Jana Neta Hijam Irabot was a promethean figure of Manipur who was a foremost cultural personality in many areas of artistic achievement, sportsman, social activist, and communist revolutionary. Born in 1896 in a poor family and orphaned in childhood he came close to the royal family and married the niece of the king. As a result of his social reform and political activities, particularly his participation in the second Nupilal, he was deported from Manipur and lodged in Sylhet jail where a number of communists were incarcerated, including Moni Guha. He was profoundly influenced by members of the CPI and upon his release from jail in March 1943, not being permitted to enter Manipur, he began political work amongst the peasants and the former teagarden workers of the Manipuri community in Cachar. Irabot Singh attended the First Congress of the CPI held in Bombay in 1943 after the legalisation of the party and, also, the Second Congress held in Calcutta in 1948. From 1948 to his death in September 1951 Irabot Singh carried out partisan warfare against the government. His activities as a communist were such that the importance of his work spread far beyond the borders of the state of Manipur.
Manipur is in the news today, for it is on the soil of Manipur that India is being defended against the invader. But except for its famous folk dances, very little is known about this Indian State on our eastern border. Hemmed in by uncharted mountains and dense forests, Manipur before the War was one of the quietest nooks in the world. Its 6,00,000 of sturdy, brownish, Mongoloid people perhaps never dreamt that their insignificant native-land would one day spring into limelight as one of the key points in the World War.2
But Manipur does not lack in traditions …….3
British overlordship has not led to the development of the State nor has the material well-being of the Manipuris been raised. Their poverty is proverbial, while all political movements are strictly taboo. No wonder, therefore, that the Japs have for their part been trying to stir up ‘Pan-Mongol’ slogans among these backward people as a cover for their imperialist designs.
Irawat Singh, the people’s leader of Manipur, has had a very chequered career. Coming from humble origin, he lost his parents in childhood. He was sent off to Dacca to stay with his well-off relatives. By manual labour, he earned his living and bore his cost of education. A good student, he was better still in sports and this brought him into the notice of the ruler of Manipur, and soon he found a place in the Raja’s Hockey team. The Raja was impressed with his talents and later gave his niece in marriage to Irawat.4
About this time, in 1924, Irawat had his first contact with the national movement. He attended a huge meeting in Calcutta just after Mahatmaji’s release. Here it was that he found a purpose in life and pledged himself to serve his people.
Meanwhile, he was appointed a Magistrate by the ruler of Manipur. Ignorant in law and jurisprudence, he worked hard to learn them, and he was always anxious to reform them so them the inequalities might be eliminated. At the same time, remembering his hard days at school, he devoted himself to the spread of education in Manipur. Primary schools began to spring up all over the hills despite the unsympathetic attitude of many of the state officials. High Schools too were opened in Imphal.
Realising that an organisation uniting all the Manipuris was necessary for large-scale reforms in the State, Irawat took the initiative in forming the Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha with the clear aims of striving for national unity, and social uplift.5 The Mahasabha drew the patronage of the Raja. At the third session of the organisation held at Mandalay in Burma, Irawat was sent by the Raja to preside on his behalf and he was elected a Vice-President.
The wave of State People’s movement in 1936-38 touched the shores of distant Manipur as well, and the Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha moved forward from a purely social welfare organisation to a political movement with demands for reforms. The organisation built under the patronage of the Raja turned into a liberal body, in the ensuing tug of war between the loyalists and reformists, the reformists won and Irawat was elected President by an overwhelming majority.6 But the reformist character of the movement soon gave way to more radical mass demands.
Irawat and his group carried on a campaign for reforms and collected mass signatures of thousands of Manipuris demanding responsible government.
Fight For Food
With the outbreak of the War7 in 1939, Manipur State’s People’s movement got in touch with the Congress in Assam mainly through the initiative of Irawat. The growing economic crisis hit the people and the prices went up. Big monopolists and rice-mill owners started grabbing all the stocks of paddy, and the poor Manipuris were threatened with famine. The Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha demanded the control of the rice-monopolists then. But this was ignored by the authorities.
This led to the starting of mass satyagraha by heroic Manipuri women. Military police charged them, resulting in injury8 … Irawat rushed back from Silchar where he was then organising the Manipuris in co-operation with the Congress.
Satyagraha found the Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha shaky and it backed out. Irawat and his group, however, realising the great significance of the movement not only welcomed it but formed the Praja Mandal with a more radical programme.
Repression, however, could neither break the Praja Mandal nor cow down the Satyagraha; and the authorities had to climb down and ban the export of paddy. This victory consolidated the Praja Mandal but its leader was clamped down in jail with three years’ R.I.
Inside jail, Irawat came in touch with the communist prisoners, and by studying Marxism grasped the full significance of the working-class and peasants’ movements in the battle for freedom.
With the onward march of Fascism, he could not keep quiet and when the Japs reached the borders of Assam he gave out the call for defence of the Motherland against the aggressor. But he was not released until the expiry of the full term of his sentence in March, 1943.9
Under The Red Flag
On his release, not only did he at once join the Kisan Sabha, but attended the First Congress of the Communist Party as an invited visitor in June, 1943.10
It was on the floor of the historic session, moved by the strength and patriotism that stands under the Red Flag, that he made known the memorable decision to join the Party and serve his people.
Meanwhile, Irawat applied for entry into Manipur, and pledged to raise a guerrilla band of 25,000 from among his people to fight the Japs. Under his inspiring leadership, the Praja Mandal came out with a stirring call for the defence of Manipur.
Repression Helps The Japs
But the wooden-headed bureaucracy learns nothing and forgets nothing. Today, not only is Irawat banned from entering Manipur, but in course of his rousing patriotic campaign among the Manipuris in Cachar, ten of his co-workers were arrested and when I was in Assam, a report came that a warrant was issued for Irawat’s arrest!
This senseless vendetta of the bureaucracy helps, not certainly the Allied soldier at the front, but the Japs and their agents who give out that repression hounds Irawat and his band, because they have gone over to the Japs. The burrah sahibs in the Shillong Secretariat will never realise that Irawat among his own people can rouse such patriotism as will outshine half a dozen military victories.
But the true patriot does not whimper nor loses heart. ‘with folded arms and bended knees’, as he puts it in his message, this hero of Manipur appeals to leaders all over india to unite to save the country. It is UP to us to respond to this mighty call of patriotism.
Irawat’s Application for Party Membership
I greet this first Congress of the great Communist Party of India on behalf of the six and half lacs of Manipuri people of whom five and half lacs live in the Manipur State in Assam – bordering on Burma – and the rest in Surma Valley districts.
I was almost at the border of Manipur when the news of the Session of this great Congress reached me. I travelled eighteen hundred miles to greet this first Congress of the Communist Party of India on behalf of the Manipuri people. Pray accept their Red Salute....
Comrades, our great and ancient country faces the outrages of the Jap marauders. My homeland has been severely hit by Jap machine guns and bombs. Imphal has been bombed time and again. On the 20th of April bombing took a heavy toll of my compatriots. Only very good military reasons prevent my disclosing the number.
TO RAISE THE BITTEREST HATRED OF OUR PEOPLE AGAINST THESE PESTS OF HUMANITY IS THE SACRED DUTY OF ALL PATRIOTS, TO RESIST THEM WITH ALL THE FORCE AT OUR DISPOSAL IS THE PRIMARY PATRIOTIC TASK TODAY.
I have been refused entry into Manipur. What can I do now except work amongst my own people in the Surma Valley, rousing them against the Japs, isolating the fifth columnist from them?
Comrades, I have applied for membership of the great Communist Party of India and I shall consider it a revolutionary privilege if I am accepted as a member. I pledge my whole time and energy for the work of the Party – for implementing the patriotic policy of the Party in action.
[The above message was conveyed by Comrade Irawat Singh, on behalf of the people of Manipur at the 1st Congress of the Communist Party of India held at Bombay from May 23 to June 1, 1943. He was a special invitee at the Congress. This is a reproduction of the article entitled ‘People’s Leader of Bombed Manipur Applies for Revolutionary Privilege of Party Membership’, published in the ‘People’s War’ Vol. 1, No. 49, June 13, 1943. Mr. P. C. Joshi edited the ‘People’s War’ on behalf of the Communist Party of India.]
‘Irawat, Sentinel of the East’, Irawat Centre for Marxist Studies, Imphal, 1988, pp.131-140.
1 The article ‘Irawat Singh of Manipur’ written by Nikhil Chakravarty is reproduced from the ‘People’s War’ Vol. II, No. 45, May 7, 1944. The ‘People’s War’ was an organ of the then CPI.
2 World War II.
3 The full paragraph ‘But Manipur thus does not lack in traditions – Vabruvahan, the legendary king of Manipur is famous in the Mahabharata as having defeated Arjuna. And this tradition was reinforced in modern times when in the 19th Century, British forces entered cattle before them. So that the Manipuris would not kill them, for they found it hard to face the Manipuri army in open combat’ is deleted.
4 Hijam Irawat Singh was born at Imphal on September 30, 1896. His father was Hijam Ibungohal Singh and mother – Chongtham Chanu Thambalnganbi. Irawat married Khomdonsana, niece of Churachand Maharajah, King of Manipur. He died on the 26th September, 1951 at Tangbo, Burma.
5 Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha: Founded on May 30, 1934 as Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha, its aim was to unify the Manipuris inside and outside Manipur based upon the Hindu religion and to reform the society in social, cultural, economic and educational fields.
6 Nikhil Manipur Mahasabha: Founded on May 30, 1934 as Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha, its aim was to unify the Manipuris inside and outside Manipur based upon the Hindu religion and to reform the society in social, cultural, economic and educational fields.
7 World War II.
8 The movement is known as ‘Nupi Lal’ (Women’s War in Manipur). The major event of the movement took place on December 12, 1939.
9 Irawat was arrested on the 9th January, 1940 on the charge of sedition and detained in Imphal Jail and then transferred to Sylhet Jail. He was released on March 20, 1943 from Sylhet Jail.
10 The first Congress of CPI was held at Bombay from the 23rd May to the 1st June, 1943. The 2nd Congress of CPI was held at Calcutta from February 28 to March 6, 1948.
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