All roads in Manipur lead to blockades

Manipur – the land of gods and heroes – a previous nation state of peace and tranquillity with a fusion of geography, season, communities and families – is at the crossroads in this first decade of the 21st century.

While my political thought is not fully formed I have a sneaky feeling that the present professed “peace loving” community politicians are undoubted admirers of a hawkish attitude to anti-integrationist philosophy. They have a gift of generating narrative tension about past events of which we already know, with a triumphalist hindsight intended to disrupt Manipur’s timeless sense of unity.

Manipuris with a common history and political security, now hang with breathless interest over the verbal battlefields. A strange uncertainty has settled down upon the minds of all communities as they stand at the crossroads because of a change that has passed over the visions of enchantment of some tribal politicians, who from a young age, knew how they felt to be knocked back and have to carry on.

I have a dark nostalgia. As a boy I thought all dusty country roads and hilly tracks in Manipur led to Imphal. I remember how hill dwellers from north, south, east and west toiled for days to bring their merchandise to, while Loi people trudged with weary legs to bring salt, alkali and terracotta pots, for sale at Sanakeithel. Those were the days when time and space existed apart. We ignored the passing of time and completing a transaction was the best to invest in our own time. There was no time other than the present moment.

In college, the English professor taught about Edgar Allan Poe as the best American short story writer, who In his essay on cosmology titled “Eureka”, wrote space and time are one. The Mathematics professor taught how time and space could be proven to be one.

In Manipur, we are now back to life in slow lane with myriads of copycat road blockades, bringing the past today, with echoes of political intrigue reverberated by the surrounding hills. Time often seems to stand still with indefinite blockades.

Probably nothing is more frustrating in the aesthetic than the injudicious combination of regularity and curve that goes higher into making road blockades, which serve no useful purpose apart from inconveniencing the hapless townspeople while they almost starve the poor from the countryside and the hills.

In the last blockade just before I wrote this column, the United Naga Council’s (UNC) called for road block and bundh for 48 hours on October 23 2015 to register their sympathy for Kukis against the infamous three Bills of ILPS passed by the Manipur Legislature on August 31 2015. Oddly, it was almost successful in Naga areas of Ukhrul and Senapati but not at Kukilam of Sadar Hills.

Well ! nothing is perfect except a circle. No human being is perfect. Even God, if there is one, is not ultimate copybook.

While all roads blockaded, lead to Imphal, the possible truth is that the vast majority of people in both the valley and hills like to live in peace and in status quo. They have had enough of blockades that began as aid-memoire of a few tribal politicians for their wasted tedious drift in search of a ‘promised land’. They never fully came to terms with the conflict of values between themselves and the majority Meiteis.

Manipur was on the verge of fracture with secessionist movements by Tangkhul and Kabui Nagas for a separate Naga identity by joining ethnic Nagas of Nagaland, which they fail to realise, is not like living with their own people. There is no reason why they could not develop their own personalities living with Meiteis and Kukis and other small tribes like Marings, Thangals, Anals and Koms.

Kukis on the other hand, crave for an autonomous region for themselves as an umbrella for all the kindred tribes of Kuki-Chin-Mizo – related tribes from the contiguous regions of Myanmar, Mizoram and Manipur.

All these blockades mirror the innermost thoughts of educated few who aspire to break away from Manipur, perhaps as a crystallisation of a core value, something like Immanuel Kant’s aphorism: “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made”.

It will legitimise their contention if a shock poll shows the majority voters in their communities want to leave Manipur. I will wish them success. However, as a Meitei, I would rather they don’t, especially when they profess to be motivated by emotional loathing of majority Meiteis, claiming themselves to be victims of oppression by Meiteis who exploit their economy with political dominance, and who do not share power and privilege in an egalitarian fashion.

They also rightly or wrongly blame Meiteis for the denigration of their social status, by converting themselves into Hinduism and by the imposition of Meitei Mayek in their schools.

The rhetoric has fewer trade statistics and more raw emotions. Historically, Meitei culture was different from theirs even in those days when the proto-Meitei – Meeteis used to have similar food and drinking habits though with their own separate culture, morality, dress and religion (Sanamahism).

All the tribes communicated in Meiteilon, which when developed into writing by letters in the 19th century, the Bengali alphabet (initially encouraged by the officiating Political Agent, Maj Gen Nuthal with the support of the British Government in Calcutta in 1872) was introduced by Dr R Brown (FRCSE), the Political Agent and after him by Lt Col James Johnstone, in schools. We should be thankful for it, as at that time, there were was no printing press with block Meitei Mayek letters.

With integrity and without guilt, I am an apologist for Meitei conversion to Hinduism that fortunately brought Meiteis into the dawn of civilisation.

Likewise, tribal conversion to Christianity has brought them out of darkness but has tipped the balance in their aspiration for self-determination, while making Meiteis a scapegoat for caste distinction. I would instead, blame the Christian God as to why he took so long to come to Manipur. Why didn’t he send Scot Pettigrew before Bengali Shantidas? Its clue may lie in the cosmic distance and epoch time. Jesus was born in far away Israel while Krishna was born long before Jesus in India.

Tongue-in-cheek or not, I am not repudiating that there are some truths in all these anti-Meiteism. ‘Radical attempts to lift human consciousness always meet with violent opposition, particularly from those with vested interests in retaining the status quo’.

However, Meitei communalism as a tentative cause for separatism is a point stretched too thin at a time when Meiteis are trying for a movement, seeking to provide an alternative to their society’s retrospective tendencies. It might not be too audacious for me to assert that there is a large element of biased or misleading tone of insouciance towards Meitei unfairness, to promote a separatist political cause that is mostly ethnic.

Indian Government is not non-knowledgeable to the main reason that it is not economic disparity with economic depression but a host of other factors such as tribal, ethnic, cultural, religious and social inequality that has nothing to do with Meiteis.

Road blockades and Hartal (Strike) are convenient forms of democratic protest – the best weapon that they have at their disposal in Manipur. To quote a source : Sharp, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 Vols.), Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973, there are 198 methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion.

In Manipur, “Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures” is chosen, perhaps because of the peculiar geographic terrain. The alternatives are violence and insurgency, which gets bogged down in the face of the mighty India Army.

The international law does not help as it is vigorously opposed to any community’s attempt to break away in order to build a separate state or to join another adjoining state. It labels it as criminal. As there is also no local legal means of settling separatist conflicts, the leaders fall back on a series of road blockades, with rambling triviality and jargonising verbosity to help create a relevant ethnic mood of disintegration and to draw Union Government’s attention. All is not fair in love and war.

Despite American poet Longfellow’s “How hard is it to keep toiling when the goal seems far away” in his poem, The Ladder of St. Augustine, researchers in University College London, conclude, ‘too much fantasy can have disastrous results on achieving goals’.

So, let’s all put this behind as there will never be a Heavenly harmony in Manipur until we scotch the myth that Meiteis will rule forever. We have to put up with each other for a while, to even it out, despite a gallery of rogues and discriminations that characterise Manipur.

Let’s unify all the communities by building one bridge while confining ourselves in our territorial waters. Let’s make provisions for of our future generations who we want to protect when we are no longer around, by putting an end to the mixing of the absurd with the sinister and twisted that we call separatism, as a folktale of witless, wary and wise.

Remember intelligence attracts many wonderfully weird people, Manipuris included.

The writer is based in the UK