This is not a new revelation or spontaneous perception but an authoritative testimony given the green light in the state’s chronicle popularly known as Puyas that the settlement of Pangal community (local name for Muslims) in certain sectors of the state of Manipur had begun since the early period of the seventeenth century though there are claims and counterclaims of earlier settlements even before the seventeenth century by some local scholars. This community is undoubtedly one of the indigenous (yelhoumees) and largest minority communities next to tribal communities such as Nagas in Manipur. They have contributed immensely to the state in various fields polity, economy, socio-culture and administrative affairs etc., since the seventeenth century. It is known that after settling in Manipur, they were allowed to marry local ladies, though not to all. They were also allowed to keep servants and land for sustenance and livelihood by the king Khagemba (1597-1652 AD).
Pangals played an important role in the politico-administrative affairs of the state through the setting up of institutions like Mangkanshang (Mughalshang) and Pangal Shanglen under the garb of Qazi-ul-Quzzat (Chief Justice). It is true and evident from the primary sources such as Cheitharon Kumpapa (the royal chronicle of Manipur), Nongsamei Puya, Pangal Thorakpa, Yad-dast Kursee-e-nama, British Archival Reports, etc. that for the territorial integrity of Manipur, they participated and helped in many fighting military invasions against the invading forces of Tribes at Ukhrul, Burma at Kabaw, Burma in one of the deadliest attacks such as Seven Years Devastation known as Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (1819-1826 AD) and British at Khongjom War 1891 during the reign of different rulers for the territorial integrity of Manipur. It is truest to the fact that many Manipuri Muslim women, including Sara Bibi, Kunjehari Bibi, etc., took part in the most respected war “Second Nupi Lan” (the Second Manipur Women’s Agitation, 1939) to preserve the economic policies along with the territorial integrity of Manipur and to prevent human rights violation against the British exploitative policies.
In addition to the politico-military contributions of Manipuri Pangals, they also functioned and contributed in the socio-cultural and economic benefactions in the Manipuri society through language, paddy plantation, revenue, games and sports, weaving, carpentry, tobacco plantation, use of Bengali script, etc. Sheikh Juned introduced the manufacturing of paper in the region.
However, despite having such boundless and gigantic contributions for the state of Manipur, this minority community has often been tagged, stereotyped, licensed, reduced and considered as huranba (thief) community. In addition, they are even subjected to the brutal and barbaric mob-lynching and other unendurable and prejudiced charges purportedly such as drug lords/peddlers and petty criminals though they do not acquire such discriminated and contradistinguish characters considering their origins and contributions in great length. Of the most Pangal dominated area, Lilong area is specifically and effortlessly singled out and is synonymously brought into the category of ‘huranba category area’. Moreover, there has been a propagation of misconstrued perception of the Pangals on social media (both electronic and print), especially from this Lilong area, as being vehicle thieves, petty criminals, drug lords or peddlers by some people with mala fide intension to stereotype the Pangals.
Against this backdrop and the prevailing animosity that gets boosted intermittently by the hate comments on social media, it is plausible that some Pangals including Farooque Ahmed, an MBA, who was barbarously lynched by the mob after labelling him as a two-wheeler thief. Tharoijam villagers’ murderous streak was activated by the stereotyping of Pangals as petty criminals, a contention corroborated by the noted journalist and former editor of one of the local papers, The Imphal Free Press, Pradip Phanjoubam and the engineered communal revulsion, both of which shot the nondescript village to infamy (https://www.dailypioneer.com/2018/sunday-edition/stereotyping-for-lynching-in-manipur-.html).
The insular disquietude of slowness and underdevelopment that the Pangal community in Manipur in all precincts has been defying since many centurial episodes is conceivably imprisoned within the intersection of community itself rather than the pursuits of the state government. Some sections of community itself are hindering the upward mobility rather than the government delinquency. There are many consequential ingredients for this backwardness in which many callous and discernible apologists, particularly from the Pangals dominated areas, along with the educational locus are the most certifiable ones. Some of the fundamental questions are given as: Why is the Pangal community still backward in all domains? Is it looked upon through the angle of religious outlook? Are the community leaders callous and discernible apologists who work on ‘social media’ only? Are they lagging behind other communities in terms of literacy? What are the crucial factors behind their backwardness? This paper makes an attempt to explore and analyse these issues.
Educationally, there is a bird’s-eye perceptive that the Pangals are educationally backward in spite of showing high literacy rate considering both male and female literacy among the Pangals. Their total population is 8.32 percent based on 2011 census against the 8.8 percent of 2001 census. According to the 2011 census, 80.33 percent of male Pangals are literate and 55.22 percent of female Pangals are literate. If we compare these figures with the literacy rate of other communities in the state, the figures are still low with the percentage of male literacy which has surprisingly reached 80 per cent and become quite close to the state average. This is just the nominal figure without reflecting the real positional status from the ground level. This community is being considered as the ‘namesake’ community in all fields as it is still a left-out minority community from the syllabus of Manipur Board text books and other councils of higher study.
Moreover, this indigenous minority community has not got even a single permanent space in the market popularly known as Ema Keithel which was established in 1580s. In the 20th century, historical records gave testimony that some Pangals were sent to Sylhet for further course study of Class X after passing Class IX successfully as there was no facility of Class X in the Johnstone High School after the completion of the Class IX during the British rule in Manipur. The first graduate among the Pangals was Muhammad Wali Ullah in 1928-29. It is reported from the Administrative Report of the Manipur State for the Year 1911-12 that out of the 66 Lower Primary Schools, there were 4 Madrasas, 1 Tol and 1 Girl’s School in 1911-12. Moreover, it is a fact from the British Administrative Reports for the State of Manipur that there are insignificant figures of Pangal students in British colonial time as compared to other indigenous communities. The establishment of the Faiza ME School in 1935-36 at Minuthong area of Imphal was done to impart basic education to the Pangals students. Similarly, the establishment of only one college, Lilong Haoreibi College belonging to this minority community, was done to impart basics of modern education to the Pangal girls who would not get facility for accessing higher study in the far-off regions from their settlement.
There are no substantial numbers of lower primary, upper primary, junior high school and higher secondary schools in Pangal areas such as Urup, Keirao, Mayang Imphal, Uchiwa, Sora, Santhel, Pora, Kwakta, Sangaiyumpham, Phoubakchao, Irong Chesabam, etc. For instance, the area of Sangaiyumpham has a population of more than 11000 but educationally, this area is imaginably the most backward area as there are only two research scholars till today. Moreover, Irong Chesabam has a population of more than 6700 but there is not even a single eligible person who can be considered for the position of an Assistant Professor in this area. Considering the overall perspective, why this community educationally lags the most behind other religious communities is either reasonably and genuinely rooted in the mangba-sengba (impurity-purity) concept at the initial stage, the core concept of Vaishnavite Hinduism which was instituted at the state level during the reign of Pamheiba popularly known as Garib Nawaz (Benefactor to the Poor) by Muslim saints or overflowing of “token intellectuals” who are detectable champions on social media but, in actual, seem less in ground reality. Some acclaimed historians like Gangmumei Kamei said that such inoperable system, but realizable in an immutable manner, impinged not only hilly people but also the valley people including the Pangals. The number of govt. opportunities in this community is so less that till now, everyone can count the number of first-class officers, second class and third-class officers of this minority Pangals at finger points. Moreover, according to All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) 2018-19, their educational enrolment is much lesser than the other minorities. Earlier, before the implementation of reservation-cum-quota system in December 27th 2006, their educational status was stuck at dreary and colourless stage and is still more or less remained in bad shape unceasingly despite having a half-hearted change. It is unequivocally and undeniably a fact that there has been a change in the wave of education competitively among the Pangals since 2003 when pre-eminent civil servant Noor Rahman Sheikh from Kshetri Top Khongnang Makhong, Imphal East, cracked the first ever UPSC exam. However, if we count the number of such prestigious jobs among this community, we would realize that till now, only five Pangals cleared the prestigious UPSC exam so far after their official recognition of settlement in the state since the seventeenth century onwards.
Economically, it is opined that one of the major striking reasons as to why the Pangals are the most disadvantage community in the state has been the poverty-stricken economy. Their fundamental occupations include agriculture, fishing and other activities like rickshaw pulling, daily wage earnings, trading, etc. In addition to this, their sharing of land holding is quite low as compared to the other communities, particularly the Meitei community. Their source of income is also much less from the counterpart community. A small number of population is employed in organized sector. Those unskilled employees are mainly employed in fourth grade jobs. However, their number is so less that it can be counted at finger points. Based on the 2011 Census, the number of Muslim workers to the total Muslim population was recorded at 37.66%. The percentage of Muslim female workers out of total Muslim female population was found to be little less than 30%. Out of the total female Muslim work force i.e., 35,412 (29.65 % of the total Muslim women population), around 40.34% were main workers and 59.66% were marginal workers. Similar findings could be observed from the Report on Socio-Economic Survey of Meitei-Pangals (Manipuri Muslims) 2004 conducted by the Directorate of Economic and Statistics Department, Government of Manipur, 2006 though the historical setting, sample, method and methodology used in this survey are not clear. According to this survey, 71.17% of the total population is found to be out of the labour force while 28.83% are in the labour force of which 24.14% are employed and 4.69% are unemployed. The same survey showed that 90.12% of the females are outside the labour force. The percentage share of male workers belonging to Pangal community is much higher than the female workers with 85.46% male workers as against the 14.54 female workers.
However, some of the scholars such as Baharuddin Shah and Chingiz Khan have pointed out that the possibility of concealing the reality due to prestige question may not be ruled out. Further, out of the total Muslim workers, 60.79% were male workers while 39.21% were female workers. Similar findings were also observed in the Report on Socio-Economic Survey of Meitei-Pangals 2004. Among the employed persons, the percentage of males is much higher than the females. The palpable reason behind this could be illiteracy and lack of awareness among the Pangal discernible apologists along with the indirect roles of the state.
The living condition of Pangal community is extremely pathetic and deplorable as compared to the other communities whose pivotal indexes are rooted on land holding, type of land possessed, housing condition and patterns of consumption. As per the SESMP 2004, 92.9 percent of this minority community possessed their own land while 3.0 percent of the household were holding government land in the manner of owner-like situation. Around 62 percent of the household are possessing cultivated land without irrigation facilities. 16 percent of the household of Pangal community possessed uncultivable land. Around 62 percent of the Pangals stay in Kuccha houses. Only six percent of Pangals live in pucca houses whereas 31.2 percent of the Pangals live in semi-pucca houses. They do not have basic provisions such as portable water. Maximum number of Pangals used to fetch water for drinking purposes from rivers/ponds. 48.35 % of Meitei Pangals used river water. 5.49% of the Meitei-Pangal household used tap water facility. 15.39 % of the Pangal villages used tanks and ponds for drinking purpose. Even there was a PIL in 2017 regarding the issue of lack of safe drinking water facility in one of the Pangal inhabited areas of Manipur. 69.23% of the Pangal villages have no drainage facility. There are multi-layered issues and problems faced by the Pangal community to drain the swamps like rooting out of corruption.
It is not exaggerated to say that there is step-motherly treatment of their representation in polity though it is clearly mentioned in The Manipur Constitution Act 1947 that there were 5.9% reserved seats for “Mahamadans” in Manipur which have not been fulfilled till now. It is due to the factual points that there are tremendous self-proclaimed leaders, callous and discernible apologists among the Pangals of Manipur who have been leading this minority community as torch-bearers since many years and have been doing politics on the sites of social media rather than actual work on the ground. Such groundless politics has been continually existing among the Pangals dominated areas. Then the question arises as who will raise the voice of Pangals on any issues either at the state or national levels? Are the Pangals themselves responsible for this or are they side-lined consciously or unconsciously for some vested interests by non-minority representatives at the cost of minority representatives for so long? Or who will speak for them? Out of the 60 member constituencies in the state, Lilong is the only one constituency that could elect on its own representative. It is reasonably opined that there is no ‘chance’ of winnability of political power in the 59 Assembly Constituencies because of the last delimitation process. Historical records witness that the first Chief Minister of Manipur was Md. Alimuddin when Manipur became statehood. He also took initiatives in 1970s to establish Manipur University and RIMS (Regional Institute of Medical Sciences) on 22nd May 1972 at Imphal. During his tenure, he established the Council of Higher Secondary Education, Manipur in 1972 and conducted the first High School Leaving Certificate Examination. The general Hospital at Lamphelpat (Imphal) was established by him which is now one of the referred hospitals in the Northeast regions. The Post Graduate Centre of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Imphal was boosted up by adding three new courses such as Manipuri Language and Literature, Political Science and Applied Biology. Manipur Public Service Commission (MPSC) for conducting higher education examinations was introduced by him. Many other socio-economic activities like the establishment of Khandsari Sugar Mill on 4th March, 1973, in Wangbal (Thoubal District) with the capacity of producing sixty tonnes per day sugar canes crushing capacity, etc., was established. Law College was also established. On a mass level, he contributed substantially in many educational, political, economic and socio-cultural related development works. However, for this minority community, he played a ‘scanty’ role in enhancing their status politically, socially, culturally, and economically. Politically, there is a vacuum of qualified and experienced leaders having tactical and technical skills. There are, rather, some illiterate and self-aggrandizing fellows with a know-it-all attitude and motive of self-vested interests who used to win every election through bribes or muscle power.
The reason for this backwardness lies in the Pangals themselves and other factors come after this bitter truth. The above-mentioned data related to education shows that they are newcomers while absorbing the import of modern English education that gave some weightage largely on their journey of development though they started penetrating it during the British period. They could not produce the qualified leaders who could do some development works for themselves as they are full of incompetent leaders. Until and unless there is development of modern education in the Pangal dominated areas, there has always been a backward community and they will have pantomime situation as they used to get represented and done by some “token intellectuals” mainly based on ‘sageism’ (clanism) who are categorically backers but not of box clever of Pangal society who are essentially present-time limited in the social media without doing nothing minimally at the ground level. The “token intellectuals” will bring only ignominy to the Pangal community who are only giving unctuousness to the cause but never be conducive and worthwhile for the amelioration of Pangal society and they draw their legitimacy based on nepotism, tendentiousness, partisanship and ‘sageism’ (clanism) which can be a greater deterrent and stumbling block in the all-inclusive welfare of the community.
The writer is Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi