Reminiscence of Usharba, an unsung hero

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It was a lazy mid- morning but what followed was going to boost me for a very long time. We were just having a casual conversation around the dining table during our morning meal (ayukki chak charamdai) and my father was talking about one of his cousins who died recently. That’s how I got inspired to write the following story.
First of all, let me introduce a yumnak (clan name) called ‘Usham’.  It’s a rare yumnak (clan name) in Manipur. I have been told that  ‘Ushams’  are one of the Yelhoumee (original meiteis) of Manipur and I often get excited when I come across people with this clan name and I get curious to know more about them. Thanks to facebook for now I know quite a few of them. Generic history of the clan name will be in another article hopefully. Being curious about my ancestral past as it is, the story my father narrated really moved me to the point of making me write this article and I would like to share a story which really touched my heart and at the same time truly feel proud of it. It is about Usham Aru Singh alias Usharba, my great great grandfather’s eldest brother, my great great Uncle.
“Usham Aru Singh popularly known as Usharba was the second son of Usham Churamani Singh of Kabo leikai, Imphal (the present Dewlaland). He played a very significant role in the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891. He was the Lalupchingba who was handed over to the British Officials ie,  JW Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam; Colonel Skene, Commanding 42nd Gurkha Light Infantry;  Cossins, Assistant Secretary to the Chief Comissioner of Assam and Lieutenant Simpson, 43rd Gurkha Light Infantry and a native bugler to the public executioner. He was one of the 23 persons deported to Andaman & Nicobar Island. In Queen Empress Vs Tikendrajit, he was produced as 8th prosecution witness, in Queen Empress Vs Kulachandra as the 5th witness, in Queen Empress Vs Angou Sana as 7th prosecution witness……”
My intention here is not to re-represent the historical accounts of what happened in the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891, details are available in the archives. Rather I am writing this article out of nostalgia, reminiscing the bygone era, the sacrifices my ancestors made. I am trying to relive the throes and emotions felt by them. My existence was not existentat that era. I believe it was not even contemplated, but somehow I feel connected and ponder about folks in the past whom I’ll never meet ever again in this lifetime. I truly have a pride to rediscover the involvement of my ancestors in the freedom movement of Eereipak Manipur.
“He was attached to the top Guard-Executor Council to the palace and his duty was connected with the Nagas, Kukis and Tangkhuls(Naga) and he also looked after the top Guard. On the night of 23th march 1891, he slept in the top Guard as he had to arrange for a dance-Raslila for the Sahibs.”
Historical account says Quinton was directed by Lord Landsdowne, Governor General to proceed to Manipur and arrest Yuvraj Tikendrajit Singh, the leader of the uprising. “Accordingly, he arrived Imphal on March, 22nd, 1891 at about 10 am and he was greeted by Maharaj Kulachandra Singh at the western main gate of Kangla, the royal residence…”
I have read in magazines and books about the dance-Raslila which was arranged for  Quinton, Political Agent and other dignitaries in the night of 23rd of March, 1891 ,before his departure from Imphal, which was finally cancelled at the last hour, but never knew before that my ancestral uncle was involved in its arrangement. On other ordinary days, Usharba would have slept at his residence but on this particular night he slept at the top guard as he was to arrange the Raslila for the Sahibs and other dignitaries.
“On the 24th of March,1891, Usharba  found that fighting was going on for the whole day between the British troops and Manipuris… Around 9 pm of the said day, the cease-fire was sounded and firing stopped. After about half an hour he learnt that the Sahibs had come to a Durbar in the Durbar Hall…”
“Angom Ningthou and Tikendrajit, the Jubraj, also went from the top Guard to the Durbar. The talk ended in a fiasco. After about 30 minutes, Jubraj Tinkendrajit returned to the top Guard. When he had reached the top Guard, a great commotion took place towards the Durbar Hall. Shouts of ‘HATLO HATLO’ ‘KILL-KILL’ were heard. Kajao alias Phukhramba Phingang speared Grimwood, the political agent of Manipur, on the steps of the Durbar Hall. The remaining four British officials and the native bugler were kept in the Durbar room. Angom Ningthou came to the top Guard and ordered Usharba to place sentries over the Sahibs, so that no harm might be done to them. …”
Accordingly eight sentries were arranged and sent. My ancestral paternal uncle, Usharba was also to be there but he remained behind in the top guard. After the sentries have gone, Thangal General called out to the Top Guard men and since Usharba was there, he answered. He then went into his room and stood before him. The general then said to him, “Shut the Sahibs’ mouth”(Sahib logki machil tup chillo”*, meaning by this that they should be killed. Usharba then asked the General if this was the Jubraj’s order. To this the General replied- “Why are you asking whether this is the Jubraj’s order or not?”* Usharba replied : “We can’t carry out this order without getting distinct order from the Jubraj. If I obey your order only I shall get into trouble.” The General then said : “go to Jubraj”.
Usharba then met Jatra Singh near the door of the top guard and together went to meet Jubraj . They found him preparing for an embrasure at the south west corner of the Kangla Fort. However he couldn’t talk to the Jubraj as they were too many people. It was only when the Jubraj went towards the Southern gate that he was able to report of the General’s intention. The Jubraj said: “Did the old man (Tongal)  give such an order?” and added : “Don’t do such a thing. I am coming.”*
After reporting to the Jubraj, Usharba and Jatra Singh returned to the top Guard. He then reported the same to the General Thangal. To this the General replied-”The Jubraj is a fool; we can never make it up with the Sahibs. What is the use of saying such a thing as this?”*
Usharba then went on to look at his sentries at the Durbar room and found that the sentries were all right. He then put on a sentry on the east side of the Durbar room, where there had not been one before. Then he sat down and took some rest under a tree for about ten minutes.  Then he saw the Jubraj coming along from the Dragon gate and passed on to the Top Guard. Jubraj had a discussion with the General about the fate of the Sahibs. After about half an hour, Yenkhoiba, the lalupchingba, came and told Usharba that the general had ordered that the Sahibs be given to the Lanmi (public executioner).
“After about 5 minutes, Satwal Nongthemba and executioner Dhono Singh Sagolsemba came there. The executioner had a dao in his hand. The Sentries then opened the door and brought the Sahibs out. They were taken out to the Dragon gate. There they were killed one after another. Their heads were buried in the Nungoibi and their bodies in the Khwairamband….Usharba complied with the Second order thinking that it was sent with the approval of the Jubraj.”
My father told me his great uncle, Pabung Usharba, accompanied Angou Sana, the Senapati and Nilamani Ayapurel, Major, to Thoubal during the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891 that followed and after days of fighting, he returned with Ayapurel to the capital.
I regret not being aware of these facts in my past. The saying:‘better late than never’ comes alive when I stumbled upon these facts over a casual yet enriching conversation which I shared with my parents and especially with my Baba (my father) over our meals. I am grateful to know about these facts now at this stage in life and I wish I knew it before as a child, in my younger days in college. My ancestral Uncle would have never even crossed in his mind and in his dreams that more than a century later his great great daughter (mashunupi) would be reminiscing about his involvement and his sacrifices with tearful eyes and writing this article.
He was only 36 years old when he along-with eight others namely Abungjao Yenkoiba, Chowbi Hidam Machahal, Ghun Singh Khongdram, Khamba Singh Laisraba, Dhojo Singh Mayungbam, Noni Singh Nepra Machahal, Trilok Singh Nongthoiba Satwal, Dhon Singh Sagolsenb were arrested and charged with the murder of JW Quinton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, Colonel Skene, Lieutenant Simpson, and Cossins and they were found guilty and directed that they should be hanged till death. The order was passed by H Maxwell, Chief Political Officer, Manipur on 6th of July, 1891.  This sentence order was to be confirmed by the General Officers Commanding Manipur field forces. HM Collect in his order dated 8th July, 1891 directed that the ‘Capital Punishment’ should be reserved for those who from possession of rank and power in the State were able if they chose to exert a real influence on the course of events and should not be inflicted on persons, such as the accused, who were merely servants and subordinates.
(To be contd)

Submitted by : Joyshree Usham

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