Not too many people from outside the region would know about Haipou Jadonang, the Rongmei Naga leader from present-day Manipur who fought valiantly against the British Raj in pre-Independence India.
The spiritual leader and political activist envisaged an independent Naga kingdom or ‘Naga Raj’ that brought him in direct conflict with the then British rulers of India. He was eventually hanged on August 29 in 1931.
The genesis of Jadonang movement in historical record and oral history is traced back to 1920s, after the formation of Naga Club in 1918, the First World War (1914-18) and the Anglo Kuki War (1917-19).
The earliest record of Jadonang was made in December 1928, a month before the Naga Club’s memorandum to Simon Commission on January 10, 1929 claiming their rights for self-determination. He was arrested by SJ Duncan, the then sub-divisional officer of Tamenglong, in 1928 on the pretext of spreading the message to people that the British rule was nearing its end and the Naga Raj is beginning. He was released later within a week.
Jadonang was born in the year 1905 (exact date unknown) in Kambiron (also known as Puilon) village of Tamenglong district in Manipur. He belonged to Rongmei Naga tribe which falls under Zeliangrong (a cognate tribe comprising of Naga tribes — Zeme, Liangmai, Rongmei, and Inpui). He was a healer, spiritual guide, and messiah; his connection with God, and prophecy were revered by his followers.
Jadonang was a staunch critic of the British rule and the changes happening in the region marked by injustices, labour exploitation, taxation etc. He developed a reformed religion named ‘Heraka’ (‘Pure’), which was later formulated and carried forward by his disciple, Gaidinliu. He invoked nationalism for the Nagas in response to colonial rule and the need to reform their religion seeing the spread of Christianity, and the impending ethnic tension with the Kukis. He then started and led the movement which erupted among Zeliangrong community in the 1920s. Some accounts from scholars state that the movement was active from the year 1927 to 1932.
Jadonang used the slogan ‘Naga Raj’ or ‘Makam Gwangdi’ – freedom for the Nagas from the British rule in the Zeliangrong movement. He envisaged an establishment of a Naga kingdom. The movement was spearheaded in the North Cachar Hills, Manipur and the Naga Hills. In the earlier period of the movement, he toured many places and villages in mobilising people, and he also reached out to other Naga tribes including Angami of Khonoma village, neighbouring Nagas like Chakhesang, Maos and Marams.
The interface with Khonoma was recorded in the communication between JP Mills, the then deputy commissioner of Naga Hills, and JC Higgins, political agents of Manipur were raising a concern over the possibility of support for Jadonang from Khonoma village. The British feared that support from other Naga tribes to the Jadonang-led movement might spiral into a bigger movement against the British.
The movement began as a socio-religious movement. Later, in the year 1930, the movement went political where he urged his followers to stay prepared for civil disobedience. He conveyed them to stop paying taxes to the British administration and in rejecting free labour for the government officials and Manipur king. It is important to note that the movement is not only against the spread of Christianity but was also critical about the prevalence of Vaishnavism in the valleys of Manipur.
Jadonang was believed to be fond of Mahatma Gandhi. He made an attempt to meet the ‘father of the nation’ early in 1927 at Silchar, Assam in an effort to seek his support with his followers comprising of 100 boys and 100 girls. However, his anticipation to meet Gandhi became futile as he cancelled his plan to visit Silchar. He later went on to compose a song in honour of Gandhi.
This account must be seen in the light of both Jadonang and Gandhi’s common strive to liberate their people from the British colonial rule. Over time, the Zeliangrong movement under Jadonang was widespread with more people joining in and it came under the scanner of the British administration.
On February 19, 1931, Higgins with the help of Mills and C Gimson, deputy commissioner of Cachar arrested Jadonang on the charge of raising Naga Raj and for his resistance against the government. Higgins also implicated him to be responsible for masterminding the killing of four Manipuri traders in April 1930. To the accusation of murders, he denied his involvement and he even pleaded innocence to the governor of Assam which was rejected.
Jadonang was awarded death sentence, and hanged to death on the banks of Nambul river in Imphal on August 29, 1931. After his death, the movement was taken forward by his successor, Gaidinliu, at a very young age of around 16. She led the Zeliangrong movement and took the path laid down by Jadonang and fought the British. She was later given the title of ‘Rani’ by Jawaharlal Nehru and since then she came to be known as Rani Gaidinliu.
In regards to the path taken by Jadonang in leading a movement against the might of the British, the reproduction of his words by late Professor Gangmumei Kamei echoes profoundly to struggles of indigenous people across the world: “The Meiteis have their King, the Indian! Tajongmei have their rulers, why should we not have our own King? The White men and we are all human beings. Why should we be afraid of them? All men are equal. We are blessed people. Our days have come.”
Here, Tajongmei is a local term of Rongmei Naga tribe referring to Hindi speaking people. This statement clearly tells that political agency and voices of indigenous people have always been around and they become a necessity in the looming threat from external forces.
As Jadonang’s death anniversary clocks another year, the British colonial rule stands as a testimony of their disregards and disdains towards indigenous people and their struggles. The legacy of Jadonang in waging a fight against the British to do away with injustices and oppression which took place in the region, should be memorialised and reflect onto the ongoing struggles of indigenous people in the present period. The movement led by Jadonang must also be given its due recognition in Naga history for the fact that it began and framed with an objective to attain freedom for all the Nagas.
(Richard Kamei is a PhD candidate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are his own)