MANIPURI TRIBALS MUST FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS - MEITEI ST CONVERSION IS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM

Only Negotiations to craft agreements that give everyone more from better relationships will stop Manipur waltzing into the sunset. All communities in Manipur are having unwavering principles of culture (ignore ex-governor Shanmuganathan – the last intelligent man from South India) drawn to danger like a moth to flame. They spend so much energy wanting to poke wasps’ nests, just because they feel like it.

In an echo chamber of dumb bureaucracy Tribals must fight for their rights but, not for short-term gains and long-term losses. Why? With immigration such a hot topic it feels like a comedy that had not chosen its moment well. This is the tipping point. Immigration is now ‘nestled somewhere between near the knuckle and over the top’.

Cultural change is inevitable. Let me welcome you to the real world of change. Women over 40 are more likely to have a baby than those under 20. It’s coming of age story. Manipuri societies and cultures are far from reaching this sophistication. Civilisation in Manipur is fairly recent, and it will change with time, and from which I am sure, a Manipuri identity will emerge.

All communities in Manipur need to change for survival. Experiments by evolutionary biologists in the late 1970s and 1980s have shown that group survival involving altruism for the common good, will be more likely to succeed.

When I was a young and stupid schoolboy sure of myself, time moved very slowly and the Earth moved gingerly in its orbit. Manipur was just past the Bronze Age with no real sense of bustling, thriving communities. In Imphal on a particular day, I could be the only boy cycling the whole length of Uripok Road from Kangla to Kangchup.

While in college, I discovered a similar place elsewhere, in a Hollywood movie – ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ -shot in the Greek Island of Hydra where time still hardly moves. Khuraijam Dhiren and I went to see it in Calcutta in 1957 at the Roxy cinema hall in the Esplanade near Dharamatala; where I understand, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose went to see KISMET, starring evergreen Ashok Kumar, for whom time also stood still. I also saw this picture in Imphal with my eldest brother Gokulchandra, just before the Imphal bombing.

Time has moved on since in Manipur, but its time warp has brought a cold war between the hill and valley people, by distorting the continuum of time and space. It’s mostly due to a mix up of long term shared benefits by Tribals for petty contemporary politico-economic gains. Our young generations in Manipur cannot imitate the more advanced free-wheeling counterparts in the metropolis like Delhi. Their attitude should be safety-first with higher education and to focus on conventional careers with traditional family values.

In 1952 when I went from ” Village Imphal” to college in the most westernised Bombay, I put myself subconsciously at the same level as my counterparts there. In fact, it took me 20 years, to go back and meet some of them and be able to act out like them. I had then, a profession, and money that came with it.

So, what has become of this cameo starlet of Manipur after more than half a century of independence? Though the weight of history hangs heavily on its denizens, Manipur remains confused with intercommunity feuds. How things have come to such a pass? It’s partly, because of misunderstanding that in a democracy the majority decides the country’s fate (only 3 Manipuri MPs to parliament); and partly, the growing literacy and rolling urbanisation that increase interaction between different communities living shoehorned in cramped lodgings in Imphal, with shocks and sniggers of derision without a dialogue window.

Day to day politics is transitory. While the difference between the affluent and penury is widening in Manipur as anywhere in India, we must remember we are born into a family of Manipuris, by virtue of which we become manifest to ourselves and others. We learn a common language. Though it does not belong to everybody we express ourselves through it. With the language comes a unified culture – a Manipuri identity, which whether we like it or not, has become part of it.

Unity is the ultimate long term political platform for both hills and valley, adjusted to meet changing cultural values and emerging divergent issues. Community architects among the Hill and valley people need an agenda to approach the “rich valley and poor hill” divide, with a mutually reinforcing strategy. There will always be some casualties but you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.

This however, is not that untraumatic. It is the phobia of losing land one holds dear. Tribals judgementally, want to change the 5th Schedule to the 6th Schedule, which confers small autonomous tribal regional governments to make their own laws and receive Union finance to run their regions. They are mini states like the Autonomous Arrangement (AA) demanded by UNC, espousing “peaceful parting of ways” on October 27 2012. Majority Meiteis on the other hand, view it as a mutually unacceptable settlement.

There is also the “Samantha judgement”: the Supreme Court in 1997, ruled that the 5th Schedule enjoined governors to bar purchase of tribal land for mining activity by any entity that was not state-owned. But on subsequent reaction by the Ministry of Mines and further appeals from the Andhra Pradesh government, governors were given unfettered authority in the transfer of Scheduled Tribe land to the government and allotment to non-Tribals, altering the balance of power.

The implication is that Tribal lands in the hills of Manipur are not inapproachable to Manipur government though subject to approval by the Supreme court. This also applies to the Traditional Forest Right of  Tribal communities to protect and manage their forests, only if the state decides whether a certain region is denoted as ‘Reserved Forest’.

We need to create another lasting deal about the cold war – which Tribals catchphrase the “Hill and Valley Divide”. Both keep blaming Delhi ‘for divide and rule’ but none of the relevant statistics make any claim to Delhi being a super conurbation, meddling in Manipur’s affairs. It’s Manipuris, who divide themselves. Delhi has to rule as best as it can, as it has done by refusing three infamous PMP Bill, 2015.

In the unabetting storm that gathers the weight of political arguments, prevention of disunity is still within the rubric of communities in Manipur. Disagreement is not disunity. It’s the quality of relationship – a challenge the Union Bharat is having as a bad triptych in hinging the three panels of North, South and Northeast India.

As a columnist of TSE, I stay neutral. I protested that 1952 as cut-off year in the PMP Bill was unreasonable, but the redrafted 1972 Bill is appropriate. The Bills were passed with legislators from both hills and valley. Later, when there were CHKIM tribal objections, the government invited the dissenters to come and discuss. They did once, and then abandoned as they felt Delhi would lend a more sympathetic ear. Deputy CM Gaikhangam and I share the same platform of ‘United we stand’. Gaikhangam, a veteran, who founded the ATSUM, is not a posturing politician who mocks the sacrifices at Churachandpur.

Perhaps I’m wrong but the bathos inspires me to a phantasmagoria. While the three Bills are undergoing a fresh make-over to redline the ‘hill-valley divide’, let me grope my way to trippy disorientation like dismantling a lobster. It requires some awkward exposition but once it’s set up it is immersive. The present cold war in Manipur may perhaps be diffused by sifting the metropolis of Imphal to Ukhrul, Tamenglong or Churachandpur. Perhaps at Sadar Hills where there can be two governments one for Kukis and one for Nagas, as Shimla once had – one for Himachal Pradesh and one for the Punjab.

While the Tribals are making up their mind I have some propositions, which Meiteis should be thinking about seriously, without taking the drug Tripizoid that made Vietnam War veterans forget their traumatic events: (1) to have an equal number of legislatures both from the hills and the valley; (2) to apportion three fourths of Manipur to Kukiland; (3) to free Nagas to integrate their land to Nagaland; and (4) to demand the downsized, landlocked and gridlocked Kangleipak to have the 6th Schedule. Meiteis will then be able to live happily forever without verbal bullying, and as ‘puppets on a string’ controlled by hands from the hills.

I am in awe whether ‘twice-born’ Meiteis, now demoted to Sudra, have had a bad Karma en masse, in their previous birth; and whether they should redeem (prayachit in Hinduism) themselves by stopping reproduction until their population comes down to that of Tribals. For communality, the STDCM’s is already on warpath to even it out.

While my mind was wandering in cloud cuckoo land, I looked out through my study window and saw the purple iris flowers (Kombirei) blooming in my garden. It took me back to Yaralpat in Imphal and despair. I realised it was not a political construction of Reality. What then? All the communities in Manipur have to fight a brutal survival game for unity – for one Manipur.v