It all started with hordes of young men getting fumed when actor Hijam Bala publicly said “There’s nothing wrong for Manipuri girls to marry non-Manipuri boys” at an event, recently. Let me recall: it had happened at an alumni meet of KM Blooming Higher Secondary School (Khangabok). The school invited her as a guest of honour to the event. Like other events of such kind, closure of the meet was marked with a Q&A session in which Bala answered questions from the audience. A young man from the crowd asked the actor her take on Manipuri girls marrying non-Manipuri boys. “Nothing wrong in it” was the answer!
What was wrong with Bala giving an opinion in that way? Nothing—she said the right thing; she spoke like a pro. What seemed to be ‘wrong’ were those who misunderstood the actor’s perception and blamed her with a string of abusive comments on Facebook later on the day and on the following days, for about a week. What could likely be the feedback if Bala happened to say Manipur girls should never ever marry non-Manipuri boys? A big applause!? No, I don’t think so. The same amount of stark condemnation, in form of Facebook comments in one way or another, might have poured in from an opposite quarter, I’m sure.
People these days so easily wear critic’s hat and start seeing things through the narrow aperture of nationalism, separatism… or any ‘sm’ you name it, without scaling the context and circumstantial relevance. Quite alarming in Bala’s case is the manner she got crippled in fear of something that would likely to fall upon her as punishment for exercising her freedom of speech and expression. Then she immediately woke up to the realisation of the fact that there’s little or no room for her ‘thinking’ in our society. She thus made an apology with a handwritten erratum posted on her Facebook wall, clarifying at length what went wrong in her public speech. Then we are signalled to protect Bala from the ‘fear’. In doing this, we need to stand straight first without tilting our ideological axis towards a negative quadrant.
Should we blame all this on Facebook? Is this so-called social media giving the general public a superfluous opportunity to freely and fearlessly pass aggravated comments on the work and word of artists like Bala? Or shall we deem it as freedom of speech and expression of general public and, at times, a reflection of their maturity? Both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are the answer in this situation. Nevertheless, problems create when this general public cross borders and judge what and how celebrities like Bala should think and talk.
When Bala spoke in support of interracial marriage, those young men accusing her on Facebook were sounding as if the actor did it in the role of the one who shoots starting gun in a race, setting Manipuri girls on their ‘marks to get set run’ in search of non-Manipuri grooms. That was not the point Bala meant; if we look closer, marriages between two people from two different communities are always found to be a boon of multi-lingual/cultural venture, which has not happened readily in usual intra-community marriages.
There have been a score of Manipuri girls, even boys, who have got married with non-Manipuris and settled happily and successfully in and outside the state. Let me pick up some from my circle. I have a handful of friends, both men and women from Manipur, who have married to non-Manipuri Indians or Asians as well as Europeans and Americans. Even some of them are close cousins and distant relatives of mine. All their marriages have happened through cordial relationships in mutual understanding. It’s rather better for every one of us to find a right life partner in a non-community parameter than hooking to an unsuitable bride or groom from the same cultural or religious background. Most of us must pick and mix the bits we like and love. I think this was what Bala meant to say!
Cultures change, they evolve, and they never remain the same. But our society is quite stagnant when it comes to the changes. There is a story of Japanese soldiers who fought against British India in Manipur during the World War-II. They saw our bullock carts plying on town and village roads all around them. After a gap of 50 years, when the soldiers, or the war veterans, returned to Manipur to pay homage to their officers and friends who died in the war what it made them surprise was the way those same old bullock carts still plying, even on city roads, without a bit of upgrade or innovation in model and mechanism. Same holds true in our social and cultural parameters. Taboos against interracial/inter-community marriages are still reeling in the society, regardless of what sort of ‘sm’ plays a role in it.
Come closer to our own landscape, we are still bound by some unscrupulous social laws like the prohibition of Meitei boys marrying Bamon (Brahman) girls, and other such restrictions over inter-religious mixings among different communities in the region. Such traditions might have had significance centuries ago, but not today, anymore. Now is the time for dormant traditions to go; there is no point of scaling it up.
When we look at the bright side, there are a lot going for interracial marriages. Combining two ethnicities always result in a beautiful hybrid culture. Most of all, some traditions have a lot in store to teach one another. Couples with different cultural backgrounds are likely to bring up their respective histories to share and connect. And the children born to them are advantageous on various fronts. The young people are privileged to expose themselves to two cultures, instead of one. Such kids even get the chance to speak two first languages.
Interracial marriages are considerably infrequent occasions. This kind of marriage has not happened in an ‘easy-come, easy-go’ way as many people imagine. It’s resulted from a beautifully reciprocated relationship. And it is through such relationship we attain understanding and opulence on new grounds. Such attempt, like Bala meant, would lead us to a broader-minded brave new world. We must not block it!
(The writer is editor at S-Media Group, New Delhi)
Source: The Sangai Express