The COVID-19 lockdown has not deterred Mizo historians from filing their latest round of objections against the construction of the Maharaja Chandrakirti Memorial Park at Chibu Thumkhong (Chibu Salt-Well), at a monument around 2 km away from Behiang in Churachandpur district of Manipur along the Indo-Myanmar border.
In a letter addressed to the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi dated 4 June 2020 and published on July 8 in the zogam.com the Mizo History Association (MHA) has vehemently challenged the Chibu Stone Inscription. This also is not the first time objections have been raised against the historical site by the Zomis/Mizos.
Objections in certain quarters came up against the historical site about a week after the Chief Minister of Manipur Nongthombam Biren laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Maharaja Chandrakirti Memorial Park on December 19, 2017, commemorating, as mentioned in the inscription at the Chibu Thumkhong site, the victory over the Lushai chiefs during the Lushai Expedition of 1871-72.
The Manipur government is considered to have taken up the construction as part of a larger plan to develop the Churachandpur-Behiang Road as a trading corridor to connect Manipur with its South-East Asian neighbours under the much-celebrated Act East Policy.
However, since the inception of the project and till it’s near completion, objections were raised by various civil bodies such as the Zomi Chiefs’ Association (ZCA) and the Tribal Intellectual Forum Manipur who urged the Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren to urgently denotify the Chibu victory stone inscriptions. Besides, they demanded that construction at the site be stopped immediately.
It may be mentioned that the Chibu Thumkhong had been declared a protected historical site in 1990 under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Act, 1976.
In a press release dated April 26, 2020 the Zomi Chiefs’ Association, which comprises over 160 Zomi tribal chiefs in Manipur, expressed its displeasure at the proposed Maharaja Chandrakirti Memorial Park being constructed on the grounds that the inscriptions amount to historical distortion.
However, historical records have it that a number of victory stones were erected by the kings of Manipur in a region stretching between Cachhar and the Chindwin River. Furthermore, the Chibu inscriptions of 1872 were not a novelty of 19th century Manipur but were in fact reiteration of a Manipuri tradition of installing Victory Stones at various victory sites. These stones were erected after successful military campaigns. Several specimens of such victory stones are dotted on the landscape of Manipur and parts of Naga Hills, revealing the course of Manipuri military adventurism in the past. For example, there is the instance of Gambhir Singh’s stone erected near Kohima in 1832 CE, and Pamheiba’s Bangai range stone inscription located in Pherzawl district, erected in 1734 CE to commemorate his victory over the invading Takhel (Tripura) army.
The Chibu inscriptions were erected by contingents of the Manipuri army after the successful conclusion of the Lushai expedition of 1871. It is well known to all the Northeast historians and scholars that the British government decided to send the Lushai Expedition in which Manipuri Army participated in response to the raids in the tea gardens of Alexanderpur in Cachhar by the Lushais chiefs killing some coolies and kidnapping a young British girl Mary Winchester.
In the period leading up to the Lushai expedition, the British government was apprehensive that chaos in the Lushai hills might jeopardize its plans to integrate the Northeastern Frontier with Bengal. The port of Chittagong was envisioned to be an outlet for the tea grown in Cachhar and other products from Manipur. It did not appear tolerable to the British Raj that a tract of ‘unexplored barbarism’ should be permanently thrust between the British districts of Cachhar and Chittagong and the two native states of Tripura and Manipur (Kenedy Mutum & Deepak Naorem, June 7, 2020 first published in www.raiot.in).
The Mizo History Association, Zomi Chiefs’ Association and the Tribal Intellectual Forum Manipur have been unrelenting in contesting the Chibu Thumkhong Stone Inscriptions and have time and again raised objections.
The MHA says that this stone inscription is found to be erroneous after cross-checking from various sources. They have further said, “Since the significance of the monument lies in the credibility of the message it bears, and since this inscription is based on false claims, we believe that the Chibu stone inscription could not be recognised as a historical monument.”
The MHA argues that the inscription has attracted the attention of activists and historians because of the doubtful interpretation given to the inscription and unaccounted significance attached to it.
According to their assertion in the letter, “The Inscription bears a Manipur language in Bengali script that says: His Highness endowed with the five qualities – Lord of Manipur, Snake King of the Meithees, born to the throne, Ruler of the sky, the Maharajah Chandra Kirti Singh, on Saturday, 3rd Wakching of the year 1793 of the Sakabda ‘era’ when Laisrabra Purma Singh was Chaithapa reduced to subjection the Lushais towards the south. The two servants of His Highness who attended (him) were San Kaichamba Balaram Sing, Steward of Ahalup, Major of the Tulihal Regiment, and Thangal, born of the Kangabam caste, Steward of Laifam, Major of the Tulinaha Regiment, with whom were General Nuthall, 130 officers, and 2,000 muskets.
They took as tribute elephant tusks and gongs and dedicated this brine spring and carved here these foot-prints of his Highness.
They subdued the following Hao villages: Poiboi, Lengkham, Dambam, Bum hang & co, in all 112 villages, and including Thankalet, the Lushai, they captured four Chiefs and one village.
Written by Nong Chamba Dhormeshwar, Wahengba, Sijjamocha, Pratap Singh and Gokul Chandra, chief salt agent (Carey & Tuck 1895, 123).”
The MHA says it is obvious that the Chibu Stone Inscription itself is founded on half-truth and manipulated facts which are not in tune with the records and purpose of the authority that launched the Lushai Expedition 1871-72 in which the Manipur contingent only formed a part of it.
Further, they have asserted, it is difficult to imagine 112 Lushai villages to have existed around the area where the Manipur Contingent encamped. If the Manipur king subdued 112 chiefs, that would amount to conquering the whole of the Lushai Hills and more.
They strongly contest that no Manipuri king had ever conducted any successful operation against any Lushai chief and no Lushai chief was ever captured by a Manipuri king.
The MHA points out that the inscription is silent on the event marking the agreement reached between five Lushais, who were chiefs or their representatives, and the Contingent on behalf of the king of Manipur. This agreement also does not seem to imply any act of subjugation of the Lushais, but rather an agreement between two equal parties, as it was meant for mutual friendship with promises of good behaviour from both sides. This seemed to be the greatest achievement of the contingent as the agreement signed by the five Lushai chiefs found in the colonial records was rather an indirect result of the operation of the Cachhar Column in which they took part.
Meanwhile, Kenedy Mutum and Deepak Naorem in their article ‘Absence of Historicity in Manipur’ (June 7, 2020 first published in www.raiot.in ) have said, “There is no concrete ground to make Chandrakirti Memorial park issue an emotive one based on a narrow understanding of the historical evidence because the inscription commemorates not only the allegedly ‘controversial’ Manipuri Maharaja Chandrakirti but also his two Majors Balaram and Thangal, the latter who lost his life in the struggle against British colonialism in the 1891 Anglo-Manipur War. Besides, the inscriptions also pay homage to General Nuthall, the Political Agent of Manipur, half of the Manipuri Siphais who died due to illness in the Lushai expedition, the coolies, the Khongjai Kuki sepoy villages who acted as auxiliaries for the state army and the Naga villages who were raided and plundered by the Lushais and the Sokte tribes in the southern border of Manipur.”
However, the claims and counter claims between the Mizo and Manipuri historians, which cropped up after laying of the foundation stone and the start of construction of the Maharaja Chandrakirti Memorial Park at Chibu Thumkhong, appear to have evolved into a political contention which could destabilise the ethnic relations of the state.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics