New Delhi: The Indian independence movement is indebted to several individuals across the country who were integral to the freedom struggle against the British colonisers. Many of these freedom fighters are well-known, but several of them have been lost to the annals of history.
One such name is Rani Gaidinliu, a Naga spiritual and political leader, who fearlessly fought against the British colonisers for the rights of her people.
Born on 26 January, 1915, in Tamenglong district of present-day Manipur, Gaidinliu belonged to the Rongmei Naga tribe.
She was always keen to preserve the identity and culture of her community — the Zeme, Liangmai, Rongmei and Inpui — a cognate of tribes that are also referred to as ‘Zeliangrong’ and are spread across Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
Gaidinliu joined the freedom struggle when she was 13, in 1930, and for the next three years of her life she was dedicated to driving out the British from the region. For this, she was sentenced to life imprisonment, at the age of 16, in and spent the next 14 years in jail.
She was finally released in 1947, after India’s independence, on first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s orders. Nehru described Gaidinliu as the “daughter of the hills” and he gave her the title of ‘Rani’ for her courage.
Gaidinliu was at the forefront of the Heraka movement, which was first started by her cousin Haipou Jadonang.
Heraka was a socio-religious movement that arose in the 1920s in the Zeliangrong territory. Heraka, which literally means pure, is a monotheistic religion where the followers worshipped Tingkao Ragwang.
It was started by Jadonang to resist the infiltration of Christian missionaries as well as the reforms imposed by the British government. He witnessed the repression by British officers, who forced the tribals into harsh labour and imposed high yearly revenue tax on every household.
Soon enough, he was able to muster enough support among his people and this made him a potent threat to the colonial administration.
In 1931, Jadonang was arrested by the British and after a mock trial, he was hanged for opposing the colonial rule on 29 August 1931.
To ensure the movement does not die down with Jadonang, Gaidinliu took up the mantle from her cousin.
She linked her spiritual role as a leader of the socio-religious movement to her role as a nationalist and constantly evoked Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts at the national level to inspire her people to rebel against the British.
According to Gaidinliu, “Loss of religion is the loss of culture, loss of culture is the loss of identity.”
Gaidinliu began her own version of the Non-cooperation Movement among Naga tribes. She made it difficult for the British administration to function in the region after she instructed all households to abstain from paying taxes.
Post independence and death
In independent India, Gaidinliu was against the Naga National Council’s (NNC) demand for sovereignty and independence of Naga territory from India.
She, in fact, demanded a separate Zeliangrong area within the Union of India.
Since she faced opposition from other Naga leaders for her demand, she was forced to go underground in 1960. She later reached an understanding with the Government of India and dismantled the underground movement.
She was awarded with the Tamra Patra — an award bestowed upon distinguished individuals for their contribution to the Indian freedom struggle — in 1972 and the Padma Bhushan in 1982.
On 17 February 1993, at the age of 79, Rani Gaidinliu passed away. In her honour, the Indian government also released a postage stamp in 1996.
This report has been updated to accurately reflect the fact that Tingkao Ragwang is the name of the ancestral deity worshipped by Rani Gaidinliu and not Tingwang. The error is regretted.
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