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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 33, August 7, 2010

Manipur: Reactions to Nandita Haksar’s Article

Monday 9 August 2010


In our issue of June 19, 2010 we published an article by Ms Nandita Haksar entitled “Constitutional Crisis in Manipur”. The article was reproduced in many papers and websites in the North-East and has generated a lively debate. We have also received some responses directly. We are reproducing some extracts from various points of view so that our readers may get a feel of the volatile situation in Manipur. —Editor

The gravity of the situation in Manipur is not in doubt as is clear from the the Seventh Report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (February 2008)—specifically Chapter 12 entitled “Conflicts in the North-East”. We reproduce the paragraph dealing with Manipur which will help our readers contextualise the debate evoked by Haksar’s article:

“12.3.4 Manipur. Currently, it is the ‘most insur-gency ridden’ State with about fifteen violent outfits representing different tribes/communities active in the State and has become a self-financing extortion activity particularly in the Valley. The Commission, during its visit to the State, was told of several instances where development funds were siphoned off to finance various unlawful and disruptive activities.

“ One-fourth of Manipur (which is the valley), is home to more than seventy per cent of its population which predominantly consists of the culturally distinct Meitei community. The State was ruled as a monarchy (later princely state) by Meitei rulers. The Meitei influence declined in the socio-economic spheres after Independence with the tribals coming into the forefront largely because of reservations. There was also resentment in a section of the Meitei society about the merger of the State with the Indian Union—a resentment which led to the Meitei insurgency from the 1960s. Tribals account for around thirty per cent of the State’s population and broadly belong to Naga, Kuki-Chin and Mizo groups. Insurgency in Nagaland and Mizoram also spilled over to the State. The ‘cultural distance’ of tribals from the Meiteis widened with almost all the tribes coming under the Christian fold by the 1930s. There is considerable tension among the tribes over land and boundaries and violence between Nagas and Kukis took a toll of more than 2000 lives during the 1990s.”

Nandita Haksar must tender Apology to Kukis: Lunkim

“I appreciate your painful awareness of the ‘divisions within the Manipur society’. Even as I appreciate your painfully written article, I am convinced that it is bound to cause a disastrous effect unless you clarify your viewpoints which are more or less stemmed out from your ignorance about Manipur and her citizens.
“…You said that ‘Ukhrul district is the home of the Tangkhul Nagas; Tamenglong is the home to the Zeliangrong group of tribes; Senapati district is the home of four Naga tribes: Mao, Maram, Thangal and Poumai; Chandel is the home of eight Naga tribes: Aimol, Anal, Lamkang, Tarao, Kom, Maring, Moyon and Monsang’. In fact these eight tribes of Chandel are Kukis who have been cheated into believing the NSCN (I-M)’s false propaganda that Nagas will become independent from India.

“Thence, they were forced to or opted to become Nagas.

“You have also completely concealed or left out the Kuki people living in all six hill districts of Manipur.”

Chairman of the Kuki Movement for Human Rights (KUMHUR) Dr T. Lunkim [Hueiyen News Service (June 23, 2010)]

Letter to Rev Dr T. Lunkim

“I would not like to be party to the debate that is taking place in the media between Ms Nandita and your good self on the historical and political background of the present mess in Manipur. But it would be my bouden duty to demand a clarification for putting the record straight so that things are understood in their proper perspective and not at the expense of my community. In your letter seeking clarifications from Ms Nandita Haksar you have mentioned the district wise land holding of Nagas and Kukis wherein against Churachanpur district, it is indicated as 100 per cent Kuki and the total Kuki population ois indicated as 4,23,227. This statistics may have been mentioned inadvertently. However, the existence of Paites, Hmars, Mizos, Vaiphais and Zous have either been derecognized or the same has been intentionally concealed.

“As much as the Nagas have expressed through different forms of agitation over the alleged remarks of majority Meitei community that there is no Nagas in Manipur, your statement itself misrepresent and distorts the fact of the existence of oter communities, mine included. Further, encompassing other communities in your paper war with the nagas is most unacceptable, more so when it is someone of your stature and accomplishment. This must be treated as a very serious crime. No matter how small or big a community may be, there must be due respect for one another. Whatsoever may be the reason for the bad blood between Nagas and the Kuki, as professed by you, we are not part of it. We continue to have brotherly relation with any tribal as we are all victims in one way or the other. I feel that the role we had all played during the unfortunate Kuki-Paite clash have not healed as yet and therefore….I beseech your wisdom to set the wrong projections in your statement at the earliest before it leads to further polisation on tribal lines.”

Ms Gelniang, a Paite writing from Delhi [published in the Morung Express, Dimapur, Nagaland]

Claim of Ethnic Purity—Road to Nowhere

IN page 2 of Imphal Free Press dated Saturday, June 26, 2010, under the heading “Constitutional Crisis of Manipur: A Reply”, T. Lunkim, Chairman, KUMHUR, has suggested Nandita Haksar to say ‘all others like Muslims, Nepalis are illegal immigrants, who later on secured citizenship’. Now I have a few questions to KUMHUR:

1. How many of the present inhabitants of Kukis are descendants of the original Kukis in the present State of Manipur? One has to consider the fact that Kukis have been living in the Chin State of Myanmar (Burma) as well as Lushai hills of Mizoram besides other places; and they are migratory in nature. According to the Census of 1881, the Kuki population in Manipur was 17,204 (exculding old Kukis many of whom have declared themselves as Nagas now like Kom, Anal, Namfau, Chim, Koireng, Chohte, Purum, Mantak, Hiroi or Mangang which numbered 8180) as against the Naga population of 68,084 (= 59,904 + 8180) which means the Naga population was almost four times that of the Kuki population at that time. Now according to your above mentioned letter, the Kuki population in 2001 is almost 1.5 times that of the Nagas. If there was a similar growth then the Kuki population in 2001 would have been around 75,000, about 430 per cent increase. How can the discrepancy be explained except by accepting that there has been a huge recent migration of Kukis from outside Manipur, most probably the Chin and Lushai areas?

2. In 1606 AD, a large number of Muslim men settled in Manipur; their wives were all Meitei women officially married arranged by the then government/King of Manipur. If the mothers’ line is considered, Manipur Muslims’ origin is the same as that of Meiteis. Before that prominent incident of 1606 also, there are reports of small groups of Muslims settled in Manipur. If such Muslims, who came more than four centuries ago are illegal immigrants, who are the legal immigrants? One should also keep in mind that there are many immigrants from India, China or Burma among the Meiteis who came much later than the Muslims. Then there are many individual Meitei, Naga etc. families who decided to embrace Islam and join the Muslim society

3. All nation-building processes including those of Meitei, Naga, Kuki etc. necessarily involve absorption of different ethnic communities. Please study how different warring kingdoms were absorbed to the Ningthouja suzerainty during a period lasting several centuries; and how warring Tangkhul, Sema etc. village kingdoms joined the Nagaisation process.

4. The search for a pure race or pure faith normally leads to ethnic cleansing called Holocaust under Nazism or Nakba/catastrophe of Palestinians during the experiment of Israel. Genetically all races have traces of mixture of a great many races. Also please remember that for the believers of Islam or Christianity, all humanity originated from one parent.

5. The world, and Manipur in particular, now needs to search for a common future/vision for prosperity for everyone. The search for the great past has led us nowhere. And believe it or not, all of us are great, if only we have the right opportunity!!!

Yours sincerely,

Abdulhalim Phoondreimayum

Editorial: The Sangai Express

IT was and is not the Meiteis who kept the Nagas away from their student organisations, but a case of the Naga students willingly becoming members of student bodies, which owe their allegiance to the NSF. This happened sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. The fact we have mentioned this may strengthen the argument that the Nagas of Manipur and Nagas of Nagaland are tied by an inseparable umbilical cord, but can Ms Haksar answer why no Tangkhuls or Maos or Zeliangrongs or Marams or any Naga tribe settled in Manipur, signed the 1951 plebiscite? Better still, when Nagaland boycotted the 1952 parliamentary election, a Tangkhul from Ukhrul district, the ever green Rishang Keishing, was elected to the Lok Sabha from the Outer Manipur constituency. This should clear some lingering points. Yes, there is no composite culture amongst the different communities living in Manipur, but can we say that there is a composite culture which can be easily identified as the culture of the Nagas of Manipur and Nagas of Nagaland? In fact it is the presence and harmonious co-existence of different cultures which has made Manipur what it is. Ms Haksar’s observation that the Manipur Pradesh Committee did not oppose the Naga integration movement when an agreement was signed between the Congress and the United Naga Integration Council is right and it is there on record, we suppose. But her lopsided and blurred views became clear when she equated the Congress party with the Meiteis of Manipur.

Expressing one’s view point is welcome and while we do not agree with much of the observations of Ms Haksar, we do respect her attempt to portray the situation here to the rest of the country, which is but unfortunately littered with misinterpretation. When the Government of Manipur speaks, it does not speak for the Nagas but for the Meiteis, charged Ms Haksar in her article. In other words, it means that the Government of Manipur exists only for the Meiteis and not the Nagas. The fact that Mr Rishang Keishing still holds the record of being the Chief Minister of the State for the longest period of time, must not have blown over her head, given her understanding and association with Manipur. At the moment too, the Rajya Sabha MP from Manipur is not a Meitei, which has 40 MLAs in a House of 60, but a Naga, the evergreen Mr Rishang Keishing! Again it is wrong to presume that there are only ten Naga MLAs in the House. There are twenty seats reserved solely for the tribals, Nagas and Kukis included, and any tribal candidate can get elected from any of the sixty seats in the State Assembly. For Ms Haksar’s information, we would like to point out that Professor Gangmumei Kamei was a strong and favoured candidate in Thang-meiband Assembly Constituency in 1980. That Radhabinod Koijam, won the election is another matter! Seen in this light, Ms Haksar’s comment on the composition of the State Assembly is not only unwarranted but exposes some other agenda than merely writing about what is happening here.

Misguided Concerns aimed at Misguiding Others—A Rejoiner to Nandita Haksar’s ‘Constitutional Crisis in Manipur’

THE writer would like to share with Ms Haksar, a few undocumented and less appreciated fringe perspectives, historical as well as social. It will be her prerogative to study and appreciate them and put these information to educate her Naga(?) clients, for their overall betterment. No offence meant.

Nobody in Manipur disputes the historical fact that the religious conversion to Vaishnavism took place in the early 18th century, in the era of the Manipur Raja Garib Niwaz, a.k.a. King Pamheiba. It is one of the most unique religious conversions ever, if ever there was one, because it was not a conversion but adoption. The Meitei community did not forsake the age-old Sanamahi worship in place of Vaishnavism. Even to this day and age, the Meiteis as well as the Meitei brahmins’ home is adorned with a place of worship for Lord Sanamahi, the Meitei diety, so-called Santhong laatpa. Till this very day, the majority of the Meitei community adhere to the two religious systems concurrently, with all the due respect and formalities. Slowly at first, the first few steps of this religious adoption were tentative, but picked up a pace of its own and its penetration and assimilation in the Meitei population was deep and widespread. So much that the Vaishnavism of the Goura dharma order reached a peak of sorts. Goura dharma did bring about a dramatic and significant change in the social life of the Meiteis, as far as education and hygiene were concerned. It can be said that in the Manipuri household not very long ago, an elder took a meal only after a cleansing bath that was followed by a ritualistic worship and the application of tikas on the forehead and shoulders, known as the Laibak chandon thinba. The holier than thou attitude was quite all-pervasive and this writer still remembers that nobody was allowed to go into the kitchen without a bath. The cook had to wear only washed or silk (muga) clothing that is especially earmarked for the kitchen, known as chaakhum phi, literally meaning the kitchen clothing. A cook had to take a compulsory bath again, if she or he had to visit the the toilet for a nature’s call, midway during the cooking. Cooking meat and eggs in the kitchen was strictly prohibited, which is so different from what is being practised nowadays. For better or for worse, is not the argument in contention, but it was a system that was prevalent not so long ago.

The tribals, usually the Tangkhuls, were usually the ones who came to a valley household for work, mainly canal and pond digging, known locally as the khongbaan touba or pukhri touba, respectively. They were usually scantily dressed and never took a bath regularly, even after carrying out dirty jobs, and the act of cleaning oneself with water after ablutions was never practised by them. This is not to raise a finger of allegation that they did something wrong, but this is a fact prevalent not so long ago. This practice was totally unacceptable to many devout Vaishnavite Meiteis who practically lived by the ways of Goura dharma tenets, in those days of yore. This practice of cleanliness that culminated from a religious perspective, known as maangba-sengba in local terminology, has been wrongly attributed and perceived by the hills people as to be discriminatory to them, which is very unfortunate. They did not understand the concept of the religious rituals the Meiteis practised so fervently and many hills people who had studied in the valley institutions, took to the off-tangent idea that they were discriminated against. It will be worthwhile to note that maangba-sengba can be translated as pure and impure, but imperceptibly understood as clean and unclean, which was true in their case, from a Meitei Vaishnavite’s viewpoint.

The erstwhile PM, (late) Smt Indira Gandhi, had made the offer of including the Meiteis in the Scheduled Caste category, but the Manipur Congress leaders at that time, in all their wisdom of belonging to a “higher class mentality”, did not accept it. It is not hard to fathom their reluctance in accepting such an offer that would mean climbing down from the belief that Meiteis were Arya putras and Kshetriyas to boot and to be categorised as a minority (like the Muslims and Christians); that was the last straw. This remark is made in all earnest, as a factual representation, and bears no superiority overtones. Illogical as it may sound, this seemingly harmless decline paved the way for a much more competitive frame of mind for the Meiteis, as they had to face a much more stringent and a highly competitive environment. The effects of belonging to the open general class, without the benefit of quotas and reservations, have slowly started to emerge only now. Many young Meiteis have succeeded in making successful careers and entrepreneurial efforts outside the State and country, fighting and clawing hard in trying to find a place in the sun.

On the other hand, this development started to open up a divide of sorts between the valley Meiteis and the Scheduled Tribes of the hills. The tribes with the constitutionally sponsored quotas and reservations, made available to them because they lacked in education and were under-developed (which many of them started believing it to be their birthright), began to get plum posts with ease and relatively lesser effort. But the thing to bookmark at this juncture is that the size of the tribal population receiving some sort of formal education is still very low (and please do not blame the Meiteis for that, too), while the Meiteis had to be contented with whatever they got. But the effort to excel in an open category had, in fact, spurred their intellect and raised the quality of personal growth as far education and the competitive spirit (still a very long way to go, yet) is concerned. But the need for a higher quality of education is realised only by a few tribals (countable on finger tips, some will say), and that too, who reside in the valley area. The onus of opening up the hills for allround growth, lies with the hill tribes.

Bankimchandra Chinganbam [published in KanglaOnline accessed on July 18, 2010]

Axiomatic Journalismo

ONE of the serious difficulties faced by the media reporting conflict is in deciding what exactly is objective reporting in representing developing, often emergent, situations. One easy way out has been to make the media an open space where all the conflicting parties can say whatever they want and then leave it up to the reading public, presumably intelligent and discerning, to judge for themselves where rationality ends and madness begins (or vice versa) in each of the points of views expressed. There is a problem here too, for the presumption of the readers’ (or audiences’) critical ability to identify not just what is represented in black and white in print, but also what may be broadly described as the third voice of poetry that T.S. Eliot talked of, is doubtful. The third voice here is taken to mean the unseen, imaginary narrator, who emerges from the dialectic between the poet and the reader, mediating and interpreting what the reader actually reads or hears. The ability to hear this voice brings the reader (or listener) to the position of the poet. It involves him (or her) in the creative process but, at the same time, prevents a total emotional involvement by establishing a distance between him and the action. It is a two-way process. Good poetry must hence invoke this third voice, much as the reader must also be sensitive enough to hear this voice. The poet and the listener in this sense become part of the same creative process.

We are talking of journalism and not poetry here, but all the same the dynamics are not altogether different. This is why we are often left despairing at the absence of any handle for this dialectic in both the media representation of conflict as well as in the readers’ appreciation of what appears in print. The issue, however, goes beyond this simple equation. This is so because unlike poetry, the medium as well as method of story-telling in the case of the modern media is far more complicated. It is also extremely divergent, especially so between the print and the TV. The classic story telling strategy of the media is for the story teller to develop an axiom or hypothesis on what he would be reporting, and then collects information that suits the axiom. Often, and quite unethically, he would also resort to selectively quoting people he interviews, distorting in the process the context in which certain things were said, just so that his axiom can be developed. The print media in a way is safer for it is possible to have each speaker express their opinion in full, either in articles or else in the feedback columns in the form of letters to the editor correcting in the process some of the distortions which may have been deemed to have happened. A recent article by human rights lawyer, Nandita Haksar, which was reproduced in the IFP (Imphal Free Press) and the replies to it, was just an example of this.

This is not possible in the case of the TV. If certain facts or ideas have been misrepresented, there is no easy way this can be corrected. A recent story by CNN-IBN “Your Land, My Land” which so atrociously pitted the Nagas against the Meiteis and had them throw abuses at each other was one such case. The IFP editor and the writer of this editorial, unfortunately and unwittingly became part of it. What had appeared as an interview on the situation in the state was used in bits and totally out of context so as to suit the narrator’s axiom of the Naga-Meitei divide. One question in the interview pertained to whether there were anti-hill government policies (by implication by the Meitei Government) to cause the undeniable reality of unequal development between the hills and valley. The answer was this was unlikely, for the Manipur Assembly is one-third hill, therefore it would be impossible for it to pass any overtly anti-hill legislation. As, for instance, Assembly debate records (now available) show that among those who strongly pushed the ADC election decision were some of the Naga MLAs who resigned protesting the ADC election. The interviewer was also told that the disparity is more likely to be because of different attitudes to the modern system. Those who embrace the modern would reap better harvest from the modern system. Because of modern land revenue system in the valley, for instance, the average farmer in the valley would command much more investment liquidity, because his land can be mortgaged or even en-cashed if need be. This is not the case in the hills because of the insistence on the archaic notions of land ownership. This last bit of opinion was used and juxtaposed with an argument on hill-valley land friction the narrator was developing, falsely implicating the IFP editor as a participant in his debate. It is likely there would be others interviewed in the same story who felt used too. This objection was raised to the story teller and apology duly received, but there were advices from friends that since the perceived wrong was on a public platform it should not end as a private matter, therefore this editorial. Our readers can also expect articles on the same issue on media watchdog websites soon.
- [Pradeep Phamjoubam, Editor, Imphal Free Press]

Nandita Haksar’s Response:

I am glad that Mainstream has decided to publish the various responses to my article. I have noticed that there are no responses from the Nagas who have overwhelmingly welcomed my article. Perhaps, Mainstream thought that I have written the original piece from the stand-point of the Nagas. I would like to clarify only this much that while it is true that I have advocated the cause of the Nagas when I am representing them, I had written the article in Mainstream mainly from my deep concern as an Indian citizen. I believe that the rage, passion and reactions to my article from various sections testifies to the fact that Manipur is a deeply divided society. However, the fact that all these points of view are being published is a cause for celebration, because in the final analysis it is the people who must always decide their own future and not the state.

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