The Tragedy of a Beneficiary Group
The monkey business of freeloaders, proselytisation, religious/legal conversions, political defection and others
Consider that you have no family or relatives. Now, if you have to choose between your life and ten million rupees, what would you prefer? For other people, it will be subjective but in our case, for the Manipuri people, it is certain that the majority of us will go for the money. We have an amazing quality of being freeloaders and we are proud of it. It’s no mere generalisation. You can see it clearly if you look around, particularly in the light of ever increasing cases of religious conversion and the demand for inclusion into the scheduled caste/tribe category, under which people enjoy certain benefits and privileges provided under the Constitution of India.
Case 1: Devil in Disguise
Manigun lives in my locality. I met him last week and he was going to the Sunday church. Catholic, no doubt but when I asked him why he is into this particular theology, he started explaining how Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to become the global church leader, how he used to be a bouncer in Argentina, how modest he is and Manigun went on relentlessly. I had to cut him off telling him he must be late. He left soon but not before howling that he will tell me more about his newfound faith. I pray that I never meet him again.
Behind his back, as a true native, I can tell so many things about him and, to make it clear, none is in his favour. To start with, just one of the things that are in his favour is that Christianity does not preach we are originally from Nazareth unlike Hinduism’s claim that we from Mahabharata.
The advent of Christianity in Manipur is well documented. For the sake of agreement, let’s suppose that the first Naga-Kuki groups were proselytised to this faith out of cultural and historical reasons or whatever the case was. Rev William Pettigrew, the Scotsman can be considered as the pioneer and the credit should also go to the Arthington Aborigines’ Mission, under whose sponsorship Pettigrew had made the divine sojourn.
Back then, in the late 1890s and early 1900s, some of the valley-dwelling Meiteis were offended by Pettigrew’s overt mission—so much so that fearing a public backlash the latter had to flee to the mountains of the former princely state. But things have changed drastically today. From total nonexistence a century ago, it is now the second largest in terms of population. Besides becoming a formidable faith, there are now Meiteis like Manigun, mostly Hindus by birth, who are becoming Pettigrew’s loyalists in droves.
People say the new leap of faith is one of the consequences of the primary role that the Christian missionaries have played in the field of education through their mission schools. I’m also a product of St Joseph’s School in Imphal but me, I believe religion is a piece of dung that people like Manigun used for unknown ‘biomassic’ benefits.
It is perfectly okay as far as personal freedom is concerned but it affects everybody. Religion has been dividing the people on parochial belief systems and worse, we have been bogged down by the crises of ethnic hostilities and identity issues. Liberals would brush this off because they believe in unity but denial cannot change the reality and the fact is that today’s reality is a collective nightmare that a thousand gospels cannot get rid of. You will be wrong if you think I’m taking a potshot at Christianity because I’m an atheist and all kinds of religions including Hinduism and Islam are just the same ‘evil’.
Liberals should also see how the church is playing a primary role in spreading hatred and propaganda. Remember once in 2010, the Manipur government had to send a delegation of the All Manipur Church Association to negotiate with the NSCN-IM over the chronic issue of highway blockade.
Case 2: The Politics of the Party-poopers
‘Write on my gravestone: “Infidel, Traitor”’, American abolitionist and lawyer Wendell Phillips declared and he added, ‘Infidel to every church that compromises with wrong; traitor to every government that oppresses the people.’
For Manigun’s relief it’s not a low blow again; neither religion is connected here.
Last year, Manipur State Assembly Speaker Thokchom Lokeshwar disqualified three MLAs: Khumukcham Joykishan (Thangmeiband assembly constituency), Thongam Bishwajit (Thongju a/c) and Oinam Lukhoi (Wangoi a/c) under the anti-defection law for leaving their party. In an abnormal world, they are the kind of traitors who would be flogged in a public place but in a ‘normal’ place like Manipur, what these sycophants did is referred to as shrewd politics.
Electoral politics has remained the only primary factor determining the presence of democracy in Manipur but many opportunists have been leaving no stone unturned to kill as well every bit of a democratic life that has survived. In the last few months nobody cares—except this kind of people and their sidekicks—but the Congress high command has been worried with the next election due in less than a year and allegedly BJP is encouraging dissidence against the incumbent Congress government in the state. Pity that Okram Ibobi had to rush to New Delhi several times.
These are just the couple of major issues. Again, in an abnormal world, defection occurs over ideological differences; but in our normal world, the sycophancy, obsequious politics and party-pooping occur predominantly because of disagreement over the 3Ps: power, portfolios and positions. All they see is the road stretch between Babupura and the Assembly building, while stoking the fire of antiestablishmentarianism. How much do the legislators pay heed to legislations like that of anti-defection? It is unclear but for our state and some of our banana-republic neighbours, it is just a farce.
Case 3: Benefit of the Touts
If we talk about farce, the tales will go on forever.
In mainland India, just as the sun divides the day and night perfectly, the issue of reservation separates the people into two: the pro-merit and the pro-reservation groups. However, in a hinterland like Manipur, it is totally a different world. We are proud that we have no caste system though we have other ‘system’ like the classification of pharisaic Chingmi-tammi people.
A few Meiteis from Manipur are confident that we will be better off if we are clubbed into the SC/ST category for apparent benefits that we will receive under the reservation policy of the union. When we are in a victimising mode, we cannot see our own mistakes in a typical I-don’t-know-what-I-don’t-know way and we blissfully ignore that we are trying to manipulate other people. Well, it is okay not to be a victim to live and grow in this world. If only these people can understand it. ‘Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics,’ says American bureaucrat JW Gardner, ‘It is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.’
It is the same reason why the newly elected BJP president of Manipur branch, who claims that we cannot change ‘300 years of Manipuri history’. We can understand the statement because their party survives on a right-wing Hindu ideology and he needs to show as well his servility to the party leaders. That’s how politics works. But if we see it from another perspective, it is the dependency syndrome that all of us suffer from.
For more than two thousand years we have survived as ancient civilisation and abruptly when we become India, in less than seven decades, we feel we cannot survive without dependence on the union. We should do away with the Kanglasha emblem and replace it, perhaps with a statue of a bowing person. Once again it is not a matter of conceit versus lost opportunities. Anyway, one difference between the supporters and opponents is that the former is insistent while the latter is making it an open question.
Frantz Fanon’s idea that the oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves is manifesting around our neighbourhoods. I’m not sure if these supporters are seeing green with the number of IAS officers from certain groups of communities that enjoy an envious SC status in the state.
Yet, one thing is certain: the Japanese did not require a constitutional privilege to rise from the rubble in the post-WWII days. Instead of daydreaming about the freebies, it will do us a world of good if we change the social mentality, with a little bit of improvement in governance and administration. For that matter, getting the SC/ST status does not promise that we will be climbing out of the well of hopelessness and confusion that we are drowned in.
Alternative, we are getting further and further away from nature. Just like the incongruous urbanisation process around the town, we are getting deeply artificial in a pathetic way. What we require is not reservation bur honesty and competence. Nobody is above or below us. Those typical Meitei integrationists would love to believe that the SC/ST categorisation will put us on a level playing field with other communities but such an artificial grouping of people will hardly change the political dynamics between the people.
Like all the ideal things, religion is full of hopes and promises but it merely reminds us of Macbeth of Scotland’s dialogue that ‘it is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing’—so are all these issues of conversions, demands of conversion, political defection and governmental intervention for social change. For instance, the anti-defection law has been in existence for three decades yet it is still too clumsy to bring any qualitative change. Religion preaches about parents and origins and many people are going to be frustrated when they realise their stories are not at all related with Nazareth (or Ayodhya, which some Hindu converts have already realised.)
Each day, we are crawling into that era when we will be completely fed up and have no option but to do away with the existing establishment for good.