Dr N Somorendro
One disturbing fact and an indication of conservatism in the globalised era in Manipur is the increasing number of kumei-harao (festivals). In preserving festivals and converting even modern activity into ritual and festival form, Manipur is really innovative. The modern and democratic elections are also becoming like festivals in the state. Even the newspapers which are democratic and secular activity are not published for five days. The successive governments keep adding government sponsored/state level festivals. Is the increasing number of festivals sign of progress and development specially in the globalised era? If the answer is yes, Manipur is on the top of the world given number of festivals celebrated throughout the year particularly among the Meitei. Alas Manipur has low indicators of development and facing multiple challenges indicating the collective failure of leadership, politics and society.
It is worth re-rethinking at Yaosang festival and explores some tangible options given the conservatism of the elites and society, emerging national economy, disturbing realities of globalization, increasing economic dependency etc in Manipur. Yaosang has five days long celebration, causes imposition and jail like situation for those who are not interested, heavy expenditure, corrupting influence on the young boys and girls, increasing crimes, devastating influences on the students appearing in the Class X, XI and XII examinations etc. Yaosang, a unique traditional festival of Meitei is one of the longest festivals in the world with thabal chongba (moon light dance) continues for more than one month. It also affects the other social groups living in Manipur.
The first option is to reduce the disturbing effects of Yaosang to the students appearing the Class X, XI and XII examinations. The Education Department and two school boards can readjust the examinations schedule from next year. It can be either by completing examinations before Yaosang or re-schedule the dates to reduce the disturbance of Yaosang on the students appearing the Class X, XI and XII examinations. This is because the dates of Yaosang cannot be changed under any circumstances. This year 2018 students appearing Class X, XI and XII examinations had terrible time as Yaosang falls during examinations with loud noises of Yaosang sports in day time and loud drum beats of thabal chongba (moon light dance) upto 2. A.M. at night.
The second consideration is some regulation by the concerned authorities of the use loud speakers/mike for Yaosang thabal chongba say from 6.30 P. M. to 11.30 PM only. The allowing young boys and girls to dance with loud music upto 1.30/2.00 A. M. at night cannot be justified on any ground. The right of the thabal chongbi/chongba to dance is accepted but their dancing and organizers disturbing/depriving the sleep of others including older persons upto 1.30/2.00 AM at night is not reasonable at all. During elections use of load speakers are already regulated. There shall be some regulation in the use of loud speakers/mike with specific timing during festivals. Historically none of the traditional festivals used mike or loud speakers as in the present time.
The third option is organizing simultaneously state level sports week and tourism week during Yaosang. State level sports week shall be competitive sporting event with the participation of talented young sportspersons from every community and all the districts in Manipur. This is certainly possible and excellent option with the budgetary support from the government and can be organized by Sports Department. Some indigenous games of Manipur can be included in addition to national/globally recognized sports. The sports week will provide a golden opportunity/platform to the talented youths from every part of the state. There is need to preserve and protect local/leikai lampak for playgrounds from future construction of community halls etc . For healthy childhood and sporting activity leikai lampak are crucial for daily activities rather than community halls which are occasionally used. In some localities there is crisis of not having local lampak due to construction of community hall.
Simultaneously tourism week can be organized by the Tourism Department during Yaosang for both internal tourists within Manipur and external tourists from rest of India and world. Such has been the practice already in the other parts of the world during traditional and modern festivals. Thus the unique festival of Yaosang –sports and thabal chongba dance can be popularized nationally and globally in the globalised era. Manipuris living in other parts of India and world can play positive roles in globalizing the festival of Yaosang after agreeing to certain norms and rules. These are acceptable options and will provide better opportunities for the young talented sports lovers and youth. Simple imposition may not work as it is happening in the case of prohibition in Manipur. Yaosang thabal chongba has become an occasion to show expensive dresses by some girls. For some boys thabal chongba has become like a social license to intoxication including smoking, to roam around freely at night and dance with the girls of other places and come back home late upto 2 A.M. at night. Thus it becomes a serious health and moral issue and also a source of tension between young boys and their parents/family members. Crimes including killings related to or originated from thabal chongba are increasing. There are of course variations from one place to another.
Given the above disturbing trends associated with Yaosang, emerging socio-economic dependency, liberalized India and globalization, above options and possibilities can be considered seriously. The harsh realities of globalization include stiff competition, privatization, commercialization, rising inequalities, massive expansion in TV and media, consumerism etc. Another reality is that the dominant countries and groups take the maximum benefits and apparently no mercy and no protection of the smaller social groups. Festivals and traditional cultural practices alone cannot provide the necessities of modern life and no guarantee of sustainability of group identity and interests. The rate of the population below the poverty in Manipur is 47% in the year 2009-2010 while the national average in India is 29.8%. The dominant mode of economic activity in the state is dealership and retailing rather than production and service orientation. Creating more opportunities and empowerment of the common people economically and socio-economic and cultural changes are the necessities for every social group in the globalised era.
Conservatism in a way provides legitimacy to the elites in the society and leads to the preservation of their privileges. But it is also a cause to impoverishment of the common people and resistance to new knowledge and innovation. In Manipur each festival and cultural practice has their own unique role in the socialization process, cultural identity and civilization. Historically the kings and elites patronized festivals of various kinds. The tragic situation is that after democracy, republicanism and secular principles and process in India and globalization since 1990s has not brought emancipation from the conservatism particularly of the elites in Manipur. This is one of the fundamental problems of present time with lot of implication in cultural, economic and political life of the people and state. The group, society and polity which are not able to reform and innovate with the requirements of time and in relation to the changing world are not only dependent on the others but likely to face even survival question in future.
Leadership in politics, academics, education, business, judiciary, civil service, civil society, culture, sports, social work, hospitality, health care etc who understand the above challenges in the globalised era and have vision will definitely have the power to overcome them in Manipur. The days of self-sufficiency with minimum needs are history. The disturbing realities in social, economic and political life in Manipur particularly in the globalised era are required to be analyzed scientifically and collectively understood. Earlier the better and later means more problems and difficulties. Look at how the people of Manipur’s neglect of spiritual and cultural practice of worshipping of Phouoibi- the indigenous Goddess of abundant paddy has coincided with the heavy dependency on the imported rice. The tragedy is instead of focusing on the strategies for modernizing and diversification of production system and restoring self–sufficiency in rice and other foods, the focus is on the misallocation of imported subsidized cheaper and tasteless rice. Nobody is going to come and help us but we have to help ourselves and extend cooperation with one another and others in the globalised era. There lies the importance of inculcating Yaosang spirit and extension of how it is organized to other modern activities/areas.
There are certainly some positive aspects of the Yaosang and the way it has been organized in Manipur, otherwise known as land of ‘no funds and deficits’. Children and young boys and girls are enthusiastic participants in the Yaosang sports competitions and cultural activities helping them to develop some sporting spirit and social skills. The children have better options and are free from obsession like watching TV, playing mobile, computer, eating junk foods etc. Married women, who otherwise busy all the time, have some recreation activities and even participate in sporting events. Yaosang funds are voluntary contributions from the persons residing in a leikai or locality and definitely some financial help from the political class/‘social workers’. The heavy expenditure in thabal chongba costing upto Rs.60,000/- in some leikai, few leikai can come together to reduce the cost and disturbance also.
If Yaosang spirit, collection of funds and the manner of organizing are extended to other modern activities/areas like financial help to the poor students for their education, distressed family in the locality etc it will be wise and health practice. Education is one of the necessities of modern time and more educated persons better for the locality and society. If there are more support systems within a leikai there will be more harmony and less conflict. This aspect can be considered by clubs, leadership etc who often organize the sporting and other cultural events like Yaosang. It is high time researchers conduct some scientific studies on the various aspects of Yaosang and leaders take wise decisions keeping in mind for the present and future generations.
(The author is the General Secretary, FEGOCTA)
Dr N Somorendro