A Review of Kuki War of Independence

Published on January 17, 2006

By H. Hangsing (Retd IAS)

 

The North-Eastern region, the abode of the war-like tribes of the North-East India, had been once a land where the aborigines of the hill tribes of India had more-often than not encountered the mighty British Imperial Forces against colonial subjugation during the 19th century in a bid to preserve and project their age-old liberty and freedom, which, in many cases, were no less momentous and far-reaching in the annals of the British Frontier India.


 

Of all the uprisings in this part of the region, the one which could be rightly termed as a war of independence by virtue of its enormosity and involvement of massive logistics is the Kuki War of Independence, which is wrongly termed by some writers as Kuki Rebellion.

 

 

In fact this was the only uprising which the Imperial Forces failed to suppress for two full years entailing heavy losses of lives, money and materials. No doubt, the British India had to include the counter-operation of the war for grants of military honors such as the British General Service Medals, and the like to the officers and personnel who distinguished themselves in the operation.

 

 

To begin with, the causes of the war were in brief two-fold. First during the reign of Maharaja of Manipur Sir Churachand Singh, house-tax and free-labor were raised from the hill tribes of Manipur which were vehemently protested by the hill tribes. Added to this, the then Chief Commissioner of Assam, in view of the deteriorating law and order situation in the North-East, had enforced the arm-licensing control in Manipur as was done in the Chin hills restricting the use of fire-arms which had infuriated the Kuki Chiefs.

 

 

When the Kuki Chiefs were thus seething in anger against the Britishers, the break out of the First World War came as a bomb-shell to the Kuki Chiefs when the Maharaja of Manipur was made to raise compulsory corps by the British Government from the hill people of Manipur to be employed in the war.

This served as the cause and the Kuki Chiefs openly flouted the order of the Maharaja and went to war against the British, which started in December 1917 and ended in May 1919.

 

 

In this historic war of Independence, the British authorities under the direct command of Brigadier General Macquloid pressed into service the strength of 2400 riflemen in addition to 3000 riflemen of Burma Military Police in different sector of the war, a brief of which is given below.

 

 

1. The Eastern Sector:

This comprised of the Chahsat area which was placed under the command of Capt. Parry and Black. In this counter operation, Lhukhomang also known as Pache had put up stiff resistance as a result of which Lt. Molsworth of Burma Military Police was killed in action. Serious encounter took place at Vahong, Maokot and Phaisat.

 

 

2. South-Eastern Sector:

This covered Mombi (Lonpi) area and the area bordering Chin Hills and it was under the command of Lt. Halliday, Cpt. Coote and Askwith with a detachment of 120 riflemen each. In this encounter too, Ngulkhup, Chief of Mombi and Ngulbul, Chief of Lengya proved a force to reckon with till the end of the war. This sector was reinforced by Capt. Steadman from Lenakot in the South who came up to Haika where he was fatally injured.

 

 

3. Southern Sector:

This covered Henglep area and was placed under the Commands of Capt. Goodal Fox, Lts. Carter and Hooper. Here the Kuki Armies had effectively checked the advance of the British armies at Ukha and Henglep and successfully repel the enemies after twelve hours of fighting. However, Ukha and Henglep were captured and destroyed by reinforcement of seven officers with 200 sepoys after fierce fighting.

 

 

4. Western Sector:

This covered Jampi area of Tamenglong which was under the command of Major Marshal, Lt. Walker, Capt. Montifiers and Lt. Needham. In this encounter, Enkhup the Commander of Kuki Army and Tintong, the Hero of the Kuki army successfully withstood the advance of the British troops at Laijang, Khemuching, Dullen and Jampi. It is said that the brave Lengsei had ambushed the British armies single-handed in the jungle and killed three white men, when he was shot at the leg and then was overpowered, his head was chopped off and taken away as trophy by the British.

 

 

5. Northern Sector:

This covered the Naga Hills which was under the command of Lt. Prior and Sanderson of 3rd Assam Rifles with a detachment of 200 riflemen. In Tenning area, the Kuki armies set ‘stone-trap’ above the foot-path where the British troops had to pass at Chongjang village over a precipice the boulders of which were released through a kind of remote control where the enemy troops were completely crashed to death without a single shot. In this sector many Kuki villages were torched to the ground when the villagers had to run for life in the jungle for days together in the Eastern front of the same Sector, Kuki commander. In the Eastern front of the same sector, Kuki commander Haolun Lotjem shot dead one white man at Kanjang village.

 

 

6. Assam Sector:

This covered the North-Cachar hills which was placed under the command of Cpt. Copeland where serious fighting took place near Halflong, Maibang etc.

 

 

7. Burma Sector:

Burma sector covered a vast area from Upper Burma to Chin Hills to the south. This area was placed under the command of Capt. Prior and Lt. Rees on the north covering Somra Tract, Cpt. Falkland and Cpt. Montifirs of 1st and 3rd Assam Rifles with a strength of 150 each were placed from Indian side and Col. Abbay, Mjr Burns and Wright Superintendent of Chin hills were placed to deal with warriors of the mainland Burma. In Somra Tract, the Kuki armies under the command of Laso Haokip fought bravely and killed many soldiers.

 

 

At Tizu River a fierce fighting took place with the British soldiers under the leadership of Subedar Hangspal Limbu of Niema post in which the Kukis killed 30 soldiers and drove then back to Somra. In the encounter in the mainland Burma, they sustained heavy causalities at Kapi, Aiton, Shurkwa, Naring, and Sakta where Wright and Alexander were badly injured.

 

 

On the other side, Cpt Montifiers entered Chin Hills from Lenakot and destroyed the stockades at Haika killing Ngulbu, Chief of Longya along with his children in the most pathetic way. In this encounter other brave fighters who had laid down their lives were Thangkhopao Chief of Aibol and Doungul Taithul who was killed at Haika. In this encounter, JC Higgins Political Agent was ambushed at Khongoi and sustained bullet injuries.

 

 

Thus the two-year long encounter between the British and the Kukis came to a close with the announcement of general amnesty by the British Government and with the surrender of Chengjapao, Chief of Aisan followed by Pache Chief of Chahsat, the long-drown war came to an end on 20th May 1919.

 

 

In course of the war according to LW Shakespeare, 86 rebel villages were destroyed, 112 villagers submitted, 15 villages deserted, 970 muskets were confiscated from Chin Hills.

 

 

The following Chiefs were arrested and jailed:

 

 1. Chengjapao, Chief of Aisan

 2. Khotinthang, Chief of Jampi

 3. Lhukhomang (Pache), Chief of Chahsat

 4. Pakang, Chief of Henglep

 5. Tintong, Chief of Laijang

 6. Semchung, Chief of Ukha

 7. Lenthang, Chief of Goboh

 8. Heljason Chief of Loibol

 9. Mangkholun, Chief of Thingphai

10. Ngulkhokai Chief of Chahsat

11. Enjakhup, Chief of Thenjang

 

 

Again, those who were sent to Taunggyi jail in Burma were:

 

 

 1. Kamjahen, Chief of Phailengjang

 2. Letkhothang, Chief of Khotuh

 3. Semkholun, Chief of Phaisat

 4. Vumngul, Chief of Tujang

 5. Haokhopao, Chief of Molvailup

 6. Tongkholun Chief of Molvom

 7. Tuk, Chief of Tonglhang

 8. Sonkhopao Chief of Tuisem

 9. Letjahao, Chief of Khomunnom

10. Komdem Baite, Chief of Sachih

 

 

As far as the causalities and death of the British armies were concerned, 80 regular armies were killed in action with one British army officer whereas 151 were wounded including one officer. In addition to this, 478 army personnel died of diseases. Those who received awards and medals for distinguished service were one officer got CIE; one OBE, and 15 officer got IDSM and one officer got King’s Police Medal.

 

 

As aforesaid, the war was brought to a close by the declaration of a general political amnesty by the British Government. In spite of the apparent sincerity on the part of the British Government offering amnesty, it is to be seen that the declaration on the whole was fraught with treachery in that the belligerent community, was completely hoodwinked and trapped as was went to the colonial rulers.

 

 

For instance, the declaration of the general amnesty envisaged among other things, surrender by the warriors on or before 1st November 1919, payment of all house tax dues for the defaulting years and surrender of arms to be fixed by the authority. Though it was named amnesty, in practice it was a naked ploy to trap the vanquished. Thus, Chengjapao, Chief of Aisan, who surrendered on 11th October 1919, with a beautiful tusk worth Rs 300/- was denied amnesty, and was arrested and jailed. So was the fate of Lhukhomang (Pache) Chief of Chahsat.

 

 

To try the belligerent warriors, the British Government set up a War Tribunal composed of the warlords who in the fair name of justice and fair play pronounced their verdict sentencing all the participant chiefs to undergo imprisonment in Sadiya and Taunggi jail for 15 years’ term which was reviewed afterward. Not content with their prevaricated verdict, the War Tribunal came down heavily on the vanquished and beleaguered community by imposing malicious and vindictive punishment forcing the remnant villages to construct roads, bridal path without food, shelter and clothing.

 

 

It was recorded that the British India Government had on this count constructed 740 miles of roads connecting Imphal with far-flung administrative headquarters. The outrageous persecution of the Kukis did not end here. In their attempt to crush the truculent spirit of the Kuki and stem permanently, the possible future resurgence, they succeeded in hammering wedges into the body-politic of the Kuki community stalling the hinges of political, social and cultural unity and cohesion which plague the whole Kuki society till today.

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