By Hoihnu Hauzel
The further I go away from home, the closer I feel. The less I see, the more I want. And that precisely describes my love for Manipur, my home, my life and my world. I left Manipur as a little girl to pursue higher education. How could I have stayed on in the midst of those young men who marched and declared “bandh” and pulled the shutters down in my school? The nuns and teachers huddled in fear and we waited in painful silence for our parents to fetch us. We howled and wailed until we saw our parents or guardians to take us home safely. That was memories of a few years of my schooling in Manipur. I left in tears reluctantly, to a boarding school and never understood why I must be sent away. The answer to my question is still unanswered and it remains a question relevant as ever today. But not tomorrow, I hope and pray that things would have changed for the better.
Along with me are a generation of people who were compelled to leave and seek educational refuge for we had to make something of ourselves. We have grown in our world but we have not outgrown our love for our home, our people, and our land. Scattered across the globe, my friends from school have made their homes wherever their works took them. No matter where we are, we still bond over our love for our home. Our love has only grown with time. As we watch our state from a distance, we are stirred and moved by every storm that rocks the people and the soil. Each time anything happens, it stirs our collective heart. We cry.
I have been more shaken than ever to see the slow and steady deterioration of things. I could not and never be immune to see things going this way and wonder why people remain so silent, so comfortable in this chaotic madness where nothing seems to be working the way it should.
And of late, many incidents in the state raise serious questions about rising intolerance in Manipur, the land that we lovingly called Sana Leibak. Translated literally, Land of God is a profound name and one would imagine it would be like a paradise.
Far from it, we have earned the distinction of being the “most disturbed state” in the country. A reference I would like to forget in a hurry. Potential tourists now think twice before they decide to board a flight even though they die to see the Loktak Lake and our unique Shiroy Lily. The historical land that gave the game of polo to the world does not register in the minds of the very players who would have genuinely loved to play a game or two on the very soil where the game was first played.
We have been the slowest to progress and a state with the least number of visitors despite having so much to showcase.
Why are we such an intolerant bunch of people here? We could have been a role model to other regions and states considering our uniqueness. Manipur could have been a happy home of so many tribes and communities. We could have been a unique little India exemplifying unity in diversity.
Today, we cannot stand our neighbour. A piece of land is more precious than human life. One tribe cannot stand the other. Our history is smeared with blood and brutality. We have had the longest and the most brutal history of internal conflicts. There are endless horrific stories of the brutal manner in which we choose we eliminate our so-called enemies. Not realising, our real enemy is ignorance, illiteracy, poverty and inefficiency.
And we harbour that eternal anger and grudge against the centre government, who so generously give us year after year, crores and crores of rupees for good roads and development.
But when we are angry with the centre, we vent our grievances to the most unlikely targets. We pick on helpless young jawans who leave behind a family far away. We thrash and eliminate these soldiers in uniform as if it would make any difference.
Then we are angry, we target educational institutions that are owned by the government. We burn down buildings and destroy properties as if that would solve our problem. Not knowing we are only inflicting harm to ourselves. We terrorise missionary schools whose sole motive is to educate our children and show the way. And we are the only state in India to shut down schools and colleges for months spoiling the future of our youth. We follow diktats of misguided men whose hearts are well-meaning but with wrong methods and strategies. Perhaps, there is a need to communicate better and chart an innovative method sans violence to raise those demands and negotiate like seasoned professionals.
We are so intolerant. We banned Bollywood movies and Hindi channels, the only window to the world outside for hundreds of residents who have never stepped out beyond their kitchen walls. We threaten our young girls to drape themselves in traditional attire and nothing else in school and college, fearing our culture may be eroded. For a state so rooted in its culture and heritage, I fail to see the fear of those cowards who imagined we could be losing our sense of culture if we borrow from others. It would only enrich us.
Our recent act of intolerance in banning the prestigious daily, The Telegraph, the only faithful and dedicated publication committed to the region puts us in a bad light to the nation. Opinions are divided, but thinking voice would agree that this would only reflect our intolerant spirit to others. We seem to have forgotten that our iron lady, Irom Chanu Sharmila, who has brought the world focus, is but only a human being with emotions. In fact, the soft-spoken lady is oozing with emotions as her poems prove just that. Have we looked upon her as a sacrificial lamp to be slaughtered at the altar of our demands? She is our sister, our daughter and we ought to be sensitive to her needs and feelings. Just because she stood for a cause that effects our collective life, it would be unfair to deny the desires of her heart, if she so chooses. Her cause is definitely larger as compared to her personal life. But for someone who has given 11 years of her prime time and being so committed, a love affair (if at all there is) is too trivial to let her forget all that she stood for. In fact, she will never forget her cause and I fear she may grow more fragile in health. She must eat a morsel or we may lose her.
She is now a public figure evoking deep interest in every move she makes. The limelight is on her and naturally so for she has been so unwavering. I for one would like to know every detail of her life. Not because of anything else but because she is so unlike us: she’s so focussed, so unwavering and determined in her fight. So, it’s a natural curiosity for anyone and not just The Telegraph to look at this aspect. And in doing so, the cause of her fight will never be of lesser importance nor be forgotten.
On the contrary, my fear is, have we in our mindless anger, angered another important source (The Telegraph) which has been so committed to our affairs. For a colossus publication which has a far greater market elsewhere than a minuscule Manipur, I doubt if it would impact their revenue even if it does not come to Manipur. But we need them to write about us, our development and trace our progress and connect us to the world.
By the time, you read this; I hope the issue is resolved and that the paper is back to its devoted readers.
Again, this habit of our`s is nothing new. We are notorious for banning things and driving away people who would matter eventually in our scheme of things. We drove away Bata shoe store, a prominent landmark that used to be in a busy Paona Bazar. Today, it could generated enployment to many. We drove away the first (if am not mistaken) private airline, Sahara Airlines that once flew in our difficult terrain. And it was the only airline that gave a 50 per cent concession to students with valid identity card. I have nostalgic memories of being on many flights operated by the airline with my school bag. Similarly, we have also driven away many outsiders who made Manipur their home, and left their home far away in another part of India.
And, we conveniently blame the government for lack of governance and inefficiency. It’s time we look within for we are only causing this to ourselves.
We have made a mess of our state; let the coming generation lead a better life.
(Hoihnu Hauzel is a Delhi-based journalist)