Revisiting Martyrdom

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The 1891 battle of Khongjom, whatever be the controversies on the date, will remain engraved in our hearts and memories forever. And we are still paying rich tributes to the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom they hold so dear to their hearts and those who were later hanged to death in public. Yet, we must ponder upon the kind of tributes which are being paid to the martyrs, not only of Khongjom but other martyrs who defended freedom with their lives. Is it befitting the sacrifice of the heroes? We must say a big NO. We have had enough of boring observation functions, memorial services, high sounding speeches, poolside tarpans and queued floral tributes, year after year. There will come a time when its significance would be lost to the future generations. That is indeed an alarming scenario. So we must begin asking ourselves, what would have the martyrs wanted. Surely they would have wanted something significant and useful in our lives. We must search our souls. The best way of doing that is asking question after question till we find the answer. First, we sincerely believe that they would have wanted more from us and certainly not lip-service or just rich tributes. What about values? The heroes who laid down their lives for the country and the freedom they so dearly loved would certainly have had a value system different from others. They had values ingrained in their mind and character which are the driving forces of their sacrifice and commitment. What are those values, or for that matter, what are the qualities attributed to martyrs in general? Heroes and martyrs are not self-seekers and they did not believe in self-glorification. These are persons who believed in a cause, which is generally lofty. Believing in a cause as opposed to the beliefs of those in power or of the powerful and mighty has its inherent dangers and risks. It needs courage, commitment and the ability to foresee risks and challenges. So among the heroes and martyrs, courage, commitment and sacrificial spirit are basic qualities. They need these qualities to take the inherent risks and dangers in stride.

Heroes like Paona Brajabasi, Yaiskul Lakpa, Chinglensana, Wangkhei Meiraba and several others laid down their lives at the battle-field of Khongjom. They knew in their hearts, they are going to face the army of a world power and an empire where the sun never sets. Their weapons were simply primitive as compared to that of the British army. They had already seen death and defeat. Yet, they would not take it lying down. They had to defend their freedom. It is as simple as that. The defence of freedom and independence was something worth dying for. They had to leave something for the future generation to believe in and to inculcate. It was their message. Heir-apparent to the throne Prince Tikendrajit and General Thangal were hanged to death publicly on August 13 to teach the Manipuris a lesson. Niranjan Subedar, Jamadar Kajao and Chirai Naga of Mayangkhang were hanged inside the jail on different dates. The Prince and the General knew they are facing a world power and a far superior army and had seen defeat. Yet, they had to defend the spirit of freedom and Manipur’s independence at all costs and they paid the ultimate price for it. Manipur lost its independence after the 1891 war, but the martyrdom of our heroes left a legacy for us to inculcate. But, we are still blind to the values set by the martyrs and the footprints they left for us to follow. It is like missing the wood for the trees. A once a year observation, high sounding speeches and floral tributes are not going to instill the values so dear to our martyrs. Such an observation would not create the right atmosphere for those qualities to develop among our youth. An interface between the social scientists and civil society organizations should be developed to discuss and deliberate on these crucial issues. A word of caution would be to avoid televised discussions, as it leads nowhere.

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