Described by Jawaharlal Nehru as the ‘Rani of the Nagas,’ in 1937; given
a tamrapatra as a freedom fighter in 1972; awarded a Padma Bhushan in
1981; honoured with a stamp in her memory in 1994. Who’s she?
Chances are 99 out of 100 people across India will not be able to name her. Rani Gaidinliu’s fame after all dates back to 1932 when--as a 16 year old--she evaded the British forces for a year before being captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. She was freed only after India became independent. Today, her name is a faint memory even in the Northeast, thanks mainly to the Hindutva brigade which claims her as their own since she opposed the ‘Christian’ Naga separatists in the early 1960s. It will however be an insult to confine Gaidinliu to any particular camp or ideology. She was first and foremost a champion of her own people, the Zeliangrong tribe comprising Rongmei (Kabuis), Liangmei and Zemei (Kacha Nagas) groups, inhabiting the Tamenlong district of western Manipur.
Third daughter among eight children, Gaidinliu was born on January 26, 1915 in Nungkao village in Tamenlong district. Lack of schools in the backward area meant that Gaidinliu never had a chance to get formally educated. But she was a born leader. Even before she entered her teens she came under the influence of her cousin Haripau Jadonang, who had started a socio-political movement to drive out the British.
Jadonang, who was barely 10 years older than Gaidinliu, had conceived a new religion that was described as a ‘blend of Christianity and Hinduism grafted on to a Naga animist stock’. His objective, Gaidinliu, has been quoted as saying, "was reformation of old religious practices in order to strengthen the political movement aimed at ousting the British". Such was Jadonang’s popularity that within six years of launching the movement, the British perceived him as a threat to their supremacy in certain parts of Northeast. He was arrested and after a mock trial, hanged on August 29, 1931 at Imphal.
The mantle of leadership then fell on Gaidinliu. She was barely 16. Calling all Zeliangrong people not to pay taxes to British, Gaidinliu reaffirmed the call for freedom given by originally by Jadonang. The people rose as one and refused to assist the British in any way. Repressive measures were adopted by the police and the Assam Rifles; collective fines imposed on villages. But Gaidinliu and her band of dedicated followers continued to evade arrest, moving from village to village across the present day Nagaland, Manipur and Assam.
Alarmed by her growing defiance, the British authorities decided to send a special Assam Rifles contingent under one Captain MacDonald to try and capture Gaidinliu. Acting on an intelligence report that Gaidinliu and her followers were based in a village called Pulomi, Captain MacDonald, sent a large force in the opposite direction to hoodwink the rebels. Lulled into a false sense of security, Gaidinliu and her followers were caught completely by surprise when Capt. MacDonald raided the village on October 17, 1932. Gaidinliu was captured without any resistance. Handcuffed and humiliated, she was taken to Kohima on foot and later to Imphal for a trial. Most of her close associates were either executed or jailed.
Gaidinliu’s trial went on for over 10 months. Sentenced to life imprisonment, she was still in jail when Jawaharlal Nehru was on a tour of Manipur in 1937. Later he wrote: "…and now she lies in some prison in Assam, wasting her bright young womanhood in dark cells and solitude. Six years she has been there. What suppression of spirit they have brought to her who in pride of her youth dared to challenge the Empire…And India does not even know of this brave child of her hills.But her own people remember her their ‘Rani Guidallo…and a day will come when India will also remember her…" Nehru spelt her name wrong but was correct in calling her the ‘Rani of Nagas.’
Gaidinliu indeed was a legend in her own lifetime. After her release from jail, she continued to work for the uplift of her backward people. The brave warrior once again went underground in 1966 organising a resistance movement against the Naga National Council (NNC)-led insurgents. Today none of the Naga underground groups is willing to even acknowledge her since she was considered close to the Government of India. Although she was hnonoured as a freedom fighter and also awarded a Padma Bhushan, Rani Gaidinliu died disillusioned and bitter in 1993 since the Government did not keep any of its promises made to her. Not many remember her anymore anyway.