By Kamei Samson
Emphasis on the fraternity of communities has been the trend in various narratives post-Great June Uprising of 2001 in Manipur. This needs critical retrospection. Based on oral traditions, stories of common origin of the valley people and the hill people, or Meitei people or Nagas and Kukis are cooked in almost every community, and in almost all academic and non-academic discourses all in the context of the territorial integrity of Manipur. Elevating the tribal people from untouchables to defenders of territorial integrity of Manipur post-Great June Uprising of 2001 is one of the blessings in disguise from the otherwise ‘Black Day of Manipur’. However, this trend of fabrication of narratives of fraternity of the hill people and the valley people in Manipur will do more harm than good to the people of Manipur, and even to some in Nagaland and Assam.
The Zeliangrong people are already too confused with the origin of their identity. They are not even settled yet with the question of which sub-groups comprise Zeliangrong. The origin of Nagas to which the Zeliangrong too claim to belong is also not crystallised yet. At such a juncture of identity debacles it would be unwise to feed the confused minds with soothing narratives that are supposedly oriented only towards salvaging the territorial integrity at the cost of fraternal integrity. This does not mean the territorial integrity should be compromised. My only contention is that this trend of fabrication of fraternity of identity for territorial integrity sans fraternity of humanity will nurture diabolical dilemmas that may even result in worse untold catastrophe. In the absence of sincerity, the gap between the expected outcome of a collective actions and the real outcome will be beyond the caliber of the collective emotions to accept the outcome. And this will drive the collective energy nurtured for noble cause into a destructive force and that same force might even boomerang.
The Great June Uprising of 2001 resulted in several visible changes in Manipur in almost every aspect. None of the tribal people wanted to be abused by being called ‘haothu’. Schools, colleges, offices, markets, localities, etc. were tainted with this racist term, but it escaped critiques from electoral politics or politics of territorial integrity. “Meitei ama sibabudi hao khunpak ama sibana pha e” (It is better for whole villagers of hao to die than one Meitei to die). Has this attitude indeed left the minds of the people? It is perplexing to speculate what spirit erased these abusive expressions from the normal daily life of Manipur. Attitude of some Meitei males towards the tribal females was despicable. For them tribal females were sex objects that could be bought only for sexual pleasure. Tribal females were viewed as cheap in character and thus cheap to be bought for carnal pleasure.
This too seems to have been washed away with the tide of the Great June Uprising. Several films in Manipur bear witness to this observation. ‘Dr. Yaima’, ‘Keishamthong Thoibi’ and ‘Yaiskulgi Pakhang Angaoba’ are truly impressive and convincing. On 9th October 2011, News website e-pao carried uncanny News titled ‘Acceptance ritual of Tangkhul lad & Meetei girl held’ (http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=19..101011.oct11). The importance attributed to this event was self evident from the presence of the Titular King of Manipur. This love relationship between the couple would have been just another affair of families or a local that would have not attracted the attention of any media had it been in the years of untouchability.
However, Media could not have risked such an ‘epoch making’ event to slip off the aura of territorial integrity.
On January 15 2012, I joined my friends who went for a picnic at Sekmai. On our way back we met with an accident. Our vehicle collided with another vehicle driven by a drunkard man. Soon we were at Sekmai police station. The officer at the station asked all the boys from both the parties to march in the office. We were asked where we all came from and if we took wine. I was asked the same question. I replied, “I did not. I do not drink wine”. I was not prepared for his reply that was communally charged. The officer said, “Ragailong dagi oiraga karamna yu thak tariba?” (Loose interpretation- how come you do not drink wine although you are from Ragailong?) For this officer wine is an integral signifier of tribal identity.
One might also critically analyse the composition of players from Manipur in the 5th National Games held in Manipur in 1999. They were more of Meitei players and lesser of Manipur players. The representation in the Games too implicitly exhibited the gravity of seemingly sustained structural discrimination against the untouchables. Was it because the tribal people were morally and physically incompetent to be trained and participate in the Games? Was it because the sports facilities were available for the valley settlers at closer proximity as compared to the hill people and thus deter the latter from active participation? Or, was it a premeditated structural communal discrimination?
The position of Jadonang and Gaidinliu too underwent an astronomical change. For the first time the Board of Secondary Education, Manipur incorporated Jadonang and Gaidinliu in history text book of Standard VIII (pp. 82-83) in the year 2005, but it took another four years to be incorporated in Standard X Social Sciences textbook (pp. 137-138) in 2009. What were their positions before these years? One is tempted to consider the Great June Uprising of 2001 as the push factor for this newly ‘incorporated’ history of Manipur. Needless to mention that the Meitei too joined the early unsophisticated Zeliangrong Christians in condemning Jadonang and Gaidinliu as worshippers of satan and consumers of human blood, and offering the same to the devils they worshipped. What prompted these two figures to be injected into the history and social science of the educational curriculum of Manipur only after 2001? Offering a pedestal of honour to personality like Jadonang has been, in fact, a dilemma for the Zeliangrong. They are now shattered between the new positions of Jadonang and consequently theirs in Naga freedom movement and Manipur freedom movement (now defending the territorial integrity). For reasons well known to the people of Manipur and Nagaland or the Nagas to be more specific, Jadonang cannot be of both in contemporary historical interpretations of Manipur freedom movement and Naga freedom movement. These magnanimous inclusive historical interpretations need serious introspection. Is there any calculated dividend exclusive for the dominant interpreters at the expense of emic position? Is it for the sake of territorial integrity of Manipur alone or the fraternal integrity of humanity which is the pinnacle of fraternity?
While some of us are ‘haothu’ (needs no translation), ‘chingthin’ (used by Rongmei in valley for Rongmei from hill), ‘jangthin’ (used by Rongmei in hill for Rongmei from valley), ‘bidang’ (Rongmei code name for Kukis) in Manipur, almost all of us are ‘chinki’, ‘ao mao chao’ and ‘nepali’ (not to be capitalised; in abusive sense) for majority of other Indians, once we move out of Guwahati. Our sisters are scanned with raping eyes and our brothers are racially and physically abused. It does not matter who we are. Unfortunately, once we all move back home we abruptly adorn the garment of differences and head for weakening the already fragile fraternity. Today, problems abound our land and people, and their future. Disunity and mistrusts pervade across different communities and even within community. This is manifested even among the hill people. The Kukis and the Nagas are still not truly reconciled. And Nagas, Kukis and Meitei employ economic blockade to fulfill their political and other demands at the cost of economic rights of the common people while the elites fish in trouble water. The whole communities in the state seem to have no absolute clean chit from act of injustice. While efforts are being made to emboss principles of religions and political aspirations by the tribal traditionalists and Christians economic blockade is still the last resort to make their voices heard. However, economic blockade seems to be no longer the last resort. This will render the aggrieved incompetent in negotiation skills and will stand defeated in the game of bargain at global market force.
While we all are still pointing our daggers at each other for territory and history, the elusive indomitable force of global market had already found a niche, to stay. The forces of global market know no integrity of territory or fraternity. They will not operate with reservation for identity or humanity. Are we prepared to live with this indomitable elusive force? Have we calculated our share in the dividends from this market force?
The Look East Policy is endorsed by the Global King, Barack Obama. The obvious modus operandi of this policy would be- Look East Through North-East. Obama will not risk his billions of dollars exchange hands among the North-East ‘freedom fighters’. China or Bangladesh will not engage in exclusive trade course. The ‘freedom fighters’ will simply be nuisance for Obama, Wen Jiabao, Raja Parvez Ashraf, Sheikh Hasina and Aung San Suu Kyi. Economic blockade will not work against these countries. The 15 year long negotiation between GOI and Nagas also reflect this. Negotiation is the only way out. The world leaders will simply label economic blockade as genocide not because Meitei or Nagas or Kukis are affected, but their business will be at stake. This will further legetimise the brutal military force of the Indian Army and consequently gain legal and moral significance of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958.
Merely joining sit in protests with tribal traditional attires, exchanging gifts in festivals wearing traditional attires, making films and putting up banners of Rongmei girls in traditional attires in oil pumps in Imphal cities will not build integrity. These are all symbolical manifestations which all need moral assimilations. The most important question is- How long can territorial integrity withstand calculated historical interpretations sans fraternal integrity? All said one thing that the world needs to appreciate is the effort of the organizations in hill and valley, post-Great June Uprising, that succeeded in containing the wrath of the long oppressed of both the hill and the valley that could have been savage. This is the path to true fraternal integrity. —concluded
The writer is a Ph.D. Scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai