In search of comprehensive Manipuri culture & identity

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Culture and identity of a nation or a community are two inseparable elements. However in the face of the all pervasive juggernaut of globalization, protection of culture and traditions has become a serious challenge specially for smaller communities. Yet, one must not only preserve his or her own cultures but also promote them. At the same time, there is a growing need to introspect, study and analyse all the elements which collectively make up a nation’s or a community’s culture. Cultural or historical elements which are no longer suitable to today’s changed and highly dynamic world must be discarded. But those cultural elements which have withstood the test of time and are the cornerstones of human civilization must be preserved and upheld. There is a need for selective application of historical, cultural elements and making new elements in order to adapt to the changing needs and requirement of the present. What is necessary should be appropriated and what is unnecessary and counterproductive should be kept aside. In a multi-ethnic society like Manipur, each and every community should respect each other’s cultures and traditions. The society must be accommodative enough to let even the smallest community preserve and promote their own cultures and identities. Majority communities should not wield any air of superiority and minority communities need not harbour any inferiority complex. The universal concept of all men being equal should be applied when it comes to one’s culture or identity.
No doubt, Manipur is a common home to many ethnic communities which have their own cultures and identities but it remains a big question how many of these communities genuinely identify themselves as Manipuris. This can be partly attributed to the fragmented ethno-exclusive imagined homelands and partly to marginalisation of smaller communities. . Ethnic polarisation is anathema to the very idea of Manipur. Since ages, Manipur has been a plural society and its pluralistic character should be upheld against all challenges. At the same time, there should be no room for chauvinism or dominance by any majority community over others, should civic nationalism be promoted to consolidate composite Manipuri nationality. The question, however, is how to forge civic nationalism in the future while recognizing ethnic identities and their separate interests which are not detrimental to national unity. There is no possibility of de-ethnicizing people whether they belong to the majority community or the minority communities. Let all the communities, small and big, uphold their cultures and identities. As these communities are interdependent and share a common history apart from living together for ages within a well defined geographical boundary, they can definitely churn out a composite Manipuri culture and pan-Manipuri identity. But one formidable obstacle is the divergent politics of ethno-exclusive homelands which are fuelled by ethno-nationalism. The building of civic nationalism does not mean the eradication or suppression of all ethnic or religious affiliation or feelings. It means the transcendence of parochial or narrow ethnic or religious feelings for the greater good of all communities. Civic nationalism does recognize the importance of ethnic identity whether of the majority or the minorities. On the other hand, many scholars repeatedly pointed out that ethno-nationalism is neither desirable nor could it serve as any effective tool for nation building in any part of the North East region, particularly in a pluralistic society like Manipur and we believe the future of Manipur and all the communities residing within its political boundary lies in civic nationalism.

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