UFO Sightings in Manipur

Disclaimer: This article is not meant for sci-fi fans nor it is related to Raëlism.

UFOs are synonymous with mystery. But here, we are concerned with a group of people — abbreviated for the Universal Friendship Organisation; a Manipuri cultural front, which is equally mysterious if we go by popular beliefs. Popularly known as the Sat-jal, they are guided strictly by the philosophies and ethics of the Meitei, an ethnic group that dwells in the valley areas of Manipur and are scattered along the Northeast India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The UFO exists for a socio-cultural revolution, but tagging any label would amount to clubbing them under a mainstream category that its members are resistant to. Like the Sophists in the ancient Greece, the UFO doesn’t have written literature but rely on the age-old oral tradition. One of their main objectives is the preservation of Meitei identity. It is totally another thing, whether you believe in them, or you find them absurd; like every entity that exists in Manipur, a strife-torn state where all of us, all the time, prefer somersaulting backward than to move forward.

A group of UFO members gathered at their camp in Chingnungkok.
Image courtesy: Kangla Online 
The origin of the Meiteis, the seven clans, along with the philosophy, mythology, theology, history and politics are clearly segregated in their discussion. Bamon, the Brahmins in Manipur, along with the snub-nosed religious Hindus, are the villains in the narratives of the UFO, with valid reasons. We have been culturally displaced after the proselytisation and there are enough arguments why we need to scrap the Hindu beliefs that have forcibly substituted the original, indigenous faith and value systems. The tragedy is more apparent in replacing each belief with a similar Hindu thought by cunning religious craps and it is nothing less than genocide. For example, we celebrate two New Year’s Day, following a lunar calendar; and one of the sacred places, Nongmaiching, has been renamed Baruni; the list is never ending and can be discussed another time. However, it is remarkable that the villains have a small role in the epic of Meitei revivalism.

For the record, no original Hindu women came to Manipur but the missionaries from Bengal and Bangladesh who hoodwinked the local women, in the name of god and religion [it is called Lai Seba, loosely meaning performing the duties for the gods (the perverted Hindu priests?)], as much as they did to the effeminate Meitei rulers of the 17th and 18th century. Once we were a martial race, we submitted ourselves meekly yet happily to the orgy and debauchery in the new-found religion; in another sense, we got rid of the steel and swords as we picked up hand-held percussion instruments (like ‘qortal’), indulging ourselves in pure sensual pleasure and nothing else. So is it the origin of the famous Ras Lila, is it also the beginning of Sanskrit rites and rituals chanted in thick Bamon accent, the feasts, the Bolywood-type, imitative traditions and so on in our modern history. Nowadays, eminent theatre personalities are still building up an inclusive-Hindu consciousness in their plays and even in the name of their production houses and groups because this way, nothing stops them from getting recognition at the national Indian level.      

Might is right in Manipur
Image Courtesy: Anonymous ART of Revolution
‘Haana semba konna loiba’: We were created first and we will end the last. The UFO’s universe is centred on the philosophies of the Meitei. It is commendable, seeing the issues of identity crisis that have plagued us. A cursory look — into their shúng (huts) that they have built in and around the Imphal valley, with a stress on occupying the foothills — gives a rough idea about their vision and mission. There is also a myth that we can know their aims and objectives if and only if we become a member. However their intention is clearly a socio-cultural revolution.

A signature was all that it took to become a controversial part of the union (the nation-state): this is their belief. In the similar vein, a pen will be the only weapon to make the part a whole again. Guns are too redundant: even the extortionists, the teeming contractors and the social workers have the guns and grenades. The UFO doesn’t interfere in the mundane state of affairs, because they believe that once they join a movement, there will be no turning back, unlike the several haphazard popular uprisings that marked the early part of this new millennium, including a few of them which had been shamelessly bought off by the state actor. Their aspiration is looming over the horizon, ready to declutter the socio-political mess. There is no record but they estimate they have a membership of nearly three lakh people who are indirectly involved in their day-to-day affairs, and another 50 to 60 thousand active members. They also have a seven-fold path, which includes No Forgetfulness, No Laziness, No Anger, No Guilty Conscience, and so on. (It sounds awkward in English.)  

‘Toonglomdagina palem, maanglomdagina panthou’: Roughly they look like a mother from the back and a father from the front. It is because of their long hairs, and keeping them is included in their mandatory to-do list. In fact, they don’t cut their hairs at all, believing there are a few strands of hair that make us intelligent, thence their habit of keeping the hairs and beards long. The UFO has always a justification for their action. Their rhetoric is sometimes ridiculous, evoking the Marxist view that there is always a reason but all the reasons are not logical. Still their action plan is admirably built upon strict discipline and an authentic cultural belief system. They are vegetarians, a habit which helps them in their pacific approach towards life. It is noticeable, so do they say that the proponents of the contemporary armed movements are like the fish swimming in the river, inside or below the water level, while they always stay afloat on the same water.    

Image courtesy: thcdotcom
Another thing that is synonymous with their movement is marijuana. If you want the weed of the best quality, their shúng is the haven; yet this will be profanation of their existence if a person thinks the pot is the sole reason of their daily gathering at the shúng. The natural substance is just a medium, according to their opinion and there is no compulsion to use it. In their community lifestyle, though, it is not clear about having a ruling authority to maintain order, besides the economic structure is not set out properly apart, as far as I know. Interestingly they contribute regularly, howsoever small it is, which goes directly to the money box for their self-sufficiency.

Conclusion: My best experience with them was at one of their battalions at Lamboikhongnangkhong, located along the Uripok Kangchup Road, around seven years ago. I still remember the night sight; from the courtyard, it was so blue; there was no artificial light; and there was a vast paddy field that looked like a gigantic football ground, while the silhouette of the Langol Hills fenced in, as if the hill was grabbing the beauty of the night in one big hug. That night has been a reminder that beauty is a feeling and can never be verbalised for the sake of expressing it.

These are a few impressions about the UFO. Once they were also known as the Scientific Defence and Cultural Society in the Hippies era, yet they have always been called the Sat-jal. Started around the 1930s, they emphasise on learning the Meitei martial arts. It is highly controversial that it is a registered body yet it talks about self-determination. But again, in a land where the rule of law can be substituted with the maxim of might is right, anything is possible. When the state is sponsoring terrorism and the self-styled sons of the soils are intoxicated with gun-power, the members of UFO are peacefully assembling at their shúngs. However, I’m done with their extreme views that most of the time borders on religious fanaticism. Perhaps they consider the radical approach necessary in our land of silence, murder and greed. Their origin, evolution and functioning need more study. Haiyoom sidaba.


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