Scheduled Tribe makeover will end hill-valley divide


Please release me, let me go; for I don’t love you anymore. To live a lie will bring us pain; so release me and let me live again (Englebert Humperdinck).
This was Top of the Pop song in 1966 Britain. This was what the Hillpeople have been singing in Manipur from 1946, with a refrain by the United Naga Council (UNC) that has been humming it since October 27 2012, when they declared – “UNC espouses peaceful parting of ways”. Peaceful parting , perhaps for them, but it won’t be for Meiteis and Khongjais. Divorce is always very hurtful to both parties.
Separatism is the main foundation for the hill-valley divide, as shown by hillpeople’s resistance to ILPS Bills and ST make-over of Meiteis, as their approval of the same would narrow the chasm. Whilst blaming Meiteis for one-sidedness and discrimination, hillpeople won’t allow Meiteis to occupy a centimetre of their 90% geographical hill area of Manipur. But Meiteis welcome them to settle as they please in the 10% Meitei valley.
Naga People’s Convention held on July 1 2010 resolved to sever all political ties with the Government of Manipur. The UNC are fighting for separation or ‘state-breaking’, to merge with the neighbouring Nagaland with visions of swelling skies and baptismal seas, leaving the state of Manipur in disarray. Luckily for Manipur, Tangkhuls are on the laundry list of enemies for Kukis who had decades of taking on the chin.
All the same, Nagas and Khongjais want to detach hill ranges from Meitei valley and, in turn, will fight among themselves to split the region. Eventually, Khongjais will be forced to breakup their promised land among Kukis, Paites and others. This is reality and the Meitei public must stop tiptoeing around this suspenseful saga of hill-valley divide agenda. The government, the Meiteis and many hillpeople have been trying to be diplomatic and shy away from acknowledging the existence of this volcano.
Conversion of Meiteis to the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category will unravel Manipur’s multifaceted tangle of history in a simple readable prose, by ironing out some creases in Manipur’s social history, such as mangba-sengba (untouchable-touchable) often cited by hillpeople as one cause of hill-valley divide. This will end the disparity in the socio-political status of everyone in Manipur.
In the ongoing civil war in Manipur between the valley and hill people since August 31 2015, and with due respect to some Meitei ST sceptics, I would like to underscore the political fact that a wind of change that is blowing through Manipur valley, whether we like it or not, is the ‘majority OBC Meitei consciousness’ that a tactical change from “Project fear” to “Operation D-Day” is called for. Your contrary stance is giving ammunition to hillpeople to claim their “rights” to secession.
Talking of the “rights”, let’s take Nagas as they are the flag bearers. Their attempt at secession does not accrue from a socio-political mismatch that questions their relationship in the social sphere of Manipur and in relation to the form of political government that exists. It also begs the question of what gives them a valid claim that the territory in question, belongs to them. The territory belongs to the state.
To their dreams of unilateral state-breaking, or claim of right of sovereignty over their territory in the state of Manipur, the majority Meiteis, who do not support separation, have also special rights to that territory, in international law. And the state of Manipur is not obligated to refrain from interfering in the their attempts to secede.
While Manipur would be left behind in tatters and for Meiteis to pick up the pieces, the Nagas’ polity is not to form a new state but to merge the territory they live in, with neighbouring Nagaland. This is the worst of secessionist movements, known as “Irredentist secession”, often provoking serious violence, as it was in Manipur, leading to the June 18 2001 uprising. Manipur Nagas have a moral right to secession, only when it is undertaken with the consent of the state of Manipur.
This preface cover the following topic. The tragical comedy for the catchword “hill-valley divide” that I often hear like muezzin call from a minaret, is a hillpeople’s political construct – a slogan to familiarise valleypeople, like a cowbell, that state-breaking is on the way.
I’ll not harp on why they feel so and act so. It is their prerogative, but as a Manipuri nationalist, I wish all the stakeholders in the state engaged in a discussion in howsoever batty the plot is, before they chewed over, for dividing Manipur.
For Meitei ST sceptics, it’s good to be more mentally aware that while being stuck-up and snobbish wouldn’t help matters, it’s questionable to get chingmee come along by mollycoddling (themba-shaohandaba in Meiteilon), which some good-hearted tammee still think it would help them to cohere with Meiteis. Old toffee-nosed Meitei phrases are no more music that plucks at their heartstrings.
Anthropological delusions like “we” all came from a dreamy distance, with a sense of being lost in the wilderness, some endless years ago, is like saying God lives in Heaven. Likewise, someone writing in Wikipedia that “Meiteilon is Tibeto-Burman” is like pledging God definitely lives in Heaven. What does he actually mean Meiteilon is Tibeto-Burman? There are many similarities between a dolphin (mammal) and a codfish, but they are not the same.
Many moons ago, a well-meaning Meitei, holding the wrong end of the stick and not realising that I was talking science, wrote to me, and since then, he had copied and pasted what he wrote, as comments to some of my articles. He derided my book (2009) – The Origins of Meiteis and Meiteilon is not a Tibeto-Burman language as the cause of the hill-valley separation movement, and it should be burnt by UCM. I consoled him that the movement started 63 years ago in 1946, and I am only a small fry.
Rather than condescending and, with an ego as big as the Loktak Lake, Meitei STsceptics should focus on facts and not on intuition. Instead of being marshmallow men of the 70’s, they should try to harmonise the social and architectural fabric of various communities living in Manipur as identical. Despite the Manipuri Nagas, who believe Nagaland is their caviar, it should be the talk of the town, and not wait until we hear the hidden oracle and celebration dinner with mango juice, dal and aluparatha, of the Indo-Naga peace talks.
While the mind of Meiteis is swimming like vertigo and their soul roaring like skylark high in the air, in their desire to keep the Union of Manipur intact, all of us – chingmee and tammee should study Manipur’s parallels in the history of the American Civil War (1861-1865). The origins of why seven Southern states wanted cessation from the United States (the Union), why they united and formed the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy ), and why the North refused to let them go, is still debated by historians. It is also debatable in Manipur why Nagas want to secede.
Though it is generally attributed to slavery, the main cause was “southern nationalism” and “separatism” intertwined with many factors that were ideological, economic, political or social. In Manipur, though “communalism” is often cited, the main reason is “ethnic nationalism” leading to “separatism” because of their peripheral location and feeling that they have been mistreated socially and politically with economic depression.
To Manipuri chingmee I convey this information: Meiteis resist disintegration because of “Manipuri nationalism” – as the north in America resisted secession because of “American nationalism”. The ST status of Meiteis will bring back the ingratiating harmony of hill and valley people from time out of mind. It’s time to put behind many cheap sentiments and cliff hangers that grease the narrative of hill-valley divide that are littered with jolly hockey sticks.
Without resurrecting old history like walking the dead, this article proposes to make implausible plausible by inviting hill-valley political leaders to discuss unsettling intrigues in economic, political or social structures, without building up steam and with hopes tucked in back pockets. We as adults, should put feelings into words to build a strong Union, rather than tugging at the idiosyncratic rhythms of palpable images of distrust. We need to forge living past that would give meaning not only to the present but also to the future.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery and today is living. We must strive our living today in an atmosphere of friendliness and absence of discord, by editing out Tribals, OBCs or Generals – but just Manipuris. The Reservation system is not going to last long as the whole “General” population in India is aflame quoting Nehru’s letter to chief ministers (1961): “This way lies not only folly, but disaster.”
Finally, though I’m not an army colonel or commander of a Meitei revolutionary outfit, like some of my nephews, my views on the politico-military gaming in Manipur, will be that of an undivided Manipur, as “Manipuri nationalism” will ride the waves in this turf war. The futility of the American civil war should be eye openers for all of us. It costs 3% of the population. In the end, America remains undivided and prosperous. Jai Manipur.
(The writer is based in the UK; Email:irengbammsingh@gmail.com; Website: www.drimsingh.co.uk)


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