Rani Gaidinliu: Daughter of the Hills

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    The Indian struggle for independence was hard-fought at many levels. We tell you the story of Gaidinliu. A Naga freedom fighter from Manipur, she fought against the British and missionaries, was arrested, tortured, dubbed a sorceress and forced to go underground - to fight for her beliefs and the rights of her people.

    The Princely State of Manipur or the Kangleipak Kingdom became a British protectorate in 1824. While the royal family and the ruling elite were from the Meitei community which followed Vaishnavism, there were also a large number of Naga tribes living in the hills of Manipur. One such tribe was the Rongmei. It was in this tribe, that Gaidinliu was born on 26 January 1915, in Nungkao village in the Tamenglong district of Manipur.

    In the 1920s, there was a fair amount of unrest across the Naga tribes in the region. The growing missionary work along the hill settlements, which had begun earlier in the 19th century CE, was threatening the traditional way of life that the Nagas followed. This started a reaction and a movement referred to as the Heraka (literally meaning Pure), which spread across the Naga lands. Interestingly this movement was headed by Gaidinliu’s cousin Haipou Jadonang. Heraka was not just a reactionary movement but also a social-religious one that sought to cleanse social ills, reduce ritual sacrifices, and streamline Naga religious beliefs, though many continued to see it as an anti-Christian movement. Jadonang became the spiritual leader of the movement and wanted to unite all the Naga tribes against the British.

    16-year-old Gaidinliu would head the movement after the death of her cousin.

    While Maharaja Chandrachud Singh was the titular Maharaja of Manipur, the real power was wielded by the British Political Agent JC Higgins, who was alarmed by the Heraka movement’s activities. In 1931 Jadonang was captured by the British and killed. Gaidinliu, who was just 16 years old then, took over as the leader of the Heraka movement.

    Under Gaidinliu’s leadership, the religious movement was transformed into a struggle for freedom. She frequently invoked the name of Gandhi and connected the Naga movement with the wider movement for independence across India. She also began her version of a non-cooperation movement, the no-tax campaign, which made the collection of taxes from tribal areas very difficult.

    The British saw Gaidinliu as a threat and dubbed her as some sort of ‘pagan Sorceress’! They also announced a reward of Rs. 500 and a 10 year tax holiday for any village which would betray her and lead them to her. But Gaidinliu had so much support, that instead of giving in the Naga tribals rallied around her, even taking on the Assam Rifles of the British army in armed conflicts in the North Cachar Hills (16 February 1932) and the Hangrum village (18 March 1932).

    Nehru would award the title ‘Rani’ to Gaidinliu after she was released.

    Hotly pursued by the police and army, Gaidinliu and her followers moved across villages in what are now Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. In October 1932, Gaidinliu was in Pulomi village in Manipur where her followers started building a wooden fortress to cover her. Captain MacDonald, the commander of the Assam Rifles, sent the forces in the opposite direction to lull the Naga forces into a false sense of security. Then, on 17th October 1932, he is said to have made a sudden attack on the village and captured Gaidinliu and her followers.

    Gaidinliu was taken to Imphal and convicted on charges of murder and abatement of murder after a trial. She was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Political Agent's Court. From 1933 to 1947, she stayed in Guwahati, Shillong, Aizawl and Tura jails. After the Interim Government of India was set up in 1946, Gaidinliu by now called the ‘Daughter of the Hills’ was released on Prime Minister Nehru's orders. Nehru even gave her the title of ‘Rani’.

    After India’s independence, Gaidinliu picked up other causes. Among the first, was a resistance movement against the Naga National Council (NNC) which advocated secession from India. Instead, Gaidinliu campaigned for a separate Zeliangrong territory within the Union of India. The term ‘Zeliangrong’ refers to the Zeme, Liangmai and Rongmei Naga tribes combined together living in the borderlands of Assam, Peren district in Nagaland and Noney and Tamenglong districts in Manipur.

    Gaidinliu also did not stop promoting the Heraka movement. In her words, ‘Loss of religion is the loss of culture, loss of culture is the loss of identity.’ However, this time she had to face opposition from the Naga leaders within. She was warned of serious consequences if she were not to change her stand. This forced her to go underground again in 1960.

    A fighter to the end, Gaidinliu at this point organised a private army of about a thousand men equipped with rifles to fight for her demand for a single Zeliangrong district. By 1966, after six years of hard underground life, and by now over 50 years old, Gaidinliu reached an agreement with the Government of India and came out from her hideout. The terms were that she could not go back to her village, but instead work for the betterment of her people using peaceful, democratic and non-violent means by staying at Kohima itself.

    Recognition would finally come to her in the form of the "Tamrapatra Freedom Fighter Award" in 1972, the Padma Bhushan (1982) and the Vivekananda Seva Award (1983). In 1991, Gaidinliu returned to her birthplace Longkao, where she died on 17 February 1993 at the age of 78.

    A recipient of numerous awards, there is even a shore patrol vessel named after Rani Gaidinliu, by the Hindustan Shipyard at Visakhapatnam (it was commissioned in 2010).

    Cover Image: E-pao net

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