulers.
However, these were either consciously or unconsciously targeting the local regime and the social relations that have
been the backbone of the colonial rule. The so called tribal resistances for autonomy or community assertions against
certain policies have to be seen as offshoots of the structural constraints of the colonial relation of production. There
were of course, local dynamics occurring at different level in different regional contexts. But one cannot perceive any
of these assertions for rights as occurring in isolation independently of the overarching colonial system. Based on this
perception, the paper have fitted the assertions against colonial invasion or expedition or tours, forced labour, taxation,
feudal systems, forced conscription, market monopoly by the Mayangs1 and the demand for responsible government in
the category of anti-colonial resistance.
The paper deals with the colonial period between 1891 and 1947. Before going further, an overview of resistance is
indispensable, as various forms of resistances were integral facets of an overall course of the anti-colonial
movement. To begin with, there were either armed or non-armed militant forms of direct resistances against the
British. The glaring example of armed resistance was the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891, in which the Manipur
monarch had valiantly fought against the British. Once the Imphal valley was occupied and the colonial rule was
firmly established, the British carried out series of military expeditions and tours in the hills. These expeditions and
1

Historically, as late as between seventeenth and nineteenth century mayang was a generic term used when referring to
particularly the Bengalis, Cacharis and an identified section among the Assamese. Even as late as early 1940s there are occasions
when the Punjabis and Marwaris were regarded as people different from Mayangs. The meaning was completely changed in the
twentieth century. Subsequently, the term mayang towards the end of the century covered almost all the Indians except those who
were perceived as aboriginals of Nagaland, Assam, Tripura, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Manipur
states.

tours indicate that there were resistances at varying level by the village communities in the hills, which had to be
militarily suppressed. According to the colonial report, in 1893-4, the frequent touring through the hills of
European Officers is all that is required to make the Manipur hill-men amenable to orders.2 Small out posts were,
therefore, kept on the strategic locations. As early as 1893 hundreds of newly recruited forces were deployed on the
Cachar, Naga Hills and Tammu roads, Nungbi, and Powi (in present day Ukhrul District). 3 It did not meant an end
to militant forms of resistance. From 1917 to 1919 village communities belonging to the Thadous, Howkips,
Chassads, Morbis and Ukhas carried out resistance against the second conscription to the British labour corps. 4 In
the late 1920s there was Kabui resistance under the leadership of Haipou Jadonang, heralding the establishment end
of British Government and the establishment of local rule. 5
Defiance of order and non-cooperation were other forms of resistance. For instance, there was what the British had
termed as national manner of showing ill-feelings6 of the Manipuris, which was characterised by burning down of
buildings that were thought to be embodying colonial authority. It was carried out systematically in secret manners
in 1983 and then in 1904. There was also instances of whole scale desertion by Manipur soldiers7 recruited by the
British. Though passive in nature, such desertion indicated defiance. During the first Women War of 1904, which
was directed against forced labour, taxation and collective punishment to discourage the alleged incendiarism, the
British were disheartened when the fifty Manipuri armed police, who were recruited to assist the military in quelling
the agitators, had defied the British order and did not make any arrest. In 1916-7, there was also a mild form of
resistances put up by a section of the Meeteis, against the proposed conscription to the Double Company8 to serve as
soldiers for the First World War. The loyalty of the Manipuris was always suspected. As a result, throughout the
British rule, the Imphal Valley was always garrisoned by foreign armies such as the Assam Rifles, Gurkha Rifles,
Bombay Pioneers, and Burma Military Police. Disobedience or disloyalty, therefor, was a form of resistance.
There can be several other instances of resistances, which have not been mentioned in the above overview. For want
of time and space, the paper have not extensively discussed the resistances which were carried out by the village
communities in the hill areas. The issues that are being discussed in the paper have been selective. The brief
overview, however, provides a hint of the variances and the broader context of the sub-themes that are being
elaborately discussed in the paper. To be more precise, the focus of the paper is primarily on the resistances in the
Imphal valley9 that were being shaped by and directed against the colonial relation of production. It begins with a
background to the colonial relation of production and discusses the three interrelated sub themes; (a) Resistance
centred on land, labour and taxation, (b) Resistance centred on rice and (c) Resisting Mayang control of economy.
The paper also briefly discusses the later phase of resistance that was characteristically a political culmination, as it
asserted for a democratic constitution and responsible government vis--vis monarchy. The conclusion sums up the
paper.
III
Background to the colonial relation of production
The British rule from 1891 speeded up integration of Manipur in the colonial relation of production. Under this
system the political economy of Manipur was subjected to serve the colonial interest. Capitalist free trade was
dramatically superimposed on the pre-existing pre-capitalist agrarian economy. It led to the virtual reign by the
colonial market forces from outside and the gradual underdevelopment of the pre-existing productions. There was a
decline of production. If one goes back to R. Browns survey in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, there was
2

Administrative Report of the Manipur Political Agency (henceforth Manipur AR) 1893-94.
Manipur AR 1893-94.
4
The resistances indulged in targeting other communities. However, the role of a Meetei suspect Chingakhamba Sana Chaoba in
coordinating the resistances and the sympathy shown by the Meetei villages around cannot be denied; Manipur AR 1917-18.
5
Manipur AR 1931-32.
6
In 1891 when anything was done by the authorities which was disagreeable to the Manipuris, attempts to burn down were
made, and the present in only a recrudescence of this national manner of showing ill-feeling; Letter No. 373 1st October 1904
from Colonel H.St. P. Maxwell, P.A. in Manipur and the Superintendent of the State, to the Secretary to the Chief Commissioner
of Assam in Disturbance in Manipur 1904 (Women Agitation) 1904, R-1 / S-A, Manipur State Archive (henceforth MSA).
7
Manipur AR 1893-94.
8
Manipur AR 1916-17.
3

Broadly covering the geographical space of the present four districts, viz. Imphal East and West, Bishnupur and
Thoubal districts.

large-scale production and manufacturing. The industrial products such as cloth, yarn and silk accounted for 20.15
% while the primary products for 79.85%.10 British administrators in 1894 noted that Manipur selfsufficient in rice,
dal, vegetables of various kinds, India rubber, ivory, wax, and etcetera.11 Handicrafts and textiles were flourishing.
Cotton was produced for market.12 Manipur manufactured fine cloth, coarse cloth, silk, yarn, brass and hardware,
ivory works, gold and silver works, shoes, leather work, saddles, cotton durries, etc. There were flourishing
production of metallurgy and minerals such as iron ore, limestone, copper and salt.13 However, the free trade policy
after 1891 was a big blow. It led to the decline of the traditional handicrafts and artisanal productions. Large scale
import of manufactured goods at cheaper rates was affecting the local productions.14 One can go deeper into
analysing the decline in the salt manufacturing, metal productions, and handloom industries to substantiate the point.
While the production was declining, there was an increase in imports, which subsequently outdid exports. After the
invasion in 1981 there began large scale imports of piece goods, kerosene oil, betel nut, ghee and flour for the
special use of the British garrison.15 Soon the imports began for the general consumptions of the people as well. In
addition to substitution of production by imports, new items were finding a place in the market. Import of sugar was
recorded by 1911.16 Import of new items such as hardware and cigarettes were recorded since 192117 and 192318
respectively. By 1923 there was large-scale import of thread and yarn, gunny bags, grains and pulses, iron,
corrugated iron sheets and cement.19 Increasing import of grain and pulses began to be recorded since 1924. As
import increased, Manipur had to meet the balance of payments, through export of capital or local rice that was the
staple diet of the people of Manipur.
The Manipur economy became increasingly dependent to the British capital. On the eve of the British invasion a
comfortable position could be observed as far as the balance of payment was concerned.20 In 1891 the expenditure
was within the estimate, and there was a small surplus at its close with particularly no debts outstanding. The
financial position of the state, if not further burdened by the demands of the Imperial Government, is sound.21
However, by the second decade of the 20th century, particularly after 1916, Manipur started relying on the British
loans. Indebtedness had crept in since 1916 and at the close of 1923-4 Manipur was indebted to the British to the
extent of Rs 268750.22 The economy went downhill, particularly after the Second World War. The situation was
never improved. It was against this backdrop of economic constraints brought about by the colonial relation of
productions that various forms of resistance had occurred. The following three sub-sections will discuss further.
(a) Resistance centred on land, labour and taxation:
Land, labour and taxes were the interplaying sources of surplus accumulation of the colonial fiscal economy, which
was superimposed on a predominantly pre-capitalist agricultural economy. In other words, the fiscal demand had to
be retrieved in the form of surplus products in kind, through maximising forced utilisation of the labour and the
control of land. Therefore, there was expansion of land under the colonial state reserves, imposition of taxes and
more pressure on labour. All these went together.
For instance, the British occupied the capital Kangla and declared it reserved for them. The area under the reserved
areas kept on expanding, at the cost of peoples who were dependent on the land for food, fodder, fuel and other
resources. Thus, by 1940 forested areas such as Heingang, Langgol23, Kambung, Thingcham Kaimai, Tolbung,

10

R. Brown, Statistical Account of the Native State of Manipur, and the Hill Territory under its Rule, Delhi, 2001, p.88
Manipur AR 1894-95.
12
Manipur AR 1891-92.
13
Political Relations of native States for the year 1891-92.
14
N. Lokendra Singh, The Unquiet Valley; Delhi, Mittal Publications, 1998, p. 63.
15
Manipur AR 1892-93.
16
Manipur AR 1911-12.
17
Manipur AR 1921-22.
18
Manipur AR 1923-24.
19
Ibid.
20
Brown, Statistical Account of Manipur, p. 88
21
Manipur AR 1893-94.
22
Manipur AR 1923-24.
23
Manipur AR 1895-96.
11

Vangai, Warok, Koneng, Khoirantak24, Jiri Forest (in 1936), Kaipundal forest (in 1938-39), Kambung-Langol, new
reserves at Jiri-Mukh, Laimatol and the catchment area of Abalok and Kangchup rivers (in 1939-40) were classed in
the category of reserves. There were 152 grass Mahals, unclassed state reserves, in the valley, assessed as so if there
was grass fit for sale. In most cases the boundaries of the grass Mahals coincided with those of village lands and
fisheries. In 1941, The Indian Forest Act 1927 was introduced and with that the forest administration was brought in
conformity with the administration of Assam.25 Forest laws were so strict that an individual could not cut down the
tree from his own private compound; the picking of silk cotton was prohibited, fishing in the lake, channels in the
fields and canals could not be done without paying tax to the Government.26 At the same time the patta system in
land (allotment of title to landholders or privatisation of landholding) was introduced,27 to restructure revenue
assessment and collection of taxes. The introduction of land revenue and house tax had a corresponding effect of
oppression on the defaulters. As early as 1898 a total number of 2981 cases were initiated against objections to the
survey.
The response of the people was complex and diverse, both in time and nature. Individual cases of sporadic and
unorganised tax default or evasion were one form of resistance. Many peasants did not pay taxes unless the
government officials had forced them to pay.28 The use of coercive measures, such as sale of defaulting estates of
those who refused to pay tax or failed to pay tax on time, explains the nature of individual resistances.29 Organised
forms of resistances were evident in the 1910s when many had defied the administration and risen against the
pothang system (forced labour).30 There was also resistance against the Yarek Santri system of keeping vigil on the
officials while on tour in a village.31 The resolution of the Manipur Durbar in 1910 that had exempted the Bamons
(Manipur Brahmins) and Ningthemchas (princes), all the honorary servants of the Govindaji temple, all the servants
of the King, and all the military police personnel from the Pothang duty32 was resented by many on the ground that
it was favouritism and discrimination. The system was challenged. The first agitation has been mentioned as the
Thoubal agitation of 1910.33 Thereafter, there was Foiching village campaign against taxation and Pothang
services.34 The militant character of the anti-Pothang movement is not recorded, but the administration had serious
concerns over the issue. Abolition of Pothang system was proclaimed on 9th June 1913.35
The colonial administration was worried about such resistance as it might led to serious fiscal crisis. As a result, they
handled the situation in such a way that the administrative coercion was carried alongside some forms of
compromise with the restive sections. For instance, when people agitated against the pothang system or the
haphazard water scheme36 the administration promptly responded with some reforms. Or, when in the 1940s, there
were defiance of order, to the extent of felling reserved trees, fishing in the river, canal and lake, and fetching
firewood from the reserved areas; the administration had to take a soft line and the agitators were hardly punished.
However, the negotiations or compromise or soft line were all structured in the colonial relation of production. It did
not losen the colonial control of the fiscal economy. Between 1891 and 1939 the administration was able to extract
income from a variety of exactions such as land revenue, foreigners tax, hill house tax, valley house tax, fisheries
tax, zamindari tax, ferry tax, salt tax, forest tax, tea-seeds tax, law and justice fee, jail fee, stamps fee, excise tax
(including duty on matches), Kabow Valley compensation, income tax and trading license fees, cart tax, cattle tax,
registration fees, fines, vehicle tax, mail fee, etc.
24

Manipur AR 1936-37.
Lokendra Singh, The Unquiet Valley, p. 184
26
Balkrishna Sharma, Irabot and his time, a brief History of Colonial Manipur, Based on the Biography of Neta Hijam Irabot,
(unpublished); Imphal, National Research Centre Manipur library, p. 10
27
N. Lokendra, Some aspects on Manipuri national question (1930-1950) in Development of Manipuri Nationalism (1-1950
A.D.), Imphal, S.R. Institute of Manipur Studies. 2002.
28
Manipur AR 1894-95.
29
In 1906-07a total of 1462 sales cases of defaulting estates were instituted; it was 1206 in 1907-08; 3447 in 1910-11; 3246 in
1911-1912 and 13577 in 1931-31. As a result the total collection of revenue by the State increased from Rs 121481 in 1891-91 to
Rs. 395394 in 1903-1904 and to Rs. 1051666 in 1938-39.
30
Compulsory labour in the construction of roads and carrying luggage of touring officers without any payment.
31
Balkrishna, Irabot and his time, p. 10.
32
Naorem Joykumar Singh, Colonialism to Democracy: A History of Manipur (1819-1972); Guwahati, Spectrum, 2002, p.119.
33
Paonam Labanggo Mangang, Kangleipakta Revolution, Imphal, 1997, p.17, 18.
34
Joykumar Singh, Colonialism to Democracy, p.120.
35
Karam Manimohan Singh, Hijam Irabot and Political Movement in Manipur, Delhi, B.R.Publishing, 1989, p.10.
36
Joykumar Singh, Colonialism to Democracy, p.133.
25

(b) Resistance centred on rice


Resistances organised around the theme of rice were evident in agitations known as the Bazaar Boycott of 1920 and
the Nupi-Lan (Womens War) of 1939-40. During these agitations, the issues of common concern such as the rising
prices of rice, cloth and other imported articles were raised. In fact, 1920 was the year when the food problem
reached an unbearable situation. May poor had to survive on roots, stems and water vegetation, instead of their
staple diet rice.37 An anonymous notice released in 1920 called on the people to hold a special meeting on 22nd
September to discuss the issue of the price rise.38 There was widespread demand to bring an end to the export of rice
and to reduce prices of essential commodities.39 Protestors patrolled the bazaar in the British Reserve at night with
sticks and enforced a strict boycott against export of rice.40 After about 18 years the Nupi-Lan broke out on the same
issue of rice.
Rice was the staple diet of the people and they had an emotional attachment to it. The colonial administration was
equally concerned about the supply of rice, particularly Manipur rice, to the colonial garrison. The administration,
therefore, encouraged export of Manipur rice. Accordingly, not less than 5,000 mounds of Manipur rice were
exported to Kohima in 1893-94 alone.41 The total quantity of rice exported between 1st December and 31st March in
1897-98 was 11206 maunds.42 In 1900-1901 the value of rice exported to Kohima alone was Rs 69866, out of the
total of Rs 78161 worth of goods exported by this route.43 The value of export of rice to the Assam Valley via the
Mao Thana in 1901-02 was Rs 110067 against the value of Rs 120822 of total exports.44 In 1911-12, 108086
maunds of rice were exported.45 An embargo against rice export was introduced in 1921 but it was lifted in January
1923.46 It is astonishing to note that while good quality Manipur rice was supplied to the garrisons, the
administration imported cheaper and inferior rice for distribution to the people during scarcities. For instance, in
1911 about 5000 maunds of rice were purchased from the Silchar merchants and distributed.47 Despite scarcity and
agitation in 1920, the administrations resolved that the supply of rice to the Kohima garrison should not stop even if
the people had to suffer.48
The colonial rice policy culminated in famine and there was the outbreak of Nupi-Lan in 1939. Chronologically, on
12 December hundreds of women, with some men took on the street demanding an end to the export of rice.49 They
besieged the President of the Durbar Mr. Sharpe,50 Commandant of the 4th Assam Rifles Major Bulfied, and the
Civil Surgeon Major Cunmin, who came to the rescue of the President.51 Though the club bearer was allowed to
bring drinks for the officers, the agitators refused to allow them to leave, even to take food52 until late night.53 The
Commandant of the 4th Battalion, Assam Rifles noted, Captain Stone came to the spot with some men of the AR.
They (women protestors) surrounded them (Captain Stones men) and tried to snatch the rifles from their hands and

37

Application to the judicial members, Manipur State Durbar. 28 September 1920 by Manipur State subjects for redressing the
wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Marwaris, Bazaar Boycott of 1920, R-1 / S-c, MSA.
38
Ibid., An anonymous Manipuri Notice 25th September 1920.
39
Kh. Ibochou Singh, Responsible government under Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947, Extra Constitutional powers of the
Dominion Agent and the Dewan (henceforth Responsible government under Manipur Constitution Act, 1947) in Annexation of
Manipur; Imphal, Peoples Democratic Movement Manipur, 1995, p. 159
40
Letter from L.O. Clarke, PA in Manipur, To Commandant 23rd September 1920, Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
41
Manipur AR 1893-94.
42
Manipur AR 1897-98.
43
Manipur AR 1900-01.
44
Manipur AR 1901-02.
45
Manipur AR 1911-12.
46
Balkrishna, Irabot and his time, p. 11
47
Manipur AR 1911-12.
48
D.O. No. 26-G, Kohima, Naga Hills 8th October 1920. To L.O. Clark PA in Manipur, Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
49
Manipur AR 1939-40.
50
Letter from the office of the PA Manipur to the secretary to the Governor of Assam, Shillong, Confidential No 3872-CA 26th
December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940, R-1/ S-B, MSA.
51
Manipur AR 1939-40.
52
Press Communiqu by the Political Agent Manipur, 16 December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
53
Manipur AR 1939-40.

men in the background threw stones.54 The women tried to snatch away the rifles of the Assam Rifles.55 According
to an eyewitness stone throwing or scuffle was corollary of the arrival of the troops.56 According to a victim, the
sepoys did not ask us to clear the road; we were standing in line and the sepoys suddenly attacked us and hit by
bayonet.57 In the scuffle 21 women and one Indian officer and 7 other ranks of the Assam Rifles were injured.58 It
set the beginning of a yearlong agitation. During the agitation, women fought several pitch battles with the police
and paramilitary forces.
An interesting aspect of Nupi-Lan was the imposition of embargo on the export of rice. During the Bazaar Boycott
of 1920 the agitators patrolled the bazaar in the British Reserve, at night with sticks, and enforced a strict boycott
against rice export.59 During the Nupi-Lan, women groups formed vanguards and forced carters carrying paddy to
leave the bazaar with their carts.60 On 8th December night after 11 p.m. some carters with one Chura, a rice dealer
came to the bazaar but some 150 women forced the carters to leave the bazaar with their carts.61 Such embargo were
for several weeks. On 28 December agitators threw cartloads of rice into a gutter.62 Embargo parties were in power
and threatened the Marwaris.63 In January 1940 about 150 carts were held up at Thoubal and other village.64
Agitators demanded that the shopkeepers in bazaars must not licence goods to foreigner.65 On 28 December, some
carters whose rice had been thrown into the gutter lodged a complaint in the Court of the Political Agent, naming
five women as their assailants.66 Villages held up Imphal going carts filled with rice and paddy or forced the
shopkeepers in bazaars not to accept goods. The agitators in Thoubal district held up about 150 carts carrying rice.67
Agitations defied authority and targeted the perceived symbols of colonial authority. The mills, the market and the
Marwaris were seen as symbolically representing the colonial system. Such perception had some logics as the rice
export, market monopoly and the Marwaris were interlinked. Firstly, regarding the mills, attempts were made to
forcibly close down all the rice-mills owned and operated by the outsiders.68 Women agitators extorted written
promises from the mill-owners that they would not operate their mills.69 Rice mills became a target of attack due to
the reason that foreign merchants in Imphal, who had set up rice mills, were bringing the entire paddy they could
get, milling it and exporting it.70 There were as many as 18 mills operating in Manipur in 1939. Those mills with a
daily outturn of 11,200 mounds of rice, absorb the entire available paddy in the state thereby creating unemployment
amongst the women.71 Mills were seen as instrument of impoverishing the poor, who were being thrown out of
their job of husking.72 Therefore, the Manipur Mahasabha resolved to close down the mills. There were also charges
that the mills owned by the outsiders were instrumental in creating famine. On one occasion, news that a mill54

Letter from the Commandant, 4th Battalion, AR, Imphal to the Political Agent in Manipur: letter no. 2014/ IV-18 (B) dated
13th December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
55
Letter to the Secretary to the Governor of Assam, Shillong: Office of the PA Manipur, Confidential. No 3872-CA 26th
December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
56
Testimony of witness Babu Upendra Chandra Mukherji, Sub-post master, Imphal 15/12/39 in the letter to the PA in Manipur
15th December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
57
Statement of women detained in Hospital. No. 1. Ngambam Ongbi Angangjaobi of Wangkhei Khunou to the PA in Manipur
15th December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
58
Letter to the Secretary to the Governor of Assam, Shillong. Office of the PA Manipur, Confidential. No 3872-CA 26th
December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
59
Letter from LO Clarke, PA in Manipur, to Commandant 23rd September 1920, Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
60
Letter from the Commandant, 4th Battalion, AR, Imphal to the Political Agent in Manipur: letter no. 2014/ IV-18 (B) dated
13th December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
61
Ibid.
62
Manipur AR 1939-40.
63
Letter to Mills by Gimson, (Confidential, Imphal 14-12-39), Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
64
A Report in journal Bharat [henceforth a report], Calcutta, dated 8-1-40, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
65
Ibid.
66
Manipur AR 1939-40.
67
A Report
68
Copy of letter no. 2014/ IV-18 (B) dated 13th December 1939 From the Commandant, 4th Battalion, AR, Imphal to the PA in
Manipur 13th December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
69
Manipur AR 1939-40.
70
Ibid.
71
Resolution passed by Manipur Praja Sanmelini, 7th sitting, Police Bazar Field, 2 pm. 7-1-40, Resolution passed by Manipur
Praja Sanmelini 1940, R-1/ S-B, MSA
72
Ibid.

owner at Mantripukhri (outside the British reserve) had soaked and boiled some paddy to make parboiled rice
caused an angry crowd of some 10,000 women to march on one of the largest mills.73 After a lot of talk, in which
threats of smashing up houses and boilers were freely used, they finally dispersed at about 8:30 pm when the main
electric fuses had been removed from the buildings.74 Secondly, protestors targeted the Mayangs and the market.
Clarkes complaint against the King, dated 27th September 1920, noted that some 10 to 12 men on horses and
bicycles and some 15 on foot, mostly youths, had entered the British Reserve and had driven away any people that
have been sitting in the bazaar and taken away all the native servants of the shopkeepers, also some native tailors
who had sued to sit in the shops.75 During the Nupi-Lan, agitators boycotted the main market in the British Reserve.
They deserted the stalls in the British reserved areas and opened their stalls at various places on the outskirts of the
station, in the open spaces near the palace. Meetings were held in the Police Bazaar.76 On 13th January 1940 the
police were unable to prevent a meeting being held in the police bazaar in defiance of the Durbars orders.77 The
agitation, however, was ruthlessly suppressed and died out as the apprehension of a Japanese invasion became
increasingly dominant by the early 1940s.
(c) Resisting Mayang control of economy
Resistance against the Mayang control of the economy, particularly in retail trading, rice export, rice and mills
erupted from time to time. During the Bazaar Boycott of 1920, many Manipuris desisted from purchasing from the
shops owned by the Kayas.78 Many avoided from dealings with them openly.79 The agitators went on patrolling the
market in the British Reserve at night with sticks in order to enforce a boycott against the Kayas.80 One Sooresh
Chandra Mookerji, a Mayang rice contractor complained that the villagers and the village guards did not allow them
to sit in the market for purchasing rice and also did not allow the women dealing in rice to sell it to them. If any
women turned up to sell rice, the agitators took it all by force and scattered it in the street. And if somehow they
purchased 4/5 maunds, the agitators stopped the carts on the road.81
During the Nupi-Lan the main targets of attack were Marwari rice dealers, their rice mills and the market that was
under their control. In the early 1940s Hijam Irabot, founder of the Manipur Communist Party, had defended the
interest of the local business class and he urged upon the people to make strong representation to the administration
so that the foreigners were not allowed in Manipur stat. He also advised the people to arrange various schemes to
handle and organize different sorts of trades and commerce.82 As a result of the pressure from the local business
class, the Durbar in April 1945 proposed to refuse readmission of Mayang merchants who had abandoned their
property in Manipur during the war crisis in 1942. King Bodhachandra also felt that the Durbar should give a chance
for the posts of State Medical Officers to the native doctors in recognition of their hard and long services to the
administration, rendered during the anxious days of emergency by filling up the gap left by foreign medical
officers.83 Therefore in all the agitations related to economic grievance, the targets were the Mayangs who were
being held responsible for the economic crisis and symbolically representing the British colonial rule.
The general perception is that the Mayang traders were targeted because of their role in the outbreak of famine.
Many believed that price inflations from time to time were due to profiteering activities of the Mayang
traders.84 According to a petition in 1920, the Manipuris were underpaid, indebted, and as a result forced to
73

Manipur AR 1939-40.
Letter to Mills by Gimson: Confidential, Imphal 14-12-39, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
74
Manipur AR 1939-40.
75
Confidential letter from LO Clarke to His Highness, 27th September 1920, Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
76
Manipur AR 1939-40.
77
Ibid.
78
A trading community of Indian origin.
79
With the exception that Government
contractors, if supplied with a certificate from the King that they are genuinely
authorized to export so much rice a month for their Government contracts, can get rice sufficient for their contracts
80
Letter from L.O. Clarke, PA in Manipur, to Commandant 23rd September 1920, Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
81
Letter from Sooresh Chandra Mookerji and Co, Merchants and Government Contractors (HO 296 Tiretta Bazzar, Calcutta) to
the Political Agent in Manipur. 22nd September, 1920, Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
82
Manimohan Singh, Hijam Irabot and Political Movement in Manipur, p. 164, 165
83
Ibid.
84
Resolution passed by Manipur Praja Sanmelin on the 7th sitting: Police Bazar Field, 2 pm. 7-1-40 in Resolution passed by
Manipur Praja Sanmelini 1940.
74

part with their products at the lowest price dictated by the Mayangs. 85 In the 1930s the people felt that the price
of rice had gone high because the Mayangs had purchased it.86 There can be some truths in all these allegations.
However, in order to understand the anti-Mayang feeling, we need to analyse other interrelated factors such as the
nexus between Mayangs and the British, the growth of Mayang monopolies, and the growth of native business class.
Firstly, there was a nexus between the Mayangs and the British. In fact, the Mayangs traders began to immigrate in
large numbers after 1891.87 They were settled in the British reserved areas and protected by the British laws. In a
short span of time, they captured the market economy. It is believed that they have drained away Manipurs capital
reserve through the absolute control of the market.88 It was also apparent that the colonial administration was
favouring them. An order in July 1946 stated, the Marwaris and other businessmen who had submitted petitions to
His Excellency for permission to re-enter Manipur were to be informed that there was no ban on their ingress to the
British reserve. And applications for new leases for the lands, which they held formerly, were to be considered
sympathetically, if the land was not required for other purposes. The Governor of Assam also wanted to do a
parting favour to the Mayang traders, and thus ordered the Political Agent of Manipur to ingress them into the
British Reserve by one of his final orders issued on 14 th August 1946.89 The order was enforced despite the protest
that the foreign businessmen should be prevented from re-entering Manipur and controlling the economy. In the
following year in July 1947, the Governor of Assam further instructed the Political Agent of Manipur to allow reentrance of Marwaris. In addition to this the Political Agent of Manipur G.P. Stewart, recommended the entry of
seven more traders.90 The suspicion of the Mayang- British nexus appeared to be logical.
Secondly, there was Mayang monopoly of the market. They controlled the cotton trade and excelled in the growing
vehicular traffic.91 Their success in the tea seed trade by replacing state monopoly substantiates the point.92 They
could succeed as they had enough capital to compete with in public auction. The silk manufacturing right was
purchased by the Mayang owned private companies such as the Messrs Anderson Wright and Company, Manipur
Company Limited and others. The transfer of the silk manufacturing right also suggested allocation of large land to
them, for silk farming. The British supported it on the ground that the administration would receive half the net
profits of the company and the individual cultivator would earn a lot by growing mulberry for the company.93 In
1916 the Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation Limited purchased the right to fell and log some of the trees on the
borders of the Kabow Valley.94 Monopoly rights were purchased by the Mayangs for the export of bees-wax and
agar in 1915-19. As a result Manipur exported 69 maunds of bees-wax and 21 maunds of agar through monopoly
right holders.95 In 1917-1918 the export was 52 maunds and 30 maunds respectively96.
By 1935-36 monopoly rights were given to the Mayangs for the trade in precious products such as elephant tusk,
deer horn and orchids.97 Whereas rubber mahal on the western border of Manipur98 and chalmugra seed mahal99
were auctioned, orchid mahal was sold off on the expiration of the previous lease in 1937. Under a new system
started in November 1932 the right to levy export tax and collection was transferred from the Political Agents
Office to the Mayang monopoly firms. Under this new system the right to issue export passes was given to a private
firm called Messrs Sadasukh Mansukh Roy Saraogi who was also authorised to engage in the work of collection of
cart tax in 1932. The firm made payments of fixed sums to the administration half yearly. When the contract with
85

Application to the judicial members, Manipur State Durbar. 28 September 1920. By Manipur State Subjects for redressing the
wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Marwaris; Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
86
Ibid., An anonymous Manipuri notice 25th September 1920.
87
Manimohan Singh, Hijam Irabot and Political Movement in Manipur, p. 164, 165.
88
Balkrishna Sharma, Irabot and his time, p. 13
89
Manimohan Singh, Hijam Irabot and Political Movement in Manipur, p. 164, 165.
90
Calcutta Commercial Bank, M/s Gurudayal Muklal, Dinanath Brajanath Kapurchand Dasipram and Rasmani Teli, Laksmi
Narayan, Mashiram Karamchand and Gigasing Rajput, Lokendra Singh, The Unquiet Valley, p. 182, 183
91
Balkrishna Sharma, Irabot and his time, p. 13
92
Manipur AR 1891-92.
93
Manipur AR 1907-08.
94
Manipur AR 1915-16.
95
Ibid.
96
Manipur AR 1917-18.
97
Manipur AR 1935-36.
98
Manipur AR 1909-10.
99
Manipur AR 1935-36.

this firm was terminated, a new contract was made at a higher rate (Rs. 73000 a year) with a different firm called
Messrs Mangalchand Megharaj and Company.100 The monopoly right to collect and trade in jade throughout
Manipur was also sold. The collection from these monopolies was Rs 1988/5/- as against Rs 1322/- in the previous
year.101
In the early 20th century the export of rice was carried out mostly by Mayang contractors who supplied Manipur rice
to military garrisons beyond Manipur. 102 There was development of contractors for the export of rice. In the 1920s
Sudasukh Sooresh Chandra Mookerji, Samairam, Badri Narayan, Kaluram, Murlidhar Brajanath, Ganesh Lal
Sadiya, Jibanram Premsukh, Suda Sukh and Deven Narayan Tiwari were the chief exporters of rice holding the
monopoly rights. From the year 1932, the work of collection of cart tax103 was given to Sadasukh Mansukh Roy
Saraogi.104 The administration expected to receive Rs. 73,000 as revenue from it.105.Messrs Mongolchand Megharaj
and Co. of Imphal held the contract of the cart-tax monopoly and collected Rs 38,530 from 1 July, 1935 to 31
December, 1935. Messrs Mongolchand Kisturchand Imphal held the right and collected Rs 37,386 period from 1
January, 1936 to 30 June, 1936. For this, the administration received in return Rs 59,000 as royalty or fees for the
monopoly right.106 The Mangolchand Kisturchand and Co, of Imphal held the contract of the cart-tax monopoly and
collected Rs 109530. For this the administration received Rs 81,500 as fees for the monopoly right.107 The Mayangs
had enough capital and resource to dominate the Manipur traders and could prosper. In this context there was
apprehension about the Mayang control of the entire economy.108
Thirdly, the anti Mayang attacks corresponded to growth of Manipuri trading class. The latter remained
economically weak and could not play effective role in the external trade. Their position was confined to the level of
the petty traders in the market.109 According to the British, the Manipuris were not ready for trade because there
were practically no (native) traders who are prepared to leave the state and trade in these articles in India.110
However the Manipuri trading class had a different version. They believed that they were being subjected and
subordinated. According to them, Mayang traders had enough capital and resource to dominate in trading. They
complained that the most objectionable feature of their (Mayang) enterprise is their high profiteering campaign, the
main grievance of your humble subjects. They purchase up every product of the state (viz., rice, dal, chilies, cotton,
fish, etc.) and store up in their (stores) by previous arrangements through their agents at nominal price and sell these
items at exorbitant price in times of scarcity.111 The Manipuri traders, therefore, took the opportunity of the
growing resentment during the famine days and targeted the Mayangs.
The Manipuri trading class had many times complained, Marwaris in the business atmosphere of Manipur meant
exploitation in every available product of the state, at the expense of your humble subjects- who have no capital and
resources enough to compete with them in their new struggle. Thus they are left in a critical position- to choose
either their own destruction or the thraldom of the Marwari capitalists who eat up every moment into the entrails
of the State112. During the Bazaar Boycott of 1920 they wanted to turn out the Kayas and to take the trade into their
own hands. They believed, as long as the Kayas were there, they (Manipuri traders) could not enter the trades as the
Kayas had more capital and by offering higher prices would buy up the rice they wanted to get.113 In the 1930s
Irabot had raised, Marwaris who were shopkeepers in Manipur, had been the root of our peoples misery causing
100

Manipur AR 1932-33.
Manipur AR 1937-38.
102
Lokendra Singh, The Unquiet Valley, p. 61
103
The export system was carried under two categories i.e., cart tax and lal pass. Under the cart tax system, the free movement of
rice after paying cart tax was allowed and the second one was made through an agreement between Manipur State and Assam.
Under lal pass category rice was exported to Kohima and Assam Rifles stations posted in different areas.
104
Joykumar, Colonialism to Democracy, p.139.
105
Balkrishna Sharma, Irabot and his time, p. 13
106
Manipur AR 1935-36.
107
Manipur AR 1937-38.
108
Application to the judicial members Manipur State Durbar, 28 September 1920 (henceforth Application by Manipuri subjects)
by Manipur State Subjects for redressing the wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Marwaris, Bazaar Boycott of 1920.
109
Lokendra Singh, The Unquiet Valley, p. 63
110
Manipur AR 1931-32.
111
Application to the judicial members Manipur State Durbar, 28 September 1920 by Manipur State Subjects for redressing the
wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Marwaris, Bazaar Boycott of 1920
112
Ibid.
113
Diary note by LO Clarke on 16th October 1920, Bazaar Boycott of 1920, R-1 / S-c, MSA.
101

famine and mass unemployment, and there had been (protests) since 1920.114 During the famine of 1939, thought it
hit the poorer townsfolk hard when they were already suffering from the loss of their old earnings,115 it was the
women traders, whose livelihood was solely dependent on rice dealing, who were the most affected since the
business was in the hands of the Mayangs. The Political Agent noted that the women traders were refusing to sit in
the bazaar during the agitation.116 They boycotted the main bazaar in the British Reserve and meetings were held in
the Police Bazaar.117 On one occasion the agitators asked the carters not to sell the paddy to the Mayangs at the
reduced rate and asked them to sell to Tolcham Singh (a Manipuri trader).118
The Manipur traders, therefore, demanded a separate market for the Manipuris.119 They deserted the shed and
opened their stalls at various places on the outskirts in the open spaces near the palace. Clarke noted in 1920 that
some (Manipuris) taking advantage of the discontent caused by the high price of rice (discontent confined to
residents in Imphal who have no rice to sell) have started an agitation to drive the foreign traders out of Manipur, in
particular the Marwaris. The agitators idea is to boycott the Marwaris and carry on the trade of the country by
Manipuri agency.120 There was complaint that foreign traders were gaining a monopoly of the trade to become an
economic threat to the people. The Manipur durbar was sympathetic to such demands and it tried to give a chance to
the Manipuri doctors to fill up the posts of the State Medical Office. Many protested that that the people would die
under the dumping operation of the big foreign merchants.121 In this matter king Bodhachandra took a nationalist
line. According to him the Manipuris must be given a free hand in business for some years.122 The resolution passed
by the Manipur Praja Sanmelini on 7th January 1940 expressed the economic concerns and aroused nationalist
nostalgia of restoring the pristine state of pre-colonial economic self-sufficiency.123 All these instances substantiates
that the Manipur trading class had economic reasons of arousing anti-Mayang attacks during economic agitations. It
constituted an aspect of resistance against the colonial economy.
IV
Resistance and political culmination
The number of desperate sections clamouring for political and economic rights was growing during the British
colonial period. The 1930s witnessed the growth of secular and democratic platforms arousing cultural, economic
and political awareness. The period between 1938 and 1947 revealed open assertions of democratic rights. 124
Interestingly, the intellectual and the near future political elites seemed to have predicted the lapse of British
paramountcy in short time. Many of them were aware of the freedom movement in British India and the imperialist
rivalries which have considerably weakened the British colonial power. The situation must have raised the hopes to
capture political power in the hands of the modern political elites. And that must be a reason that there was no open
popular anti-colonial agitation. Resistances in 1940s were no longer against the British. Instead, they demanded a
responsible government and targeted the monarchy.
Coincidentally, the Nupi-Lan against the export of rice paved the way to the open assertion for a constitution and
responsible government. Chronologically, few months before the outbreak of the Nupi Lan, since (5 May 1939) the
(Mabasobha Working Committee have) been sending almost for every month here to for a reminder to say about
the Mahasobha Resolution No 11 for establishment of a legislative in Manipur. I therefore submit herewith a
114

Manimohan Singh, Hijam Irabot and Political Movement in Manipur, p. 177.


Manipur AR 1939-40.
116
Letter to Mills by Gimson: Confidential, Imphal 14-12-39, Disturbance at Manipur 1940.
117
Manipur AR 1939-40.
118
Letter to the PA in Manipur, 15th December 1939, Disturbance at Manipur 1940
119
Ibochou Singh, Responsible Government under Manipur Constitution Act, 1947, p. 159
120
Letter from Clarke to AW Hotham, Bazaar Boycott of 1920
121
Manimohan Singh, Hijam Irabot and Political Movement in Manipur, p. 164, 165.
122
Ibid.
123
Resolution passed by Manipur Praja Sanmelini. 7th sitting: Police Bazaar Field, 2 pm. 7-1-40, Resolution passed by Manipur
Praja Sanmelini. 1940
124
This was the decade when several political associations or parties such as the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha (1938), Praja
Sanmeloni (7 January 1940), Praja Mandal (7 March 1946), Krishak Sabha (formed in 1935 as Krishak Sanmenoni) became a
political organisation in May 1946, Praja Sangha (formed by merging Manipur Praja Sanmeloni and Manipur Praja Mandal on 21
August 1946), Manipur State Congress (4 October 1946), Shanti Sabha (1948) and Communist Party (September 1948) and
Socialist Party (1948) carried out intensive political activities and encouraging the people the people to involve in politics.
115

rough outline of a legislature framed by the WC and approved of by the Bebasthapok Sobha of the Mahasobha for
your Highnesss kind perusal and necessary actions so that the legitimate rights of the people may be secured and
the grievances redressed.125 After the war, there was a vigorous attempt to hasten up the overthrow of the
monarchy.
The popular movement for the adoption of a constitution and the establishment of an elected popular government 126
was intensifying. Accordingly, the Manipur Durbar in August 1946 noted the feeling of the public and request the
President Manipur State Durbar to discuss the whole question of constitutional reform with His Highness as soon as
an opportunity presents itself. 127 King Bodhachandra was compelled to issue orders for the formation of a
Constitution Making Committee on the principle of equal representation, which would also contemplate for
integration of the hill and valley administrations. 128 As per the Royal Order No. 30 P of 1946, dated 12 December
1946, a 16-member Constitution Making Committee, constituting five elected members of the valley, five
nominated non-officials of the hills, two durbar members, one chief court judge, one non-official nominee of the
king, one representative of Jiribam (an outlying region) and the President of the durbar, a British officer, in his
individual capacity129 was formed on 20 January, 1947. It was publicly announced on 10 March, 1947.130
The Constitution Making Committee, at their meetings held on 14, 25, 27 and 29 March 1947, laid down the
principles to frame the constitution. In July the Constitution Making Committee finalized the drafting of the
constitution and submitted it to the king for approval. The Manipur Constitution was finally adopted on 26 July
1947.131 In the meanwhile, the Durbar was abolished and it was replaced by an Interim Council, headed by a Chief
Minister and six ministers,132 to administer Manipur when the transfer of power would take place on 15 August
1947. However the movement for the establishment of a responsible popular government went on and the interim
government was compelled to announce on 23 November that a full responsible government would be established
by April 1948. There was some delay from the proposed schedule; but election to the Assembly took place on 11
and 30 June, 1948 in the valleys and in the hills on 26 and 27 July, 1948.133 The ratio of the MLAs was to be 30
for the valley, 18 for the hills and 3 for the Muslims, one from Commerce and one from Education, thus coming
to a total number of the 53 MLAs.134 After the election a non-Congress coalition ministry headed by the Praja Shanti
Sabha formed a government. The king ceremonially inaugurated the government on 18 October 1948. 135
Conclusion
Colonialism was the process of extraction of capital from the colonial subjects, which involved the twin strategies of
military subjugation and collaboration in various levels. In the context of Manipur, particularly after 1891, the
colonial relation of production was superimposed. But it operated in such a way that, despite the introduction of
several changes136 to serve the colonial interests, colonial rule did not fully wipe out the pre-existing relations of
productions, such as feudal and tribal political economies. They have created local regimes and agents; which were
all incorporated into the larger colonial governing structure. This policy had saved them in many instances from
being directly targeted by the recalcitrant and restive sections. While the collaboration with the local regimes was
continued; due to the uneven character of the colonial changes and control across the regions, the impacts of
colonialism were felt differently in different times by different sections in different regions. In this scenario, there
was the absence of a unifying nationalism and command vis--vis the colonial rule. Therefore, if there were
resistances against British colonialism, the predominant character throughout the period have been sporadic,
125

Memorandum No. 124 submitted by H. Irabot, President, Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha to the Maharajah of Manipur on 2
November 1939; File, Governors Secretariat Program for December 1940, R-1/S-C/ 170, Manipur State Archive (henceforth
MSA).
126
Balkrishna Sharma, Irabot and his time, p. 9.
127
Manipur State Durbar Resolution No. 17 of 21 August 1946.
128
Singh, Responsible government under Manipur Constitution Act, pp. 162 & 163.
129
Bhogendro Singh, Manipur the right of self-determination, a summary n.d.
130
Karam Manimohan Singh, Constituent Assembly of India and North East Frontier Agency in Annexation of Manipur, p. 142.
131
Rajkumar Maipaksana Singh, Constitutional development of Manipur in a nut shell in Annexation of Manipur, p. 128
132
Singh, Constitutional development of Manipur in a nut shell, p. 128
133
Ibid.
134
Singh, Responsible government under Manipur Constitution Act, p. 164
135
Singh, Manipur the right of self-determination, a summary.
136
In the administration, law, taxation, infrastructure, market economy, and etcetera.

sectarian, uncoordinated and communally genocidal in some instances. However, the inherent crisis of capitalism
that had culminated into imperialist rivalries had weaken the British colonial power. On the eve of independence, a
powerful section of the modern elites across communities came together to enact a constitution in 1947, that
incorporated certain aspects of constitutional monarchy and federal structure on an experimental basis. With the
lapse of British paramountcy in 1947, Manipur became independent. However, the seeming political independence
was short lived. The Dominion of India, in the most controversial manner that later on became the cause of
insurgency, took over the administration of Manipur on 15 October 1949 by arbitrarily abolishing the responsible
government without free prior informed consent of the people.
##

About the author


Dr. Malem Ningthouja (N. M. Meetei) had pursued BA (h) History from Hindu College, Delhi and had completed
MA, M. Phil and Ph. D in History from the University of Delhi. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of
the journal Revolutionary Democracy, founder cum chairperson of Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur),
Founder cum Managing Trustee of the Labour Research and Organisation Foundation (LAROF) and an alternate
member of the International Coordination Committee of the International League of Peoples Struggle. He is also a
member of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners and
Indian History Congress. He is the author of the books; Freedom from India; a History of Manipur Nationalism;
Spectrum, Guwahati, 2011 and Indias War on Democracy: the Debate on AFSPA 1958, Waba Publications,
Imphal, 2014. He had edited a compiled work on AFSPA entitled the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958:
Manipur Experience; CPDM, New Delhi, 2010: Professor Sanajaobas Right to Self-determination of Manipur;
CPDM, New Delhi, 2013: Comrade Irabot and Capitalism; IRCC and CPDM, Imphal, 2013. His forthcoming book
entitled Diametrical Nationalisms: Rulers, Rebels and Masses in Manipur is in the press.

Related Interests