A Commoner called a Queen
Rani Gaidinliu (1915 - 1993) was a freedom fighter of the Kabui Naga tribe who was born and brought up in Manipur. She was the fifth of eight children and belonged to the ruling family of the village. However she had no formal education because of a lack of schools in the area.
By 13 years of age Gaidinliu joined her cousin Jadonang, whom she looked upon as her guru. Jadonang was also a spiritual leader or priest, maiba, of the clan - a person who was traditionally very influential and revered. Jadonang began a socio-religious movement to revive the traditional Naga religion and to oppose the British in order to end their rule. He was impressed by young Gaidinliu’s resolve and single-mindedness of purpose. She was an apt pupil who was a good learner. Gaidinliu had grown up witnessing Jadonang’s activism to improve the social and economic lives of the Nagas, and actively participated in the movement.
The beginnings of the Heraka movement
Jadonang (born in 1905) was a Naga from the Manipur sub-division. He was a deeply religious person and was renowned for healing and interpreting dreams. He was very disturbed by the dilution of the Naga culture and religion, while Christianity’s influence grew in the area. The British and their oppressive policies of excessive taxation and new laws were also other reasons for his distrust. He saw these changes as the impact of British imperialism, and decided to fight. In 1930-31 he started a new socio-religious movement which came to be called Heraka (Pure) and convinced his people that he would overthrow the existing British administration and bring back self-rule and the spiritual practises of the ancestors.
The British did not look very kindly upon Jadonang. He talked of a new movement that would usher in the Golden Age for the people who were experiencing famine and loss of land due to an influx of immigrants. The movement exorted people not to pay their taxes to the oppressive British. Instead, the locals supported the movement with donations.
The movement soon turned into an armed rebellion that Gaidinliu also joined. By the age of 16 she was a leader in the guerilla forces fighting against the British.
The British response
The Political Agent, a British official, sent a few soldiers of the Assam Rifles in February 1931 to a temple established by Jadonang and destroyed it. The soldiers also went to a few other villages for a show of strength. Jadonanag himself was arrested. He was put on trial for the murder of 4 unarmed Manipuris, charged with sedition and was called a sorcerer. He was hanged in August 1931.
Gaidinliu leads the Heraka movement
These measures did not however see the end of the Heraka movement. It continued under the leadership of Gaidinliu who was seen as Jadonang’s spiritual successor and priestess, Maibi. The movement was kept alive with songs that spoke of the main themes of the Heraka movement - a return to the Golden Age and prosperity of the people.
The prevalent belief was that a new Naga Raj would be formed in the hills including the tribes. A number of medicine men went over the authority of the traditional village elders and convinced villagers that they would be the recipients of benefits if they joined the movement. The British were alarmed at these developments and wanted to quell the disturbances.
By 1931-32 the movement had spread beyond the borders of Manipur into the Naga hills.
Throughout the operations undertaken by the administration to capture Gaidinliu they would be attacked by large groups of Nagas and had to resort to firing on them. Some of the villages also got burnt in the operations.
Soon the British were trying to capture her, while she remained ahead of them with local support. Army batallions were sent after her and a reward was announced for information about her whereabouts. The offer was made sweeter with the announcement of a 10-year long tax break to the village that informed on her to the police.
While she was on the run, her followers murdered the watchman of a village, suspecting him of being the informer that led to her arrest. Now she was wanted for murder by the British authorities. When finally arrested in October 1932 in the Naga Hills, she underwent a trial and was convicted of murder. Many of her associated were hanged. Gaidinliu spent 14 years in prison.
Her influence was such that many of her followers continued her work of Heraka until she was released from prison in 1947 upon India’s independence.
Adapting Heraka to changing times
Upon her release Gaidinliu reformed the Heraka movement to reflect the changing times. Ancestral rituals to earn merit required performing sacrifices and the restriction of movement outside a designated area, such as the house or the village. However, the introduction of schools and increased work opportunities required people to leave the designated areas regularly. Gaindinliu abolished the restrictions since they were no longer practical and stood in the way of progress. Performing sacrifices had also been very important traditionally but the sheer cost of the ritual was now prohibiitive. Gaidinliu advocated stopping sacrifices. This increased the popularity of Heraka.
After her release in 1947 when she met Prime Minister Nehru, he called Gaidinliu rani, a queen, for having stood strong despite her hard life. In the meanwhile there was strong opposition to Heraka by several Naga leaders, and Gaidinliu went into hiding in 1960. She continued to work to strengthen Heraka. In 1966 she returned to the mainstream and met Prime Minister Shastri. Her followers were employed at the Nagaland Police. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1982.
The government of India conferred Gaidinliu with the Padma Bhushan in 1982. Her work has also been recognised with the issue of a postage stamp and a commemorative coin in her honour. Gaidinliu died in 1993 at the age of 78.
History of the frontier areas bordering on Assam 1883-1941 - Sir Robert Reid.
Reform, Identity and Narratives of Belonging - Arkotong Longkumer
A word about BlogchatterA2Z - This is an annual event during which I have taken up the challenge of blogging on Women in Indian History starting with A and ending in Z during the month of April, 2021. Here then is G - Gaidinliu, a commoner termed a queen for her stand against the British and for her work to strengthen Naga society. Drop in everyday to read my posts on other interesting women as I work my way down the alphabet to Z!