Judicial administration of Manipur under King Bhagyachandra : An overview

-Dr Budha Kamei  
Bhagyachandra, the second son of Shyamjai Khurailakpa and Wahengbam Chanu Chakha Loikhombi was born in 1749 at Moirangkhom, Imphal. He was the grandson of Meidingu Pamheiba. Bhagyachandra was known by various names Chingthang khomba to the hill peoples, Jai Singh to the British and the Assamese and Karta to the Vaishnavs.
 He was the courageous and skillful warrior, the deeply religious and patron of tradition and culture. He ruled Manipur from 1759-1761 and 1763-1798. He died in the year 1799 at Murhidabad, West Bengal.
The term administration of justice has a wide meaning and included administration of civil and criminal justice. The expression, administration of justice may necessarily be included the power to try suit and proceedings of a civil as well as criminal nature, irrespective of whom the parties to the suit or what its subject matter may be.
The power must necessarily included the power of defining, enlarging, altering, amending and diminishing the jurisdiction of the courts and defining their jurisdiction territorially and pecuniary. A judgment approach is inherent in the administration of justice, whether legal or administrative.
However, the term judicious is lacking in the legal vigor that is generally associated with the term judicial. The administration of justice consists of in the use of the government machinery of the state in enforcing right of redressing wrongs. Justice can best be administered with the help of law. Law is but an instrument and justice the end.
All the predecessors of Garibaniwaz sat in the Cheirap court and disposed of all cases in consultation with the 64 Phamdous. King Garibaniwaz introduced a reform in 1715; and he entrusted the task of administration of justice to his nobles.
He did it on the ground that if the king himself administered justice it might not be possible to do justice. Although the nobles administered justice on behalf of the king the latter could interfere in any case in which he took interest.
Case in which the king acted as a judge, he was expected to decide it impartially and according to the customary law of Manipur, which was the king of kings.
The king was the final authority and fountain of justice of his kingdom; this was illustrated by the case of Shamulailapam Kokpei Sharma, a notorious Brahmin during the reign of Bhagyachandra. He was sentenced to exile to Cachar by the behest of the King but died on the way. It occurred in the year 1798.
There were three kinds of courts during the time of Bhagyachandra such as (1) the court relating to secular matters, (2) the courts on the subject of religious matters, and (3) the Military court. The first class of courts consisted of (1) The Cheirap that have both original appellate jurisdiction and (2) the village courts that tried minor cases. The Cheirap courts consisted of (1) The Angom Ningthou, (2) the Pukhramba, (3) the Nongthonba, (4) four Leikailakpa, (5) four lakpas, (6) four Shanglen lakpas, (7) four Shangkhuba Shanglakpas, (8) four senior most Keirungba, (9) Luwang Ningthou, (10) Moirang Ningthou, (11) Phunganai Shanglakpa and some other members who were appointed from time to time; subsequently, five Shellungba Ahal were added. The President of the Cheirap was the Angom Ningthou.
Village Court
The village court was the principal unit of justice. It consisted of the village head man, and other elders of the village. They tried minor cases, civil and criminal. Appeals against the decisions of the village court could be taken to the Cheirap.
The village courts followed the principle of persuasion rather than legality. The villa­ge elders assembled in the village Mandop and decided the minor cases. The village court was of the nature of a club. In the event of a villager who is in extreme state of poverty, these clubs did supply him with necessary food.
 In illness they looked after him and when death provided wood and others for his last rites.
Ecclesiastical Courts
There were two numbers of ecclesiastical courts in the country namely, the Pandit Loishang (Maru) and Bramha Sabha (Council of Brah­mins). The Pandit Loishang was the custodian of customs and conventions of Manipur, like forbidden marriage, the incest etc.
It dealt with cases connected with Umanglai (Sylvan deities) that were worshiped by the different Meitei clans. The Pandit Achouba, great Pandit was the head of the court. The Loishang was located in the vicinity of the royal Palace. The members of the Pandit Loishang were remunerated by four Paris of land each in free of revenue.  The second court was the Bramha Sabha.
In the Bramha Sabha, cases connected with Sradha ceremony, anniversary performance of the dead and the like were discussed and decided. Members of this court were also granted the same mentioned above land in free of revenue.
Pacha court
Since the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, the Pacha court existed. Laisna, the queen of Pakhangba was the president of the Pacha court. Since then it was a common practice to bestow the president ship of Pacha on the chief queen of the king. During the reign of Garibaniwaz, the Pacha was placed under an officer the Pacha Hanba.13 King Chourjeet, the third son of king Bhagyachandra dismissed for miscarriage of justice.
This court had jurisdiction over all cases of family disputes in which women were concerned, beating a wife, adultery and divorce. It could inflict a punish­ment of fine up to Rs. 50. It had no power to inflict a punishment of imprisonment or death.The custom of Manipuris did not allow imprisonment or death sentence on Brahmin, child and women. In 1798, a Brahmin under the criminal charge of severe nature was arrested by the crowd handed over to king Bhagyachandra, for cutting a woman on the ground of disobey instead of death sentence, the Brahmin was banished to Cachar.  The usual form of punishment inflicted on women was khungoinaba. It also tried cases of kidnapping, rape, khainaba and Angang chakthak. The Darbar during the period (1753 to 1798) was the vital for a policy making institu­tion rather than a court of law.
Punishments inflicted for various offences were numerous. Before Bhagyachandra, punishments were often excessive. Treason against the king was the highest offence that could be committed. For such cases, oath was penalty, not only to the chief offender but to all his followers. During the time of king Bhagyachandra the punishment for treason was severe beating. But, sometimes the king adopted a soft attitude to­wards offenders and sent them to Loi and other hill villages. In 1793 and 1798, the king exiled Ibungshija Krishna Chandra to Ching Khoubum village (a Rongmei village) and Sha­mulailapam Kokpei Sharma to Cachar. According to R.K. Jhalajit,21 “Capital punishment was not abolished. It was reserved for subversion in conspiracy with a foreign power. Thus, in 1768 certain persons who attempted to overthrow the government by conspiring with certain neighboring foreign power were executed.”
Murder was the next offence in point of magnitude. For murder, the punishment generally inflicted was death,22 except in the case of Brahmin23 and the women. Execution of death sentence however varied with the nature of murder. If a murder was committed by beating then, the criminal was beaten to death. If it was committed by cut­ting or stabbing, the death of the criminal was cut off.24 But during the reign of Bhagyachandra, murder was punished with exile. (To be contd)