Politics of State Integrity and the Narrative of Shared History of Manipur

By AC Kharingpam

‘Integrity’ of a particular thing connotes a sense of positive unity and willingness to be one. However the word ‘integrity’ if used with a political motive connotes and reflects an act of strengthening the state and its apparatus and the forceful or deceitful mechanism of enforcing the interest of the dominant class or community on the less privilege class and community(s). The term ‘state integrity’ (Manipur) thus implies, in the present form of the term circulated in the political and social parlay, preserving the status quo- the hegemony and privilege of the dominant community (Meitei) of the state.

Sustaining the integrity of the state requires inclusive development, politics, social, psychological and emotional oneness and more importantly equality and dignity-assured sense of belonging in the nomenclature (Manipur). Without the presence of hope and assurance for a dignified survival of being a people within the state and in the narrative of the dominant culture and psyche, integrity makes little sense other than exposing the jingoistic sub-nationalism of the meiteis. Integrity without a sustained, sincere attempt to promote the socio-economic, cultural and linguistic development of the tribals also belies the sincerity of dominant discourse of long shared history and opportunity in the state. The policy of gradually integrating the tribals into the Meitei society as espoused by the Chief Minister Ibobi and his hubristic intellectual cohort reveals what joseph Conrad called ‘extermination of the brute’ attitude. Annihillation of tribal custom, tradition and language for the convenience of the dominant meitei community without taking into consideration the loss of identity and dignity of the tribal crossly negate the very ideals(supposedly) espoused by the state and claim of Manipur being a state of diverse culture and tradition.

To many Meiteis, opposition to the notion of Naga Integration, Zalengam or greater Mizoram come not as an unacceptable political step but rather as a reaction. The unacceptability comes from the sense of loss and anger of losing the presumed rights of being a Meitei in Manipur. For ages and years the tribals and their land have not only serve as a fertile hunting ground for wealth, but the land and its people have been used as a fertile imaginary landscape to paint and indulge in constructing what is not meitei and there by creating the ‘other’ to define the unique civilized Meitei’s identity. Thus the sense of loss and anger is borne out of the deep rooted colonial sense of superiority and the innate subconscious belief that ‘ because you were subjects so you will remain subjects forever’.

The idea of ‘state integrity’ as advocated and desired by the dominant community also reveals the tragic failure of the meiteis to integrate themselves with the ideal idea of Manipur. The present circumstances of Manipur clearly tell that integration has been befuddled with appropriation. To presume Meitei as a unique (exclusive) ethnic communityand Meite-lon and Meitei culture as an inclusive language and culture of the state, clearly contradict the very idea of integration.

The commonly said and quoted history of being together since time immemorial is an example of a callous dominant narrative technique for sidelining and marginalizing the experience of the tribal and the state’s marginalized community. Such overwhelming generalization only reaffirms the intent of the state’s official and its historians to forcefully integrate and convert the marginal human experience into a non existent narrative. It also reveals the painful truth of the psyche of the dominant community and its leaders about their unwillingness to accept Manipur as a multi cultural and multi lingual state. For most tribals it remains that the shared history being articulated by many Meitei scholars in their works only reveals a sort of naked distortion of their painful past. It is remain to be seen and read suspiciously as a narrative art that conveniently conceal historical facts of the relationship between the hill and the plain people. In such situation to the marginalized group, the history of the state becomes but a bitter memory of the Meitei dominance and the tribal resistance to the dominance.

To believe once again that the meiteis and the tribals have been living together peacefully since time immemorial would be a gross denial of the painful past experience of the tribals. The territorial proximity no doubt brings commercial contact, which in any case no one can escape, but talking of emotional, social and spiritual attachment, the two communities are far from being close. Beyond the physical contact one finds little or no encounter worth calling a ‘peaceful existence’.

A look at Meitei folk tale such as KhongchumnupiNongkaroltells us of the social structure embedded in the fabric of Meitei society. That the hill men were and has always been considered as socially inferior is aptly capture when one of the luwang girl’s mother lamented:

O dear daughters, what made you so

heedless of your parents’ advice and

unmindful of their prestige? Why

are you so recalcitrant as not to exercise

control over yourself? Why do you demean

yourself by having intimacy with

those persons from the hills who are

in no way a match for you in status

( A History of Manipuri Literature, Ch. Minihar Singh)

The literary and historical narrative also reveals the existence of unambiguous narratives which clearly script the social and psychological exclusiveness of the meiteis’ from the tribals of the hill country. The much celebrated poem ‘ ChingnaKoinapanshaba’ composed during the khongjom battle between the brave 400 meitei soldiers and the much superior 18000 british soldiers talks of the geographical location and territorial boundary of kangleipak (Manipur).

Chingnakoinapanshapa/ buffered by the surrounding hills

Chingmeenakoinapanngakpa/ Secured by the hill men

Manipur sanaleipakna/ Manipur the golden land

Mataoasumnapallami/ reigns

This flawless poem which eulogizes the land (Kangleipak) also leaves an undeniable comment on the distinctiveness and seperateness of the meiteis from other communities. The seminal idea of the poem besides the poet’s praise of his homeland is that thenarrator never in anyways consider the hill country as his own or that of his community. It goes on to tell about the exclusiveness of the Meitei community and the sacrosanct ideals of ‘meitei-ness’ and its pristine kingdom – Kangleipak

A further look at the oral narrative of naga Folk song reveals the painful experience of living under a harsh dominion. The fear and the pang of being taken captive by the Meitei king and his pillaging soldiers are aptly captured by the following couplet:

Hanno ashoklenge/ before I get a front fringe

Meiteewonakhaotho rot-re/ the Meitei king will take me captive

Saraiencheye/ I fear,beasty war

Woman has always been considered as an extended commodity and the marker and carrier of societal fear and values in patriarchal society. It is through this revolting notion that the victor in war not only defeats the vanquished but in order to inflict a lasting defeated memory the victor blunders not only the land but also the women folks. This sadistic nature of violating the women so as to humiliate beyond redemptions to the land and the defeated party is found in almost all tragic history of mankind and the glorious history of Manipur is no exception. Thus the state’s history carries the dual experiences of victory and defeat, triumph and humiliation in its long course of societal relationship.To adopt that the people of Manipur have come out of the sad part of history without looking into the historical injustice experienced by the hill people would be like assuming a dip in the mythical river Lethe with no memory.

The indifference to issue of painful collective memory of thetribal of the state can only worsen the already broken relationship. A redemptive measure by ways of revisiting the history of the state with open mindedness to the bitter experiences of the tribals can do a lot in mending the broken relationship.

The common method of silencing and at  times denying the existence of problem in the state by singing paeans of one sided mugged up notion of shared goodwill, shared history and shared identity by invokingluirumphi, haochongpaect., to construct a new society will be a gross misnomer. The act of being indifferent or denial to evade issues glaringly reveals the dominant community attempt to retain and strengthen their unjust hegemony in the state. Invalidating the differences and past memories by concocting fairy tale like story of the past and churning out specious argument and rhetoric just to dwarf  and deviate the tribal issue ironically devides and disintegrate the state more than the disintegration sought by other some community.

No community has the luxury of choosing one’s neighbor. Whatever the relationship may be, neighbours are destined. This simple adage holds true for all the communities of Manipur. We cannot choose to live separately. But at the same time we cannot afford to live together without taking into consideration the welfare, security and dignity of each community. The past experience of the hill people of Manipur glaringly tells us that equality has been a rare stranger and inclusiveness a rarer word in the politics of Manipur. The ethos of sharing and growing together has been long lost in the seeming altar of democracy (Demon-crazy?). Be it the question of cultural, economical, political or language development of the hills, all the bugs have stopped at the Manipur Legislative Assembly. The unequal distribution of peoples’ representative between the hills and the valley has made the state Legislative Assembly a forceful majority of the dominant Meitei group. Thus the developmental proposals for the hills are inevitably vetted by the sentiment of the meiteis. It is only through this process of vetting without knowing and concern for the hill peoples’ needs and desire that has distance the hill people from the state.

The dominant community’s elite has also mastered the art of conniving with the political class of Delhi and hobnobbing the mainstream media into crucifying any issue that is not to the interest of valley politics and sensitivity. The denial and obstruction to the demand of 6th schedule by the Tribal group of the state, demand for equal representation base on the actual population in the Manipur Legislative are some of the issues that has been successfully played down by the valley based media and the intelligentsia to furthered the hegemonic dominance of the valley based community.

Thus the platform of democracy has been surreptitiously used to turn every little interest of the plain people into the hallowed voice of the people of Manipur thereby sidelining the tribals into immeasurable distance.

(The writer may be contacted at [email protected])


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