For a diverse and harmonious Manipur

Yuri Luikham
Once an asiatic kingdom, Manipur has evolved into a dynamic multicultural society. Nestled deep within the lush green corner in the northeast of India, Manipur exhibits diversity in every sense. The state is home to many different ethnic groups. But like in any society, an amalgamation of various ethnicities has its own set of complexities. The ethnic imbroglio in Manipur stems from deeply rooted historical prejudices, but today, crafty underhanded politics has triggered it. If we look at the genesis of division in society, it can be traced back to the early 18th century when King Pamheiba institutionalised Hindu religion in the state. This was the beginning of the emotional alienation between the people. Playing on this fractured tensed situation, the British further intensified it.
British colonial policy resorted to territorial politics and whimsical administrative acts. This ultimately disseminated feelings of animosity between the people of different ethnic groups. Even today, it is apparent that the government has inherited the divide and rule policy. Emphasis is laid on devising mechanisms to use communities against each other. This aggravates and multiplies social upheaval in the state. Many a times because of lack of inclusivity, underdevelopment and divisive politics, the common people are easily manipulated. For the minorities, the feeling of neglect and fear of domination, often leads them to seek means to retaliate. Such animosity emanates into xenophobic insecurities in the state.
In such a situation, the areas of similarities between the many ethnic communities must be underlined. From emphasising on the evidences that the indigenous people in the state have had a common origin to the linguistic affinity across different groups and sharing common socio cultural relations, can restore mutual trust and confidence. Other elements such as interest and support in sporting events transcends all boundaries of differences. Moreover, identifying as belonging to one region and rendering support to each other in metropolitan cities on the issue of racial discrimination also brings them closer. Drawing attention to these factors, can bring hope of optimism in unity in the state.
Furthermore, the state through policy intervention and civil societies through community building action can solve the ethnic impasse. With sincere commitment and a clear cut strategy, the languished situation can be alleviated because until diversity secures a place in governance, interethnic clashes will peril the state. Although guaranteeing complete symmetry among the ethnic communities is not conceivable, striking a balance to circumvent ethnic antagonism and conflicts is crucial. For instance, all-encompassing development policies in the state would mitigate the glaring difference in development between the hill and valley. Implementation of development projects and undertaking steps to establish better educational institutes, healthcare facilities, improving road connectivity would bring an aspect of inclusivity too.
Moreover, the state should endorse integration of Manipuri society and reinforce social cohesion. This implies that minority communities are given an effective voice at different levels of  government especially with regard to, but not limited to, matters which affect them. Hence, a balanced representation will clear the dubious minds of those who feel neglected and underrepresented. Through this, the hurt feelings can be assuaged. Another step the government can expend, is to allow members of Legislative Assemblies from the hill communities to take up ministries related to development of the hill areas as they would be more sensitive to the concerns and more responsive to the requirements. Ensuring a mechanism of inclusive education which inculcates the values of diversity by educating the young minds of the various cultural differences in the state is imperative. Further, modification of the syllabus to include the history and sociocultural elements of different ethnic communities is essential in this regard. This would dispel preconceived notions and can help develop trust among them. Most importantly, those in power should refrain from identity politics and keep their policies focussed on guaranteeing peace, development and human security. Rather than the divide and rule policy, the government should adopt feasible policies which encompasses political, social and economic inclusion in governance.
Similarly, civil societies can organise seminars and conferences on peace, stability and harmony. These could be specifically aimed at advocating the ideals of unity and reconciliation and contrasting it to the horrors of violence, negative gratuitous aggression. Moreover, workshops specifically aimed at bonding the communities through exercises and lessons on historical as well as cultural linkages can be carried out.
It is often said that conflict is the greatest enemy of peace but somehow an unavoidable part of society. Therefore taking up activities to build peace might seem like a herculean task but if the law makers fail to resolve the crisis, civil society organisations must address preventive measures. First, the central undertaking would be to create a stable social equilibrium ensuring new disputes do not escalate to violence and conflicts. Second, capacity building by fostering and polishing skills and abilities of the inspired youth to change their focus to legitimised means rather than engaging in arguments or brawls.
Developing and marketing sporting talent is another form that makes everyone equal stakeholders. Already well known as the birthplace of polo, Manipur has catapulted brilliant athletes in Archery, Boxing, Football, Hockey, and Weightlifting. Establishing sports academies and training facilities in different parts of the state to nurture the talent pool available will bring the youths to refocus their efforts to a bright future and wean them away from insurgency. The annual Sangai cultural festival along with the Shirui festival or Kut can bridge cultural differences. These festivals often bring together different ethnic communities and indigenous groups. Similarly, the age old festival of Mera Houchongba also celebrates the bond of the hill and the valley people. Beyond the above mentioned recommendations, society can play their part in propelling Manipur in the direction of development rather than wallowing in needless conflicts further increasing the plight of the common man. Dissemination of rich proverbs and adages by the older generation of folk literature can be used for peace building. Manipuri films and TV programmes have already  taken lead on assimilating different cultures in their production.
This is definitely a trend that should be favourably welcomed.
From the above, it can be inferred that Manipur should not be caught in an unending fraught cycle which hinders development. Because the ongoing series of abysmal circumstances allows for violence to spurt excessively. What is the panacea to this? For a start, the government along with civil societies and the public can cut through the drift and work together abandoning the risk-averse nature and take an initiative for peace. This is because violence, killings and conflicts should not become a way of life in Manipur. Despite the conspicuous cognizance that a pronounced fraction of people suffering in Manipur is concomitant to violent conflicts or unjust policies and practices, the effort to harmonise the Manipuri society has not been at the forefront as it should be. Hence, a diversity policy recognising the similarities and appreciating the distinctiveness must be developed.
A mechanism ought to be evolved outlining that a pluralistic society in which differences, ethnic or cultural, will not be stifled but celebrated. For a multicultural pluralistic society to exist, extensive and continuous interaction between different communities should be executed through policies and personal individual efforts. Unquestionably, in order to sustain peace a significant factor is to respect people and their culture, and to realise that in preserving one’s own identity or culture, it does not require to contempt or antagonise another. Encouraging diversity would invariably prove to be a wise move and an escape from a homogenised bland society. This will drive Manipur to progress in a fast changing world where diversity is not subdued for monotonous conformity. It is undoubtedly a challenging suggestive note nonetheless an endeavour to overcome conflicts based on divergences need to be initiated. There has to be a beginning somewhere and although it will be a task, the consequence will result in a vibrant flourishing Manipur ushering in a new era of hope, peace, integration, and development.

The writer holds an M.A in International Relations from the University of Nottingham, UK. The above is a summary of an article that was published by the New York Universal Publishing House in January 2019.