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The Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919: A Frontier Uprising Against Imperialism During World War I
  • Thongkholal Haokip, Jawaharlal Nehru University
One hundred years ago, when other parts of India was busy collecting combatants, non-combatants, labourers, funds and materials for the Great War, the Kukis of the Northeastern frontier of India declared ‘war against the King-Emperor’. Initially provoked by the ‘forcible’ recruitment of labour corps for France, the opposition turned into an armed resistance, partly because the ‘intemperate’ local officers were incompetent to handle the situation, and partly because the Kukis were overawed by the revolutionary ideas from the valley of Manipur, from Bengal in the west, and from the Germans from the east. Though such influence cannot be overstated, the fact that it had happened makes the Kukis become bold in their war against the ‘Sahibs’ and the ‘Sarkaris’ and the local governments becoming extremely careful in dealing with them. Unlike the previous expeditions in the region when media attention was fully drawn on, the news of operations against the Kukis was kept under cover of darkness throughout, save one ‘press communiqué’ released by Assam government in February 1918. The said report merely belittled, as Col. Shakespear puts it later, ‘the hard show carried’ out by the combined Military Police forces of Assam and Burma as the ‘outings of Political Officers and their escorts’. This small report, however, revealed the ‘barbaric’ character of colonialism which immediately evoked series criticism from Indian nationalists who termed the actions as a ‘tragic inhumanity’ and the ‘brute force in all its hideous nakedness’. This subsequently led to the concealment of the ongoing operations from public scrutiny. The invisibility of the ‘little war’ carried out in the frontier in public domain and in the nationalist political discourse need not, however, demean the ‘hard show’ given by the Military Police as well as the Kuki freedom fighters. At least the official reports were studded with the ‘hard show’ being given in the mountain massif of India’s northeastern and Burma’s northwestern frontiers. An extract from the proceeding of the Chief Commissioner of Assam was, for instance, lucid in this respect. It described the ‘Kuki rising of 1917-1919’ as ‘the most formidable with which Assam has been faced for at least a generation’ covering an area of ‘over some 6,000 square miles of rugged hills surrounding the Manipur Valley and extending to the Somra Tract and the Thaungdut State in Burma’. Whereas the opposition started from the month of March 1917, an active warfare and counter-operations went on for more than one year, starting in December 1917 to May 1919, suspending two agriculture seasons and with systematic destruction of villages, properties and all sources of livelihood. The counter-operations was carried out with ‘continuous active service in mountainous country’ by the combined forces of Assam and Burma Military Police – 6234 combatants, 696 non-combatants, 7650 transport carriers, etc. It was the ‘largest series of military operations’ in the eastern frontier of India, eclipsed only by the Second World War in the region in 1944. It costs the government rupees twenty-eight lakh in total.
  • Anglo-Kuki War,
  • Kuki,
  • Kuki Hills,
  • 1917
Publication Date
Citation Information
Jangkhomang Guite & Thongkholal Haokip (eds.). The Anglo-Kuki War 1917-1919: A Frontier Uprising Against Imperialism During World War I. New Delhi: Routledge, 2018.