By Pradip Phanjoubam
In many ways, Manipur has forgotten to celebrate. It only knows how to observe days of gloom carefully selected from its recent and past experiences. If there is anything as a dark era, this must be it for the state. The illuminating fire of optimism and hope has receded and in its place are images of suffering, protests, blockades, bandhs, mindless violence, ethnic tensions, xenophobic campaigns… and the list can go on.
While this tells of a somewhat omnipresent oppressive atmosphere that elicits a dark and pessimistic response, it also speaks volumes of the dark mindset of people of this state, kept alive either by memories of trauma and oppression of the past, or else careful reconstruction and reorganization of these memories by people with genuinely warped vision or else vested interest in keeping this perennial public angst alive.
It is as if the place has never seen anything worthwhile in its secular arena to celebrate in its recent history. It celebrates religious festivals no doubt, but these are not historical markers. On the other hand they tell a universal tale of faith and beliefs.
In its secular world the mindset is nothing short of uncanny. Even in areas where victory and defeat are juxtaposed in close proximity of each other, the place has picked out the defeat to make it an occasion to observe and neglected the victory. One is reminded of the ridiculous situation captured in the phrase, ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’ when contemplating Manipur’s predicament.
Obviously Manipur’s history, both of the pre-colonial as well as post-colonial periods would have been marked by trauma, and indeed both its official historical records in the royal chronicles as well as in its myths and fables, evidences of these are abundant.
The notion of a golden age therefore is largely absent. The best known kings of yore are those with military a reputation of invading neighbouring countries, King Pamheiba or later Garibaniwaj, 1709-1748 being arguably the foremost. He was an able successor of his father Charairongba,1697-1709, also known for his military prowess.
There will be those who argue, the reign of King Pamheiba’s grandson, King Chingthangkhompa, 1759-1760, more popularly known as King Bheigyachandra, is Manipur’s golden age. But even King Bheigyachandra had to continually face invasions after invasions from Ava (Burma), and a good part of his kingship was in exile. He did bring about a cultural transformation of his kingdom, most importantly choreographing the Ras Lila, which was, according to the myths associated with the dance form, revealed to him in a dream by his God, Krishna.
There is a phrase in Manipuri “Chahong-Ngahongba” (plenty of rice and fish) or roughly paraphrased as time of plenty, but this is more of a prayer and a wish of the community, and is associated with the deity Imoinu. What is unfortunately missing is, this prayer for a time of plenty, has seldom been recorded as having translated into secular administrative will to ensure such a condition of plenty. Circumstantial evidences point to the fact that war preparedness apparently was primary to the kingdom’s survival. Some explain this to be the reason why women play such a major role in keeping the economy floating, tending the paddies or peopling the marketplaces, men being for most of the time engaged in military duties.
Manipur’s history indeed is replete with invasions by Ava, the most devastating ones coming ever since the installation of the Konbaung Dynasty after the exit of the Tungoo Dynasty. Historians now say constant raids by peripheral states, most importantly Manipur, contributed to swift slide of the Tungoo domain into disintegration. This is probably why the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty, King Alaungpaya, upon ascending the Ava throne in 1752, raided Manipur and he himself took part in the campaign. That campaign too was also apparently devastating, and probably would not seen a parallel had not his grandson, King Bagidaw, 1819-1837, outdid him in the sweep as well as cruelty with which he invaded Manipur and Assam, leading ultimately to the Treaty of Yandaboo, 1826, a treaty pivotal in the modern history of the entire Northeast region.
King Bagidaw’s occupation of Manipur is remember as the Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (Seven Years of Devastation 1819-1826) when Manipur was occupied and ravaged almost completely.
Funnily, this genocidal occupation is observed in Manipur, while the victorious campaign of King Gambhir Singh and his cousin Nara Singh who succeed him in later years after the sudden death of Nara Singh, which ended the Burmese occupation is ignored. Something surely is wrong in the mindset of the place, and it is high time to call for a correction.
There is an element of what Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci called “hegemony of idea” in this. Gramsci’s proposition is a little more nuanced and in fact he is of the opinion that political ideas, and indeed idea itself, more often than not carry with them an element of coercion.
Re-interpreting Gramsci, it would appear that as much as the missionaries of cultures and religions were guilty of this when they set about conquering the “uncharted” world of the uninitiated “natives”, aggressive revivalism born as resistance to these forces cannot claim innocence either.
In Manipur, while the former has mellowed with age and maturity, it is the revivalist movements that have acquired all the characteristics and fundamentalist zeal of new converts. This cannot be good either for the revivalist movements themselves or for the society at large, for the human spirit is such that whatever is forced, always elicits a reciprocal and opposite reaction, almost by a direct application of Newton’s Third of Inertia.
The reactions may not come open immediately, but they would definitely accumulate within, incubating till they are mature enough to do so. The best way of conquering minds, it needs no sermons, is through the free exercise of rationale, a faculty all humans are gifted with.
Let nobody be so presumptuous as to think that the general masses are unaware of what is good or bad for them, especially in a literate society, and must be taught and administered pre-concocted prescriptions. Hence, constructive social agendas ought be designed to engender an atmosphere conducive for the continual, free growth and maturing of rationality and not seek to intimidate and bind this faculty.
There is tremendous energy and passion in Manipur. But unfortunately, the sense at the moment is one of an impending implosion, rather than this energy finding creative outlets. It is for this reason that one cannot help proposing a more liberal approach in which the society pays more attention to its triumphal moments too, and celebrate them with as much fervor as it recalls religiously its moments of defeats and tragedies.
Let the society realize that its children must be allowed to grow up to be outward looking and positive, rather that be grudging, embittered, angry, negative thinking denizens of the future. For the good of everybody, all must have to pitch in their effort to defuse at least some of the suffocating implosive energy that now envelops all.
Let the place its fall moments in perspective, and also bring out its triumphant marches out of obscurity. Both are part and parcel of any given society, but the difference is in how each manages to cope and sublimate them.
The once agrarian society had harvests and the first rains of April heralding spring, among others to celebrate. Surely, the modern Manipur society must also have its springs and autumns, apart from its winters and scorching summers of discontent. Let not the cherished fight against oppression become an instrument of oppression itself.
The agrarian society had harvests and the first rains of April heralding spring, among others to celebrate. Surely, the modern Manipur society must also have its springs and autumns, apart from its winters and scorching summers of discontent. Let not the cherished fight against oppression become an instrument of oppression itself.
Much of the responsibility for this state of affairs, if not blame, must go squarely to the place’s elite, or would coterie be the better word to describe them. Indeed any thought of the profile of the elite here would bring up images of corrupt and opulently rich circle of evil, constituting largely of ministers, bureaucrats and government contractors.
If a survey were to be done, probably, amongst them, they would possess 90 percent or more of Manipur’s entire wealth. Together they have managed to mess up practically all important functions of the government, therefore our roads are in a mess, our cities and townships are buried in filth, education standards have plummeted and in facts a greater section of B.A. and M.A degree holders, churned out by our colleges each year are unemployable, except in the government services where paper degrees and bribes, rather than job merit are the qualification.
How long can this be allowed to carry on? Why have our elite continued to abdicate their social responsibility of running the state and setting the trend for a free and fair society? They seem to be only interested in continuing the organized looting of public exchequer, amassing wealth, teaching their children Manipur is unlivable and sending them away. Until they come to acknowledge they are responsible for the chaos and only they can undo it, this oppressive mindset is unlikely to leave.
Why can’t they realize they are in the same boat as the beleaguered masses, and if the boat does sink, as it seems to be at the moment, they too would drown? Can’t they see the desertification of Manipur happening right before their eyes? A generation or two from now, if our elite continue to slumber, bothered with nothing else but plundering the state, a likely scenario could be Manipur becoming a land of geriatrics, with all its young, bright and employable, leaving the state to look for greener pastures elsewhere.