Do You Know Tangkhul Naga Labour Corps

Observing Tangkhul Naga Labour Corps Centennial is distorting the history of Manipur Labour Corps. Around 2000 men were recruited for the 22nd Manipur Labour Corps which was divided into four companies, consisting of 500 Meeteis, 700 Tangkhuls, 400 Kukis and 300 Mao tribes.

It is, as usual fabricating and adding a masala called “Naga” in every dishes prepared in the hills of Manipur. A mockery to Naga Nationalism. The Naga Club has condemned such distortion of Naga history by Kharingyo Shimrah, saying the claim of Kharingyo Shimrah is a mere figment of his imagination. It is just shameless and daringly senseless attempt for nothing but to distort Naga history. Can such claim convince anyone that RS Ruichumhao commanded 2000 Nagas from Naga Hills as labor corps to Europe during First World War?

Almost 21,000 strong tribal were recruited from the North East India during the first World War in early 1917. These were recruited mainly to serve as labourers and porters in France on the Western Front. These Labour Corps were named from the regions that they came from – Manipur Labour Corps, Naga Labour Corps, Garo Labour Corps, Khasi Labour Corps and the Lushai Labour Corps. There was no separate Tangkhul Naga Labour Corps which was sent from Manipur.

In 1917, the Maharaja of Manipur Churachand Singh and Lt. Col. H.W.G. Cole, the Political Agent has sent an official requisitions to all villages in the hill regions of Manipur for recruitment of men for the labour Corps. These villages were required to supply able bodied men in proportion to their population.

Many of the villages were unhappy at the idea of sending their men to unknown lands from where perhaps they might not return at all.  A Tangkhul writer gave credit to RS Ruichumhao, a Tangkhul from Manipur as the founder of Naga Club which is not accepted by the Naga Club in Kohima.

The Naga Club issued a statement on 13th December 2017 saying that one Kharingyo Shimrah by name from Tangkhul community has published his story of how Naga Club at Kohima was formed as posted in the public domain on February 8, 2017. “…the British Govt. recruited a number of labourers…from Naga tribes. …around 2000 thousand Nagas…from North East led by RS Ruichumhao were sent to France, …These Nagas under RS Ruichumhao leadership …formed the Naga Club in 1918.”

Contrary to his fake history, around 2000 men were recruited for the 22nd Manipur Labour Corps which was divided into four companies. The majority of men in the Manipur Labour Corps were Meeteis, Tangkhuls, Koms and Kukis. Angom Porom Singh, the first Meetei Christian and Porachao led the Meetei contingent consisting of 500 Meetei.

Teba Kurong led the Kom contigent; RS Ruichumhoa led the 700 strong Tangkhul contingent; while Thomsong Ngulhoa, a Kuki Christian evangelist was the leader of 400 Kuki recruits. There were around 300 Mao contigents as well.

In September 1917, when another requisition was placed for fresh labour recruits, the Kukis revolted and took up arms against the Maharaja and the British. This revolt known as the Kuki Rebellion (Uprising) of 1917-1919, which is now observed as the Ango-Kuki War.

There was not a single tribal from the Hills of Manipur representing the Naga Labour Corps. In the Naga Labour Corps, around 2000 Nagas – 1000 Semas, 400 Lothas, 200 Regmas, 200 Aos and 200 Changs and other Trans-frontier tribes seems to have been recruited.

The 21st Naga Labour Corps arrived in France in two main groups (688 men on 21 June 1917 and 992 men on 2 July 1917). Another batch of 817 Naga Hills recruits which was waiting to go to France was diverted to the Kuki operations in January 1918. This draft consisted of 60 Lothas, 90 Semas, 120 Aos, 60 Kukis and Kacha Nagas and 480 Angamis.

Grave of Putanleng in France . (Credit – Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh)

World War historian and researcher, Rajeshwar Yumnam have also found 87 graves of Manipuris who were buried in Italy, France, Yemen and Egypt. This include four members from Manipur Labour Corps from the hill districts – Makhal Tangkhul, Akhil Pukhini (Mao), Salkhukam Kuki and Putanleng from Hungdung in Ukhrul district of Manipur.

Maharaja Churachand Singh of Manipur offered the Manipur Double Company and Manipur Labour Corps which rendered distinguished services during the War. He also contributed an aeroplane and four motor ambulances amounted to Rs. 51, 300, Rs 14,670 to various relief funds, comfort funds and memorials, Rs 40, 830 towards the expenses of the Double Company and Rs. 3,044 towards the expenses of the Labour Corps. For his contribution, Maharaj Churachand was decorated with Knight Commander Star of India (KCSI).

(C) Naorem Mohen
The Writer can be reached at Twitter @laimacha

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