Looking beyond Meeteis/Meiteis Ani Thokpi trend
Meetei or Meitei ? One has to acknowledge Rajya Sabha MP and titular King of Manipur Leishemba Sanajaoba for touching on a topic which has never ever been thought fit enough for consideration at the official level or at the level of the knowledgeable folks. What is in a name, one may argue but this is besides the point for it reflects a society which cannot come to terms in working out a nomenclature by which it is known to the outside world. Meetei or Meitei and the difference is not only in the spelling of the two terms but also in how they are supposed to be pronounced. Given the mindset of the Meetei or Meitei people, it is not surprising that there are two terms to denote their own community but it would do good for everyone to accept that the name of a community is not just another name such as in Tomba, Hongba and Chaoba or in the anglicised version, not just another Tom, Dick and Harry. Not that there are any prominent differences between those who prefer to stick by the name Meetei and those who prefer the term Meitei, but it would certainly help for a common meeting ground to be worked out and a decision taken to come to a definite term. At least in the media or newspaper it is sometimes cumbersome to continue writing the two terms with an oblique as in Meetei/Meitei to refer to the community and this could reflect something on the community which is understood to have stood firmly by the idea of Manipur as a geo-political reality. And this is a point which was acknowledged in full public view by no one less than the Chief Minister himself. Proponents of the indigenous script of the land seem to prefer using the term Meetei just like another body pursuing the ST tag for the Meeteis. Again it is significant to note that British Social Anthropologist TC Hodson titled his work on the community as The Meitheis, which seems to be closer to the term, Meiteis. Likewise the Tangkhuls, with whom the Meeteis/Meiteis are believed to share a close historical tie, refer to the plain folks as Maiteis. Whichever term one may prefer it is however important to note that the Rajya Sabha MP and the titular King of Manipur has deemed it fit to ask all concerned to take a stand and stick to one uniform name.
The call of the titular King needs to be seen beyond the nomenclature of a community or the usage of two terms, the Meeteis/Meiteis to refer to the major community in Manipur. Many would not be faulted in holding the line that it lives up to the understanding of the term, Ani Thokpi. Stretch this a little more and Manipur has seen Ningol Chakkouba being held on two different dates just a year or two back. It is the same with so many others. Emergence of two organisations, both laying claims on the name of the said organisation perhaps to receive a degree of legitimacy and Imphal based media houses have had a first hand experience of this so many times in the past and not so recent past. And such experience has never been pretty or comfortable. Some may toe the line that such a trend which has neared the status of a culture reflects a democratic ethos where people are free to hold differing views and adopt different stand, but when the view that one holds is sought to be imposed on others specially the media, which is nothing but just messengers of the people, then it goes against everything that democracy or a democratic ethos may hold. The titular King has referred to a significant point and one only hopes that everyone is given the choice to air his or her viewpoints without the apprehension of any repercussions. Whatever stands true is the fact that the Ani Thokpi trend or culture has become some sort of a matter to be referred to jocularly, and there is nothing funny about this.