We’re holding a mirror to history. History is looking at us. The United States of Manipur (USM – union of seven Meitei principalities and the chiefdoms of Tangkhul, Kukis, Kabuis and other smaller tribes) finds no relief in its long suffering with arthritis, unable to move much forward, while the Central Government uses treatment guidelines on a straight curve without standard deviations.
During this long illness, the Meitei tribe is petering out slowly but steadily – a nostalgic reminiscence of the dying embers of our cousin Tripuris of Tripura. Soon, Tripuris will be an addition to the Folk Tales of Bengal though it would be written by immigrant Bengalis of Tripura and not by Lal Behai Day who wrote it in 1883.
Lal Behari was a newly converted Bengali Christian – a poor village boy who came to Calcutta and was admitted as one of first five boys to the Scottish Church College – a favorite institution for Manipuri students in the 1950s. I used to go there sometimes to meet Salam Rajdhon who stayed there so long that he became warden of a students’ hostel.
We know why Meiteis want Inner Line Permit (ILP) system. It’s for our survival. I’m an evolutionist and believe in the ‘survival of the fittest’. If Meiteis are unfit and unable to survive the changing environment we will dip altogether below the radar, like the Tripuris.
The British introduced ILP by a Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873 to safeguard British business interest and to protect the vulnerable remote tribes in Eastern British India. Indian Government replaced it in 1950 as a law to protect tribal culture and their land.
The Government of India, reportedly, has declined to implement ILP to Manipur, restricting the permanent settlement of non-Manipuri Indians, who on the other hand, are welcome to visit and stay in Manipur on a temporary basis. The principal objection, I presume, is that Manipur is not a tribal state like Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, simply because Meiteis living in Manipur valley are Hindus and civilized, and therefore, are equal to denizens of other states in India.
And, according to the Indian constitution, anyone can go, live and work anywhere in India as they please. But the framework of this law is missing the most cogent factor in the equation of any two states being equal. The size of the state population. It’s a Numbers Game – a racket for bigger fish to swallow smaller fish – a racket for large immigrant Mayang laborers who have no work in their own state, to go anywhere such as Manipur and stay as they please.
A similar law is causing such economic drain in the UK as unemployed laborers from East European countries are coming and working with a low wage, because of the European Union (EU) law. British Government is working on it as to how to prevent them from entering Britain – even to the point of possibly leaving the EU after a referendum.
Indian Government’s objection is very hard-boiled and downbeat. All states in India are not equal in terms of economics and population. For instance, the equation Manipur = Bihar is incorrect. The Meitei population is 13.6 lakhs and that of Biharis 103.8 million.
Bihar can absorb all Meiteis like a drop in the ocean, but in Manipur, Meiteis themselves will be absorbed incognito by large migrant Biharis. They come to Manipur, and for that matter, to Mumbai and fill up all the semi-skilled and unskilled jobs as they accept a minimum wage, which they send to their villages to support their families.
The Indian Government’s argument does not end in naught but tends to infinity – not cut and dry. It thus begs the question of why there is no protective clause for such dire states. Imphal is not Delhi – the capital of India where anybody can go and stay.
Economic variables in the equation are another key factor. In comparison to any other Mayang state, Manipur’s economy is zero without any productivity and industry. A few Meiteis live on scant government jobs and the rest on subsistence economy.
Because Manipur is a failed state, Meiteis in the plain are poor and easily liable to exploitation by outsiders, while people in the hills are rightly protected by the provisions of Schedules V (and VI) of the Indian constitution.
Manipur especially Imphal city, has a substantial number of Mayang migrants. Further large scale immigrants, mostly laborers from outside, who would become domiciles, valley Meiteis and eventually hill dwellers would succumb to their onslaught in terms of economics and in politics. The hill tribals would simply be looked upon as low class ‘Adivasis’ and marginalized.
India’s futuristic ‘New Look East policy’ along with the coming of the railways to Imphal, might not be a mere Central Government verbiage but might become a cold economic reality for Manipuris with large influx of non-Manipuris to the already pressed population of Manipur valley – a tiny area of 2,238 sq km of which Loktak Lake occupies 550 sq km.
All that Meiteis want is to be battle-ready to watch the portals of entry to Manipur armed with a legal framework, as it is done for Jammu and Kashmir.
A role model of this inevitable apocalyptic scenario is not far to see. I have watched events unfold. Remember Tripuris with whom we have shared a very long and chequered history?
Where are they now? Only the lucky, such as the Bollywood music director SD Burman, born of Meitei mother Nirupa Devi from Agartala and a son of the Maharaja of Tripura, IM Dev Burman blinked in the Indian firmament, but only just, as he carried himself and was accepted as a Bengali-Da.
The modern history of Tripuris roots in the historical cruelty of highly advanced and educated East Bengalis who migrated and fought for their survival in the Wild West terrain of the illiterate and backward Tripuri tribals. The fitter Bengalis survived and the weakling Tripuris perished.
When I visited Agartala a few years ago there were no indigenous Tripuris to be seen. They were 26 km away in a Reservation, where I was told by a taxi driver that it was dangerous to go there in the dark. While touring the old ruined Ujjanta Palace, reminiscent of the Udaipur Lake Palace Hotel, the guide told me that Rabindranath Tagore stayed there once as a guest of the Maharaja. When asked who the kings of Tripura were, he said they were Bengali tribals.
In 2001 census Tripuris consist of 16.99 percent (out of a total of 30 percent of a variety of other small tribes including Manipuris) while migrant Bengalis make up 70 percent. A large number of Bengalis migrated during the Partition of 1947. Again, swarms of Bengalis from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) flooded Tripura during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. It led to violence between the small tribal Tripuris and large Bengali communities that led to the formation of All Tripura Tribal Force (ATTF) insurgency. It had only a snow-flake’s chance in hell.
As per census record of 1875 Tripuri population consisted of 63.77 percent while the rest was made up by Bengalis, Manipuris and other tribals. By 1951 it has dropped to only 28.44 percent. Tripura of Oriental Tripuris is now replaced by Aryan Bengalis. Tripura is a Bengali state now.
This must not happen to Manipur. Meiteis have to act now and to be ahead of our times. The only hope for Manipuris, especially Meiteis is the application of ILP to restrict permanent settlement of Mayang migrants.
Inner Line Permit is not the same as Restricted Area Permit or Protected Area Permit, which are official travel documents to protect the integrity of India at our inconvenience.
Meiteis need to continue peaceful agitations for ILP along with the demand for the Scheduled Tribe category that automatically entails ILP. This should include Chakpa Lois (erroneously categorized as Schedule Castes). They are the original Meiteis – “Awang Koubru Asuppa, Loina Khunda Ahanba”.
Meiteis revere their ability and right to determine their own path without having to conform to the preconceived determinations of the Indian constitution. We need legal safeguards by a change in the constitution. The ILP system is no brutal frontier to any Indian outside of Manipur.
The current arousing of great public concern regarding the ILP should be pressed on for action while strongly condemning the barbarity of the police – rifle-butting the heads of young college boys and girls. There was no call for it.
This campaign of “Meitei jihad” (Meitei holy war) for our and our decedents’ survival depends on the fighting will of this generation. It should be joined by all – individually and collectively – young and old, students, professionals, businessmen, Meirapaibis and regional politicians as well as the Meitei Diasporas.
The misgoverned and endangered Meiteis have not only the right to exist and prosper in Manipur as Indians in equal footing but obligation to protect future Meitei generations from remorseless carpet beggars from outside of Manipur.
There should be no peace in Manipur until an equitable chance for our future survival is assured. This is not a forlorn hope. All Meiteis, whether rajkumars, commoners or lois should have the resolve and integrity to rise to the challenge. The price of failure would be high – the uprooting of Meitei lineage, identity and culture that have been flourishing for umpteen years.
Please show loyalty to your tribe and beyond the call of duty.
*The article is written by Dr. Mohendra Irengbam
*The writer is based in the UK and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
* You may also visit www.drimsingh.co.uk for further readings.
(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)Number of Views :628
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