Whither Pangals ?

Siraj Makakcha *

What better time to start a controversy, when Manipur has been a powder keg since the final Naga peace settlement issue erupted. Manipur Pangals, it seems, are busy with the naming of the community. Identity crisis? No way! Nongpok Ningthou (if I am terming it correctly?) has chosen an opportune time to conduct the seminar. Are they trying to divert the attention from the pressing issues facing the state? Some media houses too have done some irresponsible reporting.

Completely tainting the age-old history, that's the last thing media could do. Imitating the mainland media will be deadly for the state. History is interesting, depending on the way you look at it. Not so long ago, Meeteis too has suffered badly at the hands of the Awa (Burmese), they too became refugees.

No one in Cachar, Assam, Bangladesh, Tripura starts the issue of "Yelhoumee", what if they start. "Malangda tin sitlaga, maida tai", remember the age old saying. Stories surrounding the settlement of Meeteis outside of Manipur abounds and if retold could potentially demean the Meeteis. I have no intention nor will ever do it. Let stories be treated as stories and stop humiliating one another. It's a request.

It is intentional and necessary to write on this rather negligible issue, in view of certain media reports, aiming at destabilizing the relationships among communities. My longings and feelings for the motherland "Manipur" are no lesser than any Meetei or Hao (Chingmee). I mean no disrespect to the hill people by terming "Hao" as I still remember vividly reading "ahaubata chai haiduna hao kaoubani" in my school textbook.

And I subscribe to that school of thought. No one should question one's kinship vis--vis loyalty to the motherland. Our forefathers had sacrificed and contributed enough for this land. Always thought "Bhakt" culture can't make inroads into Manipur. I was wrong.

In order to know the Pangals, we may need to study a little bit of Manipur history. The current generation needs to be taught their past. Alas, since the occupation of the nation after the British, we continue to study "Indian and British" history. I remember studying "History of Britain" in my tenth standard. We have been systematically baptized and it has not stopped since Shantadas Gosain. How many of us know that 'Santadas' was born to a Meetei woman and in Manipur?

How the Pangals came into existence? The general understanding is, Mughal army and tradesman from erstwhile Bengal were given Meetei women in marriage during the time of Emperor / Ningthourel Khagemba and made to settle in the plains of Manipur. This en masse settlement of Muslims in Manipur is known as "Pangal Thorakpa" and the offspring of those settlers came to be known as Pangals (from Bangal, the place).

I want to stress that Khagemba (from Khagi ngamba, means conqueror of Khagi, present day China/a part of China), was an Emperor by virtue of his conquest, benevolence and just rule. Some scholars also opined that there were Muslim settlement in Manipur before this "Pangal Thorakpa" event. However, those opinions can be contested or countered, since any outsider coming from the west in those days were known as Pangal, not necessarily the Muslims. How or why the outsider 'Bangals' came to Kangleipak is not in my interest of discussion.

I wonder and failed to imagine the marriage or 'keina katpa' ceremony or ceremonies involving hundreds, if not a thousand Muslim men and Meetei women. Were the ceremonies performed through Meetei tradition, or through nikah, the Islamic ritual? No historian cared to mention this episode clearly or I have not come across. If Meetei tradition was followed, as may be the case, many Pangals then were illegitimate children as per the Sharia (Islamic law). I am not questioning the legitimacy, as over the years Pangals have tried hard to follow the Islamic values in spirit and letter with some success. May the almighty bless us all and lead us to the right path.

In my opinion the newest Pangal settlers were fully assimilated to the land in no time. They were conferred with surnames in accordance with Meetei culture, tradition and heritage based on their skills and social standing by the Meetei kings over the ages. Like any other Meetei, the Pangals too have contributed to the welfare of the state till this day. They never felt left out nor undermined in their welfare, though there have been issues brewing between these two communities with variable degrees of seriousness from time to time.

However, one fateful event that will remain a blot in the history of the land "The 3rd May massacre of Pangals in 1993". Witnessed the event unfolding in front of my eyes. The government of the day failed the Pangals but some powerful "revolutionary group" brought about an end to the episode. Many including myself were saved then from the harm's way by Meeteis. Good and Bad are among all the communities. We need more of the good and suppress the bad.

What an irony, in about a century since the first settlement of Muslims (Pangals) in Kangleipak, during the reign of Pamheiba (son of Pitambar Charairongba, said to have Mayang lineage) Ramandi (hindiuism) was adopted as the nation's religion, and the rest is history, that does not need an elaboration. And, in less than half a century since the advent of Hinduism, Meetei kingdom started to destabilize, by the invasion of Awa.

Quite intriguing that, there never was an event in history where, the mighty Meetei's had to flee for their lives, except after converting to Hinduism. Or, you may say after the advent of Muslims. Not, blaming either.

Historically, Meetei rulers have had good relations with Cachar, Kamrup, Tripura, Burma and even Nepal, through transnational marriages, giving Meetei Princesses' on marriage to other Princes (Ngai sanaba). Mashel and Mabai rarely fight. Meetei king also married Nepal Princess and it is said, Nepali settlement in Manipur were part of the entourage that followed their princess.

Advent of Hinduism in Kangleipak manifested a great impact and brought about racism to an otherwise liberal society. Generally, Meetei rulers became sadists and despots. Before the Hindus the country was governed by Maichou's (scholars) and the King consulted the scholars in matters of importance. Idol worshipping was never a Meetei tradition. Panthoibi iratpa (worshipping) sprang up for years now in parallel to 'Durga Puja'. Religion is a personal matter; one is free to follow one's belief. I have no right to comment on it.

Of late I see a lot of "Eningthou" toting around. Do the descendants of the kings make the cut of importance in today's Manipur? Moreover, these so-called descendants and their lineage has been blurred. Charairongba Ningthou hardly have passed the stringent coronation rituals. What good has been done by the Meetei ningthou including and after Pamheiba?

Maharaj Bodhachandra could have sacrificed himself would he love the country, but to sign the "Merger Agreement"? Why did he sign the agreement under duress? A true Meetei king will never surrender but sacrifice. That's the might of the Meetei's. When will they think of a revival? Rather than concentrating and thinking on the revival of their might that once they had, many are dancing to the tunes of their masters from the west.

Manipur today is full of stooges. It looks like the present day Meeteis are happy with their adopted identity. The Hindu identity. You can still be a Hindu or a Muslim, but your tradition, culture and heritage can be kept intact. My Guru Sanaton Sharma sang "Meetei nongsha mamingta ngaire, Pangal yaudre mipan tangle, Chari tatle khongba ngamdare", that sums it all.

It was in the early eighties; much water has flown down the Iril river. It will take a few statesman and courageous leaders to revive, unfortunately Meetei or Manipur will never see an Irawat, 'The Lamyanba Hijam Irawat' again.

Burmese invasion necessitated many to flee the Meetei country to neighboring Cachar, Tripura and as far as Bangladesh. Those fleeing farthest being the most timorous lot. One can imagine the situation, ones next of kin, spouse, parent, children were killed in the most fearful ways. Read history and one would understand the terror unleashed by the Burmese. Those displaced migrants arriving in Cachar and elsewhere were given shelter and well treated.

One of the reasons for hospitality to the refugees may be that the rulers of Cachar and Tripura had had Meetei princesses as their queens or mothers. Those migrants the Meetei's and Pangals were settled side by side in harmony wherever they settled. They continue to flourish as a closely-knit society and kept their culture and tradition intact. Over the years there may have been some influences in their culture, tradition, custom, food habit etc. etc.

It's history that two Meetei princes in Cachar gathered a group of soldiers from among the Meeteis, Pangals and others at Cachar. Started their training for an assault on the invading Burmese at Manipur. This was long before Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj. The brothers even mustered help from the British, who were stationed at Dhaka, Cachar and Shillong. Britishers took it as an opportunity at setting a footprint of their empire in Munipoore.

The Britishers after a few flip-flops agreed to help the Meetei soldiers. The Meetei soldiers thus organized have more sophisticated military hardware than the Burmese, thanks to the British, which gave them an upper hand. In an ensuing battle Meetei troops were were able to show the Burmese their way home.

The advent of the Britishers to Manipur started with this help. With the Britishers in Imphal economic activities started to roll needing much more manpower/labor that the local people could not have met. British army were looking at a final assault to took over Burma then by attacking from the East and West simultaneously. Imphal was the western command for the job. Imagine thousands of British military personnel marching to Imphal from Silchar and Kohima, they brought along many Bangalies, Nepalies and other outsiders with them to help meet the logistical challenges.

Many of those outsiders brought in by the British never returned and were assimilated to the local populace. Don't believe me? "Where are the the Takhelmayum's, Lairikyengbam's, Roy's, Choudhury's etc" coming from? Don't even start counting the many Bamon yumnak's (clans) settled in Manipur yet. Likewise, many Muslim outsiders too assimilated with the locals.

Over the years we have witnessed intentional or otherwise pun aimed at mocking and humiliating the other minority communities in general and Pangals in particular. A systematic practice, making fun of the Pangal community, e.g. Alimuddin Khamen, nida niyu piraktrasu mahut ni, so forth and so on. Sadistic and hegemonistic characters were endlessly displayed by a certain section of the society. Not blaming one and all. This must stop. The Meetei society cannot afford to lose nor alienate some of your close kinds.

Isolation has sawn seeds of enmity thereby paying a heavy price by this generation. History has been very clear. Read and read and read the true history of your forefathers. It's important to read to understand one's past to shape the future. The Pangals are here to stay, whether you like it or not. They were born here and will die here. Unless there are plans by a mighty and cruel section of society to put them in concentration camps or gas chambers. Well, it may be a figment of my imagination.

Would have been understandable had these might's were equally shown to the enemies within. Why target the Pangals? Why the Pangals are considered your enemies and aliens to this day? Questions surpass the answers. In the 70 years since Manipur merged with India, only a couple of year Mohammad Alimuddin, a Pangal was made the CM. He had notable contribution towards the development of the state. Look, where the Pangals stand today, economically, educationally. Backwardness may be equally blamed to the Pangals themselves, they did not struggle, a typical Muslim trait. Also, there has been systematic discriminatory policies in place thereby their backwardness.

In order for the development and securing or building a unique identity for the Pangals, they must unite first. The age-old habit of "ani tholkpi" must stop. Name is the last thing that the community must concentrate, no one is asking or doing a thing to change the name of the community. Pangals have come a long way. You live in the crossroads of history; your decisions may have wide ranging ramifications. Study the past and chart the future wisely. In Manipur parlance, the citizenry is known as Manipuri, that is official. Many a community object or ignore this reality. Your first identity is a Manipuri, religion is secondary. In Islam, the motherland comes next to God. Sacrificing for the motherland is supreme.

Every society has their issues Meetei has no exception. They still have a lot to deal with the various school of thoughts running deep into their society. Meetei/Meitei, Poireiton/Kangleipak/Manipur/Sanaleipak, Apokpa/Hindu, there is more confusion than solutions available. If there is an official stand or record as "Meetei Pangal" so be it. What is the harm? You claim to have been mothered by Meetei woman, your father 'Bangal', the outsider has no or negligible contribution towards your growth throughout.

He has sown the seed, that's it. You are more Meetei than a Bangal. You are a mixture (muksan) of Meetei and Bangal, so Meetei Pangal is no problem at all. Feel happy that our forefathers were buried here, and you grew in this soil of Kangleipak. However, if the community feels to identify themselves as "Pangal" only, no one will interfere nor object. But first put your house in place. If you are divided people will point fingers, that is what has happened.

Think of ways to uplift the discrimination and inequality meted out within your society. The Islamic way of "help thy neighbor" has failed miserably, you are unable to stop your brother sitting and waiting at "Samu Makhong" to look for menial labor, day in and day out. Your eemas, eeches eechals and eenes are going to Kakhulong, Majorkhul, Thangal Bazar, Paona Bazar to cook and clean. Your sisters and eema's are sent to the bazaar to fend for the family.

A very learned Mouluvi (Islamic scholar) once told me "living on the earning of the women is haram (forbidden) in Islam". You claim to be Muslim, shame on you. You are taking pride in calling yourself Pangal, you know, the Bangali Muslims in Jiribam and Cachar tease us as "Dur Moghlai" in a derogatory way. Not so long ago we were looked down upon even by the Bangali muslims. Suffered this abuse in my childhood from my Bengali neighbors and friends. I was too young then to understand. I can write pages and pages on the Bangali muslims, had it not been for the spiritual saint "Shah Jalal" they would still be remaining in the primitive days. The less said the better.

Finally, one's identity must not be within the purview of one's criticism. Having said that, I have of the opinion that, we do not need unnecessary controversy involving the Pangal community. History cannot be tempered with. It's there to stay. More research will divulge interesting facets of the society during the course of history. Let's agree to disagree but continue working towards the development, peaceful coexistence and sacrifice for the motherland. Eema Leipak na Yaiphare!

* Siraj Makakcha wrote this article for
iraj Makakcha, is a resident of Dubai and hailing from Jiribam. Currently he is working as a Librarian with "CRACKNELL".
He contributes regularly to and can be contacted at shaidar(AT)eim(DOT)ae
This article was posted on November 21, 2019 .

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