By Dr. Thangzakhup Tombing
The epochal mayhem that was unleashed in the state of Manipur on May 3, 2023 continues to ravage the residents of Manipur with unprecedented destruction of lives and properties. If this mindless violence continues there is likelihood that Manipur might turn into mass graveyards as there is fear that it will spill over to all the other communities in Manipur as well. Even during the visit of the Hon’ble Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, villages were burnt and lives continued to be lost. It seems as if some kind of unfathomable spirit of pure hatred and disdain had engulfed the mind and soul of people who are executing this mayhem.
Those who follow the history of Manipur in post independent India will all agree that it has always been one of the most volatile and most dangerous States in India. Since its annexation to the Union of India in 1949, Manipur had witnessed the formation of numerous secessionist armed groups. Insurgency and counter insurgency operations reached its peak in early 1980s and continued till the late 1990s. With the signing of the SoO in 2008, a tripartite agreement between the Central Government, the Manipur State Government and the Armed groups, relative peace was restored in the State.
Manipur had also witnessed inter communal violences among Meiteis, Meitei Phangals, Nagas and other Kuki communities in the 1990s. Those communal violences were also unprecedented during the time and space when they have unfortunately occurred. Meiteis being the dominant community and the de-facto custodian, in a sense that they are the majority stakeholder, and also in their zeal to uphold the territorial integrity of Manipur state, had always paved the way for peace between warring communities. Even during the Meitei- Pangal clash in the 1990s or the Meitei – Naga clash in the early 2000, they had always been at the forefront to initiate peaceful reconciliation. However, in this recent communal clash the abject opposite sentiments and political will seems to have been prevailing among the Meitei law makers, political executives, bureaucrats, police, intellectuals, scribes, elders of the society, the youths and even the women.
Mystic spirit of uncontrollable hatred, anger, frustration, and a sense of supremacy over the Kukis seems to have engulfed the entire Meitei community, who otherwise, as per their own accounts, are peace loving and an inclusive society. There seems to be an unabridged attempt to cleanse, reclaim and appropriate the entire land and resources of Manipur to themselves. It is, therefore, surmised that the building of an ‘Exclusive Meitei Brand’ based on the imagined glorious Kangleipak Sanamahi traditions with the tacit support of a conducive state machinery may have inadvertently led to the unleashing of an unquenchable thirst for violence in the valley.
The Kangleipak Sanamahi Traditions and its Imagined Supremacy
Meitei historians and academicians would propagate that the ancient Meitei community gradually migrated to the current Imphal valley area about 3000 years ago. According to them, the initial stage of the Meitei Kagleipak kingdom and the evolution of the Sanamahi religion were shrouded in mystery and mysticism. The royal bloodline or the Ningthouja clan was descended from the deity Pakhangba. The deities Leimarel Sidabi or Emoinu are the blessed deities for a Meitei household and wealth. They also have deities for tutelary, clan, village etc. All these well-evolved institutions were documented in their puyas written in their indigenous manuscript. The notion of Sanamahi-ism is the embodiment of a deep and sacred spirit of the animist, pristine, pure, and unadulterated identity of being an indigenous Meitei.
The social, economic, and political status of the Meitei Kangleipak community in comparison with the Kuki communities was much more advanced. The Kukis, on the other hand, never had their own manuscript or any organically evolved deity or well-structured institutions. They were animistic tribes who had their own scattered customary laws and institutions orally passed on from generation to generation.
In 1724, Hindu Meitei King Pamheiba, under the influence of Brahmin priests from Bengal, declared Hinduism as a State religion. He used brute force on his own subjects to convert them to Vaishnavism. During this time many of the Meitei ancient institutions, their indigenous manuscripts and puyas were burnt. Eventually, with the conversion of the larger section of Meitei community to Vaishnavism, Kangleipak was renamed as Manipur. Despite their conversion they continued the worship of their traditional deities like emoinu, pakhangba etc. Vaishnavism among the Meitei, therefore, is a syncretic form of both Vaishnavism and the sanamahi religion.
After their conversion, nuances of casteism also started to take root within the Meitei social life. Gradually caste-based discrimination also affected the interaction of Meiteis with the hill tribes. They started treating hill communities as impure and also distanced them. Due to the change in the attitude of the Hinduised Meitei community towards the hill tribes, the term ‘hao’ which was earlier used to address the hill tribes gradually metamorphosed into something which was construed as highly derogatory or impure. For almost 200 years this became the prevalent and crystalized attitude of the Meitei community towards the hill tribes. However, in the 1930s there was a call for revival of the sanamahi religion. The call for revival was triggered by the bitter experiences of mockeries faced by the Meitei Hindus from the larger Bengal community for imitating the Bengali Hindu ways of life. The revival reached its peak in the 1990s.
The Unleashing of Mayhem on May 3, 2023
The Kangleipak sanamahi supremacist revival agenda seems to have found a conducive political environment in the present political dispensation. It is alleged by the Kuki-Zo researchers and scholars that almost all the political hierarchy in Manipur including an MP from the Meitei community are either directly or indirectly associated with Meitei organisations like Arambai Tengol and Meitei Leepun. These two organisations are alleged to be the resurgence of the military storm-trooper wing of the erstwhile Kangleipak kingdom. Their objective is to carry out orders and execute the aspirations and designs of the titular king who patronizes them.
Unlike the Maichous or learned priests of the ancient Kangleipak, the current Meitei supremacists who have no knowledge, wisdom, or expertise about the potential power of the sanamahi spirit, might have ended up arrogantly unleashing ravishing and annihilating spirits merely for the revival of their sanamahi supremacists agenda. This observation is pertinent because the very notion, nature, and character of the sanamahi religion runs counter to the very essence of Hinduism, and it is also anomalous to the democratic and Constitutional values and spirit of India. Though nascent at this stage, the logic advanced might be the most plausible explanation to the cause of why violence of such an unprecedented brutal scale was unleashed by the Meiteis against Kukis in the Imphal valley from May 3rd onwards with abject and appalling disregard for the rule of law. Reported sporadic incidents of communal violence during the visit of the Hon’ble Home Minister suggests that the thirst for violence still persists.
(The writer is Assistant Professor of Law, National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam)