The annals of the Indian Independence Movement are replete with the contributions of multitudinous brave personalities; one amongst them was Rani Gaidinliu, a Naga spiritual and political leader. Although she is famously recognized as “Rani Gaidinliu”, she was born as Gaidinliu and belonged to the Rongmei tribe, one of the three Zeliangrong Tribes. She was born on 26 January 1915 in Luangkao village, now in the Taosem Sub-Division under the Tamenglong District of Manipur.
Gaidinliu’s introduction to the revolutionary world was at the age of 13 when she joined the Heraka Movement. It was a socio-religious movement initiated under the leadership of Gaidinliu’s cousin, Haipou Jadonang. Jadonang was the clan’s spiritual leader and preached against the British missionaries, who aimed to convert the Naga tribes to Christianity. The Heraka Movement championed the cause of the Naga’s self-rule. Although it had reformist religious objectives, there were also political undertones against British rule, which made the British wary of both the movement and its leader. The movement received a significant setback with the arrest and hanging of Jadonang after a mock trial in 1931.
After the premature demise of Jadonang, Gaidinliu emerged as his political and spiritual heir and the mantle of the movement was passed on to her. At the age of 17, Gaidinliu started preaching Gandhian principles and launched an open rebellion against the British rule. She urged the people of the Zeliangrong tribe to unite against the British by refusing to pay taxes or cooperate with the latter, and stand together in the face of the repressive measures imposed by the police and the Assam Rifles. She also waged multiple attacks against the British using guerilla warfare in the Cachar Hills (16 February 1932), and in the Hangrum Village (18 March 1932).
Her open rebellion received a severe backlash from the British authorities. The latter organized a manhunt and even declared a monetary reward, as well as a 10-year tax break in exchange for information on her. Later, a special contingent of the Assam Rifles under Captain MacDonald was also sent to capture her. Gaidinliu was finally captured on 17 October 1932 from the Pulomi village where she and her associates were hiding. She was arrested and convicted for murder, abetment to murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. She was in jail from 1933 to 1947 and served time in the Guwahati, Shillong, Aizwal, and Tura jails.
In 1937, while in Shillong, Jawaharlal Nehru visited Gaidinliu and promised to push for her release. After this meeting, he conferred upon her the title “Rani” for her courage, and in an article published by the Hindustan Times, she was described as the “Daughter of the Hills”. Although Nehru tried to persuade British MP Lady Astor for her release, it bore no result. She was released only after India gained independence in 1947.
Rani Gaidinliu’s contribution to the Indian Independence Movement was recognized by the Indian Government. She was conferred with the Tamrapatra (1972), Padma Bhushan (1982), Vivekananda Sewa Summan (1983), and the Bhagwan Birsa Munda Puraskar (posthumously) in 1996. A commemorative stamp was issued in 1996, and on 26 January 2015, her birth centenary, commemorative coins were released in her honour. In 2016, the Indian Coast Guard commissioned a Fast Patrol Vehicle called ‘ICGS Rani Gaidinliu’. Recently, a project for the construction of a museum for freedom fighters was sanctioned. It would be built in her birthplace and named Rani Gaidinliu Tribal Freedom Fighters Museum.