All Roads In Manipur Lead To Blockades
Manipur – the land of gods and heroes – a previous nation state of peace and tranquillity with a fusion of geography, season, communities and families – is at the crossroads in this first decade of the 21st century.
While my political thought is a bit late in forming, I have a sneaky feeling that some of the present professed “peace loving” community politicians are undoubted admirers of a hawkish attitude to the integrationist politics. They have a gift of generating narrative tension about past events of which we are all familiar, with a triumphalist hindsight intended to disrupt Manipur’s timeless sense of unity.
Manipuris with a common history and political security, now hover with breathless interest, over the verbal battlefields of tribal communities. A strange uncertainty has settled down like a thick winter fog upon the minds of all communities as they stand at the roundabout because of a kaleidoscopic vision that has appeared in the eyes of some tribal politicians due to some changes in their brain chemistry.
I have a reflective nostalgia. As a boy I thought all dusty country roads and hilly tracks in Manipur led to Imphal. I remember how hill dwellers from north, south, east and west toiled for days to bring their merchandise to, while Loi people trudged with weary legs to bring salt, alkali and terracotta pots, for sale at Sanakeithel. Those were the days my friends, when time and space existed far apart. They ignored the passing of time, and completing a transaction was the best to invest in their own time. For them there was no time other than the present moment.
Against this background, in my English literature class in college, the professor taught us about Edgar Allan Poe, an American, as the best short story writer up to that period. He wrote an essay on cosmology titled “Eureka” in which space and time are one. The Mathematics professor taught how time and space could be proven to be one.
In Manipur, we are now back to life in slow lane with myriads of copycat road blockades, bringing the past today, with echoes of political intrigue reverberated by the surrounding hills. Time often seems to stand still with indefinite blockades.
Probably nothing is more frustrating in the aesthetic than the injudicious combination of regularity and curve that goes higher into making road blockades, which serve no useful purpose apart from inconveniencing the hapless townspeople while they almost starve the poor from the countryside and the hills.
In the last blockade just before I wrote this column, the United Naga Council’s (UNC) called for road block and bundh for 48 hours on October 23 2015, to register their sympathy for Kukis against the infamous three Bills of ILPS passed by the Manipur Legislature on August 31 2015. Oddly, it was almost successful in Naga areas of Ukhrul and Senapati but not at Kukilam of Sadar Hills.
Well! Nothing is perfect except a circle. No human being is perfect. Even God, if there is one, is not ultimate copybook. While all the blockaded roads lead to Imphal to entrench Meiteis, the possible truth is that the vast majority of people in both the valley and hills like to live in peace and in status quo. They have had enough of blockades that began as aid-memoire of a few tribal politicians for their wasted tedious drift in search of a ‘promised land’. They never fully came to terms with the conflict of values between themselves and the majority Meiteis.
Manipur was on the verge of fracture with secessionist movements by Tangkhul and Kabui Nagas for a separate Naga identity by joining ethnic Nagas of Nagaland, which they fail to realise, is not like living with their own people. There is no reason why they could not develop their own personalities living with Meiteis, Kukis and other small tribes like Marings, Thangals, Anals and Koms.
Kukis on the other hand, crave for an autonomous region for themselves as an umbrella for all the kindred tribes of Kuki-Chin-Mizo – related tribes from the contiguous regions of Myanmar, Mizoram and Manipur. Little do they know that there will never be a homogenously integrated Kukilam.
All these blockades mirror the innermost thoughts of educated few who aspire to break away from Manipur, perhaps as a crystallisation of a core value, something like Immanuel Kant’s aphorism: “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made”.
It will legitimise their contention if a shock poll shows the majority voters in their communities want to leave Manipur. I will wish them success. However, as a Meitei, I would rather they don’t, especially when they profess to be motivated by emotional loathing of majority Meiteis, claiming themselves to be victims of oppression by Meiteis who exploit their economy with political dominance, and who do not share power and privilege in an egalitarian fashion.
They also rightly or wrongly blame Meiteis for the denigration of their social status, for converting themselves into Hinduism, and now for subjugating them with the imposition of Meitei Mayek in their schools. It is of course, a separatist reaction. No one who regards himself or herself as a Manipuri, will forget that Manipuri and English are common languages of communication in Manipur. It has good connections, de facto or de jure with all the communities in Manipur. Meiteis are only trying to replace the borrowed Bengali script with their original Meetei Mayek.
The rhetoric has fewer trade statistics and more raw emotions. Historically, Meitei culture was different from theirs even in those days when the proto-Meitei, Meeteis used to have similar food and drinking habits though with their own separate culture, morality, dress and religion (Shanamahism).
All the tribes communicated in Meiteilon, which when developed into writing by letters in the 19th century, the Bengali alphabet (initially encouraged by the officiating Political Agent, Maj Gen Nuthal with the support of the British Government in Calcutta in 1872) was introduced by Dr R Brown, a surgeon (FRCSE), the Political Agent, and after him by Lt Col James Johnstone, in schools. We should be thankful for it, as at that time, there were was no printing press with block Meitei Mayek letters.
With integrity and without guilt, I am an apologist for Meitei conversion to Hinduism that fortunately brought Meiteis into the dawn of civilisationwith its mythologies and philosophy. Its theology gave Meiteis a purpose in life (karma) and thereafter (swarg).
Likewise, tribal conversion to Christianity has brought them out of darkness but has over-tipped the balance in their aspiration for self-determination, while making Meiteis a scapegoat for caste distinction. I would instead, blame the Christian God as to why he took so long to come to Manipur. Why didn’t he send Scot Pettigrew before Bengali Shantidas? Its clue may lie in the ‘cosmic distance and epoch time’. Jesus was born in faraway Israel while Krishna was born in nearby India long before Jesus.
Tongue-in-cheek or not, I am not disputing that there are some truths in all these anti-Meitei pomposity. But their radical attempts to lift their pent-up emotions always meet with violent opposition, particularly from Meiteis with a vested interest in retaining the status quo of Manipur’s integrity.
Meitei communalism as a tentative cause for separatism is a point stretched too thin at a time when Meiteis are trying for a change to provide an alternative to their society’s retrospective tendencies. It might not be too audacious for me to assert that there is a large element of biased or misleading tone of insouciance towards Meitei unfairness, to promote a separatist political cause that is mostly ethnic.
Indian Government knows very well that the main reason for United Naga Council’s demand for merging Naga areas of Manipur to Nagaland is not economic disparity with economic depression accruing from majority Meiteis, but a host of other factors such as tribal, ethnic, cultural and religious difference.
Road blockades and Hartal (Strike) are convenient forms of democratic protest – the best weapon they have at their disposal in Manipur as it was during the Indian independence movement. To quote a source: Gene Sharp in his political science book in three volumes, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973), there are 198 methods of nonviolent protests and persuasion.
In Manipur, a combination of strikes and economic strangulations is chosen, perhaps because of the peculiar geographic terrain. The alternatives are violence and insurgency, which gets bogged down in the face of a vast number of Indian para-military and military forces.
The international law does not help in cessation either, as it is vigorously opposed to any community’s attempt to break away in order to build a separate state or to join another adjoining state. It labels it as criminal. As it stands, there is also no local legal means of settling separatist conflicts. As a result, secessionist leaders fall back on a series of road blockades, with rambling triviality and jargonising verbosity to help create a relevant ethnic mood of disintegration and to draw Union Government’s attention. All is not fair in love and war. There are agreed international guidelines. British government prosecuted some British soldiers for their accesses in the Iraq war.
I am aware how difficult the Spanish conquistadors’ attempt to find El Dorado in South America (16th century) but it ended in failure. My favourite American poet Longfellow wrote in his The Ladder of St Augustine: “How hard is it to keep toiling when the goal seems far away?”
Edgar Allan Poe, an American, known as the best short story writer during my university days, wrote: “Over the Mountains of the Moon, down the Valley of the Shadow, ride, boldly ride … if you seek for Eldorado.” It was simply a romantic writing. Back to reality, researchers in University College London, conclude: ‘too much fantasy can have disastrous results on achieving goals’.
So the moral is, let’s all put this fancy idea of separatism behind, and there will be a heavenly harmony in Manipur when we scotch the myth that Meiteis will rule forever. We have to put up with each other for a while, to even it out, despite a gallery of rogues and discriminations that characterise Manipur.
Let’s unify all the communities by building one bridge while confining ourselves in our territorial waters. Let’s make provisions for of our future generations, who we want to protect when we are no longer around, by putting an end to the mixing of the absurd with the sinister and the twisted that we call separatism, as a folktale of witless, wary and wise.
Remember education and acquired intelligence attract many wonderfully weird people, Manipuris included.