New Delhi – Contemporary concerns, rooted in older contestations and challenges, formed the core of a day-long National Seminar on Manipur organized by the Centre for North East Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia on March 12, 2012, where participants made evocative pleas for a more nuanced understanding of issues of the state and its history.
Speakers from Manipur and Universities in New Delhi and elsewhere spoke on a range of issues, covering the so-called “Kuki Rebellion”, the anti-British movement by a Naga tribe in Manipur as well as the prominent role of women in social and political movements.
The seminar was titled ‘Little Known Fighters Against the Raj; Manipur’s Bir Tikendrajit’, organized by the Centre for North East Studies and the Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair at Jamia Millia Islamia and attended by over 80 participants, including scholars and students, diplomats and media.
The seminar was launched by Vice Chancellor Najeeb Jung (IAS) who described the work of the North East Centre as “very important” to the University while Prof. Basudev Chatterjee, Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), which has supported the seminar, gave the inaugural address. Prof. Chatterji urged collaboration between CNES in Jamia and the ICHR’s unit in the North-east.
While participants also stressing on the need to see anti-British movements in the state in perspective, particularly that of Tikendrajit Bir Singh, whose role is hailed as central to the ethos of Manipur, they also reflected on the state’s angst and trauma and shared concerns about the ongoing confrontation, especially opposition to existing draconian laws.
As in earlier national seminars on the theme (this is the third in such a series organized by the Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew Chair and the Centre for North East Studies, headed by Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika), there was agreement that these need to be reflected in curriculae at the university as well as school levels.
In his valedictory address Prof. Gangmumei Kamei, National Fellow at the IIAS in Shimla and former Cabinet Minister from the state and a respected historian, challenged the widespread view that Manipur was a “failed state”. He said that such observations were “uncharitable” as they did not take into account the recent election results in the state which “indicated the will of the people to resist the use of violence against the democratic process.”
He called for talks and negotiations to settle issues, saying that “the politics of violence will continue till the politics activists or insurgents resort to violent means.” But he also remarked that the results were a commentary on the lack of effectiveness and mobilization of human rights issues and the 12-year-old fast of Irom Sharmila demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
In closing remarks, Prof. Hazarika said that “goodwill and not ill-will” was the need of the hour to reduce the differences and suspicions of the past which continue to endure today in different forms.