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Home » Ed/Op, Features » Hills-Valley ‘Divides’ or Afraid of Modernity? — II

Hills-Valley ‘Divides’ or Afraid of Modernity? — II

It is a great idea to have exchange of views on the issues, challenges and political demands as well their resolutions/solutions for improving the living conditions of the people and progressive Manipur. I really appreciate R Rungsung for taking seriously to my article published in The Sangai Express on 19 and 20 December, 2010. Rungsung’s justification for political demands of the “Nagas” and his questioning of my views, valley or Manipur Government through his rejoinder article in this paper on 12 February, 2011 do not surprise me. The entire thrust of my observations and arguments in my last article (TSE dt. 19 and 20 December, 2010) has been on India’s highly centralized administrative, political and economic systems and the consequences of these on the States like Manipur, Indian State’s approach to North East (including AFSPA) and how modernity/modern process has been misunderstood and obstructed/practiced in Manipur as well as some comparison between hills and valley.

However, I am happy to express my views to Rungsung’s views and his questions; some of which lack objectivity and largely appear to be the views of a political activist/propagandist. The example is his assertion that the “shining in Imphal valley” is due to “the stolen and diverted funds meant for tribal welfare”; so justification for the alternative arrangement for Nagas? The purpose of my articles is not to offend or make derogatory comments to any individual or community. It is a part of my attempts to understand the issues and challenges including political demands and conflicts in Manipur and sharing the same with others for improvement and a better future. I believe in the fundamental human values of equality, freedom, dignity and democratic principles. To me these values are universal which cannot be denied or monopolized/appropriated by few for a long time in the name of a tribe, a community or a nation.

As a scholar and as a person I do not consider it intelligent way to grow and learn/understand by glorifying one’s views, community and traditions while blaming/criticizing others (by ethnocentric approach). Because change is the law of nature as no one is perfect and every system is not permanent. I believe knowledge, honesty and courage are the minimum requirements to know one’s real weakness/shortcomings and for progressive change both in personal live and that of a community/country. My knowledge especially of Political Science, History, Sociology, Psychology and political economy tell me that the most of the separatist political demands in the past or present have been primarily for political power especially for the leaders. The leaders may use community, nation, unique history or in combination with any other ideological/emotive issues. The domination, neglect, exploitation and disparity are there but not the only issues in political demands.

Md Ali Jinnah championed the cause of Muslims by propagating fears of Hindu domination and incompatibility between Muslims and Hindus before partition of India. There were bloodshed and loss of thousands of innocent Muslims and Hindus and their displacement from their original inhabitations just before and after partition of India. After witnessing all these and becoming the first Governor General of independent Pakistan, Jinnah declared that Pakistan would be a secular country. Distrust between Hindus and Muslims in India as well as hostility and blame games continue between Pakistan and India even after 60 years of their ‘independent’ existence; due to the decisions made by the ‘founding fathers’ of Pakistan and India.

I am of the opinion that partition of India has had deep impact on present North East and made the region landlocked, isolated and disadvantaged artificially. Due to partition and unfriendly relations, Indian State adopts strategies primarily based on the narrow security and national interest perspectives in the region. Hostility between India and Pakistan led to three wars and spending huge money on defense budgets and the prime reason for the failure of SAARC. So I am not convinced that only separation will resolve all the conflicts and usher a wonderful relationship between the peoples. Further MNF leaders in Mizoram after leading armed struggles for about two decades and those who led anti-foreigners movements in Assam; headed Governments in respective States. Of course other issues are also involved.

Coming to Manipur and political demands of Nagas (which keep changing), the boundary of the political entity of Manipur was beyond the present boundary from all accounts including British writers on Manipur. For centuries different groups have been living together and interacting within Manipur and beyond. Both scientific and oral stories tell the similar origins of different groups presently known as Meiteis and Nagas especially Tangkhuls and Meiteis. For instance there will be difficulties in distinguishing say, who is a Meitei or a Tangkhul only on the basis of the physical appearance.  Cultural and linguistic ties and influencing each other’s customs and practices over the centuries are not artificial. These can be verified from folktales, oral and written records or from Tangkhul and Meitei elders. One can ignore or even refuse to believe such facts and perceptions. I have no problems because we live in modern or post-modern time and in a democratic country. I believe at least some scientific and universally accepted knowledge must be the basis of our views and understanding for own benefits.

Meiteis becoming Hindus some centuries ago and Nagas (there are non-Christians) and Kukis accepting Christianity since the last century and English education have not completely changed their past culture, tradition, history and identities. Religion is only one aspect of one’s identity and life, not the only thing. Moreover, concept of Manipur has been lakes, rivers, paddy fields, hills and valley as well as hills surrounding valley and valley/lakes surrounding hills in addition to wonderful people in great diversities. These interrelationships between them in Manipur are nature’s creation and humans only try to go against nature. Manipur has proud history of composite culture and leadership perhaps unique in India or world. In recent history particularly since Statehood Manipur has been led by political leaders like Md Alimuddin (the first Chief Minister), Rishang Keishing (the longest Chief Minister), Yangmaso Shaiza and others from the Meitei community and number of political and bureaucratic leaders belonging to all the communities. Every community has contributed to what was in the past and in the present Manipur.

The above facts and perceptions have been in the collective memories of the people and political culture of Manipur. Therefore, the problem for the supporters of Greater Nagaland, Nagalim and now alternative arrangement for Nagas or some other new demands (these demands may not be related) is not simply Meiteis or Meitei ‘domination’ or ‘communal’ Manipur Government. Their main challenges have been and will be the exclusion and narrow ethnocentric basis of their political demands which go against their own past cultural history, present realities like sharing of spaces by Nagas with Kukis in the hills as well as with Meiteis and others in the valley. They cannot force people of Manipur to delete what have been in their collective memories like in computer or mobile phone, though they can do it for their own reasons. Even if their demands are fulfilled there is no guarantee that only they will go to heaven, if God accepts the truth relating to Manipur.

Do the demands for “Alternative Arrangement for Nagas” (though not clear) in Manipur represent all the aspirations of all the ‘Nagas’ and resolve all the conflicts in Manipur? What will be the fate of non-Nagas and where and how they will stand in the proposed alternative arrangement? What about the demands for “Eastern Nagaland” or separate district for Phungyar or views of the silent common Nagas? Who are heading such changing demands, common Nagas or the English educated elites? Is separatism the only answer for all the Nagas in Manipur and are there no alternatives to separation? Are all Meiteis, Kukis and others in Manipur so inhuman towards Nagas or are Nagas becoming inferior now, so afraid or become superior that they do not want to live together with others in Manipur etc. Such are the fundamental questions which need to be asked honestly and answered objectively. It will be illogical to view all the Nagas in Manipur as the same in all respects including political opinions. I strongly believe that politics and Government are not the only things in our lives and relationships.

There has been ‘severance of ties’ (with no clear meaning as the other terms like ‘alternative arrangements’ or ‘unique history, culture’ etc) with Government of Manipur. To whom demand of the alternative arrangement of Nagas in Manipur is being made; to God or to God like omnipotent, omnipresent and all knowing Central Government or to the people of Manipur or only testing the support from the Nagas? There has been some success in bringing Tangkhuls, Anal, Mao, Maram, Kabui etc each having distinct languages, cultures and identities under a new common identity called Nagas. Some who were known by their tribe’s names or identified as Kukis earlier are now Nagas. This reflects the role of politics in identity change/formation other than socio-cultural and religious factors in Manipur.

The self-generated and ego satisfying knowledge and personal fulfillment of few alone did not and will not bring peace and progress as the past experience and present situation in Manipur and elsewhere have shown. There is certainly a need for scientific knowledge, understanding of the experience of developed country or region in India and the rational for modern administration, democratic practices and political economy. The reasons or foundations of demands are more crucial than the demands/goals themselves.

Coming to the comparisons between hills and valley it is not for or against. It is an attempt to understand factors contributing to more transformation in the valley than the hills or vice versa and what can be done to reduce/remove the disparities, if any and also for progress in every region and individual in Manipur. There is no hidden or open agenda.

There have been justifications of the traditions, traditional institutions and present practices as well as strong resistance to change in Manipur especially in the hills. Examples are traditional land ownership pattern, jhum cultivation, chieftainships (numbers are increasing and some say no alternative to chieftainships) and continuation of traditional attitudes towards non-tribal/others and democratic change in the hills. All these may have had positive historical roles; but are these serving needs of the common people of the hills in modern times? Will these be able to serve/provide the changing needs of the future generation? Are socio-cultural and political factors playing a role for the slower progress and development in the hills other than geography, Government indifference and Imphal centric development? We live in modern time with knowledge, technology and so many possibilities.

The gaps or divides among the people of Manipur and hills and valley have been widened due to various factors including political mobilization based on community/tribe identity. Every community has their own organizations with politically motivated functions and even separate Churches for each community/tribe in Manipur. British divided people and played divide and rule game for their own interests in India. In North East India and Manipur, British adopted the policy of exclusion and separated tribal from non-tribal and hills from the plain and separate administration for hills and valley on communal basis.

What is surprising is that even after British left India and Manipur for more than 60 years, we are continuing with British systems which primarily intended to serve the British colonial interests. Perhaps due to this ideological influence of British colonial systems (rather unquestioning faith on them) and other reasons, there seems to be strong beliefs and propaganda that hills are only for tribal communities in Manipur. This is despite the fact that large area of the hills are no man’s land  as the tribal communities did not and do not inhabit, own and use them. Yet if any thought or attempt to change such British introduced systems and existing perceptions regarding hills in Manipur on modern and democratic lines, the chances of it declaring/projecting as anti-tribal are high.

In other parts of the world, all land including hills belongs to the users or inhabitants and or to the Government and are the common natural resources. There seems to be socio-cultural and political factors (for instance the traditional land ownership pattern) also for not getting the momentum of transformation in the economy and other aspects in the hills of Manipur. Government of Manipur’s neglect and ‘discrimination’ in favor of valley besides geography seem to be major factors but not only the factors. Development economists, political economists, historians, anthropologists and sociologists will explain better in this regard. However I emphasize as in my last article that “there is need to end capital/district headquarter centric governance and development in favor of every region and every individual in Manipur”. Some innovation and fresh approach based on democratic principles with the active participation of people in the decision making process and implementation other than what have been tried so far are need of the hour in Manipur especially in the hill areas.

People in the hills still do not have political right and freedoms as in the valley. Reasons for this will vary according to the perception and ideology one has. Democratic process and exercise of the political rights of the people including right to contest elections and right to cast votes as they wish are still prevented or restricted in large areas in the hills due to armed groups and other traditional interests groups. Consequently only those who are supported by such anti-democratic forces are elected as people’s representatives.

Local self-governments as practiced in the valley or other parts of India are yet to take concrete shape or firm foundation on democratic and modern lines in the hills. In this sense many modern and traditional interests groups seem to have interfered or manipulated democratic process in the hills for their own interests and political ideology only; which are not really in the interests of common hill people.

Obstructing, threatening or punishing those who disagree with one’s own political agenda and ideology are certainly neither democratic nor preservation of traditions.

*The article is written by Dr N Somorendro Singh.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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