In Indian schools, students are taught about the role of Mahatma Gandhi and several other political leaders in the independence struggle. However, the role of leaders from the North East have always been missing from the curriculum. There were several notable political and spiritual leaders from the North East who helped India achieve freedom. One such leader was the Naga political and spiritual leader, Rani Gaidinliu.
Rani Gaidinliu joined her cousin Haipou Jadonang’s Heraka movement at the age of 13. It soon became a movement against the British Raj in Manipur and the surrounding Naga areas. In the Naga tribes, she soon came to be considered an incarnation of goddess Cherachamdinliu.
The Heraka movement became an opportunity to revive tribal culture. It also aimed to end the British rule and establish the rule of the Nagas. With the revival of guns from Cachar, it turned into an armed rebellion against the British policies of forced labor and ruthless oppression.
Influenced by Jadonang philosphies, Gaidinliu became a guerrilla warrior by the age of 16 and fought against the British. After the arrest and execution of Jadonang in 1931, she became the heir and the leader. She openly rebelled against the British, exhorting the Zeliangrong people not to pay taxes. She soon began getting donations from local Nagas who also volunteered for the movement.
The British launched a manhunt for her and announced a huge bounty on her head. To escape the British, she and her army moved from Assam to Manipur to Nagaland. Finally, she engaged with the erstwhile Assam Rifles in North Cachar Hills in 1932 and in Hangrum village, a month later.
She was captured by the British in a surprise attack in Pulomi village while constructing a wooden fortress. Gaidinliu was then taken to Imphal where she was tried under a court for 10 months. Subsequently, she was sentenced to life imprisonment and most of the members of her movement were either executed or jailed.
From 1933 to 1947 she served time at the Guwahati, Shillong, Aizawl and Tura jails. After the interim government was set up, she was released from Tura jail after 14 years of imprisonment. Post independence, she met Nehru several times to discuss the possibility of an independent Zeliangrong territory within India. Her objective faced stiff resistance from the Naga National Council who wanted to merge with the Union of India. However, soon her volunteers surrendered and some of them were absorbed into the Nagaland Police.
She died in 1993 in her birthplace of Longkao. She was awarded with Tamrapatra Freedom Fighter Award in 1972, the Padma Bhushan in 1982 and the Vivekananda Seva Award in 1983. The government issued a postal stamp (in 1996), and a commemorative coin (in 2015), in her honor.