~ By Lunkholet Chongloi

The decision taken by the Churachandpur Autonomous District Council on March 24, for renaming of ‘Churachandpur as’ ‘Lamka’ is as expected, having a mixed response so far – unfortunately on tribe line. No one can say whether or not such a landmark decision is being taken by the Council whose autonomy is just in paper, on the last sitting of their term just to arouse the sentiments of the general public and also with the upcoming election in mind. It is for the present members to tell the public that the decision was taken in the interest of the people of the district and their opponents to raise few more questions.

It is also a well known fact that majority of the present Council Members including the Chairman and many of the Executive Members are elected unopposed. Whether or not the same method of selection by the higher ups in the party and the community will still be followed in the coming election is in the mind of not just the members themselves but the political onlookers and followers. It is now upto the state government to rectify or set aside the resolution adopted by its own party led District Council as the same is somewhat controversial and not at all a new issue. I for one still believe that this renaming issue will definitely have a smoother sail if the present MDCs took the issue a little earlier and took in their Council after having an extensive and wide consultations not only among themselves but with other stakeholders.  

It will be in the fitness of things if we go back on the history of Churachandpur vis-à-vis Lamka so as to get a deeper understanding of the issue in hand. In the year 1919, soon after the Kuki Rebellion was crushed, the British administration in Manipur in their attempt to control the whole state and prevent any further revolt of the tribals, divided the entire hill areas of the state into three Sub-Divisions and the Manipur South-West Sub-Division was one of them. The other two are Manipur North East Sub-Division with its headquarter in Ukhrul and, Manipur North West Sub-Division with its headquarter in Tamenglong. The SDOs of these two Sub-Divisions in those days are L.L. Peter and W. Shaw respectively. The area of the then Manipur South West Sub-Division covers the entire present Churachandpur district and was headquartered at Suongpi village, some 9 kilometres west of the present district headquarter. It may be pointed out here that the entire present Churachandpur district was administered from Tamenglong till 1919. The then Chief of Suongpi, Semthang Haokip was said to have a very cordial relationship with the Maharaja of Manipur.

In the early part of 1921, Mr. B.C. Gasper, the then Sub-Divisional Officer arranged a grand feast by killing a Mithun to honour and welcome home those local warriors who went to France as Labour Corps to assist the British empire in the World War I. The Maharaja of Manipur, Sir Churachand Singh graced the feast as Guest of Honour. To commemorate the visit of the Maharaja, Suongpi Sub-division was re-christened as Churachandpur Sub-Division and Suongpi was also changed into ‘Churachandpur’. A Village Messenger (Crier/Announcer) was heard crying on that very evening: “From today onwards, Suongpi will be called ‘Churachandpur’. Anyone who still calls it as ‘Suongpi’ will be put behind bars”.

In the year 1930, nine years after Suongpi got its new name, the office of the Churachandpur Sub-Division was again shifted down to Imphal by the Government to be administered together with the Sadar Sub-division. This was ostensibly done because of financial constraint on the part of the Government. There and then, the deserted government land and building at Churachandpur (Suongpi) was gifted to the General Secretary of the NEIG Mission, H.H. Coleman and his friend Dr. Crouzier to establish their Mission’s headquarters. The then Maharaja of Manipur, Sir Churachand Singh gratefully gave away this town named after him to these two Missionaries to show his gratitude to them for curing his daughter who was suffering from serious illness.

During the Second World War, the American army based themselves in Tuithaphai (Khuga Valley) or, the present Churachandpur town area, to prevent the further onslaught of the invading Japanese army by constructing a Hospital some 5 kilometres east of Suongpi. As soon as the War was over and India got her independence from the British, the Manipur government acted fast by re-establishing Churachandpur and appointed a Circle Officer to administer the whole southern areas of the state separately.

Mr. F.F. Pearson, IPS (Indian Political Service), President of Manipur State Darbar and Thangkhopao Kipgen, Special Officer were deputed by the Government to select a suitable site for the establishment of a new office. The two gentlemen, instead of reclaiming the one that the Maharaja had already given away to the two Christian missionaries decided to occupy the building and hospital built by the American army. This place is exactly where the present District Hospital lies. Mr. Pearson got a sort of recognition of his own as a new village established few distance away towards the west of the new site he chose bears his name. Pearsonmun is one of the 28 recognised localities/villages within the present Churachandpur town.

Soon after, the administrator of the area, the Circle Officer was given the rank of Sub-Divisional Officer. And, as the place and building given away to the Missionaries was often called, ‘Old Churachandpur’, the one occupied by the government was called ‘New Churachandpur’. Since, the erstwhile ‘Old Churachandpur’ was afterwards known as ‘Mission Compound’ and, as the ‘new’ Churachandpur was no longer ‘new’ and need not be called so, it was then soon called, ‘CHURACHANDPUR’ with no more prefix.

When the ‘new’ Churachandpur was established, it was divided into three sub-areas namely, Hill Town, under the Chieftainship of Thangzam Gangte, Upper Lamka under Phungkhothang Guite and Bijang Loubuk (Lower Lamka) under Zenhang Valte. In 1961, Churachandpur was notified as township and covers an area of 6.5 Square kilometres. As a result of the district re-organisation of Manipur in the year 1969, Manipur South District came into existence with Churachandpur as its headquarters. In 1970, when the first Town Committee members’ election was held, it was divided into twelve wards.

In the early 1980s there was a movement under the banner of All Paite Students’ Union (APSU) to change ‘Churachandpur’ to ‘Lamka’ with the slogan – “Ye are named after what yea parents name ye”. Signboards of shops, office and institutions along Tiddim Road in particular wherein ‘Churachandpur’ is written are forcefully blackened and ‘LAMKA’ written on its place. However, the state government of Manipur not only rejected this demand but even further go to the extent of rechristening the then Manipur South District as ‘Churachandpur District’ in 1983 vide Secretariat Revenue Department Order No. 43/2/81-R(Pt) dated July 15, 1983 and, Manipur Extraordinary Gazette No. 174 dated 15th August 1983. It may also be noted here that the said order also renamed other districts of the state including Manipur Central, Manipur North, Manipur East and Manipur West districts as Imphal, Senapati, Ukhrul and Tamenglong respectively. In the same order, the name of Tengnoupal district was also changed as Chandel district.

It may be pointed out here that the word, ‘Lamka’ is a Tiddim-Chin word which literally means an intersection of (four) roads – one leading towards Mizoram on the west (Tipaimukh Road); the second leading towards Tiddim in Myanmar on the North (Tiddim Road), the third leading towards Sugnu and Chandel in the East (Sugnu Road) and the fourth, leading towards Imphal on the South Tiddim/Imphal Road). The Hmars and Lusei-Mizo called ‘Lamka’ as ‘Lamthre’ and the Meiteis, ‘Lamkhai’. The term ‘Lamka’ is therefore ‘indigenous in every respect’ and can counted together with the many other common words of the local peoples which includes among others, Ar/ak (chicken/fowl), Ban (arm),  Bawng (cow), Be (pulse), Bel (pot), Doi (magic), Ha (tooth), In (house), Ke (leg), Kel (goat), Ki (horn), Kut (hand), Lawi (buffalo), Len (net), Lu (head), Mang (dream), Mei (fire), Mi (person), Mit (eye), Tui (water), Ui (dog), Van (sky), Zo (mountains), etc. The exact original location of this indigenous term is where the present Churachandpur Police Station is located.

From March 1988, the Churachandpur town was upgraded to the status of Municipality and by 1990 the whole area was divided into 16 Wards. The same was de-notified by the Govt of Manipur with effect from Feb 11, 1988 owing to the recommendation of the Hill Areas Committee and was placed under the control of Manipur South District Autonomous Council which was later known as Churachandpur Autonomous District Council. As per the 2011 census, there are altogether 2,71,274 persons in the district.

As per an order issued by the district administration on July 11, 2006, (No 8/31/ADCO/99), 28 localities/villages within the district were declared as urban area. They are:

1. Tuibuang                   2. Bijang                                   3. Sielmat                     4. Zenhang Lamka
5. Rengkai                     6. Peace Lane/Luoia Veng       7. Nehru Marg             8. New Lamka
9. Salem Veng              10. Hill Town                            11. Upper Lamka         12. Chapel Lane
13. Headquarter Veng 14. Chiengkonpang                  15. D. Phailien             16. Bungmual
17. Pearsonmun           18. Thingkangphai                   19. Ngathal                  20. Kawnpui
21. Mualkoi                  22. Gangpimual                         23. Mission Veng         24. Lhangnuam

25. Gangte Veng          26. Zellang Veng                        27. Pangmual               28. Lanva

Though the above list missed out some very deserving localities/villages, it sensibly covers those inhabited by most of the major tribes of the districts which includes, Chin, Gangte, Hmar, Mizo (Lusei), Paite, Simte, Thadou, Vaiphei and Zou. From the above list, one must also acknowledge that though three localities/villages (Zenhang/Lower Lamka, New Lamka and Upper Lamka) bears the name of ‘Lamka’, others, including Peace Lane/Luoia Veng, Nehru Marg, Salem Veng, Chapel Lane are also very much within/inside it. However, the rest of the localities/villages since their inception are never within the jurisdiction of Lamka and are socially and politically administered separately. As such, putting them inside Lamka may be not only inappropriate but absurd and will never be wholeheartedly accepted by those villages and villagers. Some of them will definitely claim that their village is very much older than Lamka itself.

The most important excuse given by the state government for not granting to the demand for change of ‘Churachandpur’ to ‘Lamka’ was also on the above premise. It is also a known fact that, though Lamka is the main town area, the business and nerve centre of the district, it is just one locality within the town and bracketing all other localities in that name is illogical and does not follow the standard rules. Moreover, most of the major government offices and staffs quarters, and other establishments and institutions excepting the Police Station, New Bazaar and Bus Station, and ‘New Bazar’ are located either at Hill Town or Tuibuong both of which are not within Lamka but, a separate locality/village.

From the above facts and figure, one can concludes that there is nothing wrong in the renaming of Churachandpur district to Lamka district if it is the desire of the majority of the peoples, but changing of Churachandpur into Lamka in toto (altogether) may be a little bit harsh and indigestible to some. It is therefore still impressionable to suggest the changing or rechristening of the district to LAMKA but, the district headquarters must be (called) Tuibuong as that is where almost all the district’s government offices and establishments are located. The commercial capital of Assam is Guwahati but the capital of Assam is still Dispur.
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