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How To Save Meitei Identity

Simply speaking, it is not simply simple.

Among the Nagas at large the quest for Nagalim has become a leitmotif of Naga nationalism, straddling Naga and Meitei political divides.

Meiteis have to confront the reality of the threat i.e. the specter of Naga nationalism. By Nagas I am referring to Nagas of Nagaland in particular and a few Nagas of Manipur in general. Manipur has some sub-castes of Nagas who want to unite with the Nagas of Nagaland. But it is not everybody’s cup of tea. For instance, Tangkhul Rishang Keishing MP does not want to. The late Yangmasho Shaiza did not want to but his younger brother, the late Lungshim did. Gaikhangam, a Kabui Naga MLA wants to, but Kabuis of Major Khul or Shaheb Manai or Keishamthong do not. The rest just follow the political trend of some of their leaders. This is a fractured Naga nationalism.

Meiteis meanwhile have lost vigor and the urge to fight from years of inactivity. Every skilled or unskilled job such as electrical work, plastering, joinery, plumbing, laundry, hair-dressing etc are done by outsiders such as Biharis, Oriyas, and other non-Manipuris. Rickshaw pulling is left in the able hands of Muslims. The most enterprising work for a Meitei is to open a small shop, which does not compromise his social dignity but without an iota of ambition to prosperity. This is not however a description of Meitei women. I am no wide-eyed innocent either. I bear the same inferiority complex which tends to over assert itself. Years of mendacious contentment (eikhoidi khudei ama shetlaga pangnung nungngaiba jatni) and lack of determination to succeed in life has brought the juggernaut of Meitei velour on the skid. We have become couch potatoes. The rise and fall of Meiteis is complete. We have become Thainagi Hanuman – figure of the past, now a paper tiger.

As we do not have a natural impetus to be hard working and believe in the ‘˜theory of least tendency’ (haying toura loire), Meitei nationalism remained dormant until it was suddenly jolted by the June 18, 2001 uprising because of the proposed renewal of ceasefire ‘˜without territorial limits’ between Naga insurgents and GoI. The rebellion destroyed the notion that would have underlined a subtle recognition of the four districts of Manipur by the Indian government as parts of Nagaland or Nagalim.

The Home truth about Meiteis.

We are losing touch. We need to stand up now and be counted. The jargon-riddled paean of multicultural Manipur is falling by the wayside. The apologist younger Meitei generations are unsuccessful in importuning the Naga tribals in Manipur. The Meitei zeal of expanding his audience gets up some Naga people‘s noses. It is time for Meiteis to unmuzzle. One cannot woo a girl who says she does not love him by sending flowers and saying sweet-nothings. If she changes her mind she will come back to him because of his sincerity.

Why do Nagas hate Meiteis?

It is because of their history, nothing unique. The Ark of the Covenant is carried on from about the time of their great-great grandfathers. That was about the time of Young Thangal Major and Lt Col. Johnstone (later Maj. General).As a young student I had a few brushes with Naga students at the Dimapur Railway station just because I am a Meitei. Why? Here is my puckish reply. Let me quote James Johnstone (as everybody does) in his Manipur and Naga Hills. Page22. In 1832 CE Capt Jenkins and Lt Pemberton escorted by Rajah Ghumbeer Singh’s Manipuri troops, forced a passage through the Naga Hills with a view to ascertaining if there were a practicable route into Assam. This was how the Imphal to Dimapur road via Naga Hills later became a reality. In page 23, ‘the Manipuris in former days (before his time) did penetrate into Naga Hills and exacted tribute.’ All the villages have Manipuri names in addition to their own.’ After a period of lull during the Manipuri-Burmese War of 1819-25 ‘it was reasserted, and Ghambeer Singh reduced several villages to subordination, including the largest of all, Kohima, at which place he stood upon a stone and his foot-prints sculptured on it, in token of conquest, set up at a prominent position, together with an upright stone bearing carved figures (kangla sha) and an inscription.’

‘The Nagas greatly respected this stone and cleaned it from time to time. Whenever a Manipuri visited a Naga village he was treated as an honored guest, at a time when a British subject could not venture into the interior without risk of being murdered.’ I saw this feet-sculptured stone before it was destroyed by Naga students in the fifties. ‘Nagas regarded Manipur as the greater power of the two, because her conduct was consistent; if she (Manipur) threatened she acted. One British subject after another might be murdered with impunity, but woe betides the village that murdered a subject of Manipur, A force of Manipuris was instantly dispatched, the village was attacked and ample compensation exacted.’¦many of the Nagas began to speak Manipuri, and several villages paid an annual tribute.’

The Naga animosity towards Meiteis is thus driven by a weird psychology- Freudian concept of revenge. It is at best a shade odd and at worse an act of self-indulgence. The characters of their leaders run the gamut from eccentric to certifiable. Lest anybody jump to conclusions, let me explain. The Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem but Jews do not hate Italians. The British treated Indians worse than Indian dogs (a British dog is treated and fed with a daily meal, the cost of which will feed an average 6 Indians) but we no longer hate them. It is history. The bigger and more powerful fish always eat the smaller fish.

I am not for a moment saying that the Naga nationalism has risen from the ashes of Meitei hatred. It is more deep rooted than that but it certainly has prefabricated their dream of a greater Nagaland by dismembering large parts of Manipur so that Meiteis die a shouldering death. This sobering thought should make Meiteis feel ‘˜as good as death warmed up.’

The re-demarcation of Manipur’s boundary as drawn in the present day map was done on December 13, 1873 CE. Nagas want to change it ex -parte. They have already begun to refer to the northern parts of Manipur as southern Nagalim, ex nihilo as if they have created this geographical area from nothing. But from historical perspicuity, the northern boundary of Manipur should be the district of Kohima.

Why Naga Nationalism?

Naga nationalism has accrued from their desire to carve out a Naga identity in the post independent India. They feel they are not Indians. When some Naga leaders went to meet Nehru to talk about an independent Nagaland, Nehru retorted by saying that he would put one Indian solder for every tree in Nagaland., to prevent them seceding. Having sapped up that an independent sovereign Nagaland is a utopian dream, NSCN-IM dreamt of greater Nagalim within India. In a BBC interview in 2001, T Muivah tacitly indicated that he has an expansionist aim. Besides, the Nagaland Legislative Assembly since 1993 approved the formation of a Nagalim.

The distillation of Naga nationalism

It is their Christian education and imbibitions of Christian culture and not exclusively, its ethnic uniqueness. It is indeed a great ethnic challenge to the modern nation state of Manipur.

National education according to Rousseau, ”¦.an education that must give souls a national formation, and direct their opinions and tastes in such a way that they will be patriotic by inclination, by passion, by necessity. When first he opens his eyes, an infant ought to see the fatherland, and up to the day of his death he ought never to see anything else.’

Nationalism is one of the most persistent forces in history, as components of cultural and political self-determination in the search for a unifying ethic. But from the study of world history, the idea (nationalism) can be sustained only if it avoids a descent into tribalism and intolerance of other ethnic groups. Nagas are missing a point in their education- that their future lays not in borders but in new relationship with Meiteis, Asomese and the people of Arunachal Pradesh. It is not too far to remember in history how the Nazi nationalism of the Third Reich crossed the border to annex parts neighboring countries which were partly inhabited by Germans. We all know the outcome.

***The Naga insurgents must be on cloud cuckoo land if they believe that Meiteis would live happily ever after once they have annexed parts of Manipur. Meiteis would make their dead cadres stir in their graves. The quotations from Johnstone above are an attempt to refresh their memory.) not printed in Sangai express.

It would be prudent for Nagas to realize that the ethnic concept of nationalism now is far outweighed by the pluralistic, multicultural concept because of the ever changing population of any country due to legal or illegal immigrants as in the case of Manipur, Asom, Tripura, Britain or France.

Meiteis have learnt it many years ago and have since been guiding their nationalism as pluralistic Manipuris not as Meiteis. It was not for nothing that Johnstone (I am sorry to quote him again, page 73) wrote: ‘The average intelligence of the Manipuris being higher than that found among the cultivators of many other native states…’ The Naga ethnic challenges have shattered Meitei pluralism and have increased the tension between the need for cultural-ethnic distinctiveness and integrative tendencies. Meiteis should not however get hold of the wrong end of the stick. We should not act like a bull in a china shop. There is more to it than meets the eye.

What should Meiteis do to save our identity?

We have to bite the bullet as our horizons remain clouded for the next decade for us to be able to have a clear view of our destiny ahead. We should not be on cloud nine because Sonia Gandhi for the present Congress government assured us that the integrity of Manipur would be intact, until a settlement would arrive between the Naga insurgents and the GoI of any political party. We should now stop acknowledging our ‘˜error.’ It was simply an event in time. We must now assert ourselves. We have our primitivism (of Ibudhou Pakhangba) and pragmatism (able to deal with practical requirements). We don’t need to be liked, we would rather be respected.

Meiteis have pride and prejudice.

A flurry of adjectives is available to describe Meitei national characters. In fact you can pluck them from thin air to make a thesaurus. Some are good but most of them are bad but still effectively applicable in shaping our destiny. To name a few: arrogant, defiant, obstinate, pugnacious, self-believer, contrite, morally self-confident, readiness to spit in the eye of fate regardless of consequences. Most Meiteis can fit with some or all of them. For me they will fit as snugly as a pair of chamois leather gloves on my hands.

How to shore up Meitei identity

This is a $64,000 question. But I have a game plan, a strategic plan for the tussle between them and us. Until the Nagas stop banking on fantasyland there is need for our circumspection. Contrary to received wisdom there is nothing particularly difficult about it. It is not like drawing blood from stone. Here it goes. History is good depending on who wrote it. We need to learn a lesson from the recent Indian history. How the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of China under Prime Minister Chou En -Lai kicked the Indian Army in the arse, literally. Not that the Indian jawans were cowards but they were simply not prepared under Krishna Menon as the Defense minister. Nehru never believed that China would ever confront India militarily believing that the mighty snow capped Himalayas would be on his side until the first skirmish at Long Ju in 1959.

The true story is however contrary to the popular yarn. After China crushed India in the1962 war, the Indian Army commissioned Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Brig. P S Bhagat to study the debacle. ‘The fault lay at India or more specifically at the doorsteps of Jawaharlal Nehru and his clique. It was a hopelessly ill-prepared Indian Army that provoked China on orders coming from Delhi. The misadventure paid the price in men, money and national humiliation.’

The Chinese for four years (1956-1959) were constructing the Aksai Chin road in Ladakh following their occupation of Tibet, right under the noses of the Indian Army. They were training, equipping and acclimatizing the PLA at high altitude warfare in Tibet to destroy Nehru’s emerging image of Asian leader. Indeed, Chou En- Lai destroyed Nehru in two weeks. The Chinese feat was so stupefying that not a single Asian country gasped a feeble sound of sympathy for India.

I was a house surgeon at the Irwin hospital in New Delhi when the Chinese invaded India in October 1962. As I was the secretary at the Doctors’ Mess it fell on me to recruit doctors to go to Lucknow for one week’s military training before being carted away to the battlefront. I was already qualified as I had NCC- ‘˜C’ certificate. But the war finished as soon as it started after the Chinese declared unilateral ceasefire and withdrew from the plains of Assam above Tezpur as well as from other sectors. Manipur and the eastern part of Assam nearly became Chinese territory. Nehru never recovered after this humiliation. He died in 1964 from a stroke.

One evening I went to listen to Nehru when he spoke at the Ram Lila ground near the hospital. Some women speakers were moaning to Nehru how our jawans were not provided with warm snow clothing and that the women of Delhi were knitting woolen sweaters for them and so on. Nehru stood up to speak (in Hindi) and referred to the Chinese solders mockingly as monkeys (ye bunder log’¦.) to draw laughter. Nehru prided that the Indian Army had to airlift everything from a needle to a tank to supply the jawans as if to prove the point he was missing. That he was engaged in a prolonged strategy of diplomatic foot-dragging and failed to recognize the war of dominance in Asia. And that China perceived India as a ‘˜weak’ target. After all, Nehru took no action when China invaded and occupied Tibet in1951 and again did nothing in 1959 when China ruthlessly put down the uprising in Tibet.

What Nehru did not realize then was that the Chinese bunder would never get off his back. What’s more, after humbling India to her knees he continued to ride piggy-back on all the future prime ministers. As his stature grew bigger he began to enjoy insulting the Hindu nationalist Prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajapayee.

While Vajapayee was exulting over his visit to China as the first prime minister after Nehru and even as he was feted as a guest, the PLA made a premeditated intrusion deep into Arunachal Pradesh, captured, disarmed and tortured a group of Indian security personnel. It was just to embarrass Vajpayee.

Vajpayee went to have a talk with his counterpart, Wen Jiabao on June 23. 2003 in Beijing. It was to reiterate India’s stand on Tibet as China’s integral part while soliciting the Chinese to accept Sikkim as an integral part of India (merged in 1974). Following the talk, the Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Zhang Qiyue denied Chinese acceptance of Sikkim as part of India.

Today the Chinese bunders have encircled India by its foreign policy and economic growth. Chinese engineers are busy building a deep-water port in Pakistan at Gwadar. They are out to build a harbor in southern Sri Lanka. They have installed surveillance equipment on Coco Islands off the coast of Burma.

India gave these islands in the 1950s to tickle the Burmese like our Kabaw valley. The Chinese have also been selling arms to Nepal and Bangladesh and will soon be building roads and laying pipelines across Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Taking cue from history we Meiteis must realize that ‘˜Enough is enough’ of Meitei bashing. A mere handful of Naga students will go for our jugular vein by blocking our life line arteries of National Highways 39 and 53 at any time for ridiculous frizzling grievances. We can do nothing but watch the agonizing humiliation in peckish helplessness.

The Meitei nationalism has become so fossilized that whenever someone meets a Meitei the first impression is that he is not super-polite and a bit nerdy. We dissipate a lot of energy by quarrelling among ourselves and trying to pull each other down. In the mayhem non-Meiteis go to the top. The time has now come for us to levitate by joining forces between the underground and the over ground elements of Meitei society.

In the emerging post-colonial neo-Nationalism of the Nagas (like the Hindutva), Meiteis have to wake up from the Rip Van winkle sleep as Japan once did. Japan went to war with China in 1894 with a victorious outcome. The upsurge of Japanese nationalism reached a climax. A second victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 further strengthened Japanese nationalism. They were able to remove their feelings of inferiority and bring a nationalism of confidence.

Meiteis have to defeat expansionist Naga nationalism.

In this war of attrition I am confident that Kukis will march with Meiteis (ichin-inou) in a joint venture. Though we have not been really gooey as strawberries in jam, for umpteen years we have been fighting along to defend our Manipur and to keep its borders intact.

There had always been irregular Kuki solders about 700-800. When Maharaj Chandrakirti went to Jila Durbar he was escorted by 2,000 Meitei and 1,000 Kuki solders among others. In 1899 the estimated population of Manipur was 220,000 with estimated gross revenue of Rs.10, 000. It had a standing Meitei Army of 5,503 with 700 Kuki irregulars.

The British regarded Kukis one cut above Nagas. ‘They (Kukis) are readily distinguishable from the Nagas, and are braver men.’ ”¦. They were better soldiers than Meiteis.’ (good old Johnstone again).

Since the professional politicians seriously lack knowledge and experience of mainstream India outside and neighboring politics of Nagas, the Meitei public should take the license of regulated patronage from a revived Meitei nationalism. Our strategy should be on nationalism and not on communalism. We must remember that the Hindutva while chasing ‘their long cherished dream’ to build a Ram temple in Ayodha (Babri Masjid- Ram Janam Bhumi dispute) caused the death of 2,000 people in communal riots in 1992.

The way to save Meitei identity.

In my view it is to prepare ourselves (from Sekmai to Andro; phakyeng to Nongmaijing) emotionally but in ‘˜Masterly inactivity’ that there is an undercurrent of muddy water that might break up Manipur’s boundary at any time. We have to keep our heads above water by maintaining a sense of gravity, a sense of levity and a sense of propriety. Believing that the problem will just go away if we bury our head in sand would be as gullible and bad light as believing that god created mouth and he will surely feed it.

We need to demonstrate forcefully that Nagas cannot fulfill ‘their long cherished dream’ of severing Meitei arms. Hopefully, after a balanced debate based on reason and sanity, common sense would prevail upon the educated Naga elite that in their dogged pursuit of a hobby horse they should not forget the spirit of peaceful existence by not fracturing body politic of their neighboring states.

I rest my case.

PS. I have used modern abbreviations- CE (Common Era) for AD and BCE (Before Common Era) for BC as they are now uses in intellectual circles because of their secularism.

*The article is written by Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh.

*The writer is based in the UK.

*The writer can be reached at

*You may visit for further readings.

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1 Response to " How To Save Meitei Identity "

  1. leitemba says:

    i think it is between Tangkhul leadership and us and so any strategy should be on this understanding…. the rest will just come around once they realise that they have been duped by the Tangkhul leadership and that their future lies in unity and brotherhood of the Kanglei nation. i believe CM Ibobi had done a good job, the almighty image of MOI-VA has been shattered…

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