December 12 marks an important date for the people of Manipur, especially the women. ‘Nupi Lan Day’ — which literally means ‘women’s war’ — is one of the important movements in the history of Manipur.
This movement sowed the seeds of economic and political reforms for a new Manipur in the early 1940s. What started in the year 1939 as an agitation by Manipuri women against the oppressive administrative and economic policies by the then Maharaja of Manipur and the political agent Mr. Gimson (British Government 1933-45) later evolved into a revolution for administrative and constitutional reform in Manipur.
First Nupi Lan
When Colonel Maxwell, in July 1904, reintroduced the abolished Lallup System (where men were required to perform free labour for 10 days after every 30 days) after two bungalows of British officers were burnt down, the women rose up in unison to protest against the injustice meted out due to forced labour. On September 3 the same year, thousands of women gathered spontaneously and marched towards Maxwell’s official residence. Talks of reconsideration came to naught and on October 5, over 5,000 women gathered at Khwairamband Bazar in protest, refusing to move till the order was retracted.
Second Nupi Lan
Manipur Valley is well known as a major rice-growing region. Even before 1891, rice was being exported out of Manipur (primarily to Assam). The export quantities increased significantly, and kept growing irrespective of the internal need and production. If reports are to be believed, from 1925-1983 there was an increase of only 10,322 hectares of cultivable land. The volume of the export, however, increased from 1,55,014 mounds to 3,72,174 mounds.
Additionally, the British slowly converted the region into a market for imported manufactured goods that ultimately led to the decline of indigenous cottage industries. Liverpool Salt sold cheaply competed with the local brine wells and the marwari population that settled in the region took over much of the rice trade.
Meanwhile, in July-August and November of 1939, excessive rains severely damaged the paddy production and the farmers appealed to the durbar to ban rice exports to meet the local demand. The durbar agreed temporarily, soon overturned the ban under pressure of exporters. This resulted in the acute shortage of rice and an increased price.
Hundreds of women on December 12 came out on the streets of Imphal demanding a ban on rice exports and also for the closure of rice mills. They then marched to the durbar’s office. Since Maharaja Churachand Singh was traveling, they took the president of Manipur state durbar, TA Sharpe, to the telegraph office and sent an ‘urgent’ telegram to the maharaja. Soon, the women revolutionaries swelled to 4,000, and with Sharpe held captive, Assam rifles arrived at the scene to disperse the crowd. This resulted in a major clash of bayonets and stone-pelting. While the women backtracked, the maharaja took stock of the brutal situation and ordered the rice export to be stopped from next day.
In a letter by Karl Marx on December 12 of 1868 to Ludwig Kugelmann, he stated, “Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment.” Who knew that almost a century later on the same day Manipur would commemorate the day as ‘Nupi Lan Day,’ aka ‘Women’s War.’