Media and Contemporary Manipuri Society
- Part 1 -

Rajendra Kshetri *

*** Delivered on RK Sanatomba Memorial Lecture (June 30, 2015)

"A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself
—Arthur Miller.

Prelude to the Lecture

Good afternoon everybody. It is a pleasure and a privilege as well as an honour for me to be here this afternoon at such an important commemorative event of R.K. Sanatomba (Konung Sanatomba), former Editor of "Kangla Lanpung" who was the first editor (of any journal) to have "died in the conflict in Manipur".

A pleasure and a privilege because it is not everyday that I have the opportunity of meeting, interacting and sharing ideas with some of the illuminating minds of the state of Manipur. And I will say, more importantly, an honour for me as I have been invited to deliver this year's R.K. Sanatomba Memorial Lecture.

Respected Chairperson, respected Chief Guest, respected Guest of Honour, respected President, respected media persons, friends, ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to begin with a personal note. It was a pleasant surprise (as it turned out) when I saw a call on my cell phone coming from an unknown number in the morning of May 8, 2015 when I was getting ready to go to the department. This was at Mokokchung where I served at Nagaland University as Professor of Sociology.

Normally I don't pick up unknown calls (unless preceded and/or followed by text/message) but seeing that it was a BSNL number I thought it must have belonged to some persons of respectability. So I did pick up my. phone and asked "who is on the line' ? The voice on the other end said "I am Santosh" and went on to say, oblivious of my next query "Santosh who"? "Yambung R.K. Nimai wants to speak to you, oja". I have heard of him; known of him, though not on the personal and social sense of the term. So we spoke over the phone, and the rest, as you see, is I am standing here right in front of you.

Today's lecture is eighth in the series - as I know now - the first seventh lectures having been delivered by eminent academicians, scholars of the contemporary Manipuri society. I am too small a person to match their scholarship, but I deem it my duty and honour to share my thoughts, random thoughts and musings, and insights and reflect on the theme that I have chosen for' this lecture. I thank all the members of R.K. Sanatomba Memorial Trust, specially its chairperson Dr. R.K. Nimai for letting me choose the theme of my lecture.

Distinguished luminaries, the theme that I have chosen for this lecture is "Media and Contemporary Manipuri Society". I shall start addressing them with a disclaimer. I am not a journalist. Nor am I a media person in the professional sense of the term. I am a Sociologist by training and profession and therefore my lecture here this afternoon may kindly be viewed from the perspective of sociology of media or mass communication.

Media and Contemporary Manipuri Society

Media generally refers to the techniques and institutions through which centralized providers broadcast or distribute information and other forms of symbolic communication to large sections of population. In earlier times, low levels of literacy kept readership very small and relatively specialized. However, the second half of the 19th century, particularly the beginning of the 20th century, witnessed a sea-change, a radical transformation in terms of production of books and newspapers, magazines and journals.

This was made possible by the invention of gramophone, radio, the cinema and television and video, coupled with the increasing rate of literacy. Today as we enter the first quarter of the 21 st century, it is not an exaggeration to say that the mass media are highly important and powerful institutions in terms of socio-economic and political impacts.

The kind of role that the mass media play in providing entertainment and information need not be overstated here. Mass media also have a tremendous role to play in upholding the freedom of expression - principles of "free speech" and the "the right to know" which is the cornerstone of a democratic society. There are critics, however, who argue that the media do not operate simply as neutral channels of communication, they are actors in the cultural and political process and usually allied to the powerful dispensation.

A Note on the Growth of Journalism in Manipur

The educational development that was witnessed in Manipur in the seventies and eighties was soon followed by the spread and dissemination of new ideas which gradually undermined the traditional modes of thinking and loyalties. Gone are the days when the first Manipuri daily appeared in 1932 that continued to be the one throughout the whole thirties. The forties saw 6 more dailies and as many as 10 dailies appeared during the fifties and mid-sixties. By 1962, 17 newspapers were being published in Imphal.

The socio-economic conditions of people and at the same time the need and desire for a full responsible government were reported and commented in the editorials in the post-merger days. We may say that it was through this phenomenal growth of education and the press that a socio-political awareness emerged among the Manipuris. It was due to the press that people became increasingly conscious of the democratic and the constitutional rights enjoyed by their counterparts elsewhere in the country, but were denied to them.

The early eighties saw 33 dailies in Manipur of which 26 are published in Imphal alone. Today, the state has as many as 40 daily newspapers which are playing crucial media roles in terms of bringing social change. My concern here is not the history of journalism/mass media in Manipur but to drive home the contributions of media in societal development. What concerns me as it should concern any concerned citizen are the Effectiveness and the Impact of Mass Media in contemporary Manipuri society.

Manipur is in a flux. The contemporary Manipuri society is passing through a transitional phase of development. The society is caught in the vortex of multiple conflicts and crises which are dialectically opposite to one another. Whether it is a conflict between tradition and modernity, socio-religious conflict between pre-Hindu and Hindu identity, the civilizational clash between Indo-Aryan civilization and Mongoloid Meetei civilization, the conflict between ethnic groups, between militarization and de-militarization, the conflict between the state and the non-state actors, the one undeniable fact that threatens the very social fabric of our civilization -"this single oasis of comparative civilization" in the words of Sir C.J. Lyall - is that the society is deep in crisis.

The crisis of Manipur ranging from HIV/AIDS, drug and human trafficking, rape and violence (not excluding domestic) against women, alcoholism, AFSPA and its ramifications/repercussions, governance (read lack of), failed state, power supply (read regularly irregular/ mismanagement), potable water (read acute scarcity), (mis) uses of mobile phones, mob justice Vs. legal justice - the list could go on and on - all these crises have plunged the individual member of the contemporary Manipuri society into a condition of what the French Sociologist Emile Durkheim call anomie - that is, a condition of rootlessness, lawlessness, orderlessness, disorientation, of no longer feeling at home in the society.

All these conflicts and crises have made everyone of us feel that we are in the society but not of the society. It is in the midst of these crises and conflicts that the media in Manipur have been rendering the much desired professional services in terms Of coverage, reporting, analysis, and disseminating ideas to the people and the society.

Whether it was the mass agitation of demanding full-fledged statehood for Manipur in the early seventies; the issue of imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 in the early eighties, the language movement for inclusion of Manipuri into the Eight Schedule to the Constitution in the early nineties; the tragic tale of Sanamacha's disappearance (1998); the terrorizing act of Malom massacre (2000) and its fallouts culminating into the never-heard-before indomitable spirit of Sharmila and her 14 years old on-going fast unto death struggle against AFSPA; the spontaneous mass movement of June 18 (2001) for protection of Manipur's territorial integrity following the "Bangkok Declaration", (2001); the shocking incident of rape and subsequent murder of Manorama by Assam Rifles personnel that led to the now-world-famous "Naked Protest" of Manipuri women in front of the Western Kangla gate (2004); the media (both print and electronic) rose to the occasion and showed tremendous courage, conviction and character (though I cannot say the same in the same breath for national media).

To this may be added the highlightable role played by media in the making of state's sporting icons of national and international fame such as Kunjarani, Dingko, Mary Kom, Sarita, Debendro and others. In the field of art and culture too, the media has been quite instrumental in projecting and promoting the rich cultural heritage of the state. It was and is through media that people, particularly those in the rural areas, became increasingly aware of the problems and the crises confronting the state.

It was/is again due to the influence of media that tens of hundreds of Manipuri youths have joined what could be termed Sports revolution in the state and went on to represent Manipur and India in many national and international events/ tournaments. It is not for nothing that this tiny state is now regarded, and rightly so, as the "Power House" of Indian sports and media's contributions in this regard, I would say, is immense.

To be continued...

* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
Rajendra Kshetri is Professor of Sociology at Manipur University, Imphal and the author of "The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism," "District Councils in Manipur : Formation and Functioning," "Sociology : Perception and Conception." He can be reached at aardhikshetri(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on May 18, 2017.

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