TODAY -

Manipur Culture Policy

CORE Centre for Organisation Research & Education
Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Policy and Human Rights in India's North East

MANIPUR CULTURE POLICY (A DRAFT) - 02 -11-2002
Department of Art & Culture, Government of Manipur

Comments of CORE to the Draft
19 December 2002

General Comments

  1. The Centre for Organisation Research & Education, Manipur, a non-government organisation committed to the rights of the indigenous communities in the State of Manipur, is pleased to receive the draft Manipur Cultural Policy from the Department of Art and Culture, Government of Manipur with a request for comments to this document.



  2. Recalling the intent of the State government made earlier this year by the Honourable Minister of Art and Culture, Dr. Moirangthem Nara Singh, to formulate "a culture policy for Manipur" it is highly commendable that a draft has been prepared by the last quarter of the same year and made available to the public for comments.



  3. We have had the opportunity to examine the draft document and would like to submit our following comments for the public record. These comments are offered in the hope that the drafting committee will receive them with the positive and constructive intentions that they have been given.



  4. The draft is broadly divided into three sections, a preambular section followed by a section on objectives and a third on a plan of action.



  5. In general, the draft is seen to be the product of a fairly detailed examination of the question of culture. There are some specific lacunae, which we shall highlight so that the central role of the policy in informing all development strategies and activities in Manipur is recognised.



  6. However, first, there are some issues relating to language and terminology that needs attention and, perhaps, appropriate revision.



  7. On the issue of language, current usage of the English language in written documents and literature that largely concern social and cultural issues have seen a tendency to adopt "gender neutrality". Therefore, we would like to see a revision of this draft to include such aspects of concepts and ideas that address the individual (every human being), both female and male, to be couched in language that is not gender-biased.



  8. The draft, quite correctly, asserts that "[M]anipur, like India, is a plural polity where diverse languages, religions, races, ethnic communities, traditions and cultures exist" and affirms that "[in] a multicultural state like Manipur cultural diversity and cultural identity are inseparable" . However, having affirmed this reality of Manipur, the draft becomes confused within an undefined and unsubstantiated perception of a homogenous 'pan-Manipuri identity' that is quite contrary to this affirmation. This confusion is augmented by a current and popular meaning that the term "Manipuri" enjoys today. The term "Manipuri" is generally and without qualification used to refer to one particular community or people in Manipur. Therefore, the use of such terminology as "Manipuri culture", "Manipuri women", "Manipuri arts", "Manipuri martial art", etc., can be misleading and convey a meaning contrary to the intentions of the drafting committee.



  9. Arguably, in many contexts, the term "Indian" enjoys a pan-national usage seeking to promote and consolidate an Indian national identity. In the context of our State, however, the idea of a singular identity for all the peoples and communities anchored to the name of the State, viz. Manipuri, has yet to take even a very initial root. It would be hasty, even counter-productive, for a policy document to promote such a notion which does not yet have a wide acceptance, and that many communities even resist.



  10. We recommend that such terminology be replaced by, e.g., "culture (or cultures, as the case may be) of Manipur", "women of Manipur", "the arts of Manipur", "the martial arts and traditions of Manipur", and so forth.



  11. Further, on the question of terminology, the terms "folk", "tribal", "ethnic", "rural" and "community" are rather loosely used in several contexts with reference to groups, arts, oral and culture traditions. The meaning, wherever these terms are used singularly or together, seems to convey the "indigenous" arts, traditions and groups, those which are rooted and originate in Manipur. We recommend that the correct word, "indigenous", be used to refer to this concept when describing such entities.



  12. Wherever the inclusive idea of contributions from all sections of society who reside in Manipur is meant, the use of the term "indigenous and non-indigenous" would be more appropriate.



  13. We also recommend that the document should be reviewed for its internal coherence and integrity, consistency in its parts, duplication or repetitiveness.



Part - I
Preamble
  1. The preambular paragraphs (PP) of a policy document, declaration of intent or statutory text are extremely important in that they should explicitly establish the cultural values and context, lay down and affirm universal principles and precepts, recognise existing legal standards, express priority concerns and describe lacunae concerning the subject matter. The drafted paragraphs have attempted to do these.



  2. However, the preamble does not explicitly or implicitly affirm that culture, without prejudice to any doctrine, policy, practice based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin, racial, religious, gender, ethnic or cultural differences, is a basic human right under international law and a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of India in order to establish the draft policy's political and legal framework. This is a fundamental and inherent weakness in a document as important as a cultural policy.



  3. The basic principles of respect for the inherent dignity of every human being, and of equality must be kept in mind, together with the core right of access to cultural life and the right to participate in cultural life (equal opportunity principle).



  4. The 1947 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaimed the principle of non-discrimination and cultural rights as a human right , and broadly defined these rights. In the process of transferring the content of the UDHR into State Party treaty-binding provisions, cultural rights were enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), a core human rights international treaty within the International Bill of Human Rights. India acceded to the ICESCR in 1979 thus binding herself to all its provisions.



  5. Cultural rights are also enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India ratified in 1992.



  6. Clear reference to respecting the rights of women should be referred to directly from the text of UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which India ratified in 1993, and the relevant provisions of the Constitution of India.



  7. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN Sub-Commission on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in 1994, specifies the rights of protection and promotion of indigenous cultures, particularly in Part 3 Articles 12 -14.



  8. Moreover the Constitution of India guarantees in Articles 29 (1) and 30 (1) the rights of all Indian citizens to the protection and development of their distinct religions, languages and cultures. These should be specifically and clearly referred to in the preamble in order to strengthen the document adequately.



  9. We recommend that explicit and full references to important international and national documents, human rights standards and declarations or conventions should be made with the absolute minimum of explanatory or elaborative text, in order to strengthen the affirmative character of this document.



  10. Another lacuna in the PPs is that the draft does not recognise the importance of biological diversity in the culture policy. The development and diversity of the rich cultural heritage of Manipur is intricately linked to its equally rich natural and biological diversity heritage. In fact, many of the indigenous customary traditions, practices, rituals, food habits and lifestyle intimately involve the use of many different species of plants and animals in key roles. The importance of our in situ sacred groves (e.g., laiphams and umang lais among the Meitei), trees, plants, forests and fish/animals to our culture need no emphasis. Our natural and biological diversity is a very significant and integral to our culture. Therefore, the preservation, protection and promotion of our cultural diversity go hand in hand with the preservation and protection of our natural heritage. This lacuna should be explicitly addressed in the preamble, and subsequently, in the objectives and programme.



  11. The PPs also do not adequately identify the contemporary concerns regarding intellectual property (IP) issues relating to access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, traditional knowledge (TK) and innovations; and traditional creativity and cultural expressions (folklore). The issue of genetic resources and benefit sharing have direct links to the issue of biological diversity. The Manipur Cultural Policy must have clear concerns and safeguards relating to the developing Intellectual Property (IP) system and biological diversity. The policy framework must include the provisions of the development of State-level safeguards under the IP system, direct TK and sui generis laws - in other words, systems specifically designed to identify, protect and promote an IP right in TK.



  12. Lastly, the draft PPs need to be edited to convey the essence of the ideas and concepts in order to be less heavy and elaborative. Large amounts of text are directly quoted from reference material, which are not necessary. Such concepts can be captured in carefully crafted sentences that convey their meaning in a succinct and direct manner.



Part - II
Objective
  1. The objective paragraphs (hereafter referred to as OP) are elaborated in a disorganized manner that makes it difficult to understand them within a structured framework of ideas and concepts with goals and priorities. Furthermore, some of the text should rightfully be placed in the PP.



  2. We recommend that the OPs be re-arranged within sub-categories, such as:

    • Commitment to Pluralism
    • Cultural Rights
    • Cultural Creativity, Intellectual Property and Traditional Knowledge
    • Heritage
    • Culture for Children and Young People
    • Women in Culture
    • Mobilizing Resources for Cultural Activities
    • Public Services and the Media including the New Media Technologies
    • Improving Research and Co-operation (state, national and international)

  3. In OP 2.1, the term "folk and tribal arts" should be replaced by "indigenous arts". Furthermore, since the paragraph has a forward looking perspective in that it seeks to establish government intention to take up strategies not only to promote and preserve but to enrich the culture of Manipur, it should also refer to attention given to future manifestations of creative activities of individuals, groups and communities.



  4. In OP 2.2, the terms "several communities, ethnic and tribal groups" should be replaced by "indigenous and non-indigenous communities and groups".



  5. In OP 2.5, other bases for discrimination or exclusion, such as, religion, origin, nationality, age and sex should also be included.



  6. 31. OP 2.11 should be reformulated with the use of the term "indigenous and traditional institutions" with inclusive reference to these among the many indigenous communities and groups residing in Manipur. Specific examples may be given but these should also include examples from all the major groups. Further to the protection and strengthening, specific reference to the promotion of these indigenous institutions to continue their positive role in society should be made.



  7. In OP 2.14, "[E]very child from the primary level should be imparted with the basic core facts about the cultural heritage of his or her community, the state and the country."



  8. In OP 2.16, the text should refer to "the diverse indigenous traditions of learning and transmission of knowledge, including between generations and also to the guru - shishya parampara…"



  9. In OP 2.18, replace "[M]anipuri culture" with "the diverse cultures of Manipur". The last sentence should be "[T]he policy also envisages to open training centres for various art forms in all parts of the State."



  10. The sentence "Such facilities shall be established in every district of Manipur" should be inserted in OP 2.20.



  11. In OP 2.22, the second sentence should read as "aspects of indigenous cultural traditions - folk and classical, which are rare…."



  12. In OP 2.27, a last sentence should be inserted "Youth and Children, individually or in groups, should be given special opportunity to participate effectively in the implementation of the policy and its plan of action."



  13. "The work of the Manipur State Kala Akademi should be inclusive of the arts and letters of the various indigenous communities in Manipur" should be inserted at the end of OP 2.28.



  14. In OP 2.29, replace "[M]anipuri culture" with "the diverse cultures of Manipur".



  15. With regard to OP 2.31, women's role and contribution in all aspects of the ambit of the Manipur Cultural Policy should be explicitly stated. Special reference should be made to the girl child and her development.



  16. Notwithstanding the neglect of cultural rights due to political and ideological tensions surrounding this set of rights, as well as internal tensions which surface when an individual's rights conflict with group rights including those of States, and the conflict between the universality of human rights and cultural relativism, the Manipur Cultural Policy should include an objective to develop a legal and enforceable framework for the realisation of cultural rights in the context of Manipur. Such endeavour should include the elaboration and inventorying of cultural rights and codification of customary laws, relating to the holding, developing and transmitting of culture and cultural artefacts in consultation between traditional knowledge holders, legal experts and policy makers, as a constructive ongoing and maturing process promoting cultural diversity and enrichment.



  17. Lastly, resource mobilisation and availability to implement action to reach stated objectives is paramount and necessary. One of the objectives must clearly address the need to have an adequate state budgetary allocation to enable this policy, goals, priorities and programme.



Part III
Plan of Action
  1. The suggested plan of action is a helpful supplement to a policy document as it can bring clarity to the direct translation of intent and objective to action that is accountable and with desirable results. To bring coherence to this statement, the plan or programme must address specificities in an organised manner, with concrete and measurable outcomes and a system to monitor and evaluate the expected outcomes. It would be useful to develop some indicators for the outcomes and envisage a time-frame, at least tentatively, whether in the short, mid- or long terms.



  2. The present plan of action paragraphs (PAP) are presented as suggestions and should, therefore, be placed as an annexure.



  3. The PAPs are, again, arranged in a random manner. Many of the paragraphs re-state the objectives, which is superfluous. Some paragraphs, such as PAP 3.4 and 3.5 do not belong to the plan of action. We recommend that the PAPS be re-formulated as positive and more precise practical statements of action.



  4. Addressing the contents of the individual PAPs, 3.1 is formulated as a negative action that the "(State) must not be involved in any direct grant giving activities", which is lacking in clarity. It would be more helpful, if the paragraph states more precisely what the State would do in the realm of providing funds and facilities for the plan.



  5. PAP 3.2 addresses the present cultural agencies of the State government and the establishment of a "monitoring cell". The mandate of these cultural agencies, in terms of autonomy, should be stated clearly. A statement of the mandate of the envisaged monitoring body, with a multi-disciplinary and pluri-cultural constitution, is desirable which should be to continuously evaluate, review and adapt the functioning of the agencies to meet standards of democratic cultural development.



  6. PAP 3.3 proposes a "Manipur Cultural Advisory Council". The status, powers and mandate and tenure of members of such a new body should be clearer. Such an expert body should have a "watchdog" monitoring function and should also have equitable representation of all the major indigenous communities of Manipur. The nomination of members to this body, composition and terms of reference should not be left entirely to the State government. The various communities should have decision-making power in who would represent their collective cultural interests. Lastly, the term "[M]anipuri culture" should be replaced by "the cultures of Manipur"



  7. In PAP 3.7, the key role of public support and patronage is identified. The role of indigenous traditional institutions and organisations need to be unequivocally emphasised.



  8. PAP 3.9 poses some serious problems and concerns. In the indigenous tradition and cultures in Manipur, many of the heritage sites have spiritual significance and are, therefore, sacred sites. The Kangla (Pungmayol), an important heritage site cited, is perceived in this draft policy document from merely a 'mainstream' and Eurocentric archaeological perspective. We firmly contest this position.



  9. The introduction of hazy notions of tourism and commercial exploitation of sacred sites into the cultural policy framework is unfortunate, particularly since the document has no clear objective or stated position with regard to tourism and role of the private sector. The unhindered practice and facilitation of important indigenous and traditional rituals at the spiritual and sacred sites must be allowed without interference by State or corporate interests. Manipur has, too long, seen a denial of this fundamental right of the people with very grave consequences for the collective social, cultural and spiritual well-being.



  10. A thorough examination and wide discussion on the issue of indigenous peoples and the protection of their heritage need to be conducted. This should be followed by the establishment of the policy position before any action is contemplated.



  11. The question of structural human artefacts, such as ruins and other sites, should be carefully considered as many of them require restoration from a state of considerable and prolonged neglect, vandalism, defacement and mutilation, which has surprisingly not been addressed at all. There should be an integrated and comprehensive policy on this with clear objectives and planned expert action, taking into account their cultural, historical and social significance.



  12. PAP 3.10 is too complicated and long, and further requires re-formulation in terms of concepts and actions, with perhaps a set of sub-objectives and activities. The question of diverse indigenous traditions of learning and transmission of knowledge, including between generations and also to the guru - shishya parampara should be emphasised correctly.



  13. PAP 3.11 raises other serious issues concerning non-discrimination and equal opportunity principles of cultural policy development. The recognition of Meiteilon or Meiteilol (Manipuri) by the Government of India is a national issue that has significance for the entire State. However, the State policy would have to take great care that the other important languages spoken by the many indigenous groups are not neglected in prioritising the unbalanced attention to and development of a perceived "lingua franca".



  14. The promotion of a single "lingua franca" is not the prerogative of a policy stated to be rooted in pluri-culturalism and diversity. In fact, in order that certain languages are not neglected, and even threatened with extinction, Manipur should adopt a policy of promoting "lingua francas" or currency of a bilingual or trilingual tradition on the streets as well as in education, as in many countries and regions. The promotion of peace and harmony, another stated pillar of the policy, strongly indicate such a direction we should take for the future generations of Manipur.



  15. In PAP 3.13 and 3.14, please replace "[M]anipuri culture" and "[M]anipuri arts" with the "diverse cultures of Manipur" and the "arts of Manipur".



  16. In PAP 3.16, such infrastructure facilities mentioned should be established in all the districts of Manipur.



  17. PAP 3.17, with its terminological concerns that require improvement, envisages another new State agency to preserve and document "cultural manifestations", including historical and cultural heritage sites and "eminent cultural personalities". It is not clear how much of the centre's mandate and work would overlap, or could even duplicate, those of the Manipur State Archives and the Manipur State Museum. How does this proposed centre link with the proposal of "[a] cultural data bank" described in PAP 3.20? Or language department of the State (PAP 3.11), the envisaged university of advanced study and research in the cultures of Manipur and related subjects (PAP 3.13), centres for training in the arts of Manipur (PAP 3.14) and cultural centres to be set up in the districts (PAP 3.21)? How does this disparate set of seemingly separate but clearly interlinked proposals activities relate to the Monitoring Cell proposed for cultural agencies (PAP 3.2) and the "[M]anipur Cultural Advisory Council" proposed (PAP 3.3)?



  18. PAP 3.23, 3.25 and 3.26 do not belong to the plan of action, as they are statements of desired goal and strategies.



  19. In PA 3.24, use "indigenous" for "[R]ural, folk and tribal" and of "the indigenous communities" for "[a]ll segments whether urban, folk, tribal and community".



  20. In PAP 3.25, insert "indigenous" before the word "institutions".



  21. Use "the martial arts of Manipur" instead of "[M]anipuri martial art".



  22. PAP 3.30 makes an artificial distinction between the indigenous languages spoken in Manipur.



  23. Use "the different arts of Manipur" for "[M]anipuri arts".



  24. PAP 3.33 raises another serious concern regarding the distinctiveness of the cultures of Manipur. The influence of 'sanskritisation" in our indigenous cultures, particularly one of the cultures, is a historical fact. However, this cannot presume to be the case for all the distinctive cultures of the indigenous communities in Manipur. Even within this culture, mostly in the Valley, the "hinduisation" or "sanskritisation" influence has not been uniform or all-encompassing - many sub-groups have opted to distance themselves from this 'conversion' and resist the influence until this present day. Tensions and conflicts between the newly introduced 'brahmanic' influence and the indigenous traditional institutions and belief systems exist till today. The indigenous systems of beliefs and spiritualism are living and have been continuously accepted and practiced by all sections of the Valley based culture.



  25. It needs to be reiterated that the present traditional chief or ningthou of the Meitei indigenous people of Manipur follows the ancient faith, his father having totally and publicly discarded the Vaishnav faith. From this perspective, the Vaishnav faith's "Meitei royal patronage" - assured for the past three centuries at least - in the present Manipur is in doubt. The distinctive cultures of Manipur are unique like other cultures. We, therefore, recommend that when awards are instituted the Manipur government and its various agencies should use distinctive indigenous cultural names for them, also keeping the many distinctive groups and communities in mind, without any bias towards or preference for an external or non-indigenous tradition.



  26. The "[s]eparate film policy" should be developed in consonance with the pluri-cultural, non-discriminatory and equal opportunity principles of the Manipur Cultural Policy (PAP 3.34).



  27. PAP 3.36 is not a plan of action as it is a statement of objective.



  28. PAP 3.36. 3.37 and 3.38 raise concerns of ethical issues, intellectual property and copyright. The correct interpretation, transmission and publication of authentic indigenous histories should be done with the informed consent of the indigenous communities concerned. The dissemination of culture through IT and new media technologies (e.g., the Internet) highlights the need to protect confidentiality, privacy and ownership rights.



  29. It is highly desirable and necessary that a charter of ethical code of conduct, that is enforceable and justiciable, be developed for researchers and scholarly institutions, media-persons and journalists, professional investigators and consultants, artists and performers, writers, non-government and voluntary organisations, corporate bodies and industry, and international organisations to respect and protect indigenous heritage, traditional practices, knowledge and technologies.



  30. The drafters of this document would need to give some considerable more thought to understanding the principles affirmed in the preamble and the objectives holistically, prioritising them, and enunciating an implementable and coherent programme that the policy's audience can comprehend and take action upon.



Resources and Review
  1. Indigenous peoples of Manipur do not only reside within the territory of Manipur State. Many communities reside in Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh; other smaller groups reside in Nagaland, Mizoram, Burma, other parts of India and countries in other regions. An inclusive cultural policy should provide the space and opportunity for those who reside outside the Sate of Manipur to participate, without prejudice and as they see fit, in the implementation of this policy. Considerable resources would also be mobilised by giving this opportunity to members of our peoples who live beyond the territorial confines of the present Manipur (ref. PAP 3.40).



  2. Without a clear policy position on the role, potential and accountability (ethical code of conduct; corporate public responsibility; free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous communities) of the private sector and corporate entities, such steps as envisaged to attract funding and investments from these sources, though attractive, can be hazardous. The draft policy document has expressed concerns about the influences from this sector on culture.



  3. The resources in terms of human action and synergy of collective activities are not easily definable entities in terms of finance. However, the inputs from such solidarity actions support and cooperation can be considerable. The inclusive and active role of youth organisations and young peoples should be included as resources (PAP 3.44).



  4. The opportunity of fulfilling policy objectives and implementing aspects of the programme through international cooperation has tremendous potential for the State, and should be included within the policy objectives. Manipur is an Indian province with meagre financial and infrastructure resources. Many of these chronic obstacles and constraints may be overcome through well-planned international cooperation initiatives.



Conclusion
  1. The draft is a timely and well intentioned effort to address major lacunae in a neglected area. It should in the finalisation process be firmly kept in mind that such a policy must be adequately contemporary and forward looking in its approach and in the principles on which it is based. Otherwise it becomes an unwieldy, unusable and irrelevant document.



  2. By firmly contextualising the policy within the framework of the obligations and responsibilities of the State as explicitly undertaken in international law and the Indian Constitution so that it not only maintains constitutional and legal commitments but also establishes itself as a serious and encompassing statement of intent.



  3. The following substantive issues need to be clearly addressed in the policy document:

    1. The right to participation and expression of one's culture - individually and collectively without discrimination - as a human right, in international law as well as the Constitution of India, must be affirmed appropriately;



    2. The inventorying of cultural rights and the codification of customary laws should be one of the key objectives;



    3. The importance of biological diversity, its preservation and protection, to cultural rights must also be affirmed; inter-linkage between the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Intellectual Property (IP) systems must be clearly identified and safeguards, including the development of State-level IP system and sui generis laws relating to traditional knowledge, placed within the policy framework;



    4. The policy must have a contemporaneous and firm position with regard to the role of the private sector, corporate entities, tourism, genetic resources and benefit-sharing, traditional knowledge and innovations, and intellectual property of indigenous communities, and protection of expressions of traditional culture and creativity (IP system);



    5. The policy should envisage the urgent development of a charter for an ethical code of conduct, that is enforceable and justiciable, for researchers and scholarly institutions, media-persons and journalists, professional investigators and consultants, artists and performers, writers, non-government and voluntary organisations, corporate bodies and industry, and international organisations to respect and protect indigenous heritage, traditional practices, traditional knowledge, innovations and technologies;



    6. The role of Women and Young Persons, individually or collectively, of all the indigenous communities of Manipur in culture, cultural expressions, innovations and creativity, traditional knowledge and practices, including in the continuing definition and implementation of the policy itself, must be defined and appropriate actions suggested;



    7. The policy must be inclusive in that equal opportunity must be given to all the peoples and communities of Manipur, whether residing within or outside the State, to participate and contribute to all its provisions;



    8. Human resource and infrastructure development regarding indigenous Heritage conservation, Intellectual Property system and the protection of Traditional Knowledge though appropriate international cooperation initiatives;



  1. CORE is deeply honoured and privileged to submit these constructive comments to the draft Manipur Cultural Policy. We shall be available for any further clarifications, information and consultation regarding this draft document.



On behalf of CORE:

General Secretary
Dated: Imphal, 19 December 2002

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