Aware, Awake & Arise: Issues that concern the region

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Legend of a Leader: Hijam Irabot

"Now a time has come during which a mutual congregation and construction are the only vital questions. Let us forget our personal enmity, clan and national animosity and be prepared to love the nation as a whole." - Hijam Irabot, at the 2nd Session of NHMM.
This article blooms straight from the heart as a floral tribute to our great leader, a noble spirited, Hijam Irabot, who had burnt all his heart and soul for the glory of mankind in general and the downtrodden in particular. Words will never be able to give full justification for the immense contribution that he has given to us and nothing can erode it also.
The 30th of September 2007 is the 111th Birth Anniversary of Hijam Irabot. He was born in 1896 at Oinam Leikai near Pishumthong. He was the son of Hijam Iboongohal and Thambalngambi Devi. Their family condition was very poor. His father died when he was quite young. He received the affection of his aunt Sougaijam Ongbi Ibeton Devi. His mother also died untimely. He was married to Rajkumari Khomdonsana Devi, daughter of Maharaja Churachand Singh's elder brother Chandrahas Singh.
He started his schooling in Johnstone School. He studied here up to seventh class. In 1913, when he was only seventeen years, he went to Dacca with his friend Sougaijam Samarendra Singh for further studies. In Dacca, he could only study up to ninth class because he was forced to leave his study due to acute financial problems. In 1915, he went to Tripura and spent few months there. But when he came back to Manipur he found himself homeless. It was Maibam Samden of Wangkhei who gave shelter to Irabot.
He was recognized to be the guiding founder of the Bal Sangha, Scout and Chhatra Sanmeloni while he was still in the Johnstone School. He even ventured to launch strike against the misadministration of the teaching staff of the Johnstone School when one of his classmates was beaten and kicked in the presence of the other boys. It is still remembered to be the first strike in Manipur by the school-going students.
He was an enthusiast of literary works. His first endeavour was brought out in 1922, in the form of a hand written magazine called Meitei Chanu. He was the editor of this magazine. The magazine could not last long for want of reading public as well as financial support.
But it remained a pioneering work amongst the early publications of the Manipuri journals. Like his contemporaries, Irabot had a keen desire to produce some original literary works mainly to fill up the dearth in the curriculum of the High School studies. His book Saidem Seireng was prescribed as a textbook for the High School students of fifth class.
His literary attempt in novel writing was first seen in Yakairol, a monthly journal published by Dr. Ningthoujam Leiren when his first novel Mohini was published in a serialized form from August 1931. In 1933, he got his book printed under the title Dalil Amasung Darkhast Iba to bridge the gap between the Manipur State Darbar and the public.
He also acted as the general Secretary of the Manipur Sahitya Parishad for two terms i.e., 1937 and 1938. With the beginning of 1947, Irabot tried his hand in the field of journalism. The first issue of his weekly journal Anouba Jug was produced on Sunday, the 13th April 1947.
Irabot was a versatile actor and he acted in many dramatic performances during the early parts of the 1930s. Some of the plays in which he played active role were Nar Singh, Satee Khongnang, Areppa Marup, Devala Devi etc. Irabot was also a good artist and a painter. Apart from his sportsmanship he encouraged the traditional Manipuri style of 'self-defence' commonly known as Sat-jal. He was one of the founder members of the Manipur Sports Association.
On 1st April 1930, Maharaja Churachand Singh appointed Irabot a member of the Sadar Panchayat Court. He was given 25 paris of land, a salary of Rs. 25 per month and servants to attend to his wife. Although he had powers of a Second-class Magistrate in the Sadar Panchayat Court, he never encouraged bribery and corruption.
He looked into a kind of justice mostly in favour of the downtrodden and the poor peasants of the society. He was against the autocratic rule of the monarch under the shadow of the British. He wanted to end to the eternal clashing between the rich and the poor and the man-made concept of Master and Slave.
He used his position in order to come closer to the people, study their problems and organize them. He was strongly against the unlawful impositions connected with pothang, yairek-sentry, khewa, dolaireng, chandan senkhai, wakheirol etc. He also expressed his robust opposition to the atrocities meted out to the people by the Brahma Sabha.
He started his first mass campaign for the socio-economic uplift of the people and the result was the formation of the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha, mobilizing all the Manipuris inside and outside the state. The first session of the Mahasabha was held on 30th May 1934 at Imphal.
Maharaja Churachand Singh was its first President and he held this post till the third session of the Mahasabha. Its second session was held at Tarapur, Silchar, on 30th January 1936 and Irabot acted as the General Secretary. The third session took place at Mandalay, Burma on 2nd march 1937 in which Irabot was the Vice-President.
In the fourth session of the Mahasabha, held on 30th December 1938 at the Chinga Hill Maidan, Irabot was appointed as its President. In his Presidential speech, he proposed to abolish the Manipur State Darbar and an introduction of electoral system in Manipur.
The Manipur State Darbar subsequently declared the Mahasabha an illegal political party on 15th February 1939.
Irabot started to advocate an open rebellion against the high officials of the State Administration after his resignation from the Sadar Panchayat membership on 17th March 1939. On 7th January 1940, he immediately defected from the Mahasabha on matters regarding the non-agreement on physically supporting the Nupi-lan among its members.
On the very same day he organized a new party called the Manipur Praja Sammeloni. He was arrested from his house on 9th January 1940 and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for a speech on 7th January 1940 at the Police Line Bazar. He was previously kept at the Imphal jail but later shifted to Sylhet jail.
During his imprisonment in the Sylhet jail, he came across with many of the Congress and Communist leaders. He was very much influenced by the communist ideology and became an ardent believer in Marxism-Leninism.
Irabot was released from the Sylhet jail on 20th March 1943. But he was not permitted to enter Manipur. From Sylhet he went to Cachar where he plunged headlong into the peasant movement. He attended the first Party Congress of the Communist Party of India held at Bombay from 23rd May to 1st June 1943 as an observer.
Irabot was detained as a security prisoner in the Silchar District jail with effect from 15th September 1944 on the charge that he was a communist. He was released on 10th January 1945.after more than 5 years of political exile Irabot was given permission to stay in Manipur for a week i.e., from 2nd to 10th September, 1945.
His request for an extension of his stay in Manipur was denied. He led a very active life while he was in Assam. He worked in the Kishan Front of the Communist Party and was appointed General Secretary of the Cachar District Kishan Sabha and President of the Surma Valley Kishan Sabha.
Irabot was finally permitted to enter Manipur in March 1946. He organized a new party called the Manipur Praja Mandal in April 1946. He attended two sessions of the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha before he was expelled from the membership of the Working Committee of the Mahasabha on the charge of being a member of the Communist Party of India.
The Mahasabha sympathized with the aspirations of the Indian National Congress. After his resignation from the membership of the Mahasabha, he committed his political strategy and personal energy for the upliftment of the Manipur Praja Sammeloni. Manipur Praja Sangha was formed merging the two organizations, Manipur Praja Sammeloni and Manipur Praja Mandal to become a powerful political party in Manipur.
A meeting of all the political parties of Manipur was convened at the Aryan Theatre Hall on 4th October 1946 to form a single political party. When the appointment of representatives from the different parties was discussed, surprisingly, Irabot's name was particularly excluded from the list of the nominated members.
Many of the members of the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha refused to accept Irabot's membership because of his connection with the Communist Party. Irabot walked out of the Hall and other members of Manipur Praja Sangha and Manipur Krishak Sabha followed him.
The most notable outcome of this event was the abolition of the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha and the emergence of the Manipur State Congress. The Manipur Praja Sangha boycotted the process of forming the Constitution-Making Committee, which left the field open to the Congress only.
The election to the first Manipur State Assembly began on 11th June 1948 and continued up to 27th July 1948. The election was for a total seat of 53 seats. Irabot contested from Utlou constituency and defeated his nearest rival by 1070 votes.
A new twist came in the life of Irabot. On 21st September 1948, Irabot on behalf of the Manipur Praja Sangha and Manipur Krishak sabha called a meeting at the M.D.U. Hall to protest against the formation of Purbachal Pradesh, comprising of Manipur, Tripura, Cachar and Lushai Hills.
A scuffle took place at Pungdongbam when the Manipur Sate Police prevented a group of citizens who came to attend the meeting in which a police officer was killed on the spot. Irabot sensed that the State Government would hold him responsible for the incident and take up repressive measures against him. From that day he went underground.
The Manipur state council declared the Manipur Praja Sangha and Manipur Krishak Sabha unlawful. The state officials declined to constitute an Enquiry Committee to investigate the Pungdongbam incident. Irabot could not attend the first meeting of the Manipur Legislative Assembly held on 18th October 1948 because of the warrant against him.
The first Communist Party of Manipur was formed on 23rd August 1948. But it could not last long after the occurrence of Pungdongbam incident. An underground Communist Party of Manipur was again formed on 29th October 1948, under the Presidentship of Irabot.
He felt that although the democratic revolution had actually drawn closer in the state, the great mass of the peasantry was as exploited as ever. He was firmly convinced of the inexorableness of an armed struggle led by the peasants to bring about any meaningful changes in the society.
The state administration announced a reward of Rs. 1000 for the arrest of Irabot. There had been a strong anti-Communist drive in Manipur. The Manipur State Police, the Manipur Rifles and the Assam Rifles intensified their operations against the Communist Party, and many of its workers were arrested, tried and charged.
While on his way to Manipur from Burma, Irabot had been attacked with typhoid and succumbed to it on 26th September 1951. Manipur has lost its faithful son who courageously stood up to wipe out her tears, leaving his dream unfulfilled. Much water has been flowed down the Imphal river but to unearth a true and dedicated leader like Hijam Irabot stills remain a myth.
"Economically Manipur is a backward country…. It would be the right approach for all of us to fill up this great deficiency, and to bring advancement and prosperity in the country."-Hijam Irabot at the 1st Session of NHMM.

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