Manipur`s Magna Carta


Some changes cannot be reversed, and this ought to be the biggest lesson Manipur learns from the current crisis. The place cannot continue to live in the past and must begin looking to the future. In different ways, this is true for both the valley and the hills. For the valley it is even more important, and probably more difficult, for it carries a heavier historical baggage predictably not easy to leave behind, much less discard. Nonetheless, it must come to terms with how Ernest Renan once famously defined a nation to be `“ that it is a daily plebiscite. This transitioning from a rich feudal past into a democratic future cannot be without its share of trauma. Indeed as Freud once said, all history is trauma history, for history making necessarily involves penetrating the protective shield of the superego, and then rearranging and redefining the personality dynamics within. This idea of the present renegotiating its civilisational past is not new in world literature, and there are plenty of engaging scholarships on the subject, and how best to proceed to resolve the problem, especially in the wake of extremely violent ruptures in traditionally held ideas of nationhood and peoplehood, as in the case of the European Jews after the Hitler experience. These and many more can serve as the lesson. But it is not as if the traditional valley community, the Meiteis, have not been doing this, politically in the course of history, and symbolically in their arts, therefore it should not be impossible for them to do it again.

In the world of contemporary arts, Ratan Thiyam`™s lyrical allegory on stage, `Nine Hills One Valley` is a shining example of this idea of the present confronting the past. In the midst of all the turmoil, and the blind responsibility heaped on certain chapters of history for all the misery of the present, the director awakens the legendary scholars of the past, the maichou, writers of the sacred Puya scriptures, from their graves, and entreats them to write Manipur`™s history again. They end up writing virtually the same history we know, in the process reconfirming the non-permanence and therefore the inevitability eras to give way to new ones. Two and a half centuries ago, this negotiation was seen poignantly in another traumatic chapter of the Manipur kingdom. The picture of King Bheigyachandra standing on Kaina hillock before the jackfruit tree of his revelatory dream, praying and begging forgiveness of the tree that he must fell it to make the statues of Krishna and Radha, the gods of his new faith that his grandfather King Pamheiba had embraced. To add a little background to this scene, the Meiteis worship nature, and trees acquire godliness with age. This ingrained belief is what King Bheigyachandra had to transgress in order that he may move on into a new era. It is again another picture of the modern negotiating with the ancient, and the resolution here too is not of discarding the past but of coming to terms with the need to move on. Remarkably, this resolution is close to the condition that Freud wrote of and characterised as `Mourning and Melancholia`. Freud`™s melancholia is a narcissistic, therefore destructive engagement, in which the victim begins to take perverse pleasure in the idea of his own suffering and loss, perpetuating grieving. The victim though likely no longer a victim, becomes thus unable to abandon his victimhood. In mourning the victim confronts his past and pledges allegiance that he will remain forever indebted to it, will always cherish its memory, but takes courage to say `you who are dead and I who am alive cannot be the same anymore`, and I must move on and live. This is courage is what is failing the present, especially amongst the Meiteis.

This idea of the transitioning of one era to another cannot also be better illustrated than by the Magna Carta of 1215. The treaty sought to renegotiate the power structure that existed in mediaeval feudal England represented by an unpopular monarch, King John, and his rebellious barons, thereby buy peace for all. The treaty itself did not immediately translate into practice, but it laid the seed for the easing of feudal hold, and the birth of a decentralised polity. It is also considered by many to be the flagging off point for the evolution of modern democracy. What Manipur is confronting today can be such a landmark in its growth as a mature democracy that takes care of everybody equitably, resolves conflicting claims by negotiations, with the end result that every player reaps the dividends of peace together. In this, each player will have to come to terms with the memories of their individual pasts, and without disowning them, agree to the construction of a common future through the generous, or prudent if you like, principle of give and take.


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