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Insurrection turning into Revolution

By Karunamay Sinha

Unpredictable Northeasterners

Bhanubil is a place in the Sylhet Division of present-day Bangladesh. Wave upon wave of Manipuri migrants began to settle down here two-and-a-half centuries ago making it one of the most remarkable Manipuri strongholds outside Manipur. The Division was then part of Asom. Barring one or two Meitei villages, almost all the villages of the area belong to the Bishnupriya Manipuris. There are some Manipuri Muslim villages on the outskirts of the compact settlement. By the second decade of the preceding century, there occurred an unseemly problem. The British-backed Zaminder there began to impose heavier burdens of taxes. Resentment began to build up among the otherwise happy-go-lucky Manipuris. Then, one day the dissidence came to a head and the Manipuris rose to the occasion, of course, in their own mettlesome way. The insurrectionary move was later given a revolutionary face by the Indian National Congress leaders and also leaders of other political organizations to exploit political mileage. The sheer enormity of the militant uprising had made it one of the very few events in pre-independence India that had rocked the British parliament.

It had so happened that the zaminders agent had not been issuing receipts to many a farmer for the taxes they paid. With their quintessentially Northeastern credulousness, the farmers had not suspected a rat in all this. But a day came when notices came their way asking them to clear backlogs pay exorbitant amounts of tax. They had defaulted payments in the preceding years, they were told. There were words of warning: if they failed to pay taxes within the time given, they would lose their right to the land holdings. The whole locality staggered in surprise and then began shaking in anger. They decided they wouldn’t pay any kind of taxes. The zaminder called some of the influential people for breaking the deadlock through discussion. People had faith in the zamindars magnanimity and good judgment. Some elders went to discuss the matter with the zaminder. The zamindar suggested that they pay their taxes in instalments and save their entitlements. But the farmers representatives were firm in their resolve not to pay tax. Amjad Ali, the Zamindar, threatened them with dire consequences. But this didn’t serve the purpose. The Manipuris grew more stubborn. The angry zaminder then ordered their detention. All day long, he tortured the farmers representative but failed to crack their nerve. In the evening he released them. The news spread like wildfire. All the people of the locality took a firm resolve to see things to the end, prepared themselves to fight a battle against the zaminder.
Next day in the evening, the zaminders forces entered the locality with elephants, taking the Manipuris unawares. Their intention was to knock down the houses of the farmers and evict them. By the time the people from all the villages had gathered with their arms, the zaminders people had knocked down seven houses. But then there ensued one of the most innovative resistance fight. While some skilled people fought with the zaminders paid troops with lathis, swords and spears, others engaged themselves in scaring away the elephants with torches, sharp-ended bamboo poles, daos and whatever they could gather at a moments notice. Some innovative minds remembered the musical instruments kept in their temples. In an instant, a team came up with the drums, huge brass cymbals and conch shells. The noise they created maddened the elephants which defied their mahouts orders and ran helter-skelter. One brave man hung on to the trunk of an elephant and blew a conch shell into its ear. The elephant, it is said, lost its head and made straight for the forest nearby.

Courtesy: The Sentinel (September 27, 2009)

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  • Comments

    1. It is an informative article and should be a part of our history and included in the history lessons on Bishnupriya Manipuri.

      Pratibha Sinha
      Guwahati

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