How to live together as Good Neighbors : Nagas and Meiteis
History of the Meiteis (Manipuris): In the past, Meitei kingdom was known as Kangleipak. The present name ‘Manipur’ evolved along with the sanskritisation of Meitei population during the 18th century. The Meiteis have a long history which dates back to 33 AD. The Royal Chronicle known as “Cheitharon Kumpapa” has the chronological order of Meitei Kings from first century till the late 1940s. However, with more confusion exists than clear evidences, there is much contestation on this claim.
A noted Meitei scholar, O. Tomba Singh, in his book “A Need to Rewrite Manipuri History (1993)” opined that the record of Royal Chronicle is debatable because geological excavations suggest that the entire Manipur valley was under water till about 500 years ago. Prof. Jyotirmoy Roy, in his book “History of Manipur (1973),” wrote that although the sea receded (the present Loktak Lake), the valley portion of Manipur remained under water for a long time.
If we are going to believe the Royal Chronicle dating back to 33 AD then we may conclude that the Meiteis have settled somewhere else and migrated and settled at the present site in about 500 years ago. The Kangleipak kingdom was confined to Imphal Valley extending to Kabaw Valley which was gifted to Burma.
Past Relationship of the Meiteis and Nagas: Nagas did not live under monarchical king like Meiteis but each village existed as a sovereign and republic nation. They lived as free people and had very less contact with outside world. Unlike the Nagas, the Meiteis often wage wars with the neighbouring Kings such as the Burmese and Tripuri Kings. Interestingly it is on record that the Nagas extended helping hand to the Meitei Maharajas in times of danger and wars. In 1717-18, the Raja Garib Nawaz requested the Naga Chiefs to him attack Samjok.
According to K. Gyanendra Singh, in his book “Security and Development: The Political Economy of Insurgency in Manipur, 2011), Raja Garib Nawaz was a man who practiced both vaishnavism and militarism. His constant war efforts had led him to develop cordial relationship with the Nagas. Again when the Burmese troops attacked and took possession of Kangleipak for seven years, all the Meitei men fled to the hills from the Valley for safety.
During this Seven Years’ Devastation (Chahi-Taret Khuntakpa, 1819-1826), the Tangkhul Nagas generously gave shelter to the Meitei brothers (See Prof. Jyotirmoy Roy, “History of Manipur (1973). Probably some Meiteis then permanently settled down in Ukhrul district. In this context, it is not difficult to understand why Meiteis consider the Tangkhul Nagas as ‘elder brother.’ In appreciation of this humane gesture, the Tangkhul Nagas were given prominent place in some of Meitei religious ceremonies even today. When the Nagas had given their best for the protection of the Meitei Kingdom, should not the Meiteis reciprocate the Nagas with the same good gesture today?
The Nagas in Manipur state: Although Nagas do not have their own written record, their oral traditions pointed out that they were the first settlers in Manipur. According to tradition, the Nagas were the first to come to Manipur but found uninhabitable in the valley area due to swarm of mosquitoes. So they moved to hill areas. T.C.Hudson, in his Book, “The Naga Tribes of Manipur, 1996 (reprint), also mentioned that the Nagas were well settled before their counterpart in the valley could suitably settled down. However, due to topographical location, the Meiteis had rapidly developed themselves.
Cutting short the story, the coming of the British to Manipur had colossal impact on the sovereign right of the Nagas. The British helped the Meiteis to drive out the Burmese. Gambhir Singh was made the ruler of Manipur. By 1872, the British along with the combined forces of Raja Gambhir Singh began to intrude into the Naga territory. However, in 1891, war broke out between the British and the Meiteis.
The Meiteis were defeated and British took control of the whole of Manipur. The British main interest in Naga areas was to collect taxes and use them as porters. It allowed the Meitei Raja to conquer some of the land of the Nagas on the condition that Meitei Raja would help the troops of the British to go to Burma without any hindrance. Later on, this has resulted to the Naga Raj movement by the Zeliangrong Nagas in Manipur.
The British knowing fully that the Meiteis and Nagas were of different ethnic communities kept them under different administration. According to N. Ibobi Singh, the hill territory was separated from the general administration on the plea that ‘the hill people are not Manipuris and have entirely different customs and languages’ (The Manipur Administration 1707-1907). The distinct identity of the Nagas from the Meiteis was recognised even after India’s Independence under the Article 371-C. The British and the Independent India had then fully recognised the fact that Meiteis and the Nagas were of different ethnic groups.
The Naga leaders of the past who have agreed to stay in Manipur (when a new state was curved out from Assam) might have assumed to be saved because there were many provisions that safeguarded the interest of the Nagas. The fact that Meiteis and Nagas are different entity needs to be recognised, respected and accepted by all so as to evolve a harmonious and neighbourly relationship among all the communities.
Problem of an-inch of land: The total area of present Manipur is 22,327 sq. Km, out of which the hill areas cover 20,126 sq km and inhabited by the tribal people. The tribal people (Nagas and Kukis) settles in the hill areas and the valley is dominated by the Meiteis. The Naga people live in their own land (hill area) so as the Meiteis (valley area).
The dominant Meitei community who keep saying that ‘not even an inch of land in Manipur will be given to the Nagas’ is nothing more than to insult the Nagas. The Nagas have been living in their own ancestral land. There is nothing such as ”smaller or greater Naga land”.
Wherever the Nagas are living for centuries, rightly the land belongs to them. If the Nagas have seized any part of land and forest that belong to the Meiteis, I am sure the Nagas will be happy to return them. The Meitei elites must come out with concrete historical proof which village or parts of land of the Meiteis have been seized by the Nagas in the history of Manipur. Let’s call spade a spade. We can’t live together with lie.
Nagas in Manipur are not asking for even ‘an inch of land’ that rightfully belongs to other community. The Nagas are just pleading the Government of India and the Meiteis to recognise and respect what rightfully belong to them since time immemorial. This can be done through readjustment of the existing state boundary under Article 3 of Indian Constitution.
State wide Bandh/protest in Manipur: The Meitei CSOs are gearing up to organise with what they called as ‘state wide bandhs or state wide protest’ by ‘the whole people of Manipur’ against the imminent signing of Indo-Naga political talk. Look at the fact. Out of the total area of Manipur state, the so-called ‘state wide protest’ or ‘bandhs’ will affect only about 2000 sq km (valley portion).
So the right term should be ‘Valley wide protest or bandhs’ by the ‘Meiteis’. Using the phrases such as ‘state wide bandhs’ or the ‘whole people of Manipur’ is misleading and a blatant lie. These are used just for media propaganda. On the other hand, it gives the impression that ‘Manipur’ means only ‘the valley portion’ and ‘the whole people of Manipur’ simply mean ‘Meiteis’.
Therefore, it is even safer for the Meitei community to be specific by saying that the bandhs/strike will be affected in the Valley and imposed by the Meitei community. Of course, it is no surprise, to see some Naga people ( especially Naga Chameleon politicians) with vested interest (or some common people out of compulsion) speaking to media about the unity of Manipur during every protest or bandhs. Such voice cannot and does not represent the interest of the whole Naga community.
Save life, Save Neighbours: Nagas have lost thousands of its brave men and women for the cause of freedom. Meiteis have lost 18 precious lives on Naga issue on June 18, 2001. Let’s not sacrifice any more life on this issue. Think for the life of lakhs of Meiteis settling and working in the different Naga inhabited areas. Enough is enough.
Meitei elites may kindly give up the temptation to play the role of BIG BROTHER for the Nagas. It only provoke to anger the Naga population when some Meitei politicians shouted that ‘there is no Naga in Manipur’; ‘the Meiteis will take extreme step if special status or any type of alternative arrangement’ is made for the Nagas. These are not brotherly and sisterly words. If Meiteis really love the Naga people, then they should not stop the GOI to develop the Naga people through certain special arrangements.
It is time for Meitei elites and politicians to think beyond the solution of the Nagas for the development of Meitei community. We need to live side by side as good neighbours. We need the help of each other to grow and develop in the modern world. If Meiteis have political rights, then they should tell to the Government of India and get it. Nagas would be very much happy to see them fully developed and well secured.
Even if Nagas are separated, Manipur will continue to be a state with 40 MLAs intact. Geographically, Manipur will be still bigger than Goa. Meiteis will live in peace without any disturbance from the Nagas who are considered ‘trouble makers’ in Manipur.
Instead of standing in the way of Nagas’ solution, it is time for the Meiteis to search ways and means to build up good relationship in the aftermath of Naga political solution with India. Nagas owned their freedom and they have every right to decide for their destiny. Any community or party that hinders the Nagas from achieving its aspiration will be considered as ‘enemy’ by the coming generation.
Source: ZK Pahru Pou wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at zkpahr(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on August 11 , 2018.