13 August A day to remember the heroes of Manipur

 Dr Budha Kamei
Contd from the previous issue
While his two steps were not successful, Mr Quinton became desperate and determined to use force to arrest Tikendrajit in his house at crack of dawn on the following day, 24 March 1891. The British force suddenly attacked the palace without a declaration of war against Manipur, then an independent and sovereign state. Kulachandra declared war against the British; the fighting continued the whole day resulting in heavy causalities on both sides. It is stated that the British army committed atrocities on men, women and children and even they destroyed the idols in the temple (Khelchandra: Battle of Khongjom). As the operation was failed, Mr Quinton decided to have a truce and ordered ceasefire by a trumpet call. The Manipuris too stopped firing after an exchange of letters, both sides agreed to talk about the term of the ceasefire. Then, the ill-fated five white officers, Mr Quinton, Grimwood, Col. Skene, Cossins and Lt. Simson went to the palace without escort and they were unarmed. They went inside the gate and had a discussion about the truce for half an hour but the discussion produced no positive result. At that time, a crowd was also assembled outside the Durbar to hear the progress of the meeting. When the British officers returned and moved towards the gate they chased them and immediately Mr Grimwood was speared to death by one Kajao Singh and Lt. Simson was severely wounded by the sword. The remaining surviving officers rushed inside the Durbar and were detained for about two hours.  They were then taken to the green space in front of the dragons and were beheaded by the public executioner (Khelchandra, Thangal General). Due ceremonial rites were observed and the heads were buried at Nungjenghonbi inside the palace. Hence, an old prophecy which says: “Heads of white men will roll before dragon” comes true. Their bodies were buried near the former site of Majorkhul village, at the present Indira Park and Assembly secretariat. The execution of the five British officers without proper trial was unjustified, though as per the laws of the little country what they had committed was the cause or waging war against Manipur and thus liable to be punished by death. But the execution was one of the incidents of a greater phenomenon of the contest between Manipur and mighty empire (Devi: British Political Agency in Manipur, 1835 -1947). One can say that the events occurred from 22-25 March 1891 were really tragic. The friendship between the two countries had been destroyed by tactless and arrogant Mr Quinton. It was also the disaster for the British prestige in India and tiny Manipur did not comply in the foul play and pressure threats of Mr Quinton.
The execution of British officers was the immediate cause for the outbreak of the Anglo-Manipur war. Thus, the outbreak of internal quarrel among the royal princes, the attempt of the British to arrest Tikendrajit, and execution of British officers had laid the unavoidable basic foundation for this terrible event. Due to this accumulating wrong policy of the ruling elite, the people of the state obtained such type of bad luck (Singh 2002: 70-71).
When the news of the execution of five British officers reached Calcutta, the British government sent three columns of troops to Manipur. They advanced simultaneously by the first week of April 1891 from Kohima under Major General Collet, Silchar under Lt. Col. R.J.H Rennick and Tammu under Brigadier General T. Graham. Major General Collet was the commander of the whole invading army. It appears that Manipur was not psychologically prepared for a big war against the British Empire. But the war was forced on her and She had to fight it out. In the war that followed the Manipuris fought bravely to defend the honour and independence of their motherland.
 Learning the news of the advance of British force from three directions, the Maharaja sent eight hundred soldiers towards the north to check the advance British column coming from Kohima. Another one thousand soldiers were sent to resist the British forces coming from Cachar and seven hundred soldiers sent to oppose the advance of British column from Tummu. The main theatre of the Anglo-Manipur war was in the south-east of Manipur, where was fought one of the battles of the war of Manipur’s independence which was a saga of heroism and patriotism of the great warriors of the country who fought against heavy odds, the outcome of which was a foregone conclusion. At this critical time, the Maharaja promoted Paona Brajabasi and Chongtha Mia Singh to the post of major and reinforced the Manipuri forces with another four hundred soldiers under the command of the two majors. The greatest battle was fought at Khongjom on 25 April 1891. The Manipur camp at Khongjom was defended by majors Paona and Chongtha Mia who earned immortal fame in the famous battle of Khongjom (Dena 2008:42). The Manipuri forces were outnumbered and the enemy was superior in arms too. Those were the days when the sun never set in the British Empire.  A little Kingdom like Manipur could not hope to meet the resourceful of the British located in their Indian Empire (Jhalajit 1965:286). It is a historical fact that the Manipuris fought bravely against the British forces for their motherland. According to the local version, about 400 Manipuri warriors were killed and the British too suffered very losses. The fall of Khongjom is the turning point in the history of Manipur. On 27 April the British entered Imphal and occupied the palace, sounding the death knell of whatever sovereign power Manipur had enjoyed. On the day itself, the union jack flag was hoisted over the palace of Manipur. As a mark of victory, the British soldiers had blown up the masonry dragon which stood at the entrance of the Durbar hall.
All the wanted men including Jubraj Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General were arrested by 23 May 1891. Then, they were put to a farcical trial and charged with waging war against the Supreme Government and murder of white officers. Thus, on 13th August 1891, Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General were hanged at Imphal at 5 pm in presence of Chief political officer, Manipur field force before an open space of about eight thousand Manipuris.  After hanging for one hour, A. Coleman, surgeon, the senior medical officer examined the body and pronounced life to be extinct (Khelchandra, Documents of Anglo-Manipur War, part-II). Kulachandra and Angousana were transported for life to the island of Andaman (Roy 1973:133). Niranjan Subedar, Pukhrambam Kajao and Charang Thangal (Chirai) were also hanged on various charges. “Manipur independence and sovereignty which were so long preserved throughout the centuries had now lost. One need not enter again the justice or injustice of the British action; it was an application of the old adage that might is right which was the foundation of the British imperialism throughout the world.” The historic day of 13th August reminds us that if we do not live and work together we stand to lose.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]