The Bishnupriya issue is best settled quickly and by mutual rapprochement. There is no point in allowing this issue to remain as an irritant forever. We see no reason why Manipuris, Meiteis in particular, should feel threatened at all by a small community outside the state, wanting to identify themselves as Manipuris by either suffixing or prefixing the term `Manipuri` to their community name. In no way can they usurp the larger Manipuri identity even if they try, and by taking offence, what ends up exposed is a deep-seated insecurity amongst those who are thus offended. In the ultimate analysis, the issue is also about the inclusiveness, or the lack of it, of the Manipuri identity. This question itself needs a speedy resolution, for indeed this is also at the roots of many of the crises hounding the state, especially as evident in the increasing trend of different smaller ethnic identities not just asserting themselves but also pitting themselves against the larger Manipuri identity. The foggy understanding of the term `Manipuri` must first be straightened out. On the one hand we are defining it to be a larger set within which smaller sets can be placed, and on the other it is also being projected to mean a self-contained set with impervious boundaries, which do not even overlap with other sets, not to talk about containing sub-sets within it. This duality, and the resultant ambiguity, must first be erased. Reminiscent in this ambiguity is also the duality of the Hindutva definition of Indianness, which is sometimes defined as inclusive and at other times exclusive. Contrast this with the policy of a small but gritty nation like Israel. All of us witnessed how this nation reached out to even Manipur and Mizoram to embrace as brothers those who called themselves Jews with an ancestry that traces back, as they believe, to a lost tribe of the biblical land of Israel `“ the Bnei Menashe. There are already a couple of thousands from these two states who have left their land of birth to settle in the promised land of their myths and legends.
A bit of this spirit is what is called for in any attempt to redefine the new Manipuri identity. As of today, the identity is too closely identified with the Meiteis, so much so that it is making other communities either uneasy or else resistant to be associated with it. So if a small community like the Bishnupriya wants to identify itself as Manipuri, why should those of in Manipur object? In fact, we ought to be welcoming it for it is can be seen as an asset rather than a liability as many are making it out to be. We are sure the Bishnupriyas have genuine spiritual affiliation with Manipur for them to be wanting to be identified as a Manipuri community. Those of us who have associated with members with this community, know it for a fact they very well do. You do not necessarily have to be physically stationed at a place to be attached to it. In fact, it is quite possible you can develop genuine spiritual affiliations with a place you have never set foot on. What Vrindavan is to many faithful Hindus and Mecca is to many faithful Muslims, is precisely this.
Let us not for once be under the paranoiac delusion that the Bishnupriyas can usurp the Manipuri identity. They can only be small part of it. As of now the Bishnupriyas may also be suffering from a delusion of grandeur and are posturing themselves as capable of this, but once the confrontationist attitudes end, such meaningless posturing would too. As for the governments of Assam and Tripura which have recognized the Bishnupriya language, it is the duty of our government to make them understand this is like Manipur recognizing the Bodos and their language and literature as Assamese without first recognizing the caste Hindu, Assamese speaking, majority Assamese community, or the Reangs as Tripuris as against the dominant Bengali community. The state government must prevail upon the governments of these neighbouring states that Bishnupriya can only be recognized as a sub-set of the Manipuri identity and not as the main set. This will also entail that they first recognize the 8th Schedule Manipuri language as primary, and then only think of recognizing the other sub-sets within the Manipuri identity. In reaching such a resolution, it will not help for us to take the hard-line definition of the Manipuri identity as uncompromisingly exclusive.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam