TODAY -

A French opinion

Olivier Courtois *

An Aerial view of Imphal City (as seen in November 2012)
An Aerial view of Imphal City (as seen in November 2012) :: Pix - MMTA



Seeing from France, India is a very far and not that well-known country and as for Manipur, to be honest your home State is totally unknown.

What do the French people know about India ? Barring Taj Mahal, sadhus, Gandhiji, Bollywood movies, sacred cows and a handful of maharajas riding colored elephants, they don't know anything. Nothing but the same old preconceived ideas...

How could they know more ? French media hardly deal with India and never do they with the North East of your country.

That's why after numerous stays in India over the Iast seven years, I have decided to spend some time in Manipur. I would Iike to know the unknown so that I can later share my knowledge with French readers through my following articles.

Writing about hidden issues is part of my job as I am a free-lance journalist working for French newspapers.

After staying some weeks in Manipur what do I know about your State ? Well Iet me joke at first by saying that I know I am still alive. I also know that I'd need some more time to understand this complex society, but I believe even a lifetime (in France we don't have reincarnation in life as many Hindus believe) won't be enough to really understand what is Manipur and I am not the only one...I mean, I am not the only one not to really understand what exactly Manipur is.

I have roamed around different districts where I met many people ranging from human rights activists to social workers, journalists, businessmen, civil servants, traders, labors, farmers, jobless, former drugs users, members of political parties, policemen, some were Meiteis, others were Kukis or Nagas, some were Christians, other Hindus, Muslims or Sanahami believers and nobody seems to share the same opinion about the place where they live in.

Variety of mindset is usually a good omen and a clue that a democracy is working but in Manipur such a diversity seems to be meaning a deep lack of unity, which is harmful because without a common goal, human beings are just able to build new Towers of Babel and you don't need to be a Christian to know how the first one collapsed in the Bible.

Why don't people ever learn from history or just retain one year among so many, like 1949 as far as Manipur is concerned ?

Every day - on the page 6 of this newspaper also - writers are complaining about West India and the Central Government in Delhi, who have been despising Manipur for decades. It's always the same story, Imphal versus Delhi and in the hills areas these are other stories : Kukis and Nagas against Imphal or Kukis versus Nagas, Nagas versus Kukis and sometimes Kukis against Kukis and Nagas against Nagas.

Are you not fed up of your own fights ? We are in 2014, the man has walked on the moon in 1969 and Manipur is still wrestling like in the middle age or even the stone age. I know Delhi hasn't for years even know where the Northeast lies except to send its troops. I also know the hills are still underdevelopped and neglected while the valley is improving and I know hardships and ordeals are a daily routine in Manipur but if possible let's forget for a minute any neighour's responsibility and let me ask you this question :

You would like Delhi, Imphal or whoever to take care of you but are you able to take care of yourself ?

If Kukis speak in the name of Kukis, if Nagas speak in the name of Nagas, if Meiteis speak in the name of Meiteis, if any tribe speak in the name of its village luckily there are no French in Manipur, they would have spoken in the name of France. Who is going to speak in the name of everybody ?

Do you want to live in a would-be powerful State or in a land of ghettos in which people just worry about the borders of their communities ?

Sorry, I have so many questions to ask but isn't it the job of a journalist to use the question mark rather than the exclamation one, so I'll ask you one more :

Do you have any common aim which could cement your society above your differences ?

Till now, I have been waiting for the answer...

Without something common - identity, will or anything else it's up to you to find out - it's impossible to go forward and pave the way for a better future.

A future without AFSPA, corruption, extortion and power cuts, a future with employment, drinking water, roads and better education. Building such a future should be the responsibility of your political leaders, but have they rooted out AFSPA, corruption, extortion, power cuts, have they provided jobs, drinking water, roads and better education to all of you ?

I know the response...

Even if I am French I am not foolish enough to mistake political leaders for wizards but why do so many things take so much time to move on in Manipur ?

If you believe that these dusty leaders don't do anything for you, why do you still elect them ? Don't cast your ballot for anybody till an efficient neta (sorry for this Hindi word as in Manipur we are not encouraged to speak Hindi and Hindi films and songs are banned ) who really cares springs up among you.

Every country needs statesmen (or statewomen) but there is a huge difference between being a statesman and a political leader. The former deals with the future while the latter only gears up for the next election.

Unfortunately, statesmen are as scarce as your unique Sangai in the forests of France. We come across one of them once a century. How many forgotten chiefs-of-something for one Gandhiji ?

Of course you have Irom Sharmila, she is really the kind of human being whom one meets once every thousand years but Irom Sharmila is a light not a leader.

So no one on the list to take care of you ? Is the future so bleak that nobody wants to take on the risky business of guiding you towards the future ?

Well don't wait for anybody because nobody will come... except yourself because the next chief... it's you.

You, the 27 lakh inhabitants of Manipur...

I met some Ieaders among you. They are as common and as unknown as all of you, but they are brave enough not to give up, they never say die, they struggle without weapons but with ideas, sweat and hard work.

Some of them used to work in Delhi, Bangalore or Kolkata but they have decided to be back in their homeland to improve the situation of Manipur even at a very humble scale.

They have set up business where they can now employ some youth who were earlier jobless and who'd like in the future set up their own business.

A circle could be either vicious or not.

It's up to you to keep on complaining or to act.

It's up to you to keep on slamming your neighour or to change.

In 2013 a team of climbers belonging to the Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association reached the summit of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world .

It's not like walking on the moon but this is the same direction.


* Olivier Courtois wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a free lance journalist based in Paris and he spent two months in Manipur
This article was posted on March 01, 2014.


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