TODAY -

Us and them

Jyaneswar Laishram *

 The Manipur Land Revenues & Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill, 2015



Yawn! Where have all the bills gone? Anybody who has keenly observed the bills saga in Manipur might understand what the tribal protesters are up to. The ultimate whim of the Kuki agitators, who spearhead the stir with full support from a string of other tribal communities dwelling in the surrounding hill ranges, is more or less to bifurcate the hills and valley, or in straight, to distant themselves from Meiteis—in a peaceful process and goodwill understanding, as they say. But their approach may not be as easy as it sounds if negotiations (with Meiteis) fail and unresolved matters further slip into communal discords. Kukis may well be right to claim the bills anti-tribal, but what it seems wrong is the way they blame the state government (or Meiteis) by going beyond the bill amount.

All this while, Kuki agitators and their allies take the bills controversy as though hitting a chance that they have been waiting for years or decades to attack Meiteis. Spotlighting a misstep taken by the state legislative assembly, which they often dub as 'Meitei government', when passing the bills on August 31 the tribal protesters trigger several explanatory hypotheses based on social inequities. All at once, they turn into a separatist mob searching for dignity and immediate escape from the racist ruling elite of the valley. Leaving the home ground behind, they fervently move to cross-border arenas seeking help from upper hands at the cost of showing their might to Meiteis. They gorge on an agenda of forming a strong pan-tribal group first before coming down for a negotiation with the state government.

As expected, Naga people on the other side around the state's surrounding hill districts join in the noise of bills stir, rather making it louder, bucking up the Kuki activists to repeal the anti-tribal bills and garner a separate administration. They appear to be eagerly waiting for their turn to pinch Meiteis, right after this Kuki insurrection. Their great expectation is that Nagas are now going to live in a joint habitat under a common roof, separating from oppressive Meiteis, as NSCN (IM) and PM Modi Sahab at the centre have paved the way to creating a united Naga land or Nagaland for them. Some of my wife's friends from Senapati have already set the tune quite in advance; they introduce themselves as 'people of Nagaland' to any newly met non-Meitei friend.

Meanwhile, tired and discouraged Meiteis seem given up something of their whole thing; they seem standing quite, staring blankly at the steep hillsides rearing up in front of them, waiting for their hilly counterparts to come down for some meaningful dialogue on civilization or Inner Line Permit System (ILPS). But the wayward tribal agitators are rather quibbled over whether or not to go for a resolution or an understanding with Meiteis. If the contents of the bills do not favour them or fail to address things of their interest and modus operandi behind the unfortunate killing of nine civilians in Churachandpur is communally prejudiced, they must bring the issues on discussion tables. Only a dignified internal dialogue based on mutual respect could easily mend the cracks that had been unfortunately conked out.

But why the negotiation tables have turned? In this, blame it on CM Shri Okram Ibobi Singh. There are two big fat reasons why the leader is not so impressive to the tribal protesters. One: his poor governance, which is totally Meitei-centric (or one may call it Thoubal-centric either) and communally biased to hill tribes; Two: his bad communication skill or haina-English, because of which many hill tribes who speak little or no Meiteilon deter to communicate with him. His parochial politics might play good at constituency levels in some leikais in the valley, but not in patching up issues at a broader state level. There is something more he should do for the Kukis, who are now trapped into insecurities and anxieties, than providing advanced cold storage equipments for the nine killed in the ill-fated riot.

Given that CM Shri Okram Ibobi Singh is of a deficit disposition, it's however a bit awkward for some Kuki leaders who trivially ignored the state leader and marched straight to Mr President of the country at the centre, and even the US (as somebody whispered me), pleading to save them from Meitei onslaught. This discordant anti-bills movement of Kukis, according to some learned tribal leaders, is defined to be a sheer retaliation against the identity-based discrimination which they (as well as many other hill tribes in Manipur) have had constantly received from orthodox Meitei Hindus who tyrannically treated 'them' as an untouchable horde or other insults of similar kind.

Those learned tribal leaders who witnessed and faced Meitei harassments in their younger years are now as old as a university professor or a church father. They mournfully recall the incidents, stories and anecdotes on how Meitei Hindus oppressed them during their childhood. They say 'their childhood', not 'these days'. My guess is that their childhood must surely be dated back to at least three to four decades. And their stories are now a matter of past; if we shed a searchlight on the act of oppression which hill tribes claim Meitei Hindus do or did to them, one can find it rare in the times we live in.

If we don't learn to 'forgive and forget' the dark times of the history there is no way to create room for 'cooperation and development' among us. These days Kukis in Churachandpur frown at Meiteis, but they are not the 'Kukis' I had known. An advanced society of broad-minded and educated people is how it characterized Churachandpur ever since I knew this town. The so-called hill tribes living in this flamboyant town are not 'tribe' in real sense of the term; they are highly civilized people of civility and refinement. What I have never ever expected from the town is the anti-bills movement, which subsequently takes a separatist turn, demanding for a 'separate administration' from Meiteis.

I have a number of Kuki friends and ex-colleagues from all over different parts of Churachandpur district, including some from the far off town of Thanlon, with whom I very closely share ethnic and cultural ties, irrespective of the places, castes and religions we belong; we eat the same food together, share the same friendship space, enjoy the same old music—what else should I confide than this? This is what we got today, snub yesterday and plan for tomorrow.

Let's co-exist, or else, there's option to separately live happily ever after.

(Views expressed by the author are personal)


* Jyaneswar Laishram wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at ozzyjane(at)gmail(doT)com
This article was posted on October 29 2015.


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