Chassad, an old khongjai village in the present Kamjong district of Manipur is an important place in the history of Manipur. As per the records of Manipur State Durbar, the Chassad khongjai were staying in a large area between Chattrik and Kongal Thana on the North and South and in between Angoching and main portion of the Malain Range on the east and west.
Chassad khongjai is associated with the history of Manipur. Some historians claiming that Chassad village was settled at Karongkaphung area of Sampui village only in 1940 after the Bungpa khullen villages, acting on a court order, banished it from the jurisdiction of Bungpa village sounds concocted history.
According to the official report of the Manipur State Hill People Administration (Regulation) Act 1947, both Bungpa Khullen and Chassad were Khongjai villages whose chiefs are Yamkhothang and Tongkhothang respectively.
In 1852, the Khongjai set fire and plundered two villages – Lumkang and Haka. The Meetei King sent 1000 sepoys to control the Khogjai in Chassad. The Chief of Chassad, Nehlam was captured and made to pay tribute. Again, Nehlam revolted, however, this time, he was killed by the Meetei forces and Chassad remain loyal to the Meetei king thereafter.
In 1881, Nehlam’s son, Tonglhu revolted against Meetei. Meetei arrested Tonglhu and made alliance which lasted till 1888. One possible reason for the frequent rebellion of Chassad khongjai or other tribes in the border villages of Manipur was due to weak Meetei king who cannot take any firm decision alone, without consulting the British.
Before the rule of King Pamheiba, the sub clans of Khongjai in the Burma never challenged the suzerainty of Meetei. From the period of 1850 to 1919, the hills subject of Meetei began to revolt.
Chassad khongjai controlled a large part of hills in Manipur and Myanmar. They frequently raided the Tangkhul villages which were subject of Manipur king. The chief of Samjok in the Kabaw Valley instigated the Chassad Khongjai to plunder and raided the Tangkhul villages to bring them under the Kabaw.
To protect the Tangkhul from the onslaught of Chassad Khongjai, Manipur King opened an outpost at Nambisa which is around 10 kilometres from the border of Manipur. A strong force was also sent to Chattrik to punish the Khongjai. However, in December 1878, six Manipuri sepoys were arrested in Kongal village of Manipur by Chassad khongjai and taken to Kabaw as prisoner.
Later on, they were handed over to a Manipur Subedar. The main objective of Chassad khongjai rebellion was to remain independently, free from Manipur. They were supported by the Burmese authority to cause havoc in the Manipur hills, targeting the Manipur subject, Tangkhul from time to time.
Again on February 17, 1888, the Chassad khongjai raided Chingsao, a Tangkhul village which is under the Manipur King. The Chassad Khongjai killed 45 people and 3 were carried off as captives. It was confirmed that Chassad khongjai went to Chingsao village last year and demanded tribute, asking them to become the subject of the Samjok Chief of Burma.
The Chingsao Tangkhul who were loyal to the Meetei King refused to pay tributes. One reason why the Chassad khongjai targeted Chingsao Tangkhul Village was that Chingsao is a powerful Tangkhul village, if the village was subdued all the Luhoopa Tangkhul villages in the Angoching range would become the Subject of the Samjok Chief, which is the tributary of the Burma. The Chassad khongjai are working for the Samjok Chief during those time, sensing Manipur king were weak.
A messenger was sent to Chassad khongjai chief, Tonglhu to confirm about the Chingsao raid. Tonglhu sent his younger brother, Yankapu which confirmed that 5 men from the Chassad took part in the raid. Yankapu also added that the chief offenders were from the neighbouring villages within Burma territory.
The Chassad khongjai did not accept the terms offered by the Manipur State Durbar to punish those offenders who were involved in the Chingsao raid. For some years Chief of Chassad defied the Darbar until an expedition brought him down.
On January 5, 1889, Manipur King Surchandra sent 1000 sepoys under Senapati Tikendrajit to control the Chassad khongjai. In the fight, the Khongjai Chief Tonglhu was captured along with 20 captives. They were brought to Imphal. Tonglhu paid 1 gong of copper, 1 ivory, and Rs 800 as annual tributes.
Senapati Tikendrajit has a good rapport with the chief of Khongjai who were controlling the hills of Manipur. The Chief of Chassad khongjai, Tonglhu was very close friend of Senapati Tikendrajit. After the Chingsao raid and punitive action thereafter, the two brave came closer.
When Tonglhu was brought to the Palace as captive by Manipuri sepoy, Tikendrajit freed him and gives respect. Tonglhu was rewarded a Khamenchatpa dress by the King Surchandra. What was seen in Tonglhu that a captive was rewarded and sent back as friend by Tikendrajit on March 13, 1889?
When the British conquest of Manipur became more powerful, Senapati Tikendrajit made up his mind to escape to Khagee leipak (China). The Qing dynasty of China was waging war against the British during those era.
Senapati Tikendrajit might have some idea on the latest development of Chinese Political crisis. Therefore, he along with the King of Manipur and few nobles went for Chassad khongjai village. Tikendrajit also carried around 200 sepoys.
Moirang Tonjao sudebar was sent as advance party who will arrange for a Kabaw guide with a message to Chief of Chassad Tonglhu. Senapati Tikendrajit gave Rs 3000 to Moirang Tonjao to arrange for his safe escape to China. The amount is valued around Rs 30 lakhs nowadays. However, treacherous Moirang Tonjao instead of reaching Chassad went direct to the Tengnoupal British Camp and expose about the plan of Senapati Tikendrajit.
On reaching Chassad village on April 27 1891, Tikendrajit was welcomed by Tonglhu, Chief of Chassad. Tikendrajit enquired about Subedar Moirang Tonjao and his Kabaw guide. Tonglhu was unaware of the plan. Later, it was confirmed that Moirang Tonjao had become the British slave.
Tonglhu arranged for the visiting Meetei friend and his sepoys in his land. He tried to find a trustworthy guide from Shan state (Kabaw) to help Tikendrajit. However, the past records of Meetei and Samjok chief was not very cordial and even Tonglhu sidelined the Samjok Chief to make friendship with Tikendrajit.
When the Meetei leaders were staying in Chassad, British force of around 80 sepoys arrived in search of Tikendrajit. British mentioned in their correspondence that a trustworthy guide was helping them in pursuing the Manipuri chiefs.
Traitor Moirang Tonjao too was accompanied in the said team. They searched the entire Chassad village but could not find a single Meetei Chiefs and sepoys. When the contact for China mission was failed, the Meetei chiefs gradually lost hope and they came out one after another to be surrendered to the British.
Some historians are writing that Chassad chief Tonglhu did not give permission for stay in Chassad to Senapati Tikendrajit team when he was escaping to China. This creates a doubt on the sincerity of Tonglhu. If Tonglhu was against Meetei and wanted to take revenge on Tikendrajit, he could easily informed the British when they came in search of Tikendrajit on April 30, 1891.
The bounty on the Meetei chiefs were altogether Rs 15,000 which is roughly Rupees One Crore fifty lakhs now. The trust between Tikendrajit and Tonglhu should not be erased from the history of Manipur.
The Legacy continued after Meetei failed to save Manipur from the British. In 1917, the Khongjai bagan their war against the British rule of Manipur. The most attended and decisive conclave was the Chassad conclave held in early March of 1917 which was attended by 23 principal Khongjai chiefs. Hosted by Hlukhunmang, the Chief of Chassad, a mithun was killed and a traditional and customary war-rite ceremony was performed as a symbol of their solidarity to fight the British.
Before the Anglo Manipur war of 1891, it was expected that there were over 3000 muskets in the Khongjai area alone, and with the outbreak of Anglo-Manipuri war in 1891, the British suspected the hand-in-glove connection with Senapati Tikendrajit, which shook Manipur Administration.
After Tikendrajit was hanged, the British feared the Khongjai will revolt against them. So, they took preventive action by confiscating all the guns from the Khongjai.
When Luchingpurel Hijam Irawat was forced to go underground, the Manipur government made a bounty of Rs 10 thousand. This time also Hijam Irawat too made his escape route to Burma through Chassad. The Chassad chief, Tongkhothang’s wife was reported to have said that the Chassad villagers love Irawat so much that they were not selfish enough to inform the government about Irawat. Such is the love of Chassad Khongjai to the Meetei.
When British annexed Manipur, the hills have no owner. The puppet Meetei king could not prorect his hill subjects. In 1893, a Tangkhul village of Chingjaroi was raided and attacked by a large group of armed Khongjai who killed 297 people including women and children and burnt down 40 houses in Ukhrul district, Similar incident were seen in other districts of Tamenglong as well.
Lastly, if there were more Chingakham Sanajaoba Meetei in the Khongjai Lan (1917-1919), fate of Manipur would be a different one now!
(C) Naorem Mohen
The Writer can be reached at Twitter @laimacha