Meeteis (Manipuris) and Nagas

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Meetei’s fear is misconstrued: The article entitled “Meetei’s Paradox” written by Radhabinod Koijam, the former Chief Minister of Manipur, and published in Nagaland based newspapers and widely circulated in social media is a seminal piece to examine if we are serious about building up lasting and harmonious ethno- relationship in Manipur.

He challenged his community (Meeteis) to think beyond the Naga political issue which may be inked any time in the near future. Some leaders have placed the Naga issue at high pedestal to be seen as a threat to Meetei community. This is a misconstrued conception. The reality is that Manipur will continue to remain as State even after Nagas’ solution. Meeteis will continue to control over their land and all the resources in their jurisdiction. They will continue to receive fund from Center for various projects. They will continue to enjoy all the facilities. In the Valley, there is International Airport. Railway line is almost completing that directly connects Silchar and Imphal. There are many reputed hospitals and medical research centers.

There is High Court and many educational institutions with international standard. Sports Complex of national standard is also there. Valley is blessed with very fertile land. The climate condition suits for animal husbandry, fishery, poultry, etc. Imphal has one of the biggest markets (Ima Keithel) in the world solely run by local women. Meeteis are very hardworking people and therefore their presence is felt in all the north eastern states. In terms of human development resource, Meeteis excel much more than many other communities with thousands of gazetted officers and bureaucrats both in the state and in Center. Thus, Meeteis have nothing to fear or worry as the aftermath of the Naga final settlement with India.

Unique history of Meeteis and Nagas

It is time for all communities in Manipur to move forward with the change of time. No community should remain as victim of the past. We need to understand the dynamic of modern society. Radhabinod Koijam rightly pointed out that ‘everything changes….situations and relations change in time giving rise to new equations…’. Therefore, there is also no guarantee that Nagas and Meeteis will live together under the same roof forever.

We need to accept change and act accordingly. It is time for both the communities to recognise the unique history of each other. The Nagas since time immemorial lives in their villages with full freedom and rights. Meeteis community, though initially were of seven clans, gradually absorbed into a single community in the course of history. Thus they lived under a monarchical Kings for centuries.

Cutting the history short, it was the British who made possible for the Meeteis and Nagas to interact with each other. The British knew very well that Meeteis and Nagas were of two distinct entities and kept them under separate administration. Even after India got Independence in 1947 and Manipur attained Statehood in 1972, there was dual administration-one for the Hills and the other for the Valley- to maintain the unique history and culture of the different communities. It is because of this unique history that Meeteis cannot buy land and settle in the hill areas from the past till today. In 1949, when the Meetei Maharaja signed the Merger Agreement in Shillong, he signed only for the Meeteis with a limited geographical area of 700sq.km approximately. With all these facts in hand, it is not a good sign of some leaders giving misinformation to the innocent public about the rights of the Nagas.

Reciprocity is the need of the hour

With better weapons and standing soldiers and under the patronage of British government, the Meetei Kings were able to intrude into many Naga villages and forcibly collected tax and imposed forced labor. Thus the Nagas have helped the Meeteis to build up their Kingdom. When the Burmese King invaded Kangleipak Kingdom, almost all the Meetei men fled the Valley. The hill tribes especially the Tangkhuls heartily welcomed them and provided them shelter for seven years (1819-1826).

Many Naga men have helped the Meetei Kings to fight against Burmese. It is time for the Meeteis to reciprocate the good gesture shown by the Nagas. The Nagas have suffered for long. Criticising the GOI for trying to help the Nagas, to restore their distinct identity as in the past, shows unfriendly attitude of some Meetei leaders. The opposition to any type of solution including financial package or autonomy to be granted to the Nagas is constitutionally unfounded. There are many provisions in the Constitution of India to protect and develop the less developed people’s groups such as the adivasis, the tribals and other minority groups. For instance, there is Bodo Territorial Council in Assam. Even within Nagaland, there is provision/quota to develop backward tribes.

While there is a clear stance on the GOI that Naga final solution will not affect the territorial integrity of Manipur, objection to certain autonomy or economy package based on Naga ethnicity/nationality is unbecoming for a civilized society like Meetei. The Nagas are not asking anything from the Meeteis. Nagas cannot live under the hegemonic rule of a particular community forever. By divine arrangement or human made, the Meeteis are home just to the valley of Manipur whereas the Nagas are distributed in different parts of India and Myanmar. The long desire for the Nagas in Manipur to live under single administrative unit with all other Naga brothers and sisters in Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Myanmar should be respected by every neighbouring community.

Live as good neighbors

Meddling in Naga issue will not bring any benefit to the Meeteis in the long run. Once the Naga issue is settled politically, the imposition of AFSPA may come to a halt in Naga inhabited areas. The process of militarisation may be reduced. Nagas may get certain rights to control their natural resources and maintain their culture as well. Meetei’s political leaders, intellectuals and leaders of civil organizations need to put their heads together and find the way out for future. If there is unrest in the Valley after the final Indo-Naga is inked, militarisation and AFSPA will continue in the Valley. Indian armies will then continue to occupy hectares and hectares of fertile land for settlement and also reside in civilian areas and educational institutions. With the introduction of CAB, there will be a huge demographic disturbance in the valley. Livelihoods of thousands of peasant and petty traders will be affected.

Therefore, Meeteis should think for their future generation. If they continue to make Naga issue as the common goal or binding force, a time may come when Meitei community will be disintegrated into pieces. We have to accept the contemporary reality. Employing coercive means and threats to force the Nagas to live together under one roof with Meeteis may bring more harm than healing to the age-old relationship between the two communities. If the Meeteis help the Nagas to get their rightful share at this crucial juncture of Naga’s struggle, surely Nagas will come to their rescue in times of need. It is high time for both the Nagas and Meeteis to search ways and means to live together as “good neighbors” rather than as “chaotic family.”

By,  ZK P Pou

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