By Surbhi Moudgil
For decades now, the Northeast, comprising seven sisters – Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh – and a brother – Sikkim – has been neglected by both, the government and their fellow countrymen.
Almost 98% of the north-eastern borders are international borders, which the states share with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China. A major risk associated with this unique geopolitical hotspot, apart from militancy or development, is its lack of representation to the rest of our country.
Why has their plight not been dealt with? Is it only the government which is to be blamed or the locals should be held responsible as well? Most importantly, will this country ever realise what it is losing in this bargain of ignorance and rights?
To find out answers to these queries, NewsGram interviewed Member of Parliament Dr Thokchom Meinya representing Inner Manipur from India National Congress.
Speaking about the diversity of Manipur, the MP remarked about the state’s beauty of a diverse set of heterogeneous people, with so many dialects living in harmony with as many as 38 multi-lingual ethnic communities. The beauty of Manipur lies in the unity of ethno-diversity and multilingual co-existence.
Manipuri language is called Meiteilon; it is the lingua franca of the state and is spoken by all locals. Meitei is a Sino-Tibetan language whose exact classification remains unclear. It has lexical resemblances to Kuki and Tangkhul Naga.
Giving a historical perspective, in the wake of the Bhakti movement, the Manipur monarchy converted into Hinduism, leading Hindu priests to burn their holy books (Puran) written in their own scripts. They decided, instead, to introduce Bengali characters to rewrite their old literature. Of late, people have started to express their concerns over the authenticity of Bengali, leading to controversies as there were multiple (3-4) scripts that were claimed to be original by different groups.
The Manipuri language was finally included in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution after the loss of many lives during the long drawn language struggle from 1972 to 1980. Yet, a proper development of the languages is not being carried out, laments Dr Meinya.
For a functioning state and better governance, rest of India would have to know the history of the Northeast region and be inclusive towards them, concluded the MP.
Dr Meinya condemns the state for representing such an administrative failure.
“For this I don’t blame the Union of India. The blame should also fall on the state because of the three provisions in the constitution; one is the Union List, another is the Concurrent List, and the third is the State List.
“Since, education, health and home come under the State List, it is Manipur government’s prerogative to display good governance. Unfortunately, for many reasons, I am sorry to say, good governance cannot be carried out in these parts of the country.”
He added, “Manipur locals, including the hill region people, speak Manipuri. We don’t know the dialects and languages spoken by the tribes but we all know Manipuri. We now have a big plan to rewrite the entire books written in Bengali. We will retain them but we are also publishing their rewritten versions in the new script.”
There is another issue that the adoption of the new script faces. Technology as well as tradition, somehow, is a hindrance to the new script as the youth prefer English whereas the older generation understands the Bengali script.
“Bengali script is fading away. So, the language is in a haphazard status. We now print all our cards in Bengali scripts but the young people write their names in English. English is becoming easier in terms of expression,” said Dr Meinya.
Although this “easier term of expression” (English) is a completely alien language to the tribals. If the young generation is encouraged to use it, won’t it create a language gap within the state?
With the language issue comes educational problems: what should be the medium of instruction in schools and colleges; do we have books in that script; is it in line with the national education policy; is it good enough to give confidence to the young men and women who fly away to Delhi and Bangalore. The surge of militancy is related to lack of livelihood which finds its origin in lack of proper, skill-oriented education.
The MP claimed that higher education had expanded over the years in Manipur in terms of the number of institutions. Data shows that from just one college in 1946-47, higher education today is imparted through two universities and 68 colleges, including seven women colleges. However, these are concentrated mainly in the valley districts of Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur.
Dr. Meinya expressed concerns over the safety of students in the light of militancy. For a state trapped in the claws of the insurgency, the students need to feel safe and need to be at peace. An ideal study environment needs to be established for the better accumulation of tutelage.
He recognised the issue of student safety and appeared concerned. Militants often convey threats amid a lack of safety provisions for students. Persistent strikes, boycotts and curfews interrupt the regular schooling of students. As a result, they lack the skills and knowledge of their respective subjects due to the fewer lectures delivered.
Deficiency of academic atmosphere, parental and government support are some the reasons for this situation. Therefore, it is not surprising that many parents send their children outside the state for their studies.
The MP from Inner Manipur spoke at length about the apathy of governments, mostly the state, for the issue of militancy and unsafe environment for the youth. However, when asked if there was a solution, he expressed disappointment as well as emphasised upon the prevailing atmosphere where militancy was just one issue.
He said that the Northeast was gripped in corruption, bad physical and human infrastructure, lack of ideas and will for the betterment of the state at the governance level, among many other smaller issues like violence, conflicts, blockades and strikes.
MP Meinya stressed upon the fact that “the solution lies with the people, of Manipur as well as rest of India,” and nobody else. Institutions and societies are made of individuals who care about it.