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Facts and Fabrications

Ethnicity is really a hard meat to nibble and becomes much, much more than a mouthful when it is deeply politicised beyond comprehension. It also marks the beginning of one of the major problems we are facing in Manipur today. The Nagas, the Kukis, the Meiteis and the others are so different in their world views as if they have landed from different planets in this so-close-to-hell land.

And more than we can care to remember, there are many reasons why we will always be mired in confrontation against each other. Add to this quagmire is the persistent conflict between the government and the numerous insurgent groups. This is not a verdict nor a conspiracy nor some pessimistic chatter-yatter, but some pictures out of the farcical tragedies unfolding serially in recent times.

F L A G G A D O C I O   I N   D I F F E R E N T   C O L O U R S     Amidst the howl and brawl for homelands and all-reason-defying economic blockades the Manipur’s erstwhile seven-colour flag has given some food for thought.

The first picture is always of a political hodgepodge, but let’s take it clearly. When the British pulled the Seven Colours down in April 1891, the legitimacy of the flag was also gone forever. Before it could regain its past legacy, despite the state getting independence from the British and being the first erstwhile 'nation' to have its own constitution and the first democratically elected leaders, the flag had immersed into the deep waters of the unknown with the state acceding controversially to the Union of India. Today, this is strictly a Meitei perspective.

But then in those days while the flag has its authenticity, there was no apparent conflict between the several ethnic groups, while some people trace the root of the crisis to the Merger Agreement when Manipur became a part of India in October 1949; and then the trouble has been further accentuated with the initiation of peace talks between the Government of India and some of the rebel groups here and there.

Seven-Colour Limbo: The inscription in Meitei Mayek and
the Kanglasha are just for the sake of getting some meanings
out of the nonmeaningful flag    
Even if the flag is an important political ornament that adorns the psychological and emotional face of a people, the real meaning of the Seven Colours was lost more than a century ago. In the ‘ceasefire’ agitation in 2001, however, its hoisting atop the Assembly Building and elsewhere was quite symbolic.

It cannot be denied that the people, of course the Meiteis, still have an attachment to the Seven Colours but the fact is that these colours only denote the seven Meitei clans of the erstwhile kingdom and now it clearly shows the reason for the joke that the Manipur government has no teeth beyond Sekmai in the north, Moirang in the west, Yaingangpokpi in the east and Pallel in the south (all of these areas lies in/situated close to the valley). It will be unsurprising if the other groups see in this flag the perfect example of the alleged Meitei dominance and as an object of resistance. (Read: Naga Allegations Against Meiteis http://bit.ly/ttojAy)

More than we have the time, we are always looking for a reason, no matter how illogical and ridiculous it is, to hate one another. But truth be told, the Indian tri-colour is based on some Hindu philosophy yet no one sees any kind of discrimination in it.

C O L L E C T I V E  S I N S    We have several problems when it comes to religion altogether. Our MLAs can shamelessly comment on prime time news broadcast in the country, out of context to the discussion they are having, that Manipur is a Hindu state. Fact 1: Only the valley people are half-Hindus, most of us were forcibly converted in the early 18th century, and the other half are worshipping the indigenous deities. There are many animists as well as many other Christians (read: hill people) who got converted during the imperial days. (Fact 2: Otherwise, the MLAs never have the balls to speak out the public issues.)

When religion becomes a public issue, the gods call for suicide and murder, and in this schism people always become more illogical than the most desperate opium smokers. To put it bluntly, the Jisus and Krishnas are only as good as wet blankets.

Once in the early Manipuri Hindu days, some hillmen came to the king, requesting the ridiculously all-powerful leader to let them convert to Hindus. Legend has it that, after burning numerous important books called the Puya, the fine drapery of Hinduism in untouchability was also introduced in the kingdom. And so the hillmen — as they were denied the right to proselytise, became some sort of outcast people. The funny thing was that they smacked their butt themselves, showing displeasure and unaffected haughtiness before leaving the king with his pandits and gurus.

Now in the present millennium, we are poles apart in our thoughts: some worship Jisu, and others pray to ornamented goddesses — all the intelligent designers, which absurdly don’t make a connection to where we came from or where we are heading to.

A L T E R N A T I V E  S H O C K     Politics is a game of the shrewd. No doubt. But the masses are generally foolish, ever ready to give in to the master's diktat. And this makes all the differences. Rather it makes the heaven a hell for the hinterland which had its mass connection with the outside world only during the mid-20th century and which belongs to an emerging industrialising country in pop terms. In such a short period of time, people have started adding meat to their aspirations by imagining histories which are unique and complete in their own terms which is again a ridiculous thought.

Subsequently this is the high time, as we are perceiving, regardless of  all the grunge and grime scattered all over the land. The proponents would say this is revolution while their hangers-on would follow, because there is nothing better for them to do in this world. New words and phrases, such as “alternative arrangement”, “supra-state” and so on, are entering into our vocabulary. But why cannot we rise above our parochial world? It is amazing how we can resort to revenge to offer catharsis and take political steps. Nothing is more primitive than this.

T H E   I N D I A N   B L U E S     It was the worst ignorant belief of the last millennium that we are in a democracy. We were carried away by emotion and a false pride that it was special and that we were genuinely a part of something exceptional as a whole. As much as looks are deceptive, facts are also misleading. This is not an exaggeration to say that it is one of the most regretful things that can happen only once in a thousand year; but certainly this will be an overstatement to say that we live in the largest democracy. We have counted the numbers wrong after reading the facts in the useless books, now we need some revision.

Possibly, it is an achievement when it comes to national and international deliberations about how a country manages with what kind of political system it follows. But this is gross miscalculation when in our state, anyone can kill anybody for a pinch of salt — and life can be bought and killed with some consolatory ex-gratias — and when it is a blunder we have elections for the sake of having a worthless political class.

Yet, to each his own. What is India got to do with the Northeast? What is this thing called nationalism? Why do we need a country at all?

C O M I C   R E L I E F     What we can deliberate further, with some hope amidst the gloom, is that the present crisis is one of the passing things in our story. Howsoever history is in a continuity, we have always found that the narrative does not run along a single thread. Just to give a couple of examples, as mentioned above, there was no question of ethnicity in 1891 yet it burst out relatively only during the modernisation period (which has been going on for the last one hundred years or so in the region); and even further going back to time, great men like K Marx and GWF Hegels could never have imagined about this kind of problems despite their very broad framework of social revolutions and wars. So this gives us a hint that, perhaps, one day we might defeat these foul destruction and division and would come to see a world where these issues bubble and fizzle out, gone a long time before in the sands of time.

Many of us exist, speaking different languages and following different traditions. How is it that it is so hard to tolerate the differences? This is, however, the meat of the argument. And it will be another set of blunder if we are only waiting for the time-it-heals-all-wounds. We should not be curling up in a ball, longing to roll down the aisle of bitter conflicts and get away. We desperately need some humanity.

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