Culture of protest


Perhaps it is the martial tradition that is influencing Manipuris in varied fields including that of the culture of protest. Once upon a time, the Manipuri kings held sway over vast territories in these parts of India-Myanmar region. The armies of Manipur and that of Ava (now Myanmar) had been perennially rocked in raids over each others’ territory, as evidenced by the huge presence of Manipuris in and around Mandalay. Manipur was devastated by marauding forces of Ava for seven straight years which came to be known in history as the Chahi Taret Khuntakpa, resulting in mass exodus of Manipuris. This is why we are also seeing large Manipuri settlements in the Bramhaputra valley and Barak valley in Assam, Takhel (now Tripura), and Sylhet district in Bangladesh. Even after British subjugation, the Manipuris did not remain meek spectators. The women vendors rose in revolt twice against the colonial policies of the British. The first was against British efforts to browbeat the men folk into submission through enforced labour. The second revolt was against the extractive policy of the British causing artificial scarcity of rice in the otherwise food surplus state. These two revolts are engraved in history as the Nupilals. In such a backdrop, the onset of the prohibition movement by women groups and the famous Meira paibi movement is of no surprise. In collectivity, the courage of Manipuri women is unparalleled. The Meira paibis were in the forefront of the human rights movement in the state, and we all have seen them in action against both state and central security forces. The June 15 naked protest in front of the historic Kangla against the rape and murder of a former women cadre Thangjam Manorama of the banned PLA by security forces still remains unparalleled in the history of protest. The intensity of the June 18 movement against the extension of GOI-NSCN IM ceasefire beyond Nagaland, the anti AFSPA movement in the aftermath of the Thangjam Manorama incident, Irom Chanu Sharmila’s unique protest for repeal of AFSPA and the July 23 movement against fake encounters are something which will be engraved in the history of protests in the state. With regard to students’ protest, the 1965 student agitation against artificial scarcity of rice is an important milestone which led to the formation of the powerful AAll Manipur Students Union (AMSU). The students has been in the forefront of every movement in the state be it of statehood or recognition of Manipuri language or anti-foreigners. There is a strong culture among the students of protest. There are times when they will protest against anything under the sun.  They will protest against human rights violations, major issues confronting the state, the hiring and firing of teachers or of transfer of teachers, and of alienation. The present agitation against racial profiling and the murder of Richard Loitam in Bangalore is a case in point. However in recent times, the intensity of movements has somehow mellowed down to sit-in-protests, effigy burning or human chains. The nature of agitation or movement has evolved and a namesake only remains. By saying this, we are not vouching for violent protests. Yet, the intensity of a movement counts when it comes to waking up the powers that be from their slumber. The nature of the rulers is such that they will not heed the demands unless you directly point a finger in their eyes or unless you turn violent. The culture of violence was in fact encouraged by the inaction of the state. And the present Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is one such leader whose style of functioning is based on inaction. He rules through inaction, as we have seen in the movement against fake encounters staged by state police forces in the state.


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