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Home » Ed/Op, Editorials » EDITORIAL: What Is There In A Name Yaar?… The Manipuri Conundrum

EDITORIAL: What Is There In A Name Yaar?… The Manipuri Conundrum

What is there in a name, yaar, is often a question, rather an expression of one’s thought that has been in vogue for years and it does not differentiate between the gentlemen and maidens from the Victorian period and the brash, confident generation, after all, we all have names given to us which becomes our identity and also reflects one’s gender and ethnic origin or religious beliefs. Some have not settled for a single name, but have gone the whole hog, picking up a number of aliases and this happens primarily amongst those who have been branded wanted by the state as well as celebrities, be they rock stars, models or actors, taking on a different name. Coming to the opening question of this editorial, there is definitely something in a name, which one cannot brush aside with a ‘yaar’.

We can imagine the chagrin of an adult male, who has worked hard on his six packs and forearms to be christened with a name that definitely sounds feminine, say for example, Jenny! The same thing would happen if a comely, young, beautiful woman was named John or Alexander by her parents. Some societies in the North East have adopted certain unique methods of naming their children and so if a child, a girl child happens to be born in Delhi, her name invariably take after the city of her birth. There have been hilarious instances, such as when a male child was named after an organ of the male body, with the same spelling and pronounced the same way as the unmentionable organ we have just referred to. This is the response, in a lighter vein, that we can think of to the question raised, but it should be kept in mind that names cannot be confined only to the identity of an individual, for names reflect the ethnicity of a man as well as his religious beliefs.

Amongst the Roman Catholics, it is not uncommon to come across an individual whose original name is an Apao or an Awon, but whose Church name, as given at the time of baptism, is Daniel or Mary etc. As long as the names are understood and seen through the realm of the individual and religious affiliations, everything is simple and straight, but the moment it steps out to the domain of identifying an ethnic group, especially when it is understood or misunderstood as an imposition to dwarf one’s origin, then it becomes a sensitive issue. This is heightened when the ethnic ties come under strain for reasons which may be unique in its own way. This is the single most important factor why it is difficult to precisely say who actually qualifies to be a Manipuri and who is not. To many of the hill dwellers, the term Manipuri is synonymous with only the Meiteis and they have nothing to do with this term. Rather they have preferred to stick to the nomenclature of their ethnicity such as Kuki, Hmar, Naga, etc and again amongst these hill people, there is the presence of many sub-tribes, which may not exactly want to be clubbed with any of the major ethnic groups such as the Kukis or the Nagas.

This is the reality and in as much as one would like it to be different, it would not be possible to turn the clock back and get everyone to acknowledge themselves as Manipuris and this is something which cannot be forced either. So while Manipur represents a mini-India with all its different ethnic groups and tribes, each having their own culture and customs not to talk about religion, the term Manipuri seems oddly out of place now, except to the majority Meiteis, who are settled in the valley areas. It would not be possible to flip through the pages of history to study and pin point the period when the term Manipuri became something of an anathema to numerous other tribes, but it is significant nevertheless.

Long before the word Nagalim or Greater Nagaland was coined, Naga students from Manipur, hailing from Ukhrul district and even those settled in Imphal like Nagaram, Deulaland, Tangkhul Avenue etc, were always members of Naga students’ organizations, which are federating units of the Naga Students’ Federation, based in Kohima. The picture about the other major tribe, the Kukis, is not very clear to us. So we have the Keishings, the Shaizas, the Zimiks, the Longvahs, the Shimrays, the Shimrahs etc all being recognized as bonafide members of Naga students organizations in any part of the country, where students from the North East flock to study, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Chandigarh etc. Manipur is conveniently forgotten. It is not only the Tangkhul students but others such as Anal, Poumais, Maos, Marams, Zeliangrongs etc who kept away from any Manipur students’ organizations.

We hark back to these days, because it is an indication that the idea of a Manipur had not yet sunk into the psyche of all communities and a debate on whether this mindset was a result of a Greater Lim or whether the Greater Lim idea was borne out of this fact, will prove not only interesting but also educative.  On the other hand, a number of Meitei revivalists have suggested that Manipur be called Kangleipak or even Meitrabak, but surely none of these are the answers to the questions lying right before us. Is the term Manipuri to be synonymous with the Meiteis and Meitei Pangals alone and if so why? Why has the idea of a Manipur as a political entity where different communities and different ethnic groups exist together since ages, not taken off in the way it should? At what point of the history of Manipur, did the disconnect between the hill people and the term Manipuri begin? These are all relevant questions and answers to these will be hard to find. The fact, however bitter it is, remains that many do not identify themselves with the term Manipuri and this is certainly a cause for concern and requires some deep introspection. Or is it a case of, ‘What is there in a name, yaar?’

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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