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E-Pao! Essay - Independence - what more can it offer

Independence - what more can it offer?
- Part I -

By: Geetchandra Chandam *



Part 1 of the Theoritical, Practicability and Methodical Considerations

In the last half a century, various naharol groups have sprung up in Manipur with an aim to free Manipur from India, resulting in the continued violence. All of us here in Manipur, in one way or the other, are affected to a significant extent by this conflict. We have lost some of our dear brothers, friends to this conflict and most importantly, we are being denied the right to live a normal life for the last so many years. There seems no chance of ending the conflict in the near future. Most of us actually are neither strong supporters nor opponents of the idea of an independent Manipur. As the outcome will affect not only our lives but also of our children, each of us has a stake in it and we should have a say in shaping the outcome of the conflict. To an ordinary Manipuri like me, lots of doubts arise on the question of an independent Manipur. I think it is the duty of those groups and their supporters to address these issues and convince us about the same.
The idea of living in an independent Manipur is very tempting indeed. Many of us especially the youngsters are very excited about such a possibility. Let us forget about the feasibility of such an idea for a while and consider what this alternative can offer to ordinary people like you and me.

THEORITICAL CONSIDERATION

Concept of a ‘nation state’: The idea of a nation state in my opinion, can be considered as a ‘state of mind,’ an illusion created by its proponents. The proponents of ‘nation state’ may emphasize on shared history, common territory, language, race, shared interest etc of its people as the basis of the nation. However, any of these factors cannot be the sole basis for the idea of a ‘nation state’. Territorial boundary, language, religion, name and even its people can be changed from time to time in a single country. I feel, the most important factor has to be ‘shared interest’ of its people. Now, the question arises of whether it is in the best interest of an ordinary Manipuri to be a part of India or that of an independent Manipur.

What are the basic roles of a state? We expect a state to provide its citizens equality, justice and security and maintain peace. Freedoms to expression, practice of religion, right to life, right to protest are fundamental rights which are valued universally and expected from a modern nation state. Are these rights provided to the people of Manipur under the Indian constitution? Definitely, there is no doubt about it. So, what more can an independent Manipur offer?
However, many questions arise of the actual treatment by the government of India (GOI) to people in Manipur? The answer will depend largely to different perceptions. One of the important grievances by people living in this part of the world (in India’s remote NE states) is that Delhi treats us as second-class citizens and our rights are violated. How much truth is there in such a perceptions?

Human rights: Most of us in Manipur and significant number of mayangs in other parts of India will agree that GOI through its security agencies intentionally or un-intentionally has committed human rights violation in Manipur. We have protested vehemently against this. The ongoing movement to repeal AFSPA led by Sharmila Chanu and various NGOs is one such example. We cannot deny the fact that insurgent groups active in Manipur also has committed gross human rights violation to its own people. However, there was no significant protest by civil organizations against such rights violation by a insurgent group.

Different Perceptions: When we think of India and Manipur at the same time, most of us automatically think of the exploitation of us by the other Indians and GOI. However, you may be surprised to know that significant number of Indians think that we, in northeast India has been given undue attention in terms of central funding, different privileges (sixth schedule, reservations etc.) disproportionate to its size and population. So, who are being victimized? Another major grievance is the outlook of the ‘Indians’ towards us, calling us Nepalis, chinkies etc. but what about our treatment of Biharis and other Indians in Manipur or Meitei’s treatment of tribals in Manipur?

Aspiration and Grievances: We need to distinguish between the aspiration of the people and its grievances. AFSPA, RAP, etc are clearly peoples’ grievances which can be addressed by the GOI. If GOI decides to repeal all such acts, will the naharols then be ready to join Indian mainstream?
On the other hand an independent Manipur may be an aspiration of its people. As long as it remains the aspiration of the majority of the people of Manipur, the GOI and the world community cannot ignore it for long. However, there is not much direct or indirect evidence to assume that a majority of Manipur’s inhabitants want separation from India. There is more evidence to show the contrary. Look at the elections held under the Indian constitution. As far as I know (correct me if I am wrong), no election held in Manipur after merger had voter turnout below 50%. There is no reason to believe it will be different this time (Feb 2007 elections). There is no significant demand for independence from civil society groups unlike those in Kashmir. So, how can we assume that it is a peoples’ movement? Is it fair for a minority of people to try to impose their ideas on the majority? If they are strongly convinced about their cause then they should first try to convince the people, ordinary people like you and me.

Identity and self pride: Some people may argue that independence is necessary to preserve our identity and for our own self pride. However, remaining in India does not necessarily mean loss of our identity. We can be a proud Manipuri and also an Indian at the same time. Now let us consider the issue of Manipur’s right to exist as an independent nation state based on history, different ethnic profile and cultural differences from other Indians. I am not denying the existence of such differences but at the same time we have to acknowledge the similarities also. India is a country of different races, languages and cultures. So, whose country is India? Is it for the Biharis or Punjabis? Even Biharis and Punjabis are not homogenous entities; they consist of different groups with different castes, languages, religions and subcultures. They also have the same complain of step motherly treatment of their states by the central government.

Who shares this dream of an independent Manipur? One of the weakest links in the theoretical as well as practical consideration of an independent Manipur is the reluctance of the non-meitei groups to be a part of such a dream. Nagas want to be part of a separate Nagalim whereas Kukis are demanding their homeland. Even the Manipuri Muslims, it seems do not want to be a part of it. How many Tribals or Muslims have joined the valley based’s so called ‘Manipuri’ naharol groups fighting for an independent Manipur? Do we know any number and percentage? There are also many conflicts among the Meiteis, Nagas, Kukis and Muslims. So where is the question of a united independent Manipur state? These are issues that cannot be resolved later after getting independence. The naharol groups and their supporters need to convince us that Manipur will not become another Darfur where warlords have their own fiefdoms.

Read Part I | Part II

Read Comments by Somchandra Nahakpam


* Geetachandra Chandam, a professional working in a private company in Delhi contributes for the first time to e-pao.net with this 2 part articulation of what he feels about Manipur as a nation state vis-a-vis as part of multi ethnic nation called India . The writer can be reached at geetchandra_chandam AT yahoo DOT co DOT in.


* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of e-pao.net. We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.




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