Unlike many other Indian states, the women in Manipur always enjoy a special status in society and have always taken an active role in shaping the history of Manipur. Nupi Lan –which means women’s war in Manipuri- is an important movement in the history of Manipur. The Manipuri women folk waged two historic wars in 1904 and 1939 against mass exploitation and artificial famine triggered by the British imperialists.
First Nupi Lan
The first Nupi Lan which broke out in 1904 was against the British order to send Manipuri men to Kabow Valley to fetch timber for re-building the then Police Agent’s bungalow after it was ravaged by fire. The first Nupi Lan was stirred up by the heirs-apparent of the erstwhile ruling family who did not like the selection of Chura Chand Singh as the King of Manipur. They persuaded the women of Manipur to resist the British government's order to resuscitate the Lalup (A sort of forced labour where the male member of society between the age of 17 and 60 should work freely for ten days in every forty days of work). The struggle in which more than 5,000 women took part lasted for a week. Although the British rulers had eventually succeeded in suppressing the uprising, they were compelled to rescind the order.
Second Nupi Lan
The second Nupi Lan was set off by the indiscriminate export of rice from Manipur by Marwari business men with the support of British rulers. It resulted in a famine-like situation in Manipur even though it was harvest season.
Although the movement was started as an agitation by Manipuri women against the economic and administrative policies of the Manipur Maharaja and the Political Agent –Mr. Gimson- of the British Government (1933–45) in Manipur, it evolved into a movement for the constitutional and administrative reform in Manipur.
When the Manipuri women, whom had been playing a decisive role in the agrarian economy of the region, came out in legion on the streets against the British policy of massive export of rice, the authorities responded by deploying military and police force against the unarmed women protesters. They fought valiantly against the British policies and a few of them lost their lives in the agitation. The struggle lasted for several months but subsided as a result of the outbreak of Second World War.
Historians opine that the Nupi Lan movement contributed much to the making of Manipur. First, It sowed the seeds of economic and political reforms. Secondly, it was a turning point to the political lives of leaders like Jan neta Hijam Irabot whose major focus had, until then, been social reforms. Irabot later turned a firebrand communist and the founder of Communist Party in Manipur.