Manipur: A Land of Colourful Ethnic Mosaic

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By RK Ranjan Singh

Geographically, Manipur is a unique land of mountains with intermittent river valleys and plains. This area has been evolved with a typical natural environmental factor. Through this environmental framework, the area creates specific geo-climatic regions of endemic flora and fauna and an ideal home for the indigenous settlers. Identification with the shared experiences of like-minded groups, or cultures, within a familiar and stable territorial setting, of course, has been a natural process inherent in the history of human settlement in the present state of Manipur. Communities have come to inhabit at particular locational places and over the centuries of occupation, have gradually come to identify with their regional or macro environments, perceived as archetypal, endowed with love and celebrated in songs and poetry, as well as understood in terms of appropriate land use and economic development. The sense of national identity in its recognizable modern form took root and crystallized in a particular historical point of time in Manipur. within these processes, minorities whose cultures were submerged or denied, preserved and nurtured their identities in whatever ways they could, towards the day when they would be able to flower freely again. In the meantime, self-determination, led to the birth, resurrection or amalgamation of many long-standing cultural groups into a new nation-state in Manipur. This may be equivalent with the young United States America`s experience of surge of newfound nationalism. However, the process of amalgamation of different ethnicities into one nation of Manipur was severely disturbed by the waves of Hindunization/Sanskritization or Indianization. Then, the process has been further aggravated by the colonization of the Britishers.

It seems reasonable to expect that the inevitable globalization of culture and economy after the Second World War and the rapid growth of communications would lead to a progressive dilution or even disappearance of national and regional identity feelings. It might also be expected that such an outcome would have been accelerated by the spread of `multinational` capitalism and the accompanying tidal wave of English as a new international `lingua franca`.

Even if the changing winds are blowing very fast all over the globe, there are certain areas like Manipur which could not be touched by the changing wave. Large or small ethnic groups of the state claim each other for a distinct socio-cultural identity and displaying ethnic psyche accompanied by such behavioral pattern as assertion of identity, seeking socio-cultural and economic protection, reservation, etc. All these have led to socio-political unrest in the state, especially during the last few decades. An analysis of the causes of ethnicity reveals the following points.

a.    Different racial and ethno-linguistic origin, living earlier in different physical locational setting, came to life in State of Manipur. Different groups of people, therefore, inherit different socio-cultural and racial identity.

b.    Different groups of people, coming at different points of time, settled in different physiographic settings and hence, have been brought up by different socio-economic milieu. This process has given different identity to different groups.

c.    Historical compulsions and developments were such that there was an ample opportunity for emotional integration of various people to form a single political hegemony of the state in the past. It is noteworthy to mention that the changes were nipped in the bud by the process of Indianization/Sanskritization. Further the British created Hills and Plains isolation imposing Hill administration handling solely by them. This reinforced the isolation between the hills and the valley people.

d.    During the British rule, as also merged with the Indian, there occurred unequal sectoral development. Development was more in some area and less or absent in some other areas. Then again, development was relatively quick in the field of general education but less in the economic sector. Furthermore, administrative exigency led to opening up of new area linking distant places. Such a situation has laid bare the painful fact of hill and valley economic disparities and social imbalances. The result is that the educated unemployed have been increasing with spatial differences and regional imbalances are realized grudgingly, with all their undesirable consequences.

e.    Because of geographic isolation of certain hilly areas inhabited by certain ethnic groups and absence of development in them, there is a feeling of deprivation and exploitation among the people inhabiting in the State. On top of this, northeast India as a whole is physically almost isolated from the main-land India. As a result of these geographical facts, there exists a feeling of “deprivation and exploitation” at different levels: Firstly, there is a feeling among the people of the eastern Himalayas as a whole of being `deprived and exploited` by the centre. Secondly, the tribes feel that they are being deprived and exploited by the non-tribal people (or by the valley people to the highlanders). Thirdly, the backward and minority groups feel that they are being deprived and exploited by the relatively advanced majority groups. Fourthly, the same feeling is seen to prevail among the smaller tribes against the dominant tribes.

f.    Unabated migration of people from even beyond the international boundary in the state has been continuing from such a long time and in such large volumes that the local people fear of being swamped and losing their cultural identity, political and economic hold. It is often found that the right and imaginative decisions and measures are not taken, letting an ethnic situation to be serious later on.

g.    Lack of economic development in the state leading to rapid growth of unemployment, especially educated unemployment, has thrown the youths – both male and female – into a state of aimless atmosphere. Such a situation is taken advantage of by the people with vested political and selfish interests. These so-called leaders know that ethnicity is a powerful tool to unite a group of people. Therefore, they take advantage of it and arouse ethnic sentiments among the people of their respective ethnic groups at the cost of unity and integrity of the state of Manipur. The present day crisis of ethnic unrest is one of the most important problems hindering socio-economic growth and territorial integrity of the state. But the problems have to be solved. Firstly, the sense of deprivation and exploitation at all levels has to be wiped out through sincere efforts; Secondly, the sense of insecurity and fear of indigenous small culture being swamped has to be contained by making genuine efforts to contain immigration and allowing to grow all the individual indigenous ethnic culture of the state (Manipur Cultural Integration Conference`s Approach); Thirdly, an action plan is to be taken up to empower the ethnic groups to develop their own culture, dialects and sustainable development of their specific locational factor; Fourthly, effort should be made to acquaint each ethnic groups which is established through understanding with the idea of peaceful co-existence; Fifthly, avenue should be created so that common people of both hills and plain be able to participate in all affairs of socio-economic and political development in the state.

These may require both long-term and short-term policies. Nevertheless, such policies can be found out if the ethnic leaders, politicians, welfare bodies, socio-economic planners and social engineers put heads together and make concerted effort.

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