Integration, Yes!! Assimilation, No!!
Z. K. Pahrii Pou *
One of the biggest problems in Manipur today is the subject matter of integration and assimilation in the poly-ethnic peopling of the State. The language of both integration and assimilation recognises the diverse groups of people with diverse culture and identities in society. Both of them agree that unity is the only way to progress.
However their approach to unity is starkly different. In simple description, "integration" is like a big fish that allows other smaller fish to mix, stay and live together in unity but without losing their unique identity. Whereas "assimilation" is like a big fish that swallows other smaller fish into its stomach and bring unity.
Hence, assimilation creates fear and insecurity among the weaker section of people.
Which "fish" should Manipur choose today? Meiteis are a minority in the Union of India. They feel insecure that would become minority also in their own state if inflow of migrants are not checked. This happened in Tripura where the tribal/indigenous population is reduced to mere 37 per cent today from 85 per cent when it attained statehood.
Hence, the Meitei"s demand for implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in Manipur is understandable. The Government of India must find ways and means to take care of the concern of Meiteis so that Manipur is not drowned in the sea of migrant population.
While appreciating the move to protect the indigenous people, Meiteis must also understand that they are majority in Manipur. The tribal people are minority and they need protection.
Except for a few thousands, the rest of tribal population live from hand-to-mouth. Sensing the vulnerability of the tribal people, the British had kept dual administration (one for the Hills and the other Valley) as the best option for Manipur.
Since the tribal areas have laws that protected them from encroachment by outsiders, that spirit should be maintained for harmonious co-existent. Any new Act or Bills that infringes the basic rights of the tribal people and their land may cause commotion.
Uniformity of Laws or Act for the whole Manipur is not viable at this juncture. Rather lets us respect and protect the diverse traditional practices and culture of each other against on the onslaught of global forces.
Forceful imposition of Meiteilon (Manipuri) in educational institutions is nothing less than assimilation. This will lead to the loss of many tribal languages and hence their culture.
It is unfair for any particular community to force others to read, write and speak their language. Unity through diversity is more beautiful than unity through uniformity. As a Naga, I feel pain to hear some of Meitei leaders including MLAs saying that there are "No Nagas" in Manipur.
The fact is that majority of Naga population trace back their origin to Makhel Village, a medium size Mao village, which is in Senapati District of Manipur. Of course, the generic name "Naga" came into existence lately. But that does not mean that there are No Nagas. Even the generic name "Meitei" was of recent development.
If the Nagas and Kukis were composed of different groups of people so were the Meiteis. Today"s Meitei population is comprised of seven clans/tribes that inhabited the valley areas, descendants of mixed parents of Meitei women and Burmese soldiers during the Chahi-Taret Khuntakpa, Chinese masons, Muslims soldiers who married Meitei women, and many upper caste Hindus who fled from mainland India to escape the harsh treatment of Muslim rulers.
Therefore, defining "who is who" will create only confusion and discontentment in our society. The tag "I came first, you came later" may be of no importance today because we all are born here and hence equally "children of the soil". Let"s not wipe up each other"s history but find out ways to live together.
The tribal people as well as the Meitei do have their unique history. The only difference is that the tribal people did not have a State and written records like the Meiteis.
Each village is a sovereign republic for the tribal people. The Meiteis had State, written history and lived under monarchy.
Let"s appreciate each other"s culture and history. It may sound too religious but I believe God has created us to live together in this part of the world. Let"s integrate our diverse histories, cultures and identities and move ahead together.
Any attempt made by powerful community to assimilate the smaller and weaker communities may lead to balkanisation of Manipur.
* Z. K. Pahrii Pou wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at zkpahr(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on May 24, 2016.
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