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ETHNIC CHURNING: CHIKUMI STYLE - Part Three: The Divide

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

/ Posted by VIRTHLI HMAR


A lecture given by Pu Lalthlamuong Keivom, IFS (Retd.) during the 10th Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture at Imphal on 10th June 2015

From here, let me now turn to Manipur. The State is populated by groups of the Mongloid race who, for the sake of convenience, can loosely be classified as Meiteis, Nagas and Chin-Kuki- Mizo tribes (non-Naga tribes) with the valley Meiteis forming the majority (around 59 percent of the total population) but sequestered barely in 10 per cent of the total area of the land. The census returns of 2011 showed a population of 25,70,390 as compared to 2,84,465 in 1901 of whom 1,80,960 were inhabitants of the valley and 1,03,505 hill tribesmen.10Until the introduction of a fanciful tradition in their history that caused an unbridgeable divide with ripple effects, all the groups commonly held that they originated from the east which was unmistakably matched by their physical, cultural and linguistic features.

The burden of the rest of my speech falls on this DIVIDE. I have no intention of going into the merits or demerits of the case. That will produce only endless futile debates. My main interest is to find out any feasible and implementable measure to bridge the fissures.

The biggest gulf I feel is THE VALLEY-HILL DIVIDE. This may look very elementary to some but it is not. The valley, inhabited by the Meiteis, had chosen not only to embrace Vaishnavism but also the mythical claim of being of Hindu descent and snapped off of their ethnic ties with the tribes surrounding them. They are to me the first lost tribe in Manipur followed some 200 years later by some members of the Chikumi tribes who embraced Judaism and migrated to Israel claiming they were one of the lost tribes of Israel! I visited them in their new-found homes in Gaza and Jerusalem in 1993, all now bearing Semitic names. These converts now have an identity crisis in relation to us as we can no longer recognize them by their assumed names and titles just like a Singh can be any Singh, a Sardar, a Punjabi, a Bihari, a man from UP.

Let us summon our courage to face bravely the tragedies the Divide has wrought on the lives of people sharing this small space we call Manipur. The Valley is as ignorant of the Hills as the Hills are unconcerned of the Valley. We have virtually no social contacts or any contact as such except through Government and economic dealings, which generally invite negative impressions. While people living in the hill regions with racial feature similar to people of Southeast Asia hold that their ancestors came from the East, people of the same feature living in the valley diametrically hold opposite view as if to prove Rudyard Kipling11 doubly right.

We have produced a good number of impressive and self-gratifying books to prove how old our civilization has been. We proudly claim, as in Wikepedia of May 9, 2015 that “The Kingdom of Manipur was one of the many hundreds of kingdoms in the South and Southeast Asia. The ancient kingdom of Manipur dates back to 50 B.C. which includes the whole part of Nagaland, some parts of Assam and Mizoram. However, there is no data about the early history of Manipur, apart from legendary chronicles claiming that NingthouKangba, the first King of Manipur ruled from Kangla at Imphal in 33 AD. He is also known as MeidinguNongdaaLairenPaakhangba.”12How could we produce such long history without any reliable data? Were the so-called accounts on which we base our claims like what Julian Barnes(A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, 1989) or Robert Scholes (The Fabulators, 1967) called “fabulations”? We need more realistic history books that the valley and the hills can share as the two communities have been existing together and not vice versa for centuries. No matter how much one dresses up our history with deceptive articulations, parallel history with conflicting accounts is always divisive and explosive.

Does Manipur, in both the geo-political and cultural-linguistic sense, stand only for people living in the valley alone? A routine reply by a person from outside the valley to the following queries will invariably elicit the same reply: Are you from Manipur? Yes. Are you a Manipuri? No. Are you a Meitei? No. Then who are you? If I have to answer these questions, my reply is: I am Keivom from Pherzawl, Churachandpur District, Manipur, a Mizo-Hmar by tribe, Indian by citizenship, follower of Christian faith with a Protestant background, a diplomat by profession, thinker, writer, critic, poet, music composer, essayist, historian, linguist, translator, publisher, environmentalist, wildlife preservationist, secularist, a democrat, a nationalist and internationalist, Zo integrationist, non-vegetarian, whisky drinker, a pensioner, book and music lover and many other things. Like everybody, I have multiple identities. But can I call myself a Manipuri or a Meitei? I look forward to a day when we can all share a common name irrespective of our belief and faith, for we are historically and ethnically the same people. It is the inhabitants who turn a country into hell or paradise. We have the power to right the wrongs and vice versa. The valley-hill divide has to be bridged if we have to be effective in our dealings with others and within ourselves. To build up mutual respect and understanding, we need to have multi-layered forums like friendship associations at different levels, organize cultural and sports meets, exchange visits, excursions and guided tours particularly at school and college levels, seminars and workshops on matters and issues of mutual interest and benefit. Mutual appreciation of our respective values and worth can come only after we lift our tainted or tinted veils that have blurred our visions for long. Guns, bandhs and counter-bandhs will not solve our problems. The much touted Look/Act East Policy of New Delhi can only be successfully implemented if the various ethnic groups sitting across the borders organize themselves and extend a helping hand instead of each one raising conflicting voices and imposing endless bandhs.

While people in the valley have done well in Law, Medicine, Engineering, Sports and Dance, which have earned them admiration at the international, national and regional levels, there are areas where the hill people are far ahead of them especially in the services. Perhaps more than 80 percent of officers such as IFS, IAS, IPS and other Central Services from Manipur State are from the hills of which Churachandpur District alone has contributed more than 50 percent. Today, you will find them in every Ministry in Delhi, including the President’s Office and Parliament Secretariat. Most of the Chief Secretaries of Manipur including the present one are from the Chikumi group and mainland India. All the retired and serving Indian Ambassadors and High Commissioners from Manipur are the hill people. The first direct IAS from the Scheduled Tribes in India was Mr. J.C. Nampui (1955 batch) from the Hmar tribe. The first direct recruit IAS from Manipur was Mr. Kaikhokam Kipgen (1965 batch) and the first IRS (Customs & Excise) Officer Mr. Vumkhothang Hangzo (1958 batch) was from the Paite community. There are many retired and serving officers from Manipur who hold the position of being the first from Manipur. Because of the valley-hill divide, I wonder whether the majority know or acknowledge these facts, not to speak of keeping proper records, at least for the sake of general knowledge of our students about their State!

The Chikumi group with its diversities and internal conflicts has one thing in common, namely a desire to keep a close-knit community within their respective tribes so as to preserve and maintain their identity, culture and language. They organize themselves into associations, support each other in times of challenges and difficulties and zealously nurture ethnic cohesion within themselves.Delhi has a sizeable Chikumi population, each group running vibrant Welfare Associations and Fellowship Services, the backbone of their unity.This is also the pattern in major cities in India, too, where they spread over and also even in USA and Canada where the diaspora Chikumis claim to have more than 30,000 refugee-immigrants apart from those in Yangon, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Israel has more than 3,000 Chikumi immigrants who call themselves B’nei Israel and speak Mizo along with Hebrew. Immigrants from Myanmar use Burmese along with their respective dialects and Mizo as link languages.

I have been living in Delhi since 1970 with one long interval and it has become my registered home after Pherzawl and Churachandpur. We live in East Delhi and my wife and I have become Delhiites. I have been Chairman of Unau Forum (Zo-ethnic Forum) representing all the Chikumi tribes from the Northeast since the year 2005. We have a sizeable Meitei population in Delhi, especially in and around our area but they do not seem to have organized associations except the Manipur Students’ Association Delhi (MSAD) to facilitate interaction at least within themselves as other communities do with great vigor. Every State from the Northeast have their respective Bhavans and each Bhavan reflects the State it represents and people living and visiting Delhi consider their respective Bhavans as their own and place of refuge. But Manipur Bhavan in Delhi or in major Indian cities does not seem to carry the unique image of other Northeast Bhavans. This has been the general impression people have and I wish that it is not true. It is high time to study the factors that have created negative impressions and remove the viruses.

I trust and pray that the Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lectures will play a big role in removing hurdles in the path of understanding between our communities, bridging up the valley-hill divide and taking us to a new path – a path of freedom, of peace, of self-sufficiency, of communal harmony, of cultural resurgence and to Rabindranath Tagore’s dreamland:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action.
Thank you one and all.


See: ETHNIC CHURNING: CHIKUMI STYLE - Part One: Introduction
See: ETHNIC CHURNING: CHIKUMI STYLE - Part Two: The Chikumi World

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Notes & References
1 William Robert Ochieng’ and Robert M. Maxon(eds.), An Economic History of Kenya, Nairobi: East African Publishers, 1992, p.120.
2 Vumson, Zo History, Aizawl: Published by the Author, 2011, p.7.
3 G.A.Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India Vol III Part III, 1904 (reprint 1967), pp. 2–3.
4. B.Lalthangliana, India, Burma and Bangladesh: AMizoChanchin, Aizawl: Remkungi, 2001, p. 147 (in Mizo language).
5 Memorandum submitted to His Majesty’s Government, Government of India and its Constituent Assembly through the Advisory Sub-Committee by the Mizo Union on April 26, 1947 at Aijal.
6 J.T.Vanlalngheta, The Concise Learner’s Dictionary of Mizo, Aizawl: Hlawndo Publishing House, 2010.
7 Op.cit.,Vumson2011, p.7.
8 LaltluanglianaKhiangte, “Mizo Literature, Opening the door”, The Seven Sisters Post. www.nelitreview.blogspot.in/2012/02 frontispiece-mizo-literature-opening.html
9 Anthony D.Smith, National Identity, London: Penguin, 1991, p.39.
10 T.C.Hodson, The Meitheis, London: Low Price Publication, 1981 (originally published in 1908), p.2.
11“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat” in Rudyard Kipling,The Ballad of East and West, 1889.
12 Editor’s note: NingthouKangba was regarded as ancient ruler who preceded Meidingu Nongdaa Lairen Paakhangba by many years. He is not the same as Meidingu Nongdaa Lairen Paakhangba
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