Sunday, December 21, 2008


With the observance of 91st Anniversary of Kuki-Rising 1917-1919 by the Kuki Independence War Memorial Committee on 19th December, the KNO would like to take the opportunity of paying our highest respect and honor to those who laid down their lives for the cause of Kuki people and their land. Especially to those ‘Great Chiefs’ who selflessly sacrificed themselves defying colonial repression and imprisonment in defense of their freedom in the 1917-1919 War.

The Kuki Rising of 1917-1919 epitomizes Kuki nationalism. It is a reminder of the spirit of nationalism exercised by our forefathers. This fact is recounted in the book of Zale’n-gam: The Kuki Nation. The magnitude of the national movement of 1917-1919 is evident in the words of Lt Col RS Chhetri: ‘to handle the ‘Kuki Rebellion’ an Assam Rifles Brigade under Col LW Shakespear, the newly appointed Deputy Inspector General, set out with a strength of 2,600 men assisted by a contingent of Burma Military Police numbering 400.’ A Minute Paper refers to 23 principals involved, 13 in Manipur under Assam, 10 in the Somra Tract under Burma.’ Military columns, commandeered by British Officers Coote, Hebbert, Higgins and Clocte, ‘criss-crossed the area and fought a number of actions to successfully suppress the Kuki Rebellion. In the process, they won 1 CIE, 1 OBE, 14 IDSMs, 1 King’s Police Medal, innumerable Mentions-in-Dispatches and Jangi Inams. With regard to Kuki, the British Advisory Committee passed recommendations to subject the prominent leaders to a ‘period of restraint’, each for fifteen years, with the exception of the Commander-in-Chief Tintong Haokip of Laijang, who received a penalty of twenty years.

The national character of the events of 1917-1919 is clearly indicated in Mr. J.E. Webster’s (C.I.E., I.C.S) report:

Soon after the actual recruiting began, however, some of the Kuki chiefs in the outlying hills adopted an obstructive attitude. It was reported that the chief of Aishan, Chengjapao, who is “Piba” [Pipi] or head of all the Thado Kukis, had sent orders to all the leading Thado chiefs to resist recruiting with force if necessary. Other influential chiefs were reported to have taken similar steps.

Extensive preparations had undergone prior to launching offensives against the British. Knowledge of manufacturing flintlocks enabled Kuki to stock them in thousands, for use in any eventuality. From 1907-1917, the British collected from the Kukis 1,195 guns. D.K. Palit observes: ‘Mention has been made earlier that the Kukis had been encouraged by emissaries from Bengali nationalists in Assam, but any thought that the Germans had also had a hand in it had not occurred to any one.’ This matter came to light at Tamu in May 1918, whereupon a ‘Medical Officer on his round of inspection came upon some Sikhs of the Burma M.P. in a hut tearing upsome papers they said they did not want. The M.O. picked up some of the papers and found among them photos of two Germans, one in uniform. On the back of one of them was written in Hinudstani; “If you fall into rebel hands show these and they will not harm you.”

In the first week of March 1917, Chengjapao Chief of Aisan, held a gathering of various chiefs to chalk out details concerning the impending war. According to Kuki custom, a buffalo was slaughtered on the occasion, and Shajam lha was performed. Shajam lha is an auspicious part of the war tradition: the flesh of the animal is distributed among the chiefs as a mark of solidarity; the heart and liver is shared, symbolizing commitment to the cause. The same tradition was observed at the Chassad conclave, as well as at Jampi, Henglep, Mombi (Lonpi), Joujang, Phailengjang (present-day upper Chindwin), Halflong (present-day Assam) and Mechangbung (present-day Nagaland). As a declaration of war, thingkho le malchapom (king-sized red chillies strapped onto smoldering firewood) was passed, for example, from Aisan to the adjoining villages. This tradition was observed in different parts of Zale’n-gam, thereby linking all of Kuki country to rise against the invaders. These solemn proceedings indicate the nature of the ‘Kuki Rising of 1917-1919’ it was a concerted national movement against aggressing colonialist.

Official British perspectives suggest otherwise. On 27 June 1919, Webster wrote to the Secretary, Government of India, ‘the province of Assam was asked to furnish a quota of “labourers” for employment with the Army if France’. The implication here is that the Labour Corps drive was the cause of the Kuki Rising. Various scholars, including some journalists, have propagated this view to downplay the actual significance of the event. From Kuki point of view, the event was a culmination of the ongoing act of self-determination, triggered by the Labour Corps drive. It is a preposterous notion that the cause of such movement against the imperialists, sustained for nearly three years, could be merely because the Kuki people wanted to resist working as laborers. The enormity of the event is self-evident in the official letter of the Chief Commissioner of Assam:

The ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’, which is the most formidable with which Assam has been faced for at least a generation… the rebel villages held nearly 40,000 men, women and children interspersed… over some 6,000 square miles of rugged hills surrounding the Manipur valley and extending to the Somra Tract and the Thaungdut State in Burma.

A confidential dispatch of Sir HDU Kerry, General Office Commanding, Burma Division shows how the British reacted to the Chief of Aisan’s call: ‘I therefore decided to put an end to the Kuki revolt by force of arms, break the Kuki spirit, disarm the Kukis, exact reparation and pave the way for an effective administration of their country.’

A retrospective view shows that ‘Kuki Rising, 1917-1919’ is a paradoxical event. On the one hand, its subjugation, in a manner resonant of Sir Kerry’s avowal, was turning point in Kuki history: it broke the spirit of the people and set in decline Kuki as a nation, the effects of which still linger. The main Kuki chiefs were arrested and put in different jails in Assam, Burma and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. On the other hand, it is a historical landmark of Zale’n-gam: it demonstrates Kuki’s relationship to their land, and is a veritable reminder of their legitimate status as a nation. The Government also adopted administrative measures to keep the Kuki people suppressed. Kuki areas were brought under civil authority. The first Sub-Divisional Offices were opened at Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Churachandpur, which are now hill districts in Manipur. In Dr. TS. Gangte’s words these new administrative posts successfully achieved two planned objectives: a) ‘Containment of Kuki activities to prevent another rising and b) ensure Naga domination especially in Ukhrul and Tamenglong sub-divisions.

Following the ‘Kuki Rising, 1917-1919’ (OIOC, British Library, London), whch was a culmination of resistance to British colonialists aggression that began in 1777, Zae’n-gam was divided between India and Burma by the colonialist. Despite the historical injustice resulting in the division of Kuki territory without their consent and the consequent separation of their people, successive generation of Kuki have not forgotten that they are one nation. They have never abandoned nor faltered in the pursuit of their right to regain freedom.

The KNO, on behalf of the Kukis, of the present and future generations, pledges to restore the ancestral Kuki territory to its rightful status. The manifesto and ideology of KNO is based on the resolution of the Kuki Chiefs, who fought against the British in the ‘Kuki Rising, 1917-1919’. The resolution reads:

At all cost, we should fight against the British for the preservation of our independence, and for the protection of our land, culture and tradition (in JC Higgins’ letter No. 1243, 7 November 1917, to the chief Secretary of Assam.)

The zeal and sacrifice of our forefathers made nearly one hundred years ago remain fresh in our hearts and minds. Their fortitude and tenacity continues to inspire KNO in its allegation to restore Zale’n-gam to its status, which is the birthright of the Kuki people. KNO pledges to pursue its goal through means that are noble and which do not compromise the integrity and commitment demonstrated by our ancestors.

Given this backdrop of Kuki history and its present predicament, it would be in the interest of not only the Kuki people, but also the Indian nation, to establish a stable political autonomous state of the Kukis. It is therefore important that through peaceful dialogue between GOI and KNO Kuki political aspirations are fructified at the earliest possible date.

-Lenin H Kuki

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