August the 13th has once again arrived. Thangal General and Bir Tikendrajit were hanged to death on this very day near the Imphal Polo ground. The place, as we all know has been named as Bir Tikendrajit Park. Belinda Morse in her book “Calamity and Courage”, which traces the life and times of Ethel Grimwood, wife of the then British political agent to Manipur: Frank Grimwood, describes the event that took place on August 13, 1891, at a quarter to five in the afternoon near the Polo ground that ‘much drama was attached to them’. The execution was heavily guarded by 500 Gurkha Rifles. Both prisoners were escorted to the gallows by fifty riflemen. Tikedrajit climbed the ladder by himself, but Thangal General was carried from the jail as he was weak and moreover the general was 86 years old then. Belinda also quotes an account given by an English officer of the event, of how the general laughed out loud when he was about to meet his end. Tikendrajit and Thangal General were ‘convicted of waging war against the Queen’ by a special court. This was when British colonialism was well spread across the globe and Manipur was a small kingdom. But now, British colonialism has become history and Manipur is no longer under monarchy. Convicted as criminals by the British, but patriots to Manipur; several accounts of the event have been written by many writers and historians. Adapted into theatrical plays as well, the All India Radio Imphal’s play on Tikendrajit has been one of the most popular among the listeners. August 13 is observed as Patriots’ Day each year in the State. Even after 123 years of the event, we keep alive the story by remembering them each year, to be retold to the generations that are to come. Year after year, the State has been observing Patriots Day. The day is specially mark by floral tribute to the statues or monuments of the heroes. Patriotic song and poetry competitions in the schools and colleges are also one of the important events of the day. However a pertinent question is: How does the present generation perceive the story of Tikendrajit – Thangal and their patriotism? One cannot deny or reject the variability of perception from one generation to another. Active learning generation, particularly students, who are also active on issues of the State would have many questions to ask, for they are born in a different time. Or have they stopped asking questions at all? This is a question, which the teaching community will have to pay serious attention to. Questions are born out of critical minds, which are always hungry for discovering the nuances of a story. And how do we groom these minds, at a time when the British are no longer our enemy. They are our friends now, who play Polo with us during the Sangai Festival. This is a time, when our ‘identity’ is considered to be on the verge extinction. And ironically, our identity can only be saved by a regulation passed by the then colonial British. This is a time, wherein the army of a country where we belong to can kill anyone at mere suspicion. Or are we attaching too much ‘drama’ ( to borrow Belinda’s words) into our patriotism without any substance?
Leader Writer: Senate Kh