Manipur and Manipuri
By: U A Shimray
Officially, the whole Indian population is divided into four category as- “General,” “Scheduled Castes (SC),” “Scheduled Tribes (ST)” and “Other Backward Classes (OBC).” Within this categorisation viz., ST/SC and OBC there are numerous ethnic groups. In Manipur, there are 30 ethnic groups recognised as STs and non-tribal Meeteis (or Meiteis) and Pangan (Muslim). All this composite ethnicity represents as citizen of India. In state political identity, tag a domicile of Manipur State (Tribal groups carry their respective STs certificates issued by the Magistrate). Indeed, every individual adhere to certain ethnic identity in the form of surname, social group and residence.
National Media including Manipur’s local papers report that the girl killed in Mumbai on 13 August as “Manipuri girl killed.” This was immediately countered by the Naga Students’ Union from Delhi, Shillong and Mumbai that the deceased person is Nagas belonging to the Tangkhul Naga community and not Manipuri. Such reaction indicates that the identity Manipuri when imposed to the whole population of Manipur State is troublesome and is incorrect in the context of ethnicity. May be in political term suffix of “ri” is not problem. Manipuri also used as language identity and is an official language of the state. The language is use as lingua franca of the various ethnic groups. Locally, it is known as Meetei-Lon, a traditional language of Meetei community. Today, we observe the larger identity based on political unit (identity) like Assamese or Arunchali. The fact is in Assam there are several ethnic groups having distinct social identity like Boro, Karbi, Dimasa, Kachari…and the same in Arunachal- Apatani, Mishmi, Singpho… But we don’t see such suffix in case of Mizoram, Meghalaya, or Nagaland (Or is the end letter is not suffix-able!). Hitherto, in Mizoram (‘Mizo’ refer to the people and ‘Ram’ the land) or Meghalaya (abode of clouds) contains many ethnic groups.
In 1762, Anglo-Manipuri Treaty Proposal mentioned, Goursah Singh as the Raja of Meckley. The reference of Meckley is to the people Manipuri. Pemberton Report (1835) writes, “…the territory of Muneepore, through which lie the routes leading from the districts of Sylhet and Cachar to the Ningthee river, and central portion of the northern provinces of Ava. The country inhabited by the Muneepoorees is, by the Burmahs called “Kathe,” which term equally apply to the people; by the inhabitants of Cachar it is named Moglie; by those of Assam, Meklee, and by the Shans, or those who inhabit the country east of the Ningthee river…of term the Burmese word is a corruption.” Dun (1886:13) in his book, “Gazetteer of Manipur,” writes, “The name Manipur is only applicable, popularly speaking to the Hindu dweller of the plain areas. The wild tribes are divided generically into the two groups the Nagas and Kukis.” The identity called Manipuri is presented by the Jyotirmoy Roy (1958: 2) in “History of Manipur” as “(O)f the total area of modern Manipur the valley covers nearly 700 square miles, the rest is covered by hills. The Manipuri community lives in the valley. The hill area is the abode of the Nagas and the Kukis.”
Recently, the Meetei community of Manipur State assert a word Kangleipak and resurrection of Sanamahi culture. Sripati Bhattacharyya’s Class VI textbook “Social Science Part-I, History” mentioned that tha present name Manipur was coined after the introduction of Hinduism in the early 18th Century AD (see page 97). Today, some Meetei activists are asserting to the name Kangleipak instead of Manipur. W. Chingtamlen (2005: xi) in his book “A Short History of Kangleipak” writes, “(T)he downfall of this ancient Kingdom of Kangleipak and its fine and brave people is associated with the changing of the name of this land from Kanleipak to Manipur.” He further stated that the downfall of Kangleipak brought identity crisis in the Meetei Race and disintegration of the hill and plain. Ch. Manihar’s “Clarification on the Bishnupriya in relation to the Manipuri” cited the name Manipur in place of Kangleipak was first used by the British East India Company during the reign of King Bhagyachandra.
Regarding to Sanamahi Religion, we quoted W. Chingtamlen (2005: 53), “(T)he Original Religion of the Meetei Race is Sanamahi Religion, on of the most ancient and unique Religions of the world. The Meetei Race, the so called the Manipuri now was not Animist as a people and did not worship idols as the Hindu did in their Religion, since very early time before Christ.” Revivalism of Sanamahi culture and its tradition came along with the demand to replace Bengali script by traditional script Meetei-Mayek in Manipuri language. In the protest, the 47 year old Manipur State Central Library, storehouse of several priceless and irreplaceable books/editions and journals, historical records were burnt down by the Meeteis’ activists called Meetei Erol Eyek Loinasinlon Apungba Lup (MEELAL) on 13th April 2005 (Burning public properties now spread in the hills too. Recently, the All Naga Students Association, Manipur (ANSAM) burnt down many government offices at Chandel, Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong in protest against the Chief Minister O. Ibobi’s declaration of 18 June as Official Holiday.
Language problem is not a new item in Manipur. As said, Manipuri is commonly used as lingua franca between the various ethnic groups however, majority of the tribal groups cannot read or write Manipuri. In the late 1980s political struggle to recognise Manipuri (in original Meetei script or Mayek) in Eighth Schedule finally came into implement in 1992. Till now, many Manipuri based local newspapers use Bengali script. An official recognition of the Meetei-Mayek has 27 (twenty seven) alphabets, but there is another group contesting that it contains 36 (thirty six) alphabets.
United Committee Manipur’s (2005) Report “Influx of Migration into Manipur” came out with a concept “Manipuri National Subgroups.” This neo-thought refers to the various ethnic (indigenous) communities of the state. UCM (2005: 2) writes, “(A)ll the indigenous people of Manipur belong to Mongoloid stock and comprise various Manipuri National Subgroups. Among the Manipuri Sub Groups the Government of India recognised 33 groups, as Schedule Tribes.” The non-Manipuri National Subgroups are refers as “alien” (UCM 2005: 39). These aliens are non-citizen of Manipur.
In the last Naga integration rally at Kohima, 31st August 2005 in the midst of more then ten thousands crowd one local journalist ask my opinion regarding the “prospect of Naga integration” which I didn’t give my comment further the journo ask where the “Manipuri Nagas” are seating…there I reply that I never heard of Manipuri Nagas but I know Nagas from Manipur State. Such “innocent” gesture is sometime unhealthy and uncomfortable in the multi-ethnic situation. Some ethnic group from Assam state would not like to address them as Assamese because they have their own respective ethnic identity not the state imposing identity. Likewise many are not at ease when the hill communities of Manipur State are address as Manipuri…to my experience many prefer to use their own identity like Kukis (Thadou), Paiteis, Nagas…And every ethnic groups have their own social organisation and student forum.
Is Meetei-Mayek movement relevance for the tribal community…? The statement is dicey. But in respect of social, cultural and political situation, a movement does not hold any future prospect for the tribal. Tribal organisations like All tribal Students Union, Manipur (ATSUM), ANSAM and Kuki Student Organisation (KSO), United Naga Council (UNC) clearly articulate their opposition towards introduction of Meetei-Mayek in tribal population. Indeed, the assertion of the term Manipuri and language movement is conspicuous attempt of assimilation to the larger ethnic identity. The UCM’s report in the Appendix XXVI- List of Chief Secretaries, suffix Shri LB Thanga and Shri K. Kipgen as Manipuri. Instead of negotiating the right perspectives, idea of Manipuri National Subgroups is slowly making its entrance in the ethnic politics.