Colonial Policy and Practice in Manipur


By Gangmumei Kamei
A colonial policy was the general principle followed by a colonizing power to regulate the relationship between her and her dependency. A colonial policy would have clear cut  objectives for the attainment of which administrative machinery was created to work in the colony. The British conquered Manipur in 1891 and ruled the state till 1947. The British imposed their paramountcy on Manipur state.  They imposed an Indirect Rule which was a mixture of colonialism and feudalism. Manipur was not annexed to British India but was restored to a young prince of a former ruling family. The British paramountcy was represented by the Political Agent. British retained the feudal rule of the king given a title of Raja who ruled over the valley of Manipur with the help of Manipur State Durbar under the Rule for the management of the state of Manipur to guide the Raja and his Durbar. The hill tribes were administered by the Political Agent assisted by a subordinate officer known as the President of the Manipur State Durbar. There were several social movements during the colonial period directed against feudalism and colonialism. When India became independent in 1947 the British transferred power to the Maharaja of Manipur which marked the end of colonial rule.

The British Colonial Rule
The British conquered Manipur in 1891 and they ruled the state till 1947. The British imposed their supremacy and paramountcy on Manipur state. There were three aspects of British Colonial Rule; the first was that Manipur was not annexed to British India and was restored to a young prince of a former ruling family and a direct British rule for 16 years during which the British Indian pattern of administration was introduced. The second was that of a princely state over which was imposed the feudal rule of the Raja with the help of a Manipur State Durbar with its jurisdiction confined on the small valley of Manipur. The third was the administration of the hill tribes under the British Political Agents.

Colonialism or colonial rule was a historical phenomenon: conquest, emigration and subjugation happened in history. Colonialism is the establishment and maintenance for an extended term of rule over an alien people that is separate from and subordinate to the ruling power. Colonialism means domination of an alien minority, administrators, business men and soldiers asserting their racial and cultural superiority over the subjugated people. European colonialism had passed through three phases of historical development: Mercantilism, Laissez Faire and Protectionism. Mercantilism was the exploitation of the colonies for the benefit of mother countries; Laissez Faire or Free Trade meant free competition coupled with liberal ideas of utilitarianism and social Darwinism. Protectionism meant the policy of protection of the economic and commercial interest of a colonial power facing rivalry from similar powers. The colonial powers including the British gave up free trade policy and was inclined more towards protectionism. The British imperial expansion in India was completed in the end of the 19th century. Protectionism and liberalism were behind this imperial expansion. It coincided with the British conquest of north eastern India including Manipur.

Colonial Policy 
A colonial policy was the general principle followed by a colonizing power to regulate the colonial relationship between her and her dependency. A colonial policy would have political, economic, cultural, social and moral objectives for the attainment or maintenance of which administrative machinery was created to work in the colony. But a colonial relationship involved two social systems, two or more cultural patterns, two civilizations, two different levels of technology and economy, a colonial policy was designed with the deeper connotation and implications. Ideas, ideology, interest and social norms were built in to a colonial policy. Therefore, “a colonial policy means the framing of a social order that provides for an acceptable modus vivendi in an oriental society wherein, the westerners have penetrated, have settled and are carrying on business”.

Colonial objectives
The objectives of the colonial policy were implemented through the administrative machinery which was created to administer the colonies. The art and practice of colonial administration was a highly specialized part of the government. During the mercantilist era, the great chartered companies built up administrative cadres to administer the colonies and the administration was geared at the exploitation of colonies for the benefit of the mother countries. The primary concern of a colony, then, was to act as a source of raw materials and market for the finished products of the industries of the mother country. The functions of the colonial administration had become elaborate.

The scope of the colonial administration was related to the objectives of the colonial policy. Since a colony was to be, a source of raw material, a market and in some as a place of industrial enterprise especially plantation industry, the administration aimed at obtaining three main objectives; to maintain law and order, to collect revenues through a well formulated taxation system to meet the cost of administration and to adjudicate judicial matters. Therefore, the administration’s function covered the army and police for defence, conquest and to keep internal order to ensure stability in the colony; then an elaborate system of fiscal administration. The civil service was to administer both the law of the colonizing power and law of the indigenous people. A well conceived judicial system was the primary step in the administration of a settled civil government.

The colonial administration was influenced by the liberal ideas of utilitarianism. And it adopted welfare programmes. The colonial administration in Manipur also utilized the services of the Christian missionaries to legitimize their rule over the conquered people and to facilitate the westernization of the indigenous tribal society1.

The Policy of Indirect Rule
The British policy towards the native states of India during the rule of the British was described as a policy of indirect rule. India under the British was divided in to two forms of administration. One was British India, the other group was native states of India subordinate to British paramountcy. The term “Indirect Rule” was mentioned by F.S. Furnivall in describing the British rule over the Shan States of Burma. He developed the concept of indirect rule to explain the relation between the British Indian Empire and the native states of newly conquered province of Burma. This concept was further developed by John Hurd II2 to describe the nature of British rule and control over the kingdoms which were described as princely or native states.

According to John Hurd, in India a sizeable part of the country was governed under a system of indirect rule. The indirect rule was differentiated with British India which was ruled by the colonial government. The British India had a single ruler, the Viceroy and one bureaucracy named Indian Civil Service which was responsible to the Viceroy. The army controlled by the highest military command consisted of British officers and native soldiers.

The indirect rule was imposed on the native states. Some salient features are elaborated by John Hurd.
(i) The so called native states, having no control over their external affairs which were conducted by the British had considerable autonomy in the internal affairs.
(ii) They passed and administered their own laws, levied their own taxes and maintained their own bureaucracy and police
(iii) The civil servants of such a state served the particular princely state and were responsible to the ruler. The state officials were locally educated. Rulers, officials and subjects alike were linked by marriage, caste and religious bonds. The social and educational ties made the ruling members of the state locally oriented.
(iv) The laws were mostly local and extended only to the state’s boundaries.
(v) Public borrowing capacity of a state was limited to its own credit rating. Public borrowing in British India and in Great Britain for the states was discouraged.

John Hurd II further argued that the states were autonomous theoretically. The British sent representatives to the states. They were to observe scrupulously the tradition and customs of the state concerned. However, de facto, the position of a state was not so clear. He pointed out that
(i) The Government of India interfered in the internal affairs of the states in varying degrees of the particular state; its history, current condition and personality of the rulers.
(ii) British interference was carried out in many ways. When a prince abused his subjects, defaulted on his credit or violated the wishes of the government, the British could depose him 
(iii) The succession to the throne was subject to the approval of the British Government. If a ruler was deposed or a prince was a minor, the British took over the administration of the state
(iv) The native states undertook no major reforms. And they were allowed to retain their distinctive political character which was different from that of British India3.

The policy of indirect rule was introduced in the native state of Manipur with certain variation.
Churachand Singh as the Raja of Manipur

The British forces occupied Imphal on 27th April, 1891. The Government of India appointed Major H.P. Maxwell as the Political Officer during the expedition. He was also appointed as the Political Agent and Superintendent of the state of Manipur. Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy and Governor General was deeply involved in the affairs of Manipur. He was concerned with the future of Manipur state. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria was concerned with the impact of the conquest of Manipur on princely states of India. She tried to intervene to rescue Prince Tikendrajit Bir Singh from death sentence. The press in India and England publicized Quinton’s expedition to Manipur and the trial of the princes. The Amrita Bazar Patrika and other Bengali papers of Calcutta expressed sympathy with the Manipur king and his brothers. In England, the Times were critical of Government of India’s policy and action towards Manipur. Some of its editorials expressed the sane opinion of English public. The London Illustrated Weekly News published a number of paintings and photos of the officers, places and events of Manipur. The British Parliament also discussed the affairs of Manipur. The Government of United Kingdom particularly the Secretary of State was critical of action of Government of India, though they gave open support to the Viceroy on this affair. Queen Victoria, in her journal recorded her unhappiness towards the Indian Civil Service and impact of Manipur affairs on other princely states of India4. Therefore, the Government of India took a special care in arriving at a policy towards Manipur. The policy was put in practice during their rule of 56 years5.

The first policy decision made by the British Indian Government, after the conquest of Manipur was the future of the state of Manipur; annexation of the state in to British India as a punishment for Anglo-Manipur war or restoration of the kingdom to a prince belonging to the family of the ex-Maharaja or a collateral line of the ruling family. In an answer to a discussion in British Parliament, Lord Viscount Cross, the Secretary of State for India announced that the Government was not in favour of annexation of Manipur and the introduction of British rule in the state. Viceroy Lord Lansdowne was an imperialist par excellence. He was aware of the impact of such a policy of annexation on the princely states. He knew that Queen Victoria was not in favour of further annexation of a princely state to the Indian Empire. In a minute, Lord Lansdowne raised two pertinent questions, (i) whether the kingdom of Manipur revolted against the Queen, and if so the kingdom was liable to penalty which might be in form of payment of indemnity, payment of tribute or annexation of the territory, (ii) did the British Government have the moral right to annex such a conquered territory in the light of the Queen’s proclamation of 1858 in respect of recognition of the princely states in India? These issues were discussed by the Governor General in Council. Legal opinions were expressed that the government of a princely state did not have the right to revolt against the Government of India. If there was a revolt against the Queen, the British government had the right to punish the princely state. The Governor General in Council decided that Manipur had waged a war against the Queen and so she ought to be punished. The Governor General decided that the Government of India had the moral right to annex a conquered territory of the princely state that had revolted.

However, Lord Lansdowne was not in favour of annexation by way of punishment. The opinion among the Anglo-Indian Bureaucracy in India was in favour of annexation, which would lead to the obliteration of the state of Manipur as a political entity. Therefore, it was decided to elicit the opinion of the Chief Commissioner of Assam and the British Political Agent in Manipur with whom Lord Lansdowne was in communication. Sir William Ward, the new Chief Commissioner of Assam following him Major H.P. Maxwell the Political Agent of Manipur who represented the hard liner among the Indian Civil Service towards Manipur affairs, were asked to submit their comments for a policy decision by the Government of India. William Ward in consultation with Major Maxwell recommended that the Government of India were justified in annexing the state (for the maintenance of the British prestige) and to teach a lesson and warning to other native states of India. The hill people being one third of the total population of Manipur would welcome the annexation. The British were obliged to protect the hill people of the state against oppression by the king. It was a moral duty imposed upon the British to annex Manipur. From financial point of view also, there were no grounds for thinking that the annexation would result in to financial loss.

This proposal of the Chief Commissioner, Ward was turned down and he was directed to make another proposal who would be the ruler in case of the restoration of the state. Chief Commissioner Ward directed Political Agent Maxwell to prepare three genealogical tables of (i) descendents of King Garibniwaz (1709-1748), (ii) successors of Maharaja Gambhir Singh (1825-1834) and (iii) descendents of Maharaja Nara Singh (1844-1850). In consultation with the local scholars, Major Maxwell submitted the tables. He also suggested that if annexation were rejected and restoration was to be brought about, the son of ex-Maharaja Surchandra Singh might be considered for the post of the Raja. William Ward endorsed this opinion but Viceroy rejected it. It was further directed to indicate the living descendents of the family of Maharaja Nara Singh. Major Maxwell searched out the family of Raj Kumar Chaubi Yaima who had left behind two wives and six children. His first wife had four sons of whom Churachand Singh was a minor of 5 years. Chief Commissioner Ward suggested two names; the son of Surchandra Singh named Sur Singh, a twelve year prince who was not involved in the recent rebellion and Churachand Singh, a surviving descendent of the collateral line of Maharaja Nara Singh. Sur Singh or Churachand Singh was to be chosen for the rulership of Manipur. It was considered that Churachand, a minor boy would be free from the influence of descendents of the ex-Maharaja. Thus the final decision was made by the Governor General in Council

i. It was decided not to annex the state.
ii. It was decided to choose Churachand Singh, a great grandson of Maharaja Nara Singh to be the ruler of Manipur
iii. The British Government would directly manage the administration of Manipur during the minority of new Raja. Major Maxwell, the Political Agent and the Superintendent of the state would administer Manipur.

The case was eventually settled by the issue of the following Proclamation and Notification, the selected ruler Chura Chand was a child of five years of age, a distant collateral of the ex-Maharaja, and the youngest of several brothers”.
A proclamation was issued on 21st August 1891 which stated, “Whereas the State of Manipur has recently been in armed rebellion against the authority of Her majesty the Queen, Empress of India; and whereas, during such rebellion, Her Majesty’s Representative and other officers were murdered at Imphal on the 24th of March last: and whereas by a Proclamation dated the 19th April 1891 the authority of the Regent, Kula Chandra Singh, was declared to be at an end, and the administration of the State was assumed by the General Officer Commanding Her Majesty’s forces in Manipur territory:

“Manipur State has become liable to the penalty of annexation, and is now at the disposal of the Crown:

and that “Her Majesty the Queen, Empress of India has been pleased to forego Her right to annex to Her Indian Dominions the territories of the Manipur State; and has graciously assented to the re-establishment of Native”.

A notification was issued on 18th September, 1891 that “the Governor-general in Council has chosen Chura Chand son of Chowbi Yaima, and great grand son of Raja Nara Singh of Manipur to be Raja of Manipur”.

A sanad was issued by the Secretary to the Government of India with the following statement “The Governor-General in Council has been pleased to select you, Chura Chand, son of Chowbi Yaima, to be the Chief of the Manipur State; and you are hereby granted the title of Raja of Manipur, and a salute of eleven guns.

“The Chiefship of the Manipur State and the title and salute will be hereditary in your family; and will descend in the direct line by primogeniture, provided that in each case the succession is approved by the Government of India”.

British Rule in Manipur
The policy of British Paramountcy in Manipur 1891-1947 had several aspects. The British declared their supremacy with the occupation of Manipur; British India became the paramount power. As a signal of British paramountcy, the British Indian Government declared that Manipur had committed a rebellion against Queen Empress so she had to pay penalty for this; the British disarmed the people, imposed a fine of Rs. 2,50,000/- payable in five years; and annual tribute of Rs. 50,000/-. She took the responsibility of the overall defence and security of the native state. As a first step, the Government of India converted the British Political Agency as the governing authority of Manipur. Earlier in the pre-colonial period, the Political Agent performed the ambassadorial functions with the authority to protect British interest in North Eastern Frontier including Manipur. Government of India retained the 44th Gurkha Rifles of the Indian Army to defend Manipur. As a condition for the selection of a minor prince Churachand Singh, the British Indian Government took over the administration of Manipur during his minority. The British Indian Government introduced the British Indian administrative system in Manipur. The Political Agent was also the Superintendent of the state. There were twelve Political Agents in the pre-Colonial period and fourteen Political Agents during the Colonial period 1891-19477. The Political Agent was entrusted the powers and function of a Judge-Magistrate, the Executive Head of administration and the Chief of the Police administration. He was overall in-charge of the administration of the hill tribes. The Political Agent was under the supervision of the Chief Commissioner of Assam. Moreover, the Political Agent was the representative of the British Crown.

Over and above the imposition of the fine and a tribute on the state, the British followed a policy of extracting resources of the state to meet the cost of the administration. They introduced a new taxation system under which they imposed house tax on the people: valley house tax and hill house tax. The rate of valley house tax was Rs. 2/- per house and the hill house tax was Rs. 3/- per house. The amount of tax was too heavy and people could not face the consequences of the monetization of their economy. The self sufficiency economy enjoyed by Manipur during the pre-colonial period had undergone a great change after 1891. British introduced a free trade system as a part of their colonial economic policy. They controlled the trade and industry in the state. They allowed the export of rice freely to Kohima and other military stations. They imported a large quantity of salt from outside; Liverpool salt was imported to Manipur through Burma as a result the salt industry in Manipur (manufacture of salt cakes from brine) was greatly affected. The import of Liverpool salt was to compete with the production of the brine wells of the state. The British also imported other commodities and ultimately led to the decline of the indigenous cottage industries.

Administration of justice
The British colonial administration aimed to keep law and order, collect taxes to maintain the cost of administration and adjudicate disputes among the people. Therefore, the administration went in for the establishment of a police system, a revenue system and judicial administration. This three pronged policy brought a marked change in the administration under the British. Thus Major Maxwell, the Political Agent introduced a new system of administration of justice and police in 1892. He proclaimed, “Rules for the Administration of Justice and Police in the Manipur state – 1892”6. A colonial policy implied the change in the judicial system. The rules envisaged three branches of judicial administration; the Panchayat court, the Chirap Court and the Political Agent court.

The Chief Commissioner of Assam exercised supervisory judicial power on the courts of Manipur. He had revisional powers in all cases. He had to confirm criminal cases of death and imprisonment beyond 7 years. He had the right to call for the records in any case tried by the courts in Manipur and reverse the sentence if he deemed it fit.

This judicial system consolidated the British rule in Manipur and was continued up to 1947 when the Maharaja of Manipur passed two laws to deal with judicial matters; Manipur Courts Act, 1947 and Manipur Hill People regulation, 1947.

Police Administration
The military force was a necessary condition for the consolidation of the Imperial power in a newly conquered territory. They needed a political security for the economic exploitation of the new territory for the development of colonial power. In Manipur, the question of political security was very crucial. The Government of India recognized the supreme strategic importance of the state. Manipur occupies a commanding position between Assam and Burma which required the location of a military base of the Indian Army. Manipur is also situated between the Naga Hills and Lushai Hills of Assam which were conquered by British recently. Therefore, it was decided to station a Military regiment in Manipur. Major Maxwell was reported to have commented, “Take away the British support, the country would be involved in a revolution tomorrow”7. The need of the internal security of the state was reflected in the establishment of two wings of the police: the civil police and the military police.

Civil Police

The British Political Agent provided for the Chowkidari system in Manipur. Chowkidar was a rural police who was appointed to every hundred houses. His duty was to keep himself cognizant of what went on in his circle of villages without of course interfering into the domestic or private life of the people. He was subordinate to the panchayat of the circle. The chowkidar was elected by the people of the area subject to the confirmation of the Political Agent8.

In course of time, a small civil police was started in January, 1893 for working in the urban areas. The British had created a territorial reserve known as the British Reserve Area within the town of Imphal consisting of the main Kangla Fort area and Khwairamband bazaar and nearby villages. The Briritish Reserve became centre of political and military power of the British rule in Manipur. The Political Agency and other branches of the administration including residences of the colonial officers and cantonment of the occupation army were located within the British Reserve.

Military Police
The Government established a military police of one battalion. One M.L.F. Crawford, the Assistant Political Agent was appointed the adjutant of Manipur State Police. The new military police force was armed with muzzle loading carbine and bayonet, and dhoti with brown leather accoutrement. They were trained by the instructors of Naga Hills military police. The number of sepoys in the military police consisted of many Manipuri local recruits and the number was reduced due to desertion in 1894. Later on Nepalese were recruited in place of the Manipuri.
When the administration was handed over to Raja Churachand Singh, he became the commandant of the Manipur state police9. The administration of the police was looked after by the police member of the Manipur state Durbar since 1907. The police member became an important functionary of the administration under the Raja. During the World War I the strength of the Manipur state police was increased. He continued to hold the charge of the commandant of the state military police up to 31st May 1941. And on 1st June 1941 E.E. Hughes was appointed the first Superintendent of Police Manipur. The post of the Superintendent of Police and Commandant of the Manipur Rifle in the beginning were combined in one person. Before the World War II an attempt was made to reorganize the Manipur state police but there was not much success. Later on after the independence, the Manipur state Government converted the Manipur state police to Manipur Rifles10.

Revenue Administration:
Collection of taxes was a main function of a colonial government in order to finance the cost of administration. The British Government abolished the feudal system of Lallup and slavery in Manipur. These two steps were a great departure from the traditional system of administration.

Lallup was a feudal service rendered by the subjects of Manipur to the king in pre-colonial period. As a marked departure from the rule of the Meitei monarch, the British abolished the Lallup service. It was a sort of official abolition of the feudal service in Manipur.

Slavery existed in Manipur since the ancient times. But in the later part of the 19th century, in 1891 at the time of British conquest, the Manipur king had 1200 slaves maintained by the royal household. The nobles who were members of the bureaucracy had slaves in their households. The slavery system in Manipur was mild and human. The British policy was for the abolition of the slavery in England and in the colonies. So Major Maxwell, the Political Agent who did some exercise on the institution of Lallup and slavery announced the abolition of both Lallup and slavery on 29th April 1892. The abolition of Lallup was welcomed by the common people who suffered from this system. However, the abolition of slavery did not bring salvation to the slaves immediately. At the same time, it was not beneficial financially to the slaves.

In lieu of the Lallup service, every household in the valley of Manipur was to pay a house tax of Rs. 2/- per annum. A revenue of Rs. 5/- per hectare of land (locally known as pari) was to be paid. For the hill areas, a house tax of Rs.3/- per annum was imposed. The Government then decided to make a cadastral survey of the lands occupied in the valley of Manipur. The land was classified in to agricultural lands, homesteads and community lands used for grazing and other community purposes. It was a gigantic task for the new colonial administration to carry out survey of the land holdings and record the rights of the land owners in a document known as the patta. The revenue administration was carried out by the Political Agent with the help of his assistant Political Agents. Major Maxwell revived the pre-colonial divisions of the valley of Manipur in to four territorial districts known as Panna: Ahallup Panna, Naharup Panna, Khabam Panna and Laipham Panna. One official named Lakpa was appointed to each of the Panna. He was entrusted with the survey of the land which meant recording of the size, quality and type of land occupied by individuals. In actuality it was the adoption of the Indian pattern of revenue administration prevalent in Assam and Bengal. A Lakpa was assisted by petty official known as Amin, Konungo and peons. The Lakpa was not given salaries. He was to take 10% of the assessment of the revenue he made in his circle. The British Government expressed satisfaction at the initial success of the revenue administration.

This system increased the collection of revenues and it was continued till the year 1906. Major Maxwell sent out the Lakpas to different Pannas for the collection of revenue. The payment of 10% commission was abolished and salaries were paid to them. He also asked the village head men to collect arrear revenues from their respective villages. The new land revenue system was more or less successful.

Other sources of revenue were house tax, foreigner tax of Rs. 5/- per annum per family, fishery, salt, forest, tea seeds, fines from law and justice and jail etc. The foreign residents had to pay a tax of 4 annas for grazing of their cattle. With the introduction of the hill house tax many nomadic Kuki villages were brought under permanent settlement and they paid house tax to the state. Next to the land tax, fisheries and salt industries provided revenue to the state. Maxwell of course abolished the state monopoly of trade in tea seeds. The forest in the initial stage did not produce any revenue to the state. However, the regulation of forestry in western hills near Jiribam was entrusted to the divisional forest officer, Cachar and collection of revenue was quite plenty.

A reference may be made to the economic policy of the British Government. Manipur did not have raw materials for the development of industries. The Maharajas of Manipur were opposed to the establishment of tea plantation in Manipur. The British Government did not attempt to encourage tea plantation. Once they tried to develop silk industry by involving a company from Calcutta. This plan was thought to be profitless and the proposal was dropped. The British rulers encouraged free trade towards Manipur. They encouraged external trade to be conducted by foreigners mostly those who belonged to the Marwari community. This community got favour both from the colonial authorities and Raja of Manipur. They monopolized the export of rice and import of manufactured goods. The British did not encourage industrialization.

The colonial Indian Government was influenced by certain social philosophy of the mother country. They implemented the utilitarian measures of welfare to the conquered people. The British in Manipur started with the establishment of schools both in the hills and valley of Manipur to produce petty government servants to be teachers, peons, chowkidars, amin and vaccinators. They provided minimum medical facilities through the establishment of dispensaries and hospitals. They were confronted with several deadly diseases like malaria, cholera and small pox which visited the state in epidemic forms. The colonial government constructed state roads.

The British Policy towards the Hill Tribes
After the British conquest of Manipur in 1891, the hill areas came under the rule of British Political Agent. The British introduced system of Indirect Rule over the hill tribes who were divided in to two major ethnic groups of the Nagas and the Kukis. Lord Lansdowne used a significant term “The Manipur people” to mean both the people of the valley and the hills. However, the Political Agent used the term ‘Manipur’ to mean Meiteis who dwelt in the valley of Manipur.

Under the new system, the British did not rule the hill tribes directly. Like the pre-colonial rulers of Manipur they did not interfere in the affairs of the tribal villages. The Lallup system did not work in hill areas though the king imposed payment of tributes on the hill villages. Occasionally tribal villagers were sometimes used by the king for under taking public works; straightening of the course of rivers and digging of canals. Slavery existed among the tribes in a mild form. The British introduced the hill house tax of Rs. 3/- per household per year. The chiefs or head men of the tribal villages were entrusted with the administration of their villages. The head man or the chief was to collect the hill house tax and submit to the state for which they got certain commission. In the beginning of the British rule there was no proper regulation for the administration of the hill tribes but the British Govvernment introduced the Chin Hills Regulation of 1896 to administer the hill tribes. It was quite effective. Therefore, the spirit of this regulation was adopted in Manipur as the guiding principle of hill administration.

Under the colonial system, the chief or head of the village was to collect house tax, maintain law and order and administer justice according to their customary laws. They were also made to render forced labour to the colonial authority for the construction and maintenance of bridle paths, roads and bridges. They also provided local hospitality to the touring officers, army, police and patty colonial employees. In practice, the Lallup system was de facto reimposed on the hill tribes in a more stringent form. These taxes produced anti colonial agitations.

The British laid down a policy that they were to look after the interest of the hill tribes and protect them from the operation of the administrators of the valley or the Raja. They had to act as a saviour or the protector of the hill tribes. The administration of the hill tribes was separated from that of the valley. This separation of administration on ethnic lines was greatly resented by the Raja of Manipur who was not allowed any intervention in the hill areas. Though the Political Agent was a colonial officer, the direct contact with the hill people was made by petty officials recruited from the people of the valley. For administration of the hill areas, the whole area was divided into five divisions known as Lam. The five Lams were in “the north the Mao Lam, and the Tangkhul Lam includes the hills along the north east of the valley, south of the Tangkhul country was the Tammu Lam; the Moirang Lam was in the south west corners of the state and the Kapui (Kabui) Lam to the west of the valley”11. Five Lam subedars for the five divisions. Under one Lam subedar, 7 Lambus were appointed for a division. The Lambu in the pre-colonial Meitei monarchy was an important petty official for the rural areas. Under the colonial system, the Lambu was an interpreter, a process server and a peon combined in one. Its counterpart in the Naga hills was the Dobashi or the interpreter. The Lambu was employed in all aspects of the colonial administration, keeping the law and order, administration of justice, supervision of public works. He was the ear and eye of the Government. During the period of British direct management of Manipur (1891-1906) the Lambus oppressed the people. The British rule ensured law and order; peace was maintained, taxes were collected, justice was administered. The hill people suffered greatly; they could not bear the financial burden of the house tax. The monetization of the economy by the introduction of the house tax was to the great hardship of the hill tribe who never experienced such suffering under the pre-colonial rule.

In 1907 when the administration was handed over to Raja Churachand Singh, The Political Agent continued to administer the hill tribes. The objective of the British policy was to prevent the traditional operation and exploitation of the hill tribes by the Raja and his government and to protect the hill tribe. They kept peace, prevented internal tribal feuds and warfare among the Nagas and Kukis and inter societal conflicts and imposed tax to meet the cost of administration. They maintained roads and bridges along the main roads from Imphal to neighbouring districts. The claim of the British which was to protect the tribal people was not translated in the ground level. In reality the British rule through the Lambus was oppressive.
In 1913, there was a reorganization of the State Durbar. The Raja ceased to be the President. One British ICS officer was appointed as the President. Not the Durbar but the President in his own discretion was entrusted to administer the hill area under the overall supervision of the Political Agent. In fact, the President of the Durbar popularly known as the PMSD, with his office at the capital town of Imphal was an overburdened officer of the state. He did not have officers to assist him. He could not go on tour in the hills. He depended on the Lambus and the Lamsubedars. The British imposed forced labour known as Potthang Begari and Potthang Senkhai. Very frequently, the tribal labour was subjected to physical torture. There were eighteen British PMSDs between 1913-1947. among them were distinguished names like J.C. Higgins, Christopher Gimson, C.S. Mullan, Captain C.W.L. Harvey, G.P. Stewart and F.F. Pearson.

There were loopholes in the administration of he hill tribes. A great mistake was the absence of any clear cut specific provision for the administration of hill areas under the Rules of management of state of Manipur which was introduced in 1907. This mistake was pointed out by Political Agent John Shakespeare himself. Between the hill men and the British officer, there intervened a most unsatisfactory intermediary in the form of Lambus who were responsible for dissatisfaction among the hill people. Sir Robert Reid, a Governor of Assam himself criticized the system when he observed, “there is no doubt that the administration had been seriously out of touch with heir hill subjects, that the latter were not always well treated, and that there were genuine grievances and genuine abuse”12.

The Kuki Rebellion (1917-1919), described by colonel writers as ‘the most serious incident in the history of Manipur and its relation with its hill subjects’, led to a serious discussion on the future administration of the hills. The Chief Commissioner of Assam made a new pronouncement in October 1919 for the administration of hill areas13. It declared, “the good government of the hill tracts is an object in which Government of India are directly interested, …and approve the measures for the proper administration of the hills i.e., the opening of roads and bridle paths; the extension of education among the tribes; and the bringing of medical relief within the reach of the people of the hills”.

The order also approved appointment of three sub divisional officers of Assam Commission in three hill areas, one at North West sub division (Tamenglong), the second in North East sub division (Ukhrul) and third at South West sub division (Churachandpur).  

The new Rules introduced in 1919 restated the relation between the Raja and the President of the Manipur State Durbar, “the hill tribes are administered on His Highness behalf by the President of the Durbar assisted by one or more Sub Divisional Officer”. The Rules laid down that His Highness, the Maharaja had a right to be consulted in all matters of importance concerning the hill tribes. The Manipur State Durbar exercised no direct control over the hills. But from time to time, it tried to claim some indirect control through its power over the budget. However, the officers who were to be appointed as SDOs were not easily available and the working of the sub divisions were not satisfactory due to the negligence and incompetence of the officers. The Government ultimately framed the rules for the management of hill tribes in 1935 in which the revised rules announced in 1919 were incorporated. On the status of the administration of the hill areas Secretary to the Governor of Assam made a pronouncement on 22nd April 1937. It said among others, “the most important sphere in which the Political Agent and the President of the Manipur State Durbar exercised control is over the hill tribes…from the installation of the present Maharaja, the hill tribes were treated as on a footing distinct from that of His Highness Manipuri subjects being only ‘dependent on’ the Manipur state. The phrase ‘dependent on’ exactly describes the position which has existed from time immemorial and still exist today…”

The pronouncement concluded “…History shows that the Manipuri cannot and will not give the hills an administration of the standard to which they are both entitled and accustomed and that it can only be maintained by the control now exercise. We are under an obligation to the hill tribes to maintain to them a decent administration. The consequences of unrest and rebellion among them might be disastrous for Manipur and would be most dangerous for those portions of British India and Burma which lie along Manipur boundaries”14.

First Women’s Movement of 1904:
The colonial economic policy brought financial difficulties on the inhabitants of the valley. It was thought that the abolition of Lallup would bring some relief in terms of freedom from forced labour. Political Agent Maxwell just after the war called up former members of the Manipur army and they were constituted in to a labour corps. They were engaged in carrying supplies to the British forces on the Kohima road. They were also engaged in the maintenance of Imphal-Mao cart road. There was great resentment towards the employment of forced labour. As noted in the previous paragraph there was disaffection among the Rajkumars of the state. They were also not happy over the selection of the new Raja. They were also against the policy of disarming the population of the country. This was regarded as a policy of blatant oppression. The British imposed a fine on the state. The people were not used to payment of house taxes both in the valley and hill. The British Government introduced a new policy of export and import. Outwardly the British encouraged free trade in the state, however in reality they gave the monopoly of external or export trade to the few merchants from Marwar who were known as Marwaris or Kanias. The frustration of the people after 14 years of direct British rule bursted out in a movement which is popularly known in history of Manipur as first women’s war. Some incidents preceded the outbreak. On 6th July 1904 the Khwairamband market known as the Sanakeithel was burnt down; 28 market sheds which could accommodate 3,000 women vendors were destroyed and on 15th July 1904 again the Bungalows of Captain Nuttal the tutor to the Raja Churachand Singh and Mr. Dunlop the Assistant Political Agent were destroyed by fire. There was also another fire in the night of 4th August 1904, the authorities discovered a stick with an oil rag attached to it. Colonel Maxwell attributed the burning of this bungalow to the acts of incendiarism on the part of the Manipuri inhabitants of the town instigated by the ‘Rajkumars’ or the descendents of the late ruling house as a symbol of their dislike for and a protest against the ruler who had been imposed on them. Maxwell as a Superintendent of the state issued an order to rebuild the bungalows of the British officials. He also asked the people of Imphal area to construct the bungalows with teak wood from the Kabaw valley of Burma. If the people declined he would threaten to impose punitive force on them. The order of Superintendent Maxwell created a great consternation among the people. It was a temporary ‘resuscitation’ of Lallup on the urban people of Imphal. In the beginning the people did not have the courage to confront the order as they were demoralized by the impact of the war. On behalf of the people of Imphal areas an application was submitted to the Political Agent and the application was signed by one Chingsabam Natek Singh of Sagolband. It was rejected by Political Agent Maxwell. Political Agent Maxwell entertained a prejudice against the Rajkumar families. He made derogatory remark on the Rajkumars. He wrote, “Rajkumar, very rarely works, his rank in most instances is sufficient inducement to the girls of the country to marry him and as he generally takes more wives than one and the women of Manipur are the bread winners of the family, he leads a life of indolence varied by grotesque acts of conceit in excess even of the attempt of the frog in the fable to expand herself in to the size of an ox…”15.

A protest meeting was convened for all the people of Imphal. The Superintendent imposed that assembly of more than five persons was unlawful and such a public meeting if held he would employ troops to disperse the meeting. Despite the strict warning of the authority a big meeting was organized on 30th September 1904 near the Cheirap Court. A big crowd of 5000 attended the meeting. The authorities disbursed the assembly and arrested six leaders who were presumed to be the leaders of the movement. They happened to be Rajkumars. A court of enquiry was constituted to try the arrested persons from 4th November 1904 onwards. Political Agent Maxwell on 10th November 1904 sentenced the culprits for expulsion from Manipur.

The women folk of the state were shocked at the punishment of the six Rajkumars. The market women came out spontaneously and organized a big demonstration. They marched to the Residency and protested against the Political Agent’s action. The movement continued for several days resulting in to the closure of the markets affecting day to day life of the people. The movement was led by the market women leaders.The movement was against the reintroduction of lallup which was already abolished by the government of India. It was a wrong step taken by Political Agent. The order for reconstruction was withdrawn. Chief Commissioner J.B. Fuller expressed unhappiness over this incident arising out of action of Political Agent. Political Agent Maxwell was transferred from the Political Agency16.

Christian Missions in Manipur
An objective of the British India was ‘civilizing the Asiatics’ meaning the backward Indians. This mission was well expressed in the famous phrase of Rudyard Kipling, ‘White men’s burden’ to civilize the conquered people. An instrument of the civilizing mission was Christian proselytism. There was a symbiotic relation between colonial rule and the Christian mission. The colonial ruler utilized the services of the missionaries in the field of education, medical and social reforms to spread the colonial rule among the Indian population. The first attempt to establish Christian mission in Manipur was under taken as early as 1836 by the American Baptist Mission in Burma17. The mission failed.

After 1891, a condition was laid down by the British authorities that they would not interfere in to the traditional polity system, religious belief and cultural practices of the people. Political Agent Major H. Maxwell wanted to follow this policy of non interference in to the social and religious life of the Hindu Meiteis of the Manipur valley and so discouraged Christian mission activities among the Hindu Meiteis who regarded Christianity as a religion of the conquering white men. The first initiative for a Christian mission work in Manipur was taken up by one Robert Arthington, a millionaire of Leeds in England. He established the Arthington Aboriginese Mission Society. His aim was of a mobile missionary movement. Even before the founding of the mission society, on 15th September 1885 he wrote to the Assam Baptist Mission stating his desire to open a mission among the tribes. Arthington’s interest towards Assam was aroused by one missionary named John Dalmas who was a missionary in Assam. The Arthington Mission Society appointed young William Pettigrew to start Christian evangelism in the state of Manipur among the Meiteis. Pettigrew came to India in 1891 but the political instability as a result of the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891; he had to wait four years for permission to enter Manipur. Meanwhile he started learning Bengali and Manipuri language. In 1894 William Pettigrew approached A. Porteous the acting Political Agent in Manipur for the permission. In the absence of Political Agent Maxwell the permission was granted by A. Porteous and William Pettigrew started work on 6th February 1894 at Imphal. Pettigrew started to preach the gospel among them. Meanwhile Major Maxwell the Political Agent returned from his furlough and took an alarming view of the mission work and expressed his fear that trouble might arise in a protest from the Hindu Meiteis. Political Agent Maxwell knew the injunction made by the British Government of non-interference and strict neutrality in matters of religion. So Maxwell decided to maintain the status quo and serve the ultimatum that Pettigrew leave Imphal or stop his missionary work.

William Pettigrew was disappointed but Maxwell came to his rescue that he might work among the Tangkhul Nagas of north eastern hills of Manipur. Pettigrew established his mission at Ukhrul. He acted both as a missionary and unofficial state officer in the administration of the area. He kept close contact width the state officials at the capital. When Pettigrew was almost settled down he was recalled by the Arthington Society as he had completed three years. Pettigrew was not willing to return home and he applied to the American Baptist Missionary Union in Assam for help. In 1895 the Baptist Missionary Conference in Sibsagar seriously discussed the request of William Pettigrew. Accordingly Pettigrew was ordained as a missionary by the Sibsagar Baptist Church Assam which was endorsed by the executive committee of the American Baptist Mission in Boston in January, 1896.

William Pettigrew continued his work among the Tangkhul Nagas with great enthusiasm. The Government of Manipur did not allow the entry of more than one missionary in to the state. It appears from the report of William Pettigrew that the earlier years were dull and unpromising. However, he engaged himself in the construction of a mission bungalow, a school and study of local dialect i.e., Tangkhul and doing translation works. He hardly achieved anything substantial. He became quite conversant with the local dialects. He knew already Manipuri, he learned Tangkhul and Thadou. He asked his mission authorities to send another missionary to help him. But there was no response. During the visit of Viceroy, Lord Curzon to Manipur, he approached him to liberalize the policy on the number of missionary in Manipur. After the installation of Raja Churachand Singh and his Manipur State Durbar, Pettigrew renewed his request to the government.  But the Manipur State Durbar rejected his plea. However Raja Churachand Singh was not hostile towards the missionary and advised that there should be no obstacle to the missionary work among the hill people on the condition that they should not make an attempt to spread their work in the valley of Manipur.

Political Agent John Shakespeare supported William Pettigrew. He was appointed as Superintendent of the census of Manipur Hill Tribes in 1910 -11 because he was the only man who knew the dialects known to the hill tribes. Pettigrew did the census work successfully with the help of his school teachers and his senior students. Unfortunately it made him a suspect that he was a subordinate official of the state. Here we see the combination of the mission and colonial authority.

Another missionary U.M. Fox was sent to Ukhrul in 1911 and Pettigrew left for England on leave on 1912. Meanwhile the students of Pettigrew who were educated at the Ukhrul Mission School became of age. Both Naga and Kuki students were employed in mission work. We may mention the contribution of M.K. Miksha and T. Luikham among the Naga students. Through the efforts of Kuki converts particularly Lungkhovel Kom  and Teba Kilong. Christianity was spread among the western hills and Sadar hills. The local churches grew up in a large number. And the Manipur Christian Association was formed in 1917. The first convention of this association was held in Ukhrul in 1917. This period coincided with last two years of the World War I in which the Kukis revolted. The mission activities was greatly affected and suspended for some time. The mission station was shifted to Kohima and William Pettigrew moved to Gauhati.

During the Kuki Rebellion, J.H. Higgins President of the Manipur State Durbar organized a tribal labour corps for service in France. William Pettigrew was called out from Gauhati and helped organize the labour corps consisting of 2000 men of whom 1200 were from the Tangkhuls. After the war in recognition of the contribution made by the missionaries and Christian workers the government of Manipur granted a land for the new mission headquarters at Kangpokpi.

Watkin Roberts, the Welsh Missionary
History records that a missionary named Watkin Roberts from Mizo hills visited a Hmar village name Senvawn in response to the invitation of the chief of the village (Kamkholun). Watkin Roberts recruited native workers among the Christian converts and established Thadou-Kuki Pioneer Mission with head quarters at Senvawn. William Pettigrew was perhaps not happy with the establishment of new mission in South Manipur with head quarter at Senvawn. 

 Now the rivalry between American Baptist and Welsh Presbyterian were indulging in the mission politics. William Pettigrew who was a class mate of Political Agent Higgins tried to restrain the Presbyterian mission workers to enter Manipur. H.J. Higgins banned the entry of Presbyterian into Manipur. Meanwhile, Watkin Roberts changed the name of mission to North East India General Mission (NEIGM) in 1919. Unluckily Watkin Roberts was ousted from the NEIGM. He started a new mission called Indo-Burma Pioneer Mission. Therefore the supporters of Roberts’s new mission formed the Independent Church in April 1930. Political Agent Higgins issued an order on 22nd November, 1930 that prohibiting the Independent Church from holding any assembly or conference. After eleven years, Sir Robert Reid the Governor of Assam intervened on behalf of supporters of Watkin Roberts and Political agent C. Gimson on 11th April 1931 permitted the Independent Church to work in South Manipur.
Though the Manipur State Durbar did not permit Christian missionary work, the individual Christian families lived in the urban areas. The first Meitei Christian convert was A. Porom Singh, a student of William Pettigrew. However S.N. Parratt claimed that a Manipuri lady named Kaboklei related to the royalty was the first convert in Sylhet. The missionaries converted some individual tribals who lived in British Reserve Area at Imphal. However, in the colonial period, Christian missionary activities were not wide spread however it grew up at large scale in the post colonial period.

The Christian missions devoted to the establishment of primary schools; they published books mostly the Bible and other Biblical tracts, extended medical facilities, established churches in the villages and organized Christian solidarity organizations for the respective denominations and area wise associations. A Christian fraternity among the hill tribe was created. With the spread of western education the world view of the tribal was widened. They participated in the administration of the state. The colonial administrator as indicated by their involvement of the Christian missionaries in the state activities unwittingly showed the collusion between Christian mission and colonialism.

Rule of Raja Churachand Singh (1907-1941): The Manipur State Durbar
Selection of Churachand Singh as the Raja of Manipur by the British authorities was not welcomed by the people of Manipur. Churachand Singh was the son of Rajkumar Chaubi Yaima Singh who was a victim of prosecution by the past ruling house and Chaubi Yaima’s family were almost forgotten. Prince Chaubi Yaima was involved in the rebellion of Prince Bora Chaoba. The rebellion failed; he fled to Cachar and died in 1887 at the village of Lalang. Churachand Singh, a minor of five years at the time of selection as the Raja of Manipur was born on 14th April, 1885. As mentioned above after several consultations in which Political Agent Major Maxwell played a decisive role Churachand Singh was selected as a Raja. The following genealogical tree prepared by Major Maxwell and other astrologers showed his claim to the throne of Manipur ruled by Ningthouja dynasty.

The genealogical tree of Raja Churachand Singh (1885-1941)
Garibniwaz (1709-1748)

Ngoubram Shai (Senapati) 11th Son

Bhadra Singh (1825 King of Manipur during 7 years devastation)

Nara Singh (Regent and Maharaja of Manipur) (1833-1850)

Bhogendra Singh alias Bhubon

Chaubi Yaima (Sanayaima)

Four sons: Dumbra Singh, Dimb Singh, Chandrahas Singh and Churachand Singh (selected as the Raja)

The family of Churachand Singh was very poor. His father did not leave behind anything for the family. Chaubi Yaima left behind two wives, Lalitamanjuri and Nitrapati.  Luckily his mother Lalitmanjuri was the daughter of a leading noble of Moirang. He acted as a guardian of the sons and daughters of the two wives of Chaubi Yaima Singh.

Raja Churachand Singh was a child of destiny. After his selection as the Raja, the Political Agent provided enough funds for the maintenance of the Raja and his family of two mothers and eight children. The maternal grand father of Churachand Singh, Moirangthem Ramananda Singh was appointed as the Moirang Ningthou, Chief of Moirang by the Political Agent. The investiture of Churachand as the Raja of Manipur was performed on 29th April, 1892 in a grand function at the Polo Ground of the capital where the Political Agent Major Maxwell read out Sanad of the Government of India appointing him as the Raja of Manipur. During his minority, the Government of India appointed Major Maxwell as the Superintendent of the state of Manipur.

The British government of India made arrangement fo


  1.  Dear Prof. Gangmumei, you are one of the most celebrated historians of Manipur. Your indepth work on the history of Manipur in particular, northeast and India in general is a contribution of the era. This article is rightly a further contribution to that historical repository. However, as person interested in critical history and alternative narratives,  I would like to make one suggestion in the above article; Kuki categorization of Koms as indicated in referring to Longkhobel and Teba as Kukis. Such colonial categorization, an ethnicised historiography has become a coercive cultural process for the numerically less tribe. In fact, this imposition has become a systematic structural
    administration of cultural genocide on the people who have no resource
    and forum to resist. A history written today has to have a critical approach, giving space to the alternative narratives, with due cultural sensitivity and empirical reflexivity.  In the light of this reasoning, I would sincerely request you to drop the Kuki categorization of Koms. Let the Koms remains as Koms only. In fact, I would not like to comment on the Naga-Kuki biniary frame, a true colonial construct.

    • Your point on Critical History is of great significance as the categorization of Kuki & Naga tribes has became the reason for the lost of actual identity of many small tribes. I really appreciate your approach in this regard and the Prof. should do some justice in this regard as a wisdomised HISTORIAN!!!! 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here