Rani Gaidinliu was born on January 26 1915, in Longkao village of Manipur. She was born to Lothonang Pamei and Kachaklenliu and was the fifth child among her six sisters and a brother. The year she was born, Manipur, like the rest of the country, was the victim of British colonial rule. In 1927, at 13, she became restive, and her mind was tormented as she saw the prevailing social and political condition in the western hills of Manipur under the British regime. She met prominent local leader Haipou Jadonang at Puilon village during that time. Convinced by his ideologies and principles, Rani Gaidinliu launched the revolutionary movement against the British in the same year.
The revolutionary movement of the western hills of Manipur was popularly known by historians as the Naga Raj movement. It received considerable momentum when 100 guns were brought from Cachar in Assam, and the declaration was made to boycott British taxation and forced labour. In 1931, while returning with Gaidinliu from ‘Bhubon Cave’ in Cachar, Haipou Jadonang was captured by the British. He was hanged, and Gaidinliu took over the leadership and challenged the British. When the British rule tried to suppress her movement, she went underground along with her followers. After that, a fierce gun battle took place in Hangrum village in the North Cachar hills with the British army and the extensive village was set ablaze by the colonial rulers.
Rani Gaidinliu was also a staunch opponent of the Nagas’ conversion to Christianity and a proponent of the ancient religious practices of the Naga people. In addition to being forced to provide free services for repairing and maintaining government roads, bridges, dams, and other structures, individuals were forcibly converted to Christianity. Rani Gaidinliu turned the religious movement into a struggle for freedom when the Christian missionaries gained significant control over the hills. Rani Gadinliu once said, “Loss of religion is the loss of culture, and loss of culture is the loss of identity.
After many pursuits, Rani Gaidinliu was captured on October 17 1932, in Poliwa Village and sentenced to life imprisonment for waging war against the British crown. During that time, she was only 16 years old. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru met her in Shillong Jail in 1937 and described her as the ‘daughter of the hills’ and subsequently gave her the title of ‘Rani Gaidinliu’ or the ‘Queen of her people’. After India’s independence in 1947, Rani Gaidinliu was released from Tura Jail on the orders of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Until then, she served 14 years of prison in various jails in Guwahati, Aizawl, Tura and Shillong, among others. She was, however, not allowed to return home to her native village, and she stayed in Vimrap village of Tuensang with her younger brother till 1952.
After her release, she continued to work for the upliftment of her people. She organised a resistance movement against the Naga National Council-led insurgents in 1966 and had to go underground again. After that, at the request of the Central Government and State Governments of Nagaland and Manipur, she came out in public and stayed after that in Kohima from 1966 to 1992. She also met Smt. Indira Gandhi in New Delhi to put forward her demand for a separate Zeliangrong Administrative Unit. She also requested the recognition of the Zeliangrong tribe in the three states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. The Zeliangrong People’s Convention (ZPC) was formed in 1980 at Tamenglong, Manipur, and Rani Gaidinliu was unanimously elected as the organisation’s president. The organisation then took up their objective of recognising the tribe to the ministers of the state.
Rani Gaidinliu returned to Longkao in 1991 and died on February 17 1993, at the age of 78.
The Government awarded Rani Gaidinliu the prestigious Padma Bhushan award in 1981 for her social work. She was conferred with the ‘Tamrapatra Freedom Fighter Award’ in 1972 and Vivekananda Seva Award in 1983. The Government also issued a postal stamp in her memory. She has also been conferred the Birsa Munda Award posthumously. The Government of India instituted an award called Stree Shakti Puraskar in honour of five eminent women in Indian history, of whom Rani Gaidinliu was one of them.