From Shairong to AK 47: Militarization in Manipur

By Khingba Luwangcha *

The last time I used a catapult was when I was in my ninth standard. In our locality we call it shairong. It was the best weapon of choice to take upon the 'enemies' on the other bank of our river. Every evening after school, we had exchanges of fire at secluded spots far away from prying and disciplined eyes of the elders, and heartily shot at each other. We had trenches made on the river banks, where we hid and exchanged fire at accepted hours of war time.

Juniors who followed us had the duty of rolling gullen from wet ant hills and sunning them. We did apply indigenous methods of making the canon balls more lethal by mixing with crushed glasses. Metal bearing balls and shiny marble balls were reserved for special targets and coveted enemies of special missions. The juniors also had the task of collecting spherical pebbles from the river bed as added ammunitions.

Our uncles and grandparents made the best shairongs from bamboo or polished wooden planks. We hunted cycle or automobile workshops for rubber strips, metal bearing balls and other to increase our arsenal. Our practice targets included barking dogs, birds of any feathers, fruits, street bulbs and Amul Spray cans kept atop walls. Gleefully we'd shoot at any of these at any available opportunity.

Shairong Icon: Texas Mangi of Kongpal

Legend says that he could rapid fire five gullens successively and hit the target simultaneously. His contemporaries popular call him 'Texas Mangi' for his accuracy and speed. He loved his weapon, worshipped it on Viswakarma Puja and slept and ate with it. If you observe him closely, you will always find a protruded object at his back side. That's his shairong and nobody dared challenge him.

I was lucky enough to be his right hand ally, in late the 1980s when the All Manipur Students Union (AMSU) recruited 'best shots' from each and every village of Manipur to successfully voice their demand in the form of a 48 hours total bandh of Manipur.

Government of Manipur had passed an order to remove secondary classes (Std. XI and XII) from colleges in Manipur, and that, responsibility of these segments of education were given to the schools. AMSU's major appeal was that the secondary schools lacked basic infrastructure (especially for science classes in the form of laboratories and equipments and so on) and that prior emphasis should be given in first of all upgrading the schools; meanwhile colleges should continue imparting education to the students of these segments.

Negotiations broke down and as customary to Manipur, students had to be militant in their demands.

Local AMSU leader of our zone had heard about our exploits and we heeded to the call of duty of a higher order. Three of us - young bloods - were Texas Mangi's choice. We're not only proud to serve our motherland but also ecstatic to be in the battle front along with him.

That was also the day, Texas Mangi revealed to me about his secrets and taught me finer aspects of catapult warfare. He rolled up his left sleeve of shirt, and there, firmly banded with rubber strips was an aluminum metal pipe, the length of his fore arm.

"This is the secret of my speed. Observe carefully, this metal barrel can upload 20 gullens at a time. A jerk of the left hand is all that is needed to load the shairong. Automatically gullens roll down and with practice, you can achieve accuracy. You do not have to fumble your pockets or bag for gullens. This way, it saves time and give you advantage of control."

I was speechless.

"An arm's length of pull provides required force. When you pull, keep it at shoulder level of your left arm. But most important element of success in any war is concentration and a strong will. Do not panic when gullen whizzes past your eyes or ears. Focus and shoot, aim for the skull."

When we reached our assigned posts, the newly constructed building of Sericulture Office at Mantri Pukhri, comrades from other areas wanted to test our skills. We took down 12 halogen lamps in a jiffy without missing a shot. Thus, proven, we're given extra quota of ammunitions.

In those 48 hours, we struck down police and army vehicles, disciplined the civilians who broke the code of bandh and along the way, unintentionally shot at ambulances, too. Warriors at different areas of Manipur fought bravely.

Finally, we came out victorious. The Government of Manipur revised their decision.

Prohibition: Move against militarization

Ban on use shairongs was a spontaneous decision taken by the panchayat and clubs on both sides of Kongba River. Drunk with the success of the AMSU bandh and equipped with new techniques, we went for an all out war against our 'enemies'; laid the roads under seize.

For more than a week, none of our 'enemies' could venture out. They refrained from schools from fear of crossing our bridge on pretext of sickness and absence of teachers. After one and half weeks, elders learnt about the true reasons. Our troop was disbanded; parents ceased our weapons.

I still remember how we're punished publicly during the two-day long general public meeting. We're made to stand in chicken position holding our ears during which elders spoke about vanishing birds in the locality, broken street bulbs, unintended victims of gullens, casualties inflicted upon people, cats, dogs and cattle going blind, broken window panes, and militarization of our life-style and so on.

Militarization was the prime reason which received highest nods from the villagers and on account of which a blanket ban was imposed on use of shairongs in our locality (even for 'peaceful purposes').

Our then local MLA, late Mohamuddin, declared during the Meeting:

"You do not need shairongs to settle down differences. Remember dialogue is the best weapon of negotiation and to bring peace. Lay down your arms. I am donating Rs. 1,000. Clubs on both banks of the river can organize a feast and make friends."

Notices were put up with immediate effect so as to let know strangers intruding our villages on hunting missions about the decree on ban on shairongs.

We're made to swear upon the village deity and to ever refrain from touching the cursed weapons. Ruefully we accepted and normalcy returned to the villages.

General Ibobi: Justice from the barrels of guns

General Ibobi evokes childhood memories in me. I was wondering if things would have been different if a leader like Ibobi was present in our village at that time. Now I surely believe things would have been different. I salute him for his militarization efforts in the form of serving guns to villagers, which appeal to my depraved war loving instincts. Pacifists, like Muhamuddin, fade in front of him.

Heirok villagers are the lucky lots. I hear nowadays they have started digging trenches not to protect themselves against stray insurgents but to practice war games (not simulated) against troops on the other side of rivers and lakes. These stories make me nostalgic. I miss my trenches on the banks of Kongba River.

Notice boards declare war readiness of Heirok: "Trespassing prohibited. Strangers will be shot."

Buoyed by warm welcome received from the war loving people of Manipur, General Ibobi and the Nazi Reich like SPF cabinet has decided to induct 1600 Special Police Officers (SPOs) in addition to the appointment of 300 SPOs for Heirok in a Cabinet meeting chaired by His Highness at his office on January 12, 2009.

Out of the proposed 1600 SPOs, the Union Home Ministry had already sanctioned 1350 posts (Sangai Express, January 13, 2009). The Cabinet had decided to propose to the Ministry of Home Affairs to increase the sanctioned posts to 1600 (250 posts for Lilong).

The decision to increase the number of SPOs was taken under the assumption that the new recruits would know the people in their localities who have joined unlawful organisations. This will go a long way in curbing the activities of outlawed organisations, opined the Cabinet (Sangai Express, January 13, 2009).

I cannot help to appreciate the strategic thinking of General Ibobi. He must have surely had a childhood similar to Texas Mangi of Kongpal. I believe he must been a shairong toting gangsta leader with an aluminum pipe on his left forearm. Surely, AMSU or other groups must have availed his services in his youth. In his powerful position now, he is enacting his childhood fantasies engage the civilians in war.

I salute this icon of my depraved mind. And I know as long as he is alive, Manipur should not worry about militarization. Whole populace will be distributed with AK 47s and children will be busy making bullets instead of gullens. Forget 'civil' education or a career in astrophysics, when position of SPOs is offered on a platter to deserving candidates who can crack a skull without batting an eyelid.

General Ibobi is convinced, like Comrade Mao, that justice flows from the barrels of guns. Manipur, be prepared for more fratricides.

* Khingba Luwangcha contributes regularly to . The writer can be contacted at khingba(at)rediffmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted on January 20, 2009.

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