TODAY -

A thought on current situation in Manipur

Kim Grace *



As the situation in Manipur time and again gravitates toward a civil war, now would be a good time to exercise my freedom of expression duly granted to each individual by the Constitution of India. People have been advised to keep shut if their opinions do not complement their kindred's. No doubt I would be laughed off a simpleton as I had been previously condemned by some acquaintances cognizant of my views.

History is witness, what is going on in Manipur is not unique to us. Yet we refuse to learn from history and choose to dwell in the past hurt and prejudices. Far from celebrate our diversity and evolve together as a society, we have let our deep rooted hate grow into a hydra-headed monster. We have tenaciously maintained the idea of "us" and "them". Each group conscientiously nurtures its wound, while the leaders make sure it never heals. We keep a record of what harm "they" have done to "us"; never mindful of what "we" did to them. What could be the cause of this ever raging imbroglio in Manipur?

What might be quite unique of our problem in Manipur is that we don't hate the "other" as such. We have friends belonging to the other groups. When it comes down to personal relations we have no qualms about mingling with the "others". We intermarry. We celebrate events together and attend each other's events unscrupulously.

So, why is this personal camaraderie unable to break the collective "us" and "them" mentality? How have we been taught? Why is our education system unable to break this invisible yet functional barrier? What have we been taught that we hold the life and rights of the "others" to be of lesser value? How have we been programmed to so much of devotion to our own respective tribes?

There can be no denying that the hill people of Manipur have incessantly been treated as second-class citizens. It is time the Meiteis acknowledged it. Not to mention how our fathers, fore-fathers were despised, we millennials have gone through our share of discrimination. Out of the many, I would mention just two incidents. My sister went to Tamphasana Girls Higher Secondary School, Imphal. The elite of higher secondary schools then. Her teacher once made a rancorous remark, "Masak asiga, sanaaga yallene. Hayengna quota dai IAS oirahadana". (She even wears gold earrings! And tomorrow, she will be an IAS through quota).

In my high school days, after our teacher haplessly tried to communicate with my friend in Manipuri, he remarked, "Makhong asi yengu. Iroi maandra?"(Look at her legs. Looks like water buffalo's?). Everyone roared with laughter. She stood hesitant unable to comprehend as her Manipuri was poor. Schools are temples of learning, they say. Unfortunately, many students learn disrespect and how to pull their fellow beings down. You are respected by Meiteis only if you speak Manipuri fluently.

Nevertheless, I have to admit I was fortunate. Two of my High School teachers, teaching History and Civics, both Meiteis, would lament how the coming of Shantidas Gosai and subsequent conversion of King Pamheiba and many others began to divide our society. The concept of clean and unclean, untouchability began to plague our society alienating the STs and the SCs from the General Meiteis. Our Civics teacher ridiculed the concept of clean and unclean.

He impressed upon the class the irony that the "unclean" tribals hate it when people from Imphal pollute the environment on their picnic trips to picturesque hillside. He would preach with conviction that we are all tribals and indeed brothers and sisters. Though at the time it didn't matter much, it helped me have a balanced view later on. My tribal friends who grew up never having heard such things from a Meitei simply hate the Meiteis. The hard core haters refuse to call themselves Manipuri.

The tribal sentiment of resentment is evident in the demand for a separate state/district. Thus far the administrators, the government, and the elite in Imphal have not acknowledged the grievances the tribals hold. Not so long ago when the integrity of the Manipur state boundary was threatened with the demand for Greater Nagalim gaining momentum, the Meiteis realised "Ching-Tam ichil-inao" (Hill-Valley brotherhood).

Weird, baseless, Jack-in-the-box kind of brotherhood, it was. A feigned brotherhood contrived just for the purpose of keeping the boundary of Manipur intact. The sacrosanct Manipur – a haven guaranteed exclusively for the Manipuris by the ILP. The tribals refuse to reciprocate though they sometimes foolishly play the "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" card.

Now that the forced brotherhood technique has not worked, better teach them a lesson. "Hingminnase yaadrabanina, siminnaba tare", is the popular phrase these days. For every small incident "Haatlo" is chanted. We have lived with Meitei neighbours in the heart of Imphal for a long time. Every time there is some blockade in some faraway national highway, so much of hate is spawned towards us. One has to pause and wonder where so much of hate comes from. How have we lived together with a glass wall in between for so long? Why is there so much of malice?

That said, how long are we, the tribals (– the Kukis, Nagas, Zomis and what not) to hold on to the victim mindset? Let us get over the cliché of comparing our case with the Israelites' "promised land". Why are we shedding blood for "our land" as if it is ours to own? The Bible clearly says the land belongs to God. It amazes me no end how we self righteously consider ourselves better than our non-Christian neighbours. It is easy to find faults and blame others for all wrongs. How about owning up to the faults within us?

Why do we fool ourselves saying things will be better once we have our own land, a place that belongs exclusively to us? Our lifestyles nowhere reflect the standard set by the Bible. We are as corrupted as anyone can be. The law of our country empowers us to choose our own representatives. We fail to choose wisely and some even vote for money. We lack empathy. With rampant corruption, an increase in the number of officers and educated people has only created and widened inequality. Our Naga leaders who speak for the Nagas say, "We Nagas are a peace loving people". How can we call ourselves peace loving when we foment hate with our speeches, actions and the armed militia?

All those leaders who suffer from the "special child syndrome", hate-fomenters masquerading as agents of God, wake up. Repent. We have to find antidote to the venom you have been injecting into society before it is too late. We have to undo the evil you have let loose. How can a people, supposedly God-fearing be so selfish and self-seeking? "Our pain, our struggle, our fight", you claim. Answer this. Isn't the greatest commandment to love God and the second greatest to love your neighbour as yourself? How does that leave room for you to think exclusively for your community?

We have so many kinds of people in our tiny state- the Xenophobes, the humanist agnostic intelligentsia, atheists, biased civil servant etc. If this biblical exhortation does not appeal to you, let me try to engage you differently. The world is riding high on globalization. The global is becoming local- glocal, they call it. Countries are realistically revisiting history for economic relations. Cuba is opening up to US! How is separatist ideology still justifiable? We have an impeccable Constitution that makes sure the weakest of the weak, the most backward be taken care of. It is our responsibility to see to it that government schemes are implemented, corruption is eliminated. We have to fight for our rights. How is brewing up dissension going to address any of the issues?

South Africa would be a good place to learn from. Nelson Mandela showed the way in choosing to forgive. The people could have decided to be vengeful and grudging but they chose to forgive the white oppressors. They chose healing, embraced a faster lane to development. Barack Obama's homage at the peace memorial at Hiroshima and Shinzo Abe's visit to Pearl Harbour are examples to be followed.

As we cope with our complex restless society, we should draw the right lessons from the world around. Some exceptional leaders have shown the way. We are apt in copying the western, the Japanese, the Korean sense of style. We live larger than life. Our youths speak Korean, Japanese, learn and use the latest of gizmos. How did we lag in learning from history the horrors of jingoism? We must not forget extreme nationalism drove Hitler's Germany in World War II.

Someone once said dissent is the highest form of patriotism. But it is disgraceful and unfortunate that our students are exploited and brainwashed for the wrong kind of causes. Students are brought out into the streets rebelling against the government when they should be learning in class. A distaste for the outsider is actively enculturated and glorified.

We have so much of unexplored talent, so much of beauty to be shared and valued amongst us. While we fight over the land, we have failed to notice that the once beautiful hills of Manipur are going barren, our rivers are drying up. So much work is left neglected as the human capital is wasted over despicable causes. Friction, rivalry and differences abound. It is up to us how we channel the differences into healthy competition and rid our society of regressive ideas of chauvinism.

We need well-read, broad minded forward thinking people from each group to bring us out of our narrow-minded communalism. Mass exodus every time tension brews is not the solution. We need to stop us from heading into a catastrophe. Let us be reasonable. White people living in America and Australia would be landless "foreigners" in their own countries if the aborigines claim exclusive rights to the land.


* Kim Grace wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on January 08, 2017.


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