TODAY -

ATSUM and the future of tribal students' unity and welfare in Manipur

Dr Yaronsho Ngalung *

Newly elected executives of ATSUM taking oath during a function at Senepati in July 02 2013
Newly elected executives of ATSUM taking oath during a function at Senepati in July 02 2013 :: Pix - Hueiyen Lanpao



As an ardent observer of the various developments taking place in Manipur, disunity among the tribals and its negative impact on the welfare of the tribal students has also become a concern for many right thinking people of the society. This stems from the fact that ATSUM, as the only tribal apex students' body, has been recently split into two namely, ATSUM (T) and ATSUM (S).

It is not a good development as far as unity and welfare of the tribal students in Manipur is concerned. It is this development of conflict and split of the ATSUM that has prompted to write this article to express a sincere and genuine opinion for reunion between the two ATSUM. It is my own personal opinion and observation and has nothing to do with any instigation. This article suggests for constant dialogues and interactions between the two groups so that transformation could be brought about for a united ATSUM.

In this article we shall not narrate the history of how ATSUM has been formed. Suffice to say, ATSUM was formed for the welfare and unity among the tribals especially the tribal students in Manipur. As a student, we have seen and heard many good works and things that the ATSUM has done for the tribals of Manipur. In fact, ATSUM has been the guardian of the tribals in general vis-a-vis the Government of Manipur. Government of Manipur has on many occasions listened to the voices of ATSUM.

Several tribal issues have always been handled by the ATSUM, and it has enjoyed the tribals' mandate on many issues. Despite disunity among the various tribals, ATSUM was one of the tribal bodies that have binding force for unity and reconciliation on certain common issues. But to our utter dismay, all these have become a history which is unfortunate not only for tribals in general but also for tribal students in particular. This must have been felt by all the members of the tribal communities.

It is in this context that, an appeal through this article is submitted before the good offices of both the ATSUM so that there is just one ATSUM as in the past. It is a general perception that the split occur due to misunderstanding and crises among leaders over issues which are tangible and interests based. The conflict is not identity-based conflict. Such conflict is not as difficult to resolve/transform as other deeply rooted conflicts like identity based conflicts around the world.

However, such conflict should not be taken for granted as it happens in a politically sensitive place. And if the conflict keeps on lingering it only affects the unity and welfare of the tribals in general and students in particular. It is pertinent to mention here that interests and welfares of the tribals as a whole are paramount and it is to be stated that ATSUM should shoulder the tribals interests and welfares responsibly. ATSUM that was once looked up and appreciated by one and all should regain and restore the faith and confidence of the mass. It is a fact that having two ATSUM at a time has greatly lost the zeal and interest of the tribal people.

It is put simply that having two ATSUM has immensely downgraded the powers and image of the body itself. People's interest with ATSUM has greatly affected due to this split. The Government may be even confused which one of the ATSUM be taken seriously as the two bodies are addressing the same issues from different angles and offices. And because of this split, there are enough evidences that certain frictions and communication gaps always crop up in functioning.

To make the tribal students body stronger and more effective, this article calls for reunion of the two ATSUM at the earliest. And, to fructify this, there is a need for "Interactive Dialogue" between the two ATSUM until such time as formal negotiation for reunion. We can suggest for a certain framework for reunion, such as ARIA framework which was suggested by Jay Rothman in the Israel-Palestinian conflict which was deeply identity conflict.

Though, ATSUM conflict is not an identity-based conflict, we may certainly apply this method as it involves misunderstanding and a sort of conflict. "Rothman argues that interactive dialogue must precede problem-solving or negotiation, and should accomplish several important goals; all parties must learn to appreciate the gains of reaching an agreement; they must begin to look at their conflict in common terms, articulating shared concerns and aspirations; all sides must appreciate the advantage of reaching an agreement that the others find fair and acceptable; and finally, the parties must feel comfortable with the climate for negotiations that will result in mutual gains.... "The ultimate goal of the ARIA framework is to foster harmony and resonance from adversaries' full and honest expression of the deeply felt human motivations that lie beneath their conflict."

"Through a process of staged adversarial framing, when the focus is on what of the conflict-what resources are at stake and what solutions are being sought-antagonism is surfaced. An underlying sense of resonance is then fostered through reflexive reframing, when the questions are now who (not as categories but as persons) and why, and the core identity issues are articulated.

This sets the stage for intervening joint solutions-the how, and finally agenda setting, that is, consolidating the what, why, who, and how of the previous steps and sustaining them through joint action. In sum, the ARIA framework fosters the articulation and development of four unfolding outcomes: Antagonism, Resonance, Intervention, and Action." Though ATSUM crisis is not an identity conflict as mentioned earlier, we may use this ARIA framework. To start with before formal negotiations could be started for reunion of the two ATSUM, interactive dialogues among parties should precede in an open minded manner.

Antagonism surfaces the battle. It brings out festering angst and anger and puts them out for discussion. Resonance fosters a harmony that can emerge between disputants, a harmony growing out of a deep exploration and articulation of what goes on within them. It grows from an expression of the needs and values that have been threatened or frustrated by the conflict and relations between adversaries. Inventing is the process of brainstorming mutually acceptable, creative, and integrative options for addressing central and underlying aspects of the conflict. Action is when built upon the previous stages, implementing what should be done and why, by whom, and how.

Once the ATSUM's crisis can be addressed this way in a stage wise, then negotiation towards forging and implementing concrete agreement may become possible for reunion of the two ATSUM. When the groundwork is laid and there is an awareness of overlapping motivations and goals, adversaries (in this case two ATSUM) can fully appreciate the possibility of cooperating to achieve these goals. The goal is to achieve the reunion of the two ATSUM in the interest of welfares and unity of the tribals in general and tribal students in particular.

The reunion of ATSUM is the need of the hour. Likewise, conflicts and crises among and between communities in Manipur can also be reduced and transformed if all the concerned parties seek such solution in a sincere and genuine approach. To begin to address various forms of conflicts and crises, parties should try to initiate interactive dialogues across the table.

Examples of such interactive dialogue are many but to give one which is of a recent case, on 30th April, 2014, Peace Committee for Unification of the Tangkhul Baptist Churches called for a meeting at Town Hall, Ukhrul for uniting and having just one Baptist Association among the Tangkhuls. So far it has not yielded any result, but some initiative towards its goal had begun which is good and positive as far as approach to conflict transformation is concerned. Several of such dialogues should be conducted so as to foster understanding and harmony among the Baptist Churches of the Tangkhul community.

The effort of the Peace Committee for Unification is a good example of an "Interactive Dialogue". Such dialogue should be encouraged for logical ending of conflict and misunderstanding. It is hoped that leaders of both the ATSUM shall exercise their good wisdom to demonstrate their leadership qualities by initiating steps to reunify in the interest of the tribals as a whole leaving behind their misunderstandings and crises in the quest towards strengthening the tribal students' body. Jesus Christ as a "Prince of Peace" could not be more relevant.


* Dr Yaronsho Ngalung wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on June 25, 2014.


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