By Thokchom Shiba Dutta Singh
“When a man becomes pure and perfect, the sweet influence of his character is spread everywhere,
and all who seek after truth are naturally drawn towards him. ”
– Sri Ramkrishna Paramahamsa
Hijam Irabot Singh, later on popularly and commonly known as Jananeta Irabot, a few also called as Lamyanba Irabot was born on Wednesday September 30, 1896. Jananeta means people`s leader and Lamyanba signifies one who guides. He was the only child of Ibungohal Singh and Chongtham Ningol Hijam Ongbi Thambaingangbi Devi who were earlier residents of Hijam Leikai (presently Yaiskul Policelane Manipur Rifles Compound) from where they were ordered to shift away as their land was included in the area to be kept to be British Reserve as was the British tradition whenever any conquest turned out after the British conquest of Manipur in April, 1891. The couple took shelter at the residence of a relative at Nambul Mapal Pishumthong Oinam Leikai, Imphal and after a few years, it was where Irabot was born. While still an infant, Irabot`s father died after a few weeks of returning from Burma where he went for earning. After sometime, Irabot stayed at house of his aunt (younger sister of his father) Ibeton Devi whose husband was a Member of Manipur State Durbar, at Moirangkhom Sougaijam Leirak. After sometime-his mother died. From a very young age, he became an orphan, though he was under the guardianship of his aunt.
After learning at Pettigrew Pathasala, he studied at Johnstone School. He was a good student. While he was a very young student in class-V in that school, a teacher apart from rebuking, kicked a student. This maltreatment was condemned by students who under the guidance of Irabot, agitated against the teacher by calling strike. The teacher was compelled to apologise and the strike was ended successfully. This was perhaps the beginning of his objective revolutionized ideas which were passing out from his brain though out his life. While at school, he founded Student`s Scout, the main activity of which was the social service. After studying upto class-VII at Johnston School, Irabot was sent by his aunt for his further study as well as to help her eldest son Samarendra Singh to Dhaka, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) where Samarendra was studying. While in Bengal, Irabot had seen that what Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow. He was charmed and submerged on seeing activities and ideas of Bengali philanthropists, politicians and revolutionists whose ideologies he admired much. During his time of staying in Bengal, he also acquired information in regard to conditions of Manipuris living outside Manipur. After staying for about three years in Bengal, he left Dhaka, and after about four months he reached Manipur in 1915. He was then nineteen. On reaching Manipur he did not come back at his aunt`s house, instead he took shelter at Maibam Shamden Singh`s house at Wngkhei Ningthem Pukhri Mapal.
Irabot was a keen sportsman, both in indigenous and modern games. He played so well that whenever he took part in the game, the audience was full and crowded. He played Kangjei, Kang, Hockey, Football, Cricket, Volleyball, Badminton etc. He was founder Member and leading player of the Town Club which was established in June 1922. It was the first sports club in Manipur. Irabot himself was not only a reputed artist but also a significant contributor for the development of theatrical plays. He was a founder member of Manipur Dramatic Union and he presented its emblem of crossing two plough Apart from being a poet himself, he worked for the upliftment of Manipur literature. He wrote a good number of appreciable poems, published in a book “Sheidam Sheireng” which was prescribed to be a school text book. He also wrote other books and poems, some of which were of revolutionary natures. He edited the Meitei Chanu, the Manipuri journal and published by writing in manuscripts by using carbon papers by himself. He also published a weekly, the Anouba Yug by stenciling and cyclostyling by himself.
The Maharaja of Manipur appointed him to be the Member of Sadar Panchayet whose duty was to be the Judge, after Rajkumari Khomdonsana Devi, eldest daughter of Rajkumar Chandradas Singh, elder brother of the Maharaja was married to him. It was an honourable well salaried post with the ownership of twenty-five hectares of paddy fields. Servants and maids were also provide for the family. He resided at Yaiskul Janmasthan, Imphal. Manipur was then under the British who in their own choice, appointed a Raja, later on retitled Maharaja who was entrusted the administration of valley and hill areas were directly administered by the British Officer. As it was extensively found in native princely states, favouritism, corruption, oppression and immoralities were widely prevalent. In order to enable to easily torture people, under the direction of the Maharaja, his puppets formed what they called Brahmasabha which itself took the powers of declaring any person to be a Vaisnava, to be an outcaste, to boycott socially, to levy taxes of various kinds in the name of religions. It could declare any marriage null and void. It was so merciless that it could restrict even the funeral service of any dead body. Forced labour was also prevalent. Whenever any official, great or low toured, his luggage be carried, be fed, be comfortably reposed and be well guarded. Any one who was disobedient was punished with flogging. The Maharaja and his men propagated that he was a Vishnu (a foremost Hindu God) and his words were infallible and should always be obeyed without questioning.
Irabot was strongly against those evil practices and he opposed the maladministration tooth and nail. He was elected General Secretary in the 1st session held on May 30, 1934 of the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha which was founded for the welfare of Manipuri settling in Manipur and outside. Irabot made much efforts for its formation. Its second and third sessions were held at Silchar and Mandlay (Burma) in 1936 and 1937 respectively. After its formation, other sectorial organizations also began to spring up. It was then the time of country`s freedom struggle. All sorts of agitation including boycott of foreign goods were going on in British India. Irabot burnt down all foreign goods including cloths and luxury items used by him and his wife at the courtyard of Chierap court at Uripok. He was the only person in doing so in a significant form in Manipur. Since then he and his wife had been using only the inland cloths and goods. He took the side of those who were ordered to be out-cast or boycott socially by the Brahmasabha on fake charges, by openly defying its orders, and performed triumphantly the relevant ceremonies lead by himself. The Brahmasabha and its maker Maharaja were helpless and they angrily bore their shames.
In the 4th session of the Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha held in December 1938 at Chinga Lampak, Imphal, Irabot was elected its President and in its name the word Hinduwas omitted. The session was started with the patriotic slogan Bande Matram which was then banned by the British. The session proclaimed openly that the Mahasabha became a political party, and resolved that full responsible government be formed in Manipur, election be held, hill and valley be administered singly, forced labour be abolished etc. The then administration in Manipur issued an order that as the Mahasabha had become a political party, the state employees must leave from the Mahasabha or leave the employment of the State. Without any hesistation, Irabot resigned immediately from the high post he held and gave back twenty-five hectares of paddy fields. His wife`s facilities were also given back to the Maharaja. The entire people of Manipur was surprised greatly. It was indeed a very great sacrifice. No one in Manipur has sacrificed so far to this extent for the people. This event will remain bright like the changeless and shining Pole Star in the life story of Jananeta Irabot.
Manipur is an agricultural state and its economy depends upon agricultural products. Irabot began with rural area where agricultural lands were located. He toured from village to village and saw their conditions thoroughly. He knew that 80 p.c. of the farmers had no their own paddy fields. They were tenants whose shares in the products were too little and major shares were taken by the land owners who were wealthy ones. The price was also fixed by them in their own interests. The then administration did not allow fishing, collecting fire woods, crossing over river by bridge or boat etc. without payment. Irabot urged the people by organizing civil disobedience movement by crossing over the river without payment, the shade in which the collecting officials sat was demolished and inciting the people to reject all forms of forced labours. Towards the end of 1929, a sudden famine was created by the traders in Manipur by exporting rice in huge quantity outside Manipur, after local bulky purchase. The rice was no more available at the local markets. The women agitated to ban the export of rice and brought the Durbar Members along with the President to wire to the Maharaja who was then at Nabadwip at the Telegraph Office which they seized. Armed soldiers were used against the women and there were injuries. It happened on December 12,1939 and became known 2nd Nupilal. (In 1904, a British Bunglow was burnt down. The cause of the fire or the miscreant were not able to be known, the British, however, ordered that the male native inhabitants should construct a new Bunglow by voluntarily bringing the materials by themselves. The women agitated forcefully against the order and they resisted the men-folk from doing the construction work, and compelled the British to take the order back. This was the 1st Nupilal). The Maharaja was to eat humble pie. Order banning the rice export was issued.
On the charges of his praising the women agitators and speaking against the administration in a public meeting held on January 7, 1940 at Yaiskul Policelane, Irabot was arrested after two days from his house, and ordered for three years imprisonment. While he was in Imphal Jail, he demanded for the improvement of living conditions of the prisoners to the Jail authority which acceded to his demands. The then administration decided to shift him from Imphal Jail to the outside as he was likely to press for further demands and thus creating more problems. After a year in Imphal Jail, he was moved to Sylhet Jail (now in Bangladesh) where he met and mixed in with a good number of Communists with whom he studied Marxism thoroughly and read books concerning to it. From that time onwards, he had became a firm believer in Communism. (He formally became a Member of the Communist Party of India from 1943). On the completion of his jail term, he was released on March 20, 1943. As he was banned in coming to Manipur by the then administration of Manipur, he took shelter at the office of C.P.I. Cachar District Committee at Silchar.
It was the time of II World War. Manipur was a large war field. The Japanese attack was serious and intensive in Manipur. The British was under the impression that Irabot might lead a revolution against them. So a warrant was issued to arrest him, shortly after he was released from the Jail. He was arrested and put in Silchar Jail under the Defence of India Rule. By the end of 1944, his jail term was ended. Though he was released from jail, he should inform the concerned Police Station wherever he travelled and he should not move out more than three miles from Silchar Town for a period of three months. The ban for entering Manipur was also not lifted. Though he was forced to stay outside Manipur, he always remembered Manipur and its people. Assam Governor was requested to extend all helps to the war devastated people of Manipur where lives were lost, injured and properties were either lost or damaged. He demanded to provide sufficient relief to the refugees who came towards Manipur. While he was staying at Cachar, he took part in a number of political conferences and formed organization for resisting dowry. He led the agitation against the Jamindars (landlords) for their inhuman cruelties.
On lifting the ban for entering Manipur, here turned to Imphal on March 4, 1946.
He revitalized the sectorial organizations like Krishak Sabha, Students Federation, Manila Sammelam etc. Strong decision was taken by holding meeting to resist by all means the proposal for formation of Purbanchal Pradesh (North East Frontier Province) consisting areas of Manipur, Cachar, Lushai Hills and Tripura. It was resolved in the 2nd Congress of the Communist Party of India held at Calcutta in Feb-March 1948 that time was appropriate for democratic revolution in India. Peasants and workers agitated in some portions of India particularly in parts of Telengana, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura etc. The authorities tried to suppress by torturing mercilessly the agitators who were then compelled to take up available arms for safeguarding themselves. In the meeting held under his president¬ship at Imphal on August 23, 1948, the Communist Party District Organising Committee was formed. In the first Assembly Election held in Manipur in 1948, after the Independence, Irabot was elected from Utlou Constituency defeating his Congress rival by margin more than two thousand votes. It clearly showed people`s longing and acceptance for him. After the election, the proposal for formation of Purbanchal Pradesh wherein Manipur would became a mere part, was pressing hard. It was against the people`s will.
It was September 21, 1948, a meeting was convened on this day at MDU Hall, Imphal for expressing protest against the proposal of Purbanchal Province. The police resisted a rally who came to participate the meeting at Yorbung where scuffle happened between people and police and in which a policeman died. At that point of time, Irabot was at MDU Hall overseeing the arrangement for the meeting. On just getting that news, Irabot told to postpone the meeting. The then administration immediately issued warrant for arrest of Irabot. All the organizations related with him were also declared illegal. Warrants were issued for arrest of his co-workers too. From that day onwards, Irabot had remained in underground. Cash rewards raising the amount one after another were announced for his arrest. Though remained in underground he continued his activities. His struggle took the main role for dropping the proposal of Purbanchal Pradesh and thus Manipur has been saved from being a small part of a bigger State.
Mathematics in every part of the world remains the same. Likewise communists in each part do not differ, though there are local adjustments. For seeking help for democratic revolution in Manipur from the Communist Party in Burma, Irabot left Manipur in May 1950 for Burma. In those days, there were three communist parties under different leaderships who were revolting against the government. There were also small armed rebellion groups for clan or sect. The then Burmese political atmosphere was chaotic. Irabot met the leaders and convinced them for working uniteldly. The People`s Comrade Party (PCP) gladly accepted to establish a base of Manipur Communist Party at Kabo Valley which was under its control. Irabot visited the liberated areas, talked with the leaders of different parties who, on his instigation, now formed an United Front under a single command. Irabot formed Red Guard Army in the area left under his control and worked tirelessly to fulfill his tasks.
Years of restless works both physical and mental, living in underground for long periods of time and uncomfortable climate condition of the unhygienic area in which he was working caused his health unwell. He suffered from typhoid at his headquarters at Tangbo village in the side of Anggo hill where there was no medical facilities, and breathed his last on September 26, 1951. He was then yet to complete fifty five. Though he contributed significantly in sports, art and culture, he loved unselfish politics from the bottom of his heart. This is evident from the fact that Irabot`s fame as an idealist, unselfish politician, his priceless sacrifices, his brave struggle against the oppressors and his benevolence for the people remain unparalleled in history of Manipur. None will deny
this. This is the abridged life story of very illustrious son of Manipur Jananeta Irabot who was born, had lived, worked and given up his everything for the welfare of the poor, the helpless and the oppressed. Irabot`s body left, but his name and fame are alive and will remain alive. So says Swami Vivekananda “Life is short, the vanities of the world are transient-they alone live who live for others-the rest are more dead than alive”.