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Will the Sun Shine Again in Manipur? | Arup Kumar Sen

Saturday 22 June 2024, by Arup Kumar Sen



Shooting the Sun: Why Manipur Was Engulfed by Violence and the Government Remained Silent

by Nandita Haksar

Speaking tiger (5 January 2024)
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 200 pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9354477011 | ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9354477010

Manipur is burning with hate and violence since May 2023. We the outsiders do not know what triggered this vicious cycle of violence. Nandita Haksar’s recently published book, Shooting the Sun: Why Manipur Was Engulfed by Violence and the Government Remained Silent (Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2023) enlightens us about the genealogy of current violence in Manipur.
The naming of the book is rooted in the mythical tradition of Manipur. ‘Shooting the Sun’ is one of the oldest Meiti epics quoted by the author: “When the bright sun fell by the arrow…he was afraid and hid himself in the earth in a great cave by the big village near his father Pakhangba and his mother Senamehi.”

In the prelude, the author stated ethical imperatives of her journey: “The stories of Manipur that this book tells are violent, cruel and infused with unadulterated savagery. The hate and rage in them is tangible and there is no way to make the stories any less brutal.”

Wherefrom the author derives her hope in writing about the land of violence is shared with the readers: “…while it is true that everyone has contributed to the tragedy taking place in Manipur, it is also true that there are hundreds of people living there, mostly from poor families, who even in the midst of this mayhem have quietly helped each other, often risking their own lives to save those of strangers. They are nameless, voiceless and anonymous.” (pp. 24-25)

What triggered this cycle of violence is narrated in the book: “In a way, the violence in Manipur started over the Meitei demand to be recognized as a Scheduled Tribe, a demand strongly opposed by the tribals of Manipur…The controversy continued on the pages of the local press. On the streets, the violence did.” (pp. 49, 59)

In her book, Haksar has documented the overall impact of violence in Manipur: “The violence affected everyone in Manipur, from school children to those dependent on the internet for their livelihood, and from cultivators to lawyers. But it is clear that the violence was overwhelmingly directed at the Kuki-Zo.” (p. 14)

The prominent role of a Meitei militant organization in the violence is also documented by the author: “From the first day of the violence in Manipur, churches were a prime target of the mobs, many of them led by the Arambai Tenggol, the militant Meitei organization…Churches had never before been attacked on this scale during past conflicts…According to reports, the Arambai Tenggol were in the forefront of the attacks on the Kuki-Zo community…The chairman of Arambai Tenggol is Leishemba Sanajaoba, the titular King of Manipur and member of the Rajya Sabha who was elected on a BJP ticket in 2020.” (pp. 60-61, 63-64)

How the politics of ethnicity and that of religion got merged in Manipur is narrated by Haksar:

Despite having largely rejected Hinduism and embraced Sanamahism, their ancient religion, Meitei extremist groups have welcomed the support they have got from Hindutva forces…One reason why the violence in Manipur began to be perceived mainly as persecution of Christian tribals has been the ‘overzealous online campaign by Hindutva activists vilifying Kukis for their Christian identity’ (p.78)

While writing about the unprecedented scale of violence in Manipur, the author stated: “The violence that started in Manipur on May 3, 2023, was unprecedented in the state’s history…the violence resulted in the displacement of more than 60,000, around 50,000 of whom were living in 350 relief camps without basic amenities. Among the displaced were an estimated 12,694 children living in the relief camps.” (pp. 145-46)

The role of ‘Meitei mothers’ in the violent identity politics is lamented by Haksar: “But what concerns me is that these women, Meitei mothers with a proud history of protecting their state from drugs, alcohol and colonial oppression, are now aroused to anger in the name of protecting the Meitei identity.” (p.180)

The failure/complicity of the State in the ongoing violence in Manipur has been highlighted by the author in her narrative: “Why did the Centre not remove Biren Singh and impose President’s Rule as has been done in such situations previously? ...The ultimate responsibility has to be that of the Government of India under our Constitution…Senior journalists and fact-finding teams claimed that the violence was allowed to continue because the state government was complicit in the violence.” (pp. 151-52)

The book authored by Nandita Haksar has situated the ongoing brutal violence in Manipur in the larger context of the long history of identity politics, poppy cultivation, and influx of Myanmar refugees in the State. The political economy of the state has been aptly integrated in the narratives of violence. As readers of the book, following the author, we express our “hope and faith that the people of Manipur can and will find a way to come together, that they have the courage and determination to make the sun shine again, to make Manipur a place where there is peace, prosperity and justice.”

(Review author: Arup Kumar Sen)

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