What/who is tearing Manipur apart and how to prevent it ?

Adani Krichena Mao
The chasm and the division along ethnic/communal lines in Manipur is so vast at the moment that everything that a person says is now being viewed from the angle of his/her ethnicity. This is deeply disturbing. To clear any suspicion or misreading and to minimise unintended assumptions, let me clearly and openly state that I am a Christian and of the Mao tribe which is part of the larger Naga community in Manipur. Indeed, my analysis and perception of this pertinent question is shaped by my understanding of the Christian theology and particularly the teaching of Jesus to love our neighbours as we love ourselves and that truth alone can set us free from the bondage of hatred and suspicion.
But my understanding and analysis is also shaped by the deep conversations and interactions with genuine friends and colleagues across communities in Manipur besides the news articles and press releases issued by various organisations and individuals.
Firstly, I still do have hope that we can repair and rebuild Manipur as a home of multiple ethnicities, languages, tribes, religions and communities although it lies in shatters now. If I do not have this hope, I will not be writing this article.
While I agree with the ten Kuki-Chin-Zo MLAs that the Manipur Government has failed to protect the lives of thousands of innocents, I do not agree that a separate administration is the solution. Whether Manipur was built on coercion or consensus, we are here today as one State and my personal evaluation is that it is and it will be too costly to tear it apart. Many of my tribal friends in Manipur may differ with my understanding but this is my personal and thoughtful analysis. At the same time, I must hasten to say that, in general, no political boundary is sacrosanct and they are drawn for the convenience of people and to protect the people but not vice-versa. People cannot be sacrificed to retain nor to redraw political boundaries.
In order to repair and rebuild Manipur as a hospitable home, not only to various ethnicities, languages, and religions but also to various ways of living, thinking, occupation and approaches to life, we must introspect and identify the factors that is tearing us apart. Although the factors that I enlisted and elaborated below is not exhaustive, I believe the following must be critically examined in order to introspect and move forward.
1. Government servants whose postings are in the Hills but refuse to go: The late Rishang Keishing (although a Naga was hated and disagreed vehemently by many Nagas), in the early 90s, initiated a policy to send many valley dwellers to the hills as Govt servants, particularly as Govt school teachers. Instead of assimilating with the local people in the hills, they either refuse to attend the offices or transfer back to the valley along with their posts. If those Government servants had done their job, build friendships and listened to multiple narratives of ethnicity, cultures and folklores, today it wouldn’t need to issue any press release or sit on dharna ‘to maintain Manipur’s territorial integrity’. If we are to maintain the territorial integrity of Manipur, the solution lies in not segregating people along ethnic lines nor in concentrating all Government offices and institutions within the valley.
2. Creators and instigators of religious conflicts: The current conflict that erupted on May 3rd, 2023 (although the seeds were sown long ago) was not a religious conflict. But taking advantage of the current ethnic conflict in the state, some sections of radicalised youngsters within the Meetei/Meitei community persecuted the Meetei/Meitei Christians by burning Churches to the point of threatening them to vacate their land and ‘go to the hills’ is unfortunate. Yet, no responsible leader from within the majority Meetei/Meitei community has so far condemned publicly this atrocity although more than a hundred Churches belonging to the Meetei/Meitei community, leave alone the Churches belonging to tribals, have been burnt/destroyed. Those who create enmity between various religions do not believe in the idea of Manipur as a peaceful State and must be condemned.
3. The media that cocoons the majority public from hearing multiple narratives : If the larger society and the Government has failed to protect the people of Manipur, the media fraternity in Manipur is no less culpable. Providing a single narrative and cocooning the public from listening to alternative narratives is not helpful to retain the territorial integrity. Unfortunately, this has been the case for too long. Many in Manipur do not have a first-hand knowledge about the other. They know the other as ‘poppy cultivators’ ‘violence instigators’, and so on, through the media and press releases. Many do not even have access to newspapers (and/or electronic and informal media) printed (or produced) in one part of the State which may be sometimes better because it is at best one-sided and at worst blatant lies.
4. The ultimate culprit : Those who try to expel/exterminate one particular community from one part of the State to another and to segregate geography based on ethnicity. Whether they are instigating or reacting, those who resort to segregating people based on ethnicities are responsible for tearing Manipur apart. Those who love Manipur must resist this at any cost.
5. Unhelpful ways of trying to maintain the territorial integrity of Manipur: Sitting on dharna and demanding to maintain the territorial integrity of Manipur or demonising one particular community or perpetrating hate speeches will not help retain the territorial integrity of Manipur.
Way forward : Instead, going the extra mile in building genuine relationships, providing construc- tive narratives and listening to one another is necessary to fortify the ‘integrity of Manipur’. We have exemplary incidences in which neighbours sheltered victims from the other commu- nity and protected the properties of the other commu- nity from the pillaging mob. They are the real heroes of protecting Manipur’s territorial integrity. May their tribe increase !
(Views expressed here are solely of the author)