If I were a liberal Loohoopa or a Kathay!

By Loghan H
June 23 2010

Would anyone care to know whom the Loohoopas or the Kathays were? In the midst of political expediency and populist cacophonic measures, the true sense of identity and belongingness seemed to have lost its charm and relevance in the state. Emotions have taken over reasons; there isn't any space left for the liberal minds.

Eclipsing free thoughts and divergent opinions for a imprudent common cause is like practicing collective anarchy – it is perhaps the greatest danger that we face today. Needless to say 'collective anarchy' will be as bad as despotic rulers of the past – the consequence to common people will be the same.

The contested past
It would be foolhardy to assume that Manipur had a happy and congenial past – be it in the surrounding hill tribes, with the neighboring kingdoms, and more importantly within the valley itself. Moreover, the intra-community conflict within the valley or within a tribe/hill people was as high as or far greater than inter-communities conflict. The sketchy history of the state is nothing but internecine anecdotes of different small principalities. The oral traditions of different communities and written records of valley people are testimony to Manipuri's vicious past.

The valley was never a homogenous, cohesive and stable principality – at different historical periods, different communities had ruled over the valley. The Khumans, the Luwangs and the Moirangs had their share of rules and dominations in the past, and it was only in the later period (say around 17th century) that the Meiteis' domination began to set in. As late as early 19th century, the Moirang clan had its domination over other principalities. Such was the divergence among the valley people that many scholars strongly believe that different clans in the valley had their origins in different parts of the hills.

It is therefore quite possible that the genetical divergence within the current valley people (generally referred as Meitei community) may have been much higher than the divergence between hills and valley communities. Likewise the divergence within the Nagas or the Kukis may have been much higher than between the Nagas and the Kukis or between the Nagas and the Meiteis or between the Meiteis and the Kukis. A systematic and rigorous scientific investigation would be required even to disagree with such an assumption, let alone disapproving it. As much as it would be wrong to paint all the hill tribes with the same brush, it would be equally misleading to club all the valley communities in the same pool.

We also often hear the proposition that the Nagas are one; many of the socio-political movements are based on these assumptions. It's always good to have a unifying character on which every community could stand together. But, if that character is based only on hatred of a particular community, the unification process may not last long. The more one digs for a common character, the more divergence one will get in the process.

Language, Culture, Art, Belief System, Dress, Food Habits, Territoriality, Genetic make-up, Political system/administration, Social Institutions, etc. are the characters that are commonly associated for identification of a group. Take any of these characters and the result is here for any one to see. If Christianity is to be considered as the only unifying character, then the Kukis will be as much Nagas as the Nagas themselves.

As much as there are ambiguities in the origin of different communities, there are ambiguities in territorialities of each of the communities. Except for the valley region, there existed not a single organized administrative structure in the hills. The concept of a well defined territoriality (physical boundary) was introduced by the British for the first time in Manipur in early 19th century – it was at the time of signing of 'Treaty of Yandaboo' in 1825 AD that approximate territorial boundary of the state was fixed. The same boundary was again rectified at the time of merger to Indian Union, with minor adjustments. The state territory that we have today is the same as what we had 200 years ago.

It would certainly be inappropriate on our (Manipur's) part to claim the areas conquered by our forefathers, deep inside the Burmese territory or Assam, as our own now. If that is the case, the Burmese could as well claim over the entire region as they had conquered the region on several occasions. Having agreed, signed and rectified on many occasions, the internationally accepted treaties and protocols need to be respected.

The undercurrent
There is an inherent and at times arrogant assertion that people in the valley had the birth-right to rule the state (then kingdom). Such chauvinistic mindset is so strong in the valley, especially in Imphal, that even a street beggar in the capital would still abuse his masters coming from other parts with derogatory terms like 'Lawai-Machas' (country folks) or a 'Hao-Machas' (hill tribes) whenever they failed to oblige him. It was only a few generations ago or perhaps still followed in some of the families of present generation that people from the hills or other parts are treated as untouchables.

It is quite difficult to fathom how this sense of 'false superiority' emerged in the valley, for most of the oral histories and traditions of any community, though extremely brutal at times, never had an instance of segregation or practice of untouchability like the Hindu Caste system of mainland India. Intermarriage between different communities of Valley and Hills was not an uncommon practice; no wonders then many of valley’s ancestral heroes were direct descendents of one hill community or another.

The conversion to Hinduism might have introduced the practice of 'pure and impure' and nurtured deep fissures among various communities in the valley in the past, but it is the manifestation of this social hierarchical monolith in various forms and shapes in present generation that creates more trouble in the state. The more and more valley/Imphal centric development approach followed over the years has not helped the situation either. The over-jealous moral, cultural, religious and educational pandits in the valley are having a free run in the state for many years – imposition of Meitei mayek, Dress codes, Cultural dictates and even renaming of Radio channels (Kangla, Sangai, etc.).

It is high-time for everyone to remember that Manipur is not only for the valley or the Meiteis; the more one sees or defines Manipur through the narrow prism of Meitei-centric views, the more fissures and mistrusts it is going to create among all communities. One needs to come out of the palatial hangover of the Meitei superiority in the past and deal with the present reality of one among equals. The conventional notion of 'ruler and ruled' needs to give way to a more democratic form of mindset, both in letter and spirit. The Meiteis being the dominant group needs to make amends and takes measures to reduce the trust deficit that exists among all communities.

The enemy within
At times we are so blinded with false hopes and false promises that we simply fail to see the enemy within. It is always easier to blame the big, white elephant than catching the crooked monkeys inside. The misappropriation of development funds, degeneration of state institutions and administrative systems, complete abandonment of rule of law, un-planned developmental approach, short-term and cheap political solutions, etc. are all our creations. If the growth of palatial houses of ministers, MLAs, contractors and power brokers were the development indicators for the last 2-3 years, then the state would have been declared as the un-challenged winner in the country.

It is true that the overall development approach of the state, concentrating in Imphal and its vicinity, is left much to be desired and needs to be corrected, but lack of implementation and transparency in other fields lie with the concerned districts. The deteriorating law and order situation has been cited as the prime factor for lapses in the administration or the lack of it, conveniently forgetting that some unscrupulous people are minting money out of this crisis situation. It is therefore fair to assume that the powers that be wish to keep the situation as it is – what better way to enjoy the perks, incentives, contracts, etc. sitting at home and without setting a foot in the real work place.

If the functioning of the system is to be corrected, it needs to be corrected from the grassroots level. Given the decentralized nature of administration and utilization of funds, without compliance of local authorities no fund can be transacted, let alone use it. Just imagine if the village chiefs in the hills were to refuse to blindly sign for the programs that had not been implemented in their areas, the next day there would be pandemonium in every state department for lack of fund utilization certificates. Unfortunately, this is not going to happen in our lifetime; if it were to happen, then each of the stakeholders/beneficiaries would have to abdicate his perennial source of income and opulent lifestyle.

The funds meant for people in the hills get siphoned off by tribal leaders, stationed either in the valley or district head quarters, in connivance with administrators, politicians and rough elements, before it reaches its destination. The same goes in the valley as well. The ultimate losers in this vicious cycle of exploitation are the voiceless common people, who are more concern about earning their livelihoods in a hard and fair way. Until we make the politicians, administrators, contractors, power brokers, etc make accountable, then things are not going to change on its own. If we wait for a full-proof system to arrive first before we start complying with the system, then things may never change - it would be like waiting for the 'egg-chicken' dilemma to resolve.

The greener grass
It is basic nature for all living beings to have preferences, choices, mistrusts, jealousies and protectiveness – humans are no exceptions. Speaking of choices, one would be really surprised to know that pigs are one of the choosiest animals in picking foods. But, for humans, as our civilization progress over the years, more complex systems of management, sharing and administration evolved bounded by different sets of institutions (social, cultural, religious, economics, political, etc.). On the other hand, though very choosy in their food picks, the niche width (food choices) of pigs remains the same over centuries.

The flexibility and adaptability of humans is what set them apart from other living beings. The more we progress, the more we become bounded by common institutions and norms – decision making process becomes more complex. An individual becomes a part of an interconnected web; individual choices or preferences would have to fall within the established and accepted set of rules.

Though there are unlimited choices and preferences at individual/community level, being a part of the system, one would have to walk within the established set of rules. If every individual/community starts making its own independent decisions and charts its own independent future, then we would have infinite sets of rules and infinite number of fragmented societies. This is what we had in the state only a few generations ago; the consequence is there for all to see – we still live in pre-industrial level of civilization, except for the mobiles and videos.

The state of Manipur, though comparatively poor in resources, has done exceedingly well in human resource development. If not for the disturbances in the last two decades, the state could have gone far ahead of other states in many fields. Still, among the NE states, perhaps after Assam, the state remains in top position in education and many other fields.

Absolute number or percentage is not always what matters; contribution in science, mathematics and engineering teachers, scholars and students of the state in the region is only second to Assam. But in sports, leave alone the NE region; the state is the indomitable ‘Gauls’ of the country. Not a mean achievement, considering the hardships and challenges people face every day for survival.

The achievements of the state, either in the field of sports or in education or in women’s empowerment, etc, unfortunately, have by and large been the fruits of individual efforts. Just imagine what we could have achieved if we had a responsive administration, a peaceful environment, a better connectivity, an efficient power supply and infrastructure, and more importantly a few honest politicians – the sky would have been the limit. It’s high time that the achievements are made through the system; that’s the day we all would have been proud to make a difference. Needless to say, these are all easily achievable goals if we made the right moves.

At times one also wonders, what if the Meiteis or the Kukis also start claiming to integrate the areas in neighboring states or countries settled for centuries by their kinsmen. Or, what if people of Manipuri origin (be it the Nagas, the Kukis or the Meiteis) living in other states or countries wish to return to their motherland, leaving everything they had? How many of us would share our resources and belongings to accommodate the returnees?

Not many, if one goes by the experience. It’s not that people do not want to share; it may be just that people don’t have anything extra to share. In the same line, how many people in Nagaland would willingly accommodate and share own resources with the migrant people from Manipur? NONE, absolutely!

Human choices are made not in a vacuum, but based on various tangible and intangible factors. It would therefore be prudent to factor in what the feelings of general populace of Nagalnd as well as common people in Manipur have in common. Remember the recent survey in Kashmir, by an independent international agency, which indicates that only 2% of common Kashmiri wish to integrate to Pakistan and majority of the people are happy with where they are.

So wise of them - why would anyone wants to become a 2nd or 3rd class citizen and live on charities when he has the world at his disposal? After all Pakistan is not America; take any development index, India is miles ahead in every field. Likewise, in-spite of many set-backs in the recent past, Manipur remains head and shoulder above in many indicators in comparison to immediate neighboring states.

It was only a few generations ago that the face of the moon looked so silky and ethereal; not any more to those with Hubble telescopes in hands. Still, the myth around the moon is so eternal and gracefully woven that it will take a Himalayan effort to wean away those thoughts from common man. The day when there is convergence of what people commonly believe and what the scientific facts are, then perhaps the grasses on the other side of the wall will no longer be that green. Hopefully, that day is not far away.

Making every penny count
The indifferent attitude of the center and mainstream media, even after 50 days of mayhem, remains a mystery. Such ‘arrogant’ approach is not only going to create more troubles, but will also permanently close the lips of those liberal minds. Days to cry hoarse of neglect, step-motherly treatment, etc. are over; it’s high time to make every penny count by making ourselves relevant. Given the minute contribution the state makes in political and economic landscape of the country, the conventional approach is not going to make much of a difference.

The wanton killings, unbridled corruptions, innumerable blockades, complete collapse of civil administration, etc. in the state have not turned any head in Delhi (Congress), except for the occasional lip services. The impotent state Congress legislatures will rush to Delhi even to address personnel differences; if every state matter is to be decided in Delhi, then why have the state Government at all?

This perhaps could have happened because there is not a single politician worthy of his/her position in the state to be considered a ‘national leader’ therefore the state issues remain anonymous or the actions or in-actions of the center (Congress) would have no bearing on the electorate outcome of the state – money and muscles always win.

Nurturing a national political figure from the state may take years, but making the un-responsive government accountable is in the hands of common people. As long as our electorate choices are not connected to the local/state issues, the politicians are not going to be sensitive to common peoples’ need. It’s time for all of us to realize that the situation that we are in today is the direct consequence of the electorate choices that we had made earlier. We all need to switch from ‘what difference it would make’ kind of attitude to ‘every vote counts’ kind of stand, then only we would have responsive representatives.

Just imagine if we had made a different choice in the recent elections, other than the ruling party, and sent a strong signal in unequivocal terms to the state and the center that the electorate of the state, though very small in number, should not be pushed around and taken for granted! But we did just the opposite - the recent by-election of Yaiskul/Wanghei, just after the July 23rd incident, was a perfect example of complete disconnect between local/state issues and electorate choices.

Lifespan and popularity of a politician or a political party is judged not by dissenting voices, but by electorate success and failure. As long as we keep electing the same flock of representatives of the same party, irrespective of their performances and achievements, we shall remain stagnated as a society and politically irrelevant at the national level.

The national political landscape is changing fast – there is a resurgence of regional and smaller parties, which are more sensitive to local issues and decentralized in nature. No wonders then the top best performing states in the country are all non-Congress governments. This thus suggests that there is enough space and room for every small/regional party, and there is no harm in emulating a successful trend. Let performance be the sole criteria for selection; not the antecedents. We all need to step out of the colonial hangover of treating Congress as the only national party; alternatives will emerge only after we made changes at the grassroots levels and made different choices.

A common destiny, a common future
It is in our common interest and common future that we make adjustments and correctives steps to address many of the loopholes that exist in the system. No matter where we stand, no matter where we live and no matter whom we affiliate with, as long as the systems are not corrected, we may never progress to the next level. Irrespective of our choices and preferences, things are changing all around; the wheel of change is not going to wait for us. Above all, difficult to admit, the common thread (social, culture, polity, economy, spatial, etc) between the Nagas/the Kukis and the Meteis is much stronger than within The Nagas or the Kukis.

Indeed, there were many misgivings in the past, many more loopholes in the system to be plugged, transparency and accountability to be instilled, every one of us needs to mature democratically, and more inclusive and reconciliatory approach needs to be developed – fortunately, these are the common grounds, irrespective of caste and creed, on which we can stand together. The failure to address these shortcomings will spare none – be it the Meiteis, the Nagas, the Kukis or the others.

The completion of Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway Network, connecting India and other Asian countries, is only a few years away – would it be then fair to conclude that blocking an international highway or railways network would be next to impossible? Once that happens, we all will become more of a global citizen, and we will not be able to make decisions, as we do now, based on narrow ethnic or parochial lines. The bargaining chips of inflicting heavy economic tolls and holding the entire population hostage for days, without any impunity, to meet narrow political gains will become a thing of the past – this is not a day-dream, it is a reality that will soon become operational in the next few years.

Our energy and efforts be better directed more towards plucking the loopholes in the system and make it more accountable to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable growth. As long as we have an unresponsive system, it is likely that we will have more fissures between communities – today, it may be between the Nagas and the Meiteis, but tomorrow it may between the Kuki and the Nagas or the Meities. Given the magnanimity of the challenges, we often tend to forget it is at the individual level we need to start. We cannot be a beneficiary from the loopholes in the system and at the same time criticize the system for having loopholes.

If the challenge is for making the system functional, then our task is straight-forward and we could achieve it without much assistance and interference from outside – the matter is internal and the destiny is in our hands. It is therefore high time for the administrators to ascertain whether the near collapse of civil administration, lack of development in the hills, and systematic exploitation of hill people (mostly internal) were the main causes of current impasse in the state. Just ignoring the gravity of the situation and putting the whole blame on a group or another will not solve the problem. Let’s not walk into a well-laid trap of sectarian politics of a few disgruntled elements, based on ethnic lines.

We all ought to be fighting for better administration, infrastructure, economy, education, healthcare, law and order, environment, inclusive and equitable growth, etc. Changing the marbles from one pocket to another is not going to enhance its quality, let alone its numbers.

The only possible scenario will be: more congestion and greater fight for breathing space, if the receiving pocket had enough marbles in it. Switching sides is not going to turn the hills of Manipur into a Switzerland overnight; we need to change ourselves, reset our priorities, and work for development if we all aspire to be another Switzerland.

Who cares whether I was a Loohoopa or a Kathay?

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