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E-Pao! Features - Revolution Generation

Revolution Generation
By:- Shachi Gurumayum Sharma *



"Every generation needs a new revolution"
- Thomas Jefferson

Manipur is in the midst of a revolution. A revolution that, unbeknown to many, has already taken over the lives of many young lives of Manipur. It is a revolution driven by a desire for change, a desire to move forward and a desire to retain the love for one's place of birth. It is a revolution that has brought patriotism to where it should belong, in one's heart, mind and actions. This revolution has already created millionaires by the thousands but also shattered the fairy dream houses of many. It came late to Manipur but catch up we did and all for good. This revolution was one brought about by a generation of Manipuris, a generation that was born out of a weeping earth. A generation that grew up knowing nothing much more than violence yet found the determination and will to bring about a change. This generation has nothing but pride for the revolution it has started. And, today, I want to share my personal experience of this revolution.

The first of this movement was started by a Manipuri engineering student studying at one of India's premier scientific institutions in Bangalore. He was not alone! Helping partially in his eternal quest to broadcast Manipur to the world were two summer students from Manipur who were tasked to scroll through the pages of Britannica Encyclopedia looking for anything and everything on Manipur. His website later on became one of the first and most exhaustive sites on Manipur. The year was 1997 and the revolution had just started! Years later, when I checked, this website no longer existed but I am reliably informed that it laid the foundation for what we all know today as e-pao.net. E-pao was launched on 31st Dec 1999 and it has never looked back. Can you imagine life without E-pao today? Surely not!

Not long after the first website was launched in 1997, 'The Manipur Page' was started by a group of enthusiastic Manipuris whose aim was "to provide equal space and literature for all ethnic groups of Manipur". It was around this time when I also noticed the sudden and widespread web presence of the Bishnupriyas. To my ignorant though analytical mind, their phirol phijet looked very similar to those of the Meiteis. And, when the world was trying to move forward as one nation, we Manipuris appeared to be too keen to dig deep and separate our identities. But, hey, mine is a simple mind and I am no authority to comment on this. It was also around this time that a new circulation started going around which advertised the formation of an egroup (manipuri@egroups.com). It was the premier mailing list of Manipuris...one where we all knew one another and who did what! It was small and it was simple! But, the ball had started rolling...and the future was bright and BIG.

Just when I thought I had seen it all, I was contacted by a couple of buddies who were working on an alternative to e-pao.net. Their top priority was going to be news and high-level editorials and articles. And, as you may have guessed already, this site eventually became kanglaonline.com, launched in 2001. With the arrival of not one but two, three, even four news related websites, the quality of service and the speed at which news arrived on my desktop broke all previous records. Four years before this, while I was still in college in Delhi, I remember one of my seniors getting Manipuri dailies by post. The newspapers arrived about a week or so late but when they did arrive, it was an occasion for us to sit and digest the 'latest' news from Manipur - after all, we were wannabe IAS officers! Now, all I have to do is switch on my computer. That too from the other side of the world!

Not all the news and current affairs websites lived up to their initial excitement as the unpredictable and slow connectivity of the World Wide Web from even the most hi-tech cyber cafes in Manipur poured cold water on all dashing ambitions. But, persistence paid for some and what we see today is a cornucopia of Manipuri websites of all genres. The Internet has really flattened our world and, lucky for us, Manipur has not been left behind! Who amongst the net savvy generation has not spent time well into the early morning hours chatting on E-pao, or not shouted or commented on articles and opinions on KO? And, what about the new found online freedom of speech?

"I disagree with what you say but I am ready to fight to the death to preserve your right to say it" - so said the famous French philosopher Voltaire. Though this may not be entirely true in Manipur, Internet has at least opened up new avenues where Manipuris from across the world can put their grey cells to action on topics ranging from the current political environment in Manipur to social issues affecting today's youth. The sense of security one feels by writing anonymously, or under presumed names, has also enabled topics that would not have been necessarily discussed in public to come out of the closet. It remains to be seen what the effect of this on our society is going to be. But, all I can say for now is that, for those of us living far and away from home, it has given us a chance to participate in defining Manipur's future, and instilled in us a true sense of belongingness and nationalism. One does not feel isolated no more. One feels no less Manipuri no more. Sitting here, working on my laptop, I can dial straight into the pulse of my motherland Manipur. And, dare I ask for more?

Internet can also augment the catalyst for change. It was the web list generated during the Save Manipur online Signature Campaign following the uprising in 2001 that brought together a few very heart-broken Manipuris in the UK. This small group has continued to work together for the benefit of Manipur, and the members are today actively participating in the activities of the European Manipuri Association. The Internet has also facilitated a whole new group of young Manipuris to explore the world outside their own and many of them are now studying and working in Europe and America. When one hears of EMA, KIF, or NAMA, it raises one's level of confidence in being able to cope in a foreign world because we know that there are others out there who have already done so. And, it is not just these associations; a quick web search will also reveal a plethora of Manipuri network groups providing mentorship and sharing a platform in various areas of common interest.

As I look around, I am beginning to realize that the Internet has created a virtual Manipur where her citizens are always connected and free from the realities of everyday lives. Because, for some of us, reality in today's Manipur has become unbearable. There is a virtual Manipur where chat room visitors can organize their own garden parties and celebrations, and where bloggers can express their concerns and fight for a better Manipur. And, where anyone visiting the neighborhood can drop by for a bit of chitchat and an injection of patriotic fervor. We've even got 24h music streaming from radiomanipur.com! But, amongst all this, I would urge each one of you to sit back for a moment or two and think of those who cannot afford this luxury. Manipur still has a very large percentage of people with no proper infrastructure and economic independence. But, even here, Internet has brought to us what we could not have seen before. SACSAS.org is one such site and I wish it all the success it deserves. This virtual Manipur has also got its fair share of representation from various ethnic groups and is opening doors for many more.

The hard work and patience of an entire generation has paid off. We are now connected, and we are empowered! And we have this generation of young and enterprising Manipuris to thank for, for not only connecting Manipur to the rest of the world but also for working on a multitude of good causes from all corners of the globe. The generation of children born in the seventies has really made this happen and it is being driven now by the eighties generation. We should really consider ourselves lucky and blessed to be where we are today, and pledge to help those who still need help. We also deserve a pat on our backs for what we have done. The hard work is not over and we have a long way to go...but the revolution has already started.

"A revolution can be neither made nor stopped. The only thing that can be done is for one of several of its children to give it a direction by dint of victories."
- Napoleon Bonaparte


* Shachi Gurumayum Sharma, the author of this article, has trawled the web under the pseudonym of 'sanaleibak' from time to time, and may be contacted at sanaleibak@gmail.com

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