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Editorial

As Manipur burns

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By The Editorial Team Updated: Dec 21, 2016 11:55 pm
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There you stand for your Naga brothers
There you pray for your Kuki brothers
There you cry for your Meitei brothers
What a waste
What a waste
And the home is burning
And the home is burning
And the home is burning
And the home is burning

Way back in 2009, the magazine Rolling Stone India had hailed the folk-rock outfit Imphal Talkies – headed by the poet, songwriter Akhu Chingangbam – as the voice of northeast India soon after the band released its debut album ‘Tiddim Road’. The band translated Akhu’s acute political awareness and gift for satire into their music with powerful anti-establishment lyrics. Their second album, released in 2014, was called When The Home Is Burning in which the title track talks about, well, Imphal in flames – and not just metaphorically.

That was 2014. But as can be interpreted from a passage of the song reproduced in the opening lines of this column, it is clear that nothing much has changed in the interim. In fact, seeing things as they are right now in Manipur, the song seems to have been injected with certain prophetic undertones. Especially, when Akhu reflects sharply on the relation among the three ‘brothers’ – Naga, Kuki and Meitei. In that context, When The Home Is Burning certainly feels like 2016.

For some strange reasons, Manipur (from a distance, it must be said) always seems to be in flames. Blockades and public protests almost appear to have become a way of life over there. In 2011, it famously survived an economic blockade that lasted for more than 100 days. But the ongoing unrest in Manipur feels a little different – which is not to say that it is justified.

Seeds were sowed, in every sense of the word, when the Manipur government had announced the decision to create seven new districts on December 9 last. For a state that is deeply divided on communal lines, it spelled trouble from the outset especially since the Nagas in Manipur stood to lose control of their ancestral lands in two districts: Kangpokpi (Sadar) and Jiribam. In effect, it set in motion a chain reaction that gets more dangerous by the day.

The United Naga Council (UNC), after learning of the Manipur government’s plan to create the new districts, had imposed an economic blockade from November 1 onwards to protest the decision. The blockade is still on today. In response the Manipur government arrested two UNC leaders on November 25 last. As the blockade intensified after the announcement of new districts, the Meiteis in Imphal valley responded with a counter-blockade.

Vehicles, properties and a church have been torched. The confrontation has now turned ethnic –and that is where the real danger lies. Lockdown of lifeline roads – on both sides – will slowly be eased and normal traffic will resume but that is not where the real scar has been made. No doubt, the people must have felt the pinch in their pockets but the deepest wound has been on the psyche of the people living in the state, even if they are not directly involved in the conflict.

While the immediate focus has to be on bringing an end to the unrest in Manipur, the leaderships on both sides of the conflict must however ensure that the wound on the psyche of the people does not fester. Or allow political elements – on both sides of the conflict – to feed off this fear of each other. There is a clear lesson from the way Akhu has used imageries to construct ‘the bigger picture’ in the song above: standing for the Naga brother, praying for the Kuki brother and crying for the Meitei bother – And (still) the home is burning.

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By The Editorial Team Updated: Dec 21, 2016 11:55:32 pm