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

In contrast to the hills, there have been continuous changes in the valley; the concept and composition of valley population, its democratic and administrative institutions or in other aspects. Valley is inhabited by Meiteis (numerically the largest) followed by Manipuri Muslims (Pangals), Nagas, Kukis and others like Bengalis, Biharis, Punjabis, Marwaris, Nepalese etc. To say valley is only for Meiteis is incorrect and politically motivated view. All have the same rights and own property and land like the Meiteis. All have contributed to the progress and development in the valley. Neither legal nor traditions and traditional institutions are blocking such development and changes in the valley. Do such things possible in the hills or when these will be possible in the hills? How one can assume, propagate and justify one’s demands solely on the basis of others’ wrongs and show oneself to the world as holy and innocent all the time?

What about one’s contribution/share to the present conditions? It is not an easy thing to be self-critical but it is necessary for one’s survival, knowledge and progress whether in the valley or in the hills. God will not punish for attempting to know and accepting the bitter truths.

I am tempted to reemphasize the more readiness and ability to change in the valley as compared to the hills in the past and present time. Valley has one most of the diverse people and one of the highest densities of population in India with no legal or phobia based restriction on the flow of people, goods and new ideas. Accommodative capacity and learning from others have been higher. Such things did not happen and are not likely to take place in the hills; if the present politically motivated and phobia based thinking and systems continue. It is true that hills have cleaner air environment and more natural beauties than the valley (which has more human interventions). Democratization and introduction of modern administration (like municipalities, panchayats) have taken place in the valley earlier or faster than the hills. Manipur has a king but only a ceremonial head as the real powers are in the hands of elected representatives as in United Kingdom (Queen, only ceremonially head) and Japan (emperor). However, these do not mean everything is perfect in the valley which has old and newer challenges.

Being suspicious of the others and rest of the world stems from the lack of knowledge, exposure and experience with others. People from the hills and other regions of India come, buy, own property and settle in the valley. People from the valley go to the hills for many reasons but not allowed to utilize land and settle in the hills. It is in this sense that hills in Manipur are still afraid of modernity as traditional attitude and British introduced exclusion and separation between tribal and non-tribal continue. Despite Christianity with universal brotherhood and equality and liberating ideas with modern education; hills still seem to have psychological fear of valley and others. This is one view which needs to thought and debated little more seriously and explore ways to overcome the fears if any; not for Meiteis or valley’s advantage; but for hills’ own benefits and progress. Change is the law of nature and only thing constant in this world is change. So learning is also an endless process.

There is disconnection between the desire to be at par with others on the one hand and the attitude, traditions, institutional arrangements and means to achieve such desires on the other in the hills. Rich or poor are in the similar conditions whether in the valley or hills. Perhaps the primary difference is that a rich Naga or Kuki can own houses both in the hills and valley as well as can enjoys privileges provided by traditions and modern process. Such double or triple advantages are not possible in case of a rich Meitei or Muslim or any non-tribal. The political demands for separation only indicate propagating the belief that Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis cannot live together based on the assumption that human beings in Manipur are not equal; one group is either superior or inferior. Every community or tribe seems to project themselves as the victims/sufferers while other community as the enemy, exploiters, encroachers or look with suspicion. Many issues and solutions have been seen/sought from community or tribe perspective and politically; without exploring and attempting for common solutions and methods. Are these the only way and modern method for the advancement of the members of the communities?

The economists, geologists and other scientific persons will better decide the lack of resources and non-availability of minerals in the valley. Valley is still producing and has the potential to produce more by introducing modern irrigation and other scientific methods. Shops and markets in the valley sell rice, vegetables, dairy products, fish, poultry products, fruits, meat including pork etc produced from the valley. There is an urgent need to take steps to reduce dependency attitude and use of outside goods especially food items both from economic and health considerations. The cultivable area in the valley must be protected for agricultural purpose only for food sufficiency and security for the present and the coming generation. Similarly forests and certain hill areas must be protected on environmental and other considerations.

It is true that markets are flooded with goods including food items from outside in the valley. The hills are no better in this respect. It is a really sad situation in Manipur. Therefore, sharing and exchanges of available goods, services, land and other resources are required between hills and valley. Time has come for all of us to stop thinking and politicizing those hills is only for the tribal communities and valley for the Meiteis only. More cooperation and joint ventures are need of the hour for mutual benefits based on modern sciences and technology combined with traditional wisdom. Better connectivity, promotion of tourism, horticulture, handicraft, agriculture etc are good options. People of Manipur rich or poor (and every community members) pay more than what rest of India pay for the same goods and quantity largely due to the huge collection/extortion on the vehicles on the National Highways in Manipur; which is not fault of theirs.

Modern tax system must be introduced and one of the ways to generate additional resources is the attitude of paying tax. There is Christian belief of ‘Pay to Caesar first’. Jesus valued the contribution of an old poor woman’s two pennies for the construction of temple as the most magnificent due to her honesty and as two pennies represented all she had. Had Jesus returned the two pennies to the woman because of her poor and pity conditions; that would have been an insult and against the dignity of that woman as one famous author says: We need to imbibe the Chinese proverb to teach how to catch a fish not merely giving a fish? One can be never happy and sufficient by depending on the others. So the obstinate and incurable disease like attitude of “not to pay tax” to the Government must go. It only reflects our attitude and cultural orientation towards Government or common good. Government has been primarily seen as free provider and to be used largely for the private purposes by holders of office in Government.

Mobile phone bills are classic example in which bills are paid by the people in the hills or valley, rich or poor voluntarily, without force. There is a need to educate ourselves and others to develop an attitude and habit of paying tax. Everyone must pay tax rich or poor, hill or valley, tribal/non-tribal as it will bring sense of belonging to Government and identification with public or common good. This is because even the most powerful or a rich person alone cannot construct roads or provide electricity and other common/public utilities.

It is extremely important to know a bit one’s own history, culture and ability/performance as well as some knowledge of science, anthropology, sociology, economics, geography, philosophy and politics. If one is so serious about progress or development or feel left out, then one needs to find out reasons and know why and how others (place, community, nations etc of the world) have progressed or developed? The assertion that “tribals are all equal and as such no social elites/middle class in the hills” of Manipur is living in a false paradise. Sociologists and others have to do serious investigation into this matter and find out the truth. But to me such assertion is highly politically motivated lacking objectivity and not backed by realities or by even simple observation especially in recent times in Manipur. Of course there is no objection if it is a goal to be achieved.

One can go on glorifying and justify one’s tradition, community and present conditions but to me it does not have any significant purpose if that does not serve to the changing needs of the larger people. The middle class/elite’s commitment to democracy in Manipur is still weak and constantly undermines public institutions, morality, laws and rules for their own interests and power. One fundamental challenge in North East India including Manipur has been the assumption and belief that political power or political organization on the basis of one ethnic group only can protect and promote the interests of that ethnic group. But experience has proved otherwise. It is true that leadership in Manipur and centre has not been able to address political demands and respond them with innovative strategies based on genuine democratic and federal principles.

European Union case is interesting and useful one. There were wars and conflicts between many European countries precisely due to attempts to establish States on the basis of only one nation, one race, and one language and for supremacy by one over the others. In contemporary time there has been realization that cooperation and unity are crucial for mutual benefits and also to increase their barraging power in the world politics with USA, Japan, and China or now with even India. Another successful example is of ASEAN consisting of South East Asian countries. In contrast SAARC has been a failure due to hostility and distrust between the member countries especially between India and Pakistan due to partition/separation. Americans preferred Barrack Hussein Obama (present USA President) as he symbolizes change, unity and hope with concerns for others (including rest of the world).

Some countries like Saudi Arabia, the rulers are still hereditary who exercise absolute powers and are run by the royal families. The individual citizens do not have democratic rights and they cannot change their rulers/Governments. Japan or United Kingdom though headed nominally on the basis of hereditary; the real powers are in the hands of elected representatives. Prosperity is not necessarily the only indicator of being a modern society and development when there is no equality and citizens are powerless. There have been movements in Gulf countries for democratic systems especially after overthrow of authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak who ruled Egypt for over 30 years. But one can choose what kind of systems will benefit and more responsive to the larger people in present or in the future.

Human mind is the greatest power human can have. It can be used for constructive or destructive, unity or separation, self-interest or common good, trust or distrust and so on. The choices are before us and in fact in our hands. I am delighted and congratulate R Rungsung for having hopes to end present situation and a better future as well as seeking the blessings of God. I believe God has desires that we humans use our intelligence for not only our self-interests but for unity and common interests of all humans also. Everyone has a responsibility to reduce misunderstanding and throw away hatred, suspicion and accusations on each other from our minds for own good, if not for others through new ideas and knowledge. Let us not betray our own forefathers and mothers and not allow being cursed/blamed by the coming generations as in the case of India and Pakistan with never ending politics, distrust, blame games and conflicts due to partition. We can show to the world that we can overcome our differences, weakness and lacking. This can be possible only if we share what we have and our strengths/resources with each other and help others to overcome their weakness and lacking and vice versa. We must take note from history and recent experiences from other parts of the world that narrow/selfish interest, hatred and blame games do not bring common good but only common sufferings and frustration.

External forces only may look like helping us but they will always protect their interest first as our past and present experiences have shown. We have been living together and will continue to live in this part of the world. Understanding, cooperation, attitude and practice of helping, loving others and respect for others’ concerns and interests above all desire for co-existence and mutual benefits must be the foundations of our new relationships. We can be the models for others to follow in the North East India and by the rest of the world. These are certainly in our own hands. I am sure if these are in our thoughts and efforts, God will bless us and the present and coming innocent generation will have a better future and loving relationship.

*The article is written by Dr N Somorendro Singh.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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