Remembering Rani Gaidinliu on her birth anniversary
Rani Gaidinliu

On India’s 74th Republic Day, India will also celebrate Nari Sakti Diwas to commemorate the 108th Birth anniversary of the ‘daughter of the hills’, Rani Gaidinliu. The story of Rani Gaidinliu- a fascinating journey from a spiritual leader to a freedom fighter- is very interesting. Gaidinliu was born on 26 January 1915 to parents from the Rongmei/Kabui tribe in Nungkoa village, Tousem subdivision of Tamenglong district, Manipur (Kamei, 2014).

Rani, a strong, energetic, liberated and courageous girl, was labelled as a magician, mystic, witch, demon possessed, sorcerer, and cannibal by the noted British anthropologist J. P. Mills (Longkumer, 2018). Rani’s stories of courage, valour and compassion are widely found among the folktales and legends of the local tribes. One such legend is that one day she was asked to go to the Bhubon cave in Assam. She went to the cave with some village elders where she was given some cups of healing water from the cave. She healed many people by using it and the water was sold to other Naga tribes. Gaidinliu was not only a freedom fighter and socio-religious reformer but also a physician and Maibi.

How Gaidinliu became a part of the Hereka movement headed by Haipou Jadonang is an interesting story. Jadonang began his movement as a socio-religious reform movement; he focused on the freedom of his people and challenged the oppressive British regime (Yonuo, 1982). Gaidinliu came to know of Jadonang through dreams that led her to visit him at Kambiron, Assam. They were related through the Pamei exogamous clan. Their relationship as the Guru and shishya cemented between 1926 and 1927 and she became his trusted lieutenant. Jadonang and Gaidinliu were influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of non-violence (ahimsa).

Asoso Yonuo (1982) asserts that Gaidinliu rose as a spiritual and political leader after the British hanged Jadonang on 29 August 1931 at Imphal, Manipur on charges of treason against four Meitei (Manipuri) traders who were killed in Longkao (Nungkao) for violation of an important social taboo in which he had no role. During her childhood, Rani Gaidinliu did not attend any formal school like other girls since there was no school in her village. However, she was keen to write although the British rulers later questioned her skill in writing.

Her inspiration to write a script came from her Guru Jadonang. Gaidinliu’s 12 notebooks are still preserved at Pitts Rivers Museum (PRM) at the University of Oxford has English names and some have Bengali writing in them.

She openly rebelled against British rule, exhorting the Zeliangrong people not to pay taxes. She received donations from the local Nagas, many of whom also joined her as volunteers. The British authorities launched a manhunt for her. Finally, she was arrested in 1932 at the age of 16 and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British rulers. After Jawaharlal Nehru met her at the Shillong Jail in 1937, he wrote a piece in the Hindustan Times describing her valour and bravery, and in the same article, he gave her the title ‘Rani’ or Queen of her people.

After India’s independence when she was released from jail, her cognate tribes launched a Zeliangrong movement under the banner of the Zeliangrong People Convention (ZPC). However, the Zeliangrong movement was not integrated with the Naga movement and its demand for Naga sovereignty as envisioned by A. Z. Phizo.

The cognate tribes were neither a signatory to the memorandum submitted by the Naga Club to the Simon Commission nor took part in A. Z. Phizo’s plebiscite in 1951 for the independence of the Naga people. Her nationalism was based on traditional culture whereas NNC-dominated Naga nationalism was based on Christianity and Western culture (Stracey, 1968). After her surrender to the Phizo group in 1966, she managed to portray herself as a true Indian nationalist.

As such, she built a relationship with Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai and Rajiv Gandhi. Rani Gaidinliu also built a rapport with the BJP and its allies Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to enhance her political goal of achieving a homeland for her community (Niumai, 2018). However, Rani Gaindiliu died in 1993 in her village in Manipur without achieving her vision. Rani Gaindiliu, without formal educational qualifications and professionally planned goals, remains an icon in Northeast India. As such, just like Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, she is also one of the most courageous women freedom fighters and patriots that India has produced. 

The author is Assistant Professor, Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati. Views expressed are personal. 

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