Rani Gaidinliu – the legendary freedom fighter of the Northeast
By J P Rajkhowa
One of the most charismatic, dauntless, patriotic and spiritualist freedom fighters, who is least known to the rest of India, as Indian history writers have not scripted on her heroic sacrifices and achievements, due to their usual callousness towards the people of the Northeast, happens to be Rani Gaidinilu. Her dedication to the traditiol Heraka religion– an offshoot of Hinduism and sacrifice for the cause of freedom and self– rule did not receive the same attention, as did the sacrifice and commitment of the much celebrated Jhansi Rani Maharani Lakshmi Bai, Rani Durgavati, Madam Kama, Sarojini idu etc., because of the same reason. When in school, we used to hear about Rani Gaidilu (Gaidinilu!), as a great freedom fighter from the gas who fought against the imperial British army and had the impression that, she was the real queen of the gas. Only very lately, we came to know that she was honoured with the epithet ‘Rani’, by Pundit Nehru, then Congress leader, when he visited her in 1937 in Shillong Jail, where she was staying as a convicted prisoner.
Born on 26th January, 1915 at Lukangkao village in present Tamenglong district of Manipur, Gaidinilu, it is said, had mythical powers from the age of 4, when she used to go into trances and had visions inherited from Lord Tingkao Raguang. She had divine healing power and the ‘Gaidinilu water’ was taken for Rs. 10/– (a very hefty amount in those days) a bottle, for curing diseases, charms etc. Tradition goes that, Chirachamdiniliu– daughter of Vishnu invited her to the Bhuban cave in N. C. Hills, which she discovered as guided by the goddess. She got her enlightenment from the Lord, who blessed her also. On return to her village, she went into trances, when she was gifted with devotiol songs by the Lord for teaching the people. More than 400 songs were traced out on tree leaves by her devotees, which were later published in book forms. She became the preceptor of ‘Heraka’, an indigenous Faith that aimed at reforming the Zeliangrong tribe. At the young age of 13, she joined the struggle initiated by her cousin Haipou Jadong against British Rule in India, with the objective of driving the British imperialists from Manipur and the surrounding ga areas. Initially started as a movement for revival of the ga tribal religion influenced by Hinduism and to offer resistance to forced conversion of their people into Christianity, the movement turned into a political movement against the British, drawing inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi and also other revolutiory leaders. The British had imposed taxes on villagers and also took full control of the forest areas, which the tribal people resented much. The villagers under the leadership of Jadong discussed over British high–handedness and refused to pay taxes, which much enraged the latter. The movement soon turned into an armed rebellion to drive out the British and free ‘’the hilly terrain that spread, presently in the state of Manipur, Assam and galand. They met Mahatma Gandhi at Pandu, near Guwahati, when the latter visited the place in 1928.” With the blessings of Gandhiji, they continued their movement with added vigour.
Meanwhile, following the murder of some Assam Rifles’ personnel, Jadong was arrested for his alleged involvement, tried on fake charges and hanged on 29 August 1931 at Imphal, after a so– called trial by the British administration. Gaidinilu then took the leadership of the movement, organized the Zeliangrong people and fiercely fought with the British. Gaidinilu, who was then 16 only, was very much against the expansion of British rule and accompanying conversion of the tribal gas in the Zeliangrong areas and also the imposition of house tax and forced labour. Gaidinilu re–organized the Zeliangrong army and equipped it with the traditiol dao and spears. There was a fierce battle between the two sides at Hungrum in 1932, in which 7 British sepoys and 7 ga warriors lost their lives. The British declared her the “terror of Northeast”, declared an award of Rs. 200/–, then raised it to Rs.500/–on her head and launched a massive manhunt to track her down, deploying at least two armed battalions of Assam Rifles. It was also declared by the British administration that, any village providing information on her whereabouts will get a 10–year tax break. The British and the Church also started a ‘character assassition campaign’ against her, calling her a ‘satan worshipper’ who used to drink human blood, and also described her as a witch practicing ‘black magic’.
“In October 1932, Gaidinilu moved to the Pulomi village, near Kohima, where her followers started building a wooden fortress, in order to shelter about 4,500 freedom fighter–soldiers. While the fortress was under construction, an Assam Rifles contingent headed by Captain Mac Dold launched a surprise attack on the village on 17 October 1932, based on some insider’s information. Gaidinilu, along with her followers, was arrested without any resistance, near Kenoma village. Gaidinilu denied that she had any role in the attack on the Hangrum post of the Assam rifles or the construction of the fort. In December 1932, her followers murdered the Kuki chowkidar of the Lakema Inspection Bungalow in the ga Hills, suspecting him to be the informer who led to her arrest.” Gaidinilu was taken to Imphal, where after a 10– month ‘fake trial’ by the court of the British political agent (no separate judiciary at that time), she was convicted on charges of murder and abetment to murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Most of her close associates were reportedly either jailed or executed. Thus came to an end the revolutiory –political struggle of the legendary lady freedom–fighter, at the young age of 17 only.
Gaidinilu spent her period of imprisonment from 1933 to 1947 in Jails at Kohima, Imphal, Guwahati, Aizawl, Shillong & Tura. Jawaharlal Nehru met her in Shillong jail in 1937, and asked what made her to revolt against the mighty British. To this she replied– “for the freedom of the country and for preservation, protection and promotion of eterl religion and eterl culture of gas.” Impressed by her persolity, bravery, sacrifice and commitment for India’s freedom, Nehru gave her the title– the ‘daughter of the hills’ and ‘queen’ (Rani) of her people. Since then she has been known as Rani Gaidinilu. After India attained independence, Rani Gaidinilu was released from imprisonment on October 14, 1947, when she was in Tura jail. But, the tragedy was that, she was not to attain her real freedom, even in Free India, as she seemed to represent the spirit of “ga separatism”.
Leading political alyst Suchitra Vijayan comments, “The newly independent Indian State quickly recognized Gaidinilu’s potential as a symbol of ga separatism. Upon her release the Indian government imposed severe restrictions on her movement and she was not permitted to return home to her people till 1957. The ga tiol Council (NNC) leaders found her ideology, vocal opposition to the insurgency and Christian missiory presence an obstacle to the ga separatist struggle.” Opposed to the secessionism demand of the NNC, Gaidilinu campaigned for a separate Zeliangrong territory within the Union of India, as one administrative unit. The NNC opposed this demand and also opposed her working for the revival of the traditiol ga religion of animism or Heraka. The NNC considered her actions an obstacle to their own movement. The Baptist leaders deemed the Heraka revival movement anti– Christian and she was warned of serious consequences if she were not to change her stand. In order to defend the Heraka culture and to strengthen her position, she went underground in 1960. She organized a private army of about a thousand men equipped rifles to defend and press for her demand for a single Zeliangrong district. In response to Phizo’s declaration of the “ga Federal Government”, she set up her own quasi–administration med the “Zeliangrong Government of Rani Party”. In 1964 all the Zeliangrng leaders (Rani included) demanded ‘’a separate Zeliangrong Administrative Unit or Political Unit” within Union of India. In 1966, under an agreement with the Government of India, Rani Gaidinilu came out from her jungle hide–out to work for the betterment of her people through peaceful, democratic and non–violent means. She met Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in New Delhi on 21 Feb. 1966 demanding a separate Zeliangrong administrative unit. In 1991, Gaidinilu returned to her birthplace Longkao, where she died on 17 Feb. 1993 at the age of 78. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Government of India filly recognized her yeomen’s contribution to the freedom movement and awarded her a Tamrapatra in 1972, Padma Bhusan in 1981, Birsa Munda Award in 1983, Vivekand Seva Sanman in 1987, a Postal stamp and ‘Stree Shakti Puraskar’ in her me and many more accolades. Presently, the Birth Centery Celebration of Rani Gaidinilu has been going on in different parts of the country, and one mammoth rally was held in Guwahati, graced by the Speaker of Lok Sabha, Sumitra Mahajan. The tiol Celebration Committee has urged upon the Prime Minister to install one 12 ft. tall metal statue of the Rani at Parliament House and also to open a new central university in the Northeast in her me, besides museums in Kohima and other places. Kabui Mothers Association Manipur (KAMA) has demanded of the State of Manipur to declare Rani’s birthday as State holiday, ming of the under–construction market– shed in Imphal after Rani Gaidinilu, erecting a giant statue of the freedom fighter at a prominent place in the city and construction of a memorial complex. Akhil Bhartiya Vavasi Kalyan Ashram has suggested that the Government and other concerned authorities should take necessary steps to project the heroic deeds of Rani and other freedom fighters of N. E. Region as tiol heroes in our history and text books for the knowledge of our new generation for long lasting inspirations.
Filly, on the occasion of the ‘Birth Centery Celebration’ of the celebrated and most dauntless freedom fighter, Rani Gaidinilu (Gaidilu), who sacrificed her childhood, the youth, rather her whole life for uplift of her people, protection of their culture and freedom of the country from the yoke of British imperialism, this author pays his most respectful homage to the ‘Rani’ and urges upon the young generation, ladies in particular, to draw inspiration from her life, treading the most uneven and difficult paths for safeguarding our hard– earned Freedom.