Many thanks to some of my friends, particularly Dr. Seram Rojesh and Donald Takhellambam, who have encouraged me to produce this article. Two different versions in Manipuri language, carrying the same argument, were published some weeks ago in a vernacular daily. The current article merges the two, translated, and some lines added. It is a response to two widely publicised interconnected projections by Manipur’s Chief Minister and Governor respectively in August and September, 2022. The former showed interest in history and history writing. The latter issued an Order to regulate freedom of conscience, research, and expression. Reading these together unveils that while history (or other books concerning Manipur) writing is verbally encouraged there are restrictions on writing as any book concerning Manipur’s history, culture, tradition, and geography cannot be published unless acceptable to the government. Both were projected as Manipur’s exigencies, i.e., to inculcate awareness and patriotism and also to defend Manipur’s unity, peace and tranquillity. While these two projections might have aroused a bulk of uncritical mass’s interests and applauses; one still requires to see if there is sanctity of promise and encouragement and potential dangers of surveillance, restrictions, and penalty. I could not remain a silent consumer. So, I write.
August 20, 2022, on the occasion of the 31st Manipur Language Day, Manipur’s chief minister said that no one will now be able to write and publish fabricated book [history] in any manner as they wish and that a state level committee has been formed to keep an eye on books. He asked historians to write detailed history books that might be informative at international level. Some months back, on March 24, 2022, local vernacular newspaper Sanaleipak quoted the chief minister as saying, “come out those writers who can properly write Manipur’s history, all expenditures will be provided.” Such an expression by a chief minister might have some weights. On the face of it, this could have evoked patriotic feelings among sections of Manipuris leading them to presume this was a good and patriotic initiative by the chief minister. Writers who might have liked to seek government funding might have also felt this was golden opportunity. But a question remains as to what extent the chief minister might have supported or will support writers. I have seen a negative precedence regarding government’s investment in history writing. In 2002, the then incumbent Manipur’s chief minister, in what was billed as an initiative to collect source material to write a definitive boom on Manipur’s boundary history, handed over certain amount of money to a team of reputed and high profile persons but they proved sluggish and selfish probably on account of aging. After procuring some valuable source materials from the National Archives of India, they decided they did not want to share it with others and instead, parcelled them out among themselves to be classified under their individual custodies. Writing failed. No boundary history was published. Most of them have died. Where are the documents now? Other than this 2002 failed project, in the past, I have never heard of any other chief minister before the incumbent chief minister who has been repeatedly making statements in the media about promoting Manipur’s history. If the chief minister’s proposal and invitation are true commitment, it deserves a huge applause.
As the chief minister has reportedly shown interest in history writing, I would like to place the following comments;
(1) What is history?
There are various opinions/theories on the definition of history. Concisely, in my opinion, history is a narrative of the proceedings of past events based on the study in correspondence to time, place and conditions of dialectical relationship among living beings on one hand and as well as among living and non-living beings constituting an eco-system. Who writes? Either an individual historian or a group or a school/institution representing ‘power.’ Why writes? To convince readers of the march of a given polity towards a direction. What is found in writing? History. Nothing else? No. When closely studied one can see in the author’s objective, ideology, methodology, event selection, use of facts, and interpretation of facts. If then, what is truth? Is there only a single true history? No. Truth, as widely accepted and hegemonized, is an aggregation of agreement or consensus or convention. Truth is a claim. Different historians, while using same events/facts, can have different interpretations and produce differently contentious histories claiming their respective work as truth. Differences are debated. This is called academic debate. The mediums and venues of debate may not be confined in a fixed administrative jurisdiction. Therefore, I am doubtful that the committee formed by Manipur government, whose jurisdiction is confined to a demarcated territorial boundary, would be able to regulate/intervene academic debates. However, the government may keep an eye on unrestraint writings without proper facts just to create misinformation to incite communal unrests. Such writings, even though they carry no academic credentials/values, are used as instruments of political propaganda and mislead many.
(2) What is Manipur’s history writing trend?
I believe that in Manipur’s long past, history writing’s emergence isn’t two hundred years old. Many agree that history writing began in the nineteenth century by British officials who wrote from Victorian Anthropology perspectives that measured civilization from a yardstick of their industrial capitalist society and compared colonised peoples by placing them into differently ordered blocks. Prior to that, whatever available were not history but sources of history writings such as diaries (chronicles), myths or puyas and oral accounts. When compatriots began writing history in the early twentieth century those were not scientific history in the strict sense of the term. Those were mostly propaganda with religious and cultural emotions, twists or flavours and objectives. Most conclusions were not based on scientific study of sources. It seems that most writers decided conclusion before research. Either fabricated narratives were constructed or uncritical information were selectively quoted to substantiate a conclusion. For instance, after 1930, when writings emerged on Meetei history those were influenced by ‘Meetei revivalism’ emotions. It conflicted with ‘sanskritised’ narratives of Manipur which were influenced by Hinduism/Brahmanical emotions. From 1960s onwards, many writings on Manipur’s political and cultural histories were influenced by Meetei hegemonic emotions. It conflicted with communally motivated fabricated anti-Meetei propaganda by Naga/Kuki writers. Meanwhile, India government, to defend its ‘integrity’ objectives, while imparting Indian history on a vast scale to students did not promote Manipur’s history. At the same time, Manipur’s compatriots who held legislative powers did not have the necessary interest in history. They did not take up adequate measures to promote history. As a result, several generations one after another have passed without knowing history. From 1980s onwards, self-sponsored writers began publishing some research based academically valuable history books. Those works have not been widely read by everyone in all families. Meanwhile, unfortunately, chauvinist and communal propaganda in the guise of history continuously published biased writings that exert more powerful impacts on dividing people and creating sectarianism. To overcome this, if the incumbent chief minister would bring a qualitative change in history writing, it may have lots of positive impacts on society.
(3) What should government do?
A government is an institution of ideology, objective, and strategy. Government’s desired history cannot be entrusted liberally to anybody to write. It must organise a competent and effective team of historians. Such team has important roles: (a) to academically defeat and expose fabricated histories, and (b) to write and publish history books based on serious study of several worthy history themes that may be beneficial to people. Those books may be included in the educational syllabus of schools, colleges, and universities. Those books may be abundantly available in public and private libraries and at cheap rate in book shops. Government must produce mandatory history reading materials for candidates appearing in written examination for government jobs. Quiz, objective tests, and essay competitions on history may be continuously organised. Programmes inculcating history through print, electronic, visual and audio mediums may be continuously held in coexisting communities’ different languages/ dialects.
(4) Should history be promoted?
History is the product of writers. Without promoting writers, history does not emerge automatically by itself. Promoting historians can be at two levels. (a) Encouraging students. (b) Promoting professionals. Promotion is required because history writing is a profession that involves lots of labour, time, and money. There should be support to ensure writer’s wage, money for collective history writing sources, and coordination or network building. Without source materials, writings speculatively will lack academic credibility and are easily defeated. Source materials laying scattered in Manipur and elsewhere need to be collected and organised. This responsibility cannot be entrusted to any incompetent person in the name of project. There will be many competent historians who many do it if provided timely adequate support. Persons who are passionately involved in history writing, patriotic, hard-working, committed to objective, who know where sources are located, who know how to search and organise sources, and who can do the job should be selected for support. If historians are supported and sources are procured and organised, history writing objective will be successful. History and history writing have to be promoted in this manner.
(5) Who, when and how history?
Patriots will know history. If they were uninformed, they will explore and know. Loving a nation without knowing its history is a big lie. Ignorance means lacking love. Wrong history misguides them. They can’t imagine a prospective future trend. Unfortunately, our motherland’s knowledge on history suffers from dearth of research and publication. On the one hand communal propaganda in the guise of history are circulating misinformation and creating disturbances. On the other hand, there is subjective domination by other nations’ histories. For exam or careers our compatriots are memorising or feeding on other nation’s histories. Ours has been neglected. How many of those who are paid for teaching in colleges and universities and securing grants for researches are focussing on writing our motherland’s history? Is the interest in writing history driven only by money/profit? Will not professionals write unless for scoring Academic Performance Indicators point? How many are there making efforts to know our motherland’s history? Till date, writing is yet to begin on many crucially important themes of history. How many are there fully committed to become writers of our motherland’s composite history? How many government institutions, organisations and wealthy people are there to support writers? In such a condition, I want to ask if the incumbent chief minister’s encouragement to write history is a politician’s temporarily emotive aberration or propaganda gimmick? Or, is it an expression of a firmly committed decision to support writers and history?
(6) My experience with the Chief Minister?
On three occasions I have approached the incumbent chief minister to seek support for history writing. First, regarding controversial boundary fencing and pillars along Manipur-Myanmar boundary. Two, regarding controversial claims and counter claims over Dzuko valley. Third, regarding collection of source materials for history writing. In the first two, my proposals were for grant of institutional support to collect sources from archives, Manipur’s secretariat library, and ground survey along the borders. The objective was to write a history of the evolution of Manipur’s boundary, procedure of boundary demarcations, and the status of the boundaries from the past to the present. For the first proposal, he told me that his government would pursue its own course and I might do research in my own way. The proposal for support and joint initiative was turned down. As the government did not support me, all that I could do was write an article on history of Manipur-Burma boundary demarcation from 1834 to 1896. Because of lack of resource I could not write on the conditions of that sector of the boundary from 1947 to the controversial present. While I have contributed so little, I have not seen the resourceful government’s convincing activities. What has the government done for the controversial boundary fencings and pillars? I have not seen government’s publication of any convincing report though tall media claims have been made that the Surveyor General of India would take care of the issue. Matter silenced now, only to be raised up again when people agitate to defend Manipur’s boundary. For the second proposal, there is no response. For the third proposal, he told me to submit a formal proposal. I have submitted proposal twice, one in 2019 and the other in early 2022. But there is no response. The chief minister’s PRO has stopped attending my call. No WhatsApp reply. None of the chief minister’s close associates whomsoever I have approached is interested in history and history writing. Of course, there was once a superficial interest shown to me, which I regarded as merely for political propaganda. It so happened that, one of the chief minister’s close associates, about six months before the expiry of his first chief ministerial term, asked me if I could complete a history writing project within five months before the upcoming assembly election. This surprised me. I wondered if the purpose was to do research in history or simply for certain electoral propaganda. My proposal was to support source material collection, which may take some years. I told him that proper writing can start only after sources have been collected and organised. He seems disinterested in those time consuming work. So, he stopped further communication with me. As for the chief minister, he might have or not formed a historian’s team. He might have or might not have entrusted some writers. I don’t know. But I feel that either he does not want to entrust me or whatever he said in the media are just a propaganda gimmick. If it is a propaganda gimmick, it substantiates my argument that those who enjoy legislative power are insensitive to the significance of history writing or they simply lack interest in Manipur’s history.
Some weeks after the 31st Manipur Language Day, in tune with what the chief minister has said about constituting a committee to keep a vigil on fabricated history, on September 15. 2022, Manipur’s Governor issued an order [No. UHE-101/22/2022-THE-DHTE-Part (5)]. According to the order:
- “…Whereas, it has come to the knowledge of the State Government that some books published on the history, culture, tradition, and geography of the State contains material which may either distort facts or disturb the peaceful co-existence amongst the various communities in the State or both; whereas, in order to ensure that books on the history, culture, tradition and geography of the State are published with accurate information, the Governor of Manipur do hereby constitute, the Committee with the members as listed below to accord approval for publication of books on the topics mentioned above concerning the State; …”
- Any person/ group desirous of publication of books on the history, culture, tradition and geography of the State may submit an application to the Director, University & Higher Education, Manipur along with a copy of the manuscript of the book who shall place the matter before the Committee for its approval. The Committee shall convene its meeting as and when required.
- Any publication of book in violation of para 2 above shall be liable to be punished under the relevant law.
(1) Government’s agenda?
Ruling a nation is called government. Those who controls the string of government are called legislators. Good legislators defend the nation’s boundary. Not let the nation become subjugated. Put on efforts to spread love and establish tranquillity among people. Put on efforts to establish educational institutions to develop knowledge and efficiencies. Government has the responsibility to keep vigil on or banning books that portray the nation in wrong image and create enmities among communities. Meanwhile, it is equally necessary to organise regular academic debates to resolve different opinions and interpretations. It is necessary to form a book review committee. But government is not above Constitution. Whatever committee that Manipur government has constituted and the committee’s powers and functions cannot contradict Constitution. Clarity is needed as to what law or people’s convention the committee in question was formed.
(2) Lacking clarity?
Order issued. Committee constituted. Instructed those who wish to publish book to follow the Order. But, some questions haven’t been answered. Questions are: (1) What is the name of the Committee? (2) What is the timespan of the Committee/ members tenure? (3) What is the procedure of selecting the Committee’s members? (4) What is the definition of “Book” mentioned in the Order? Will it not include chapter in book, article in journal, news article/ commentary, online feature article, seminar lecture, conference paper, audio or visual documentaries, etc.? (5) Is the Order meant only for history, culture, tradition, and geography? Does it leave out other disciplines of economy, political economy, sociology, anthropology, literature, etc.? How does it demarcate boundaries of subjects/disciplines? (6) What is the maximum time that the Committee will take to review a manuscript and inform its decision to author/publisher? (7) What are the terms and procedure of agreement that must be between the Committee and author/publisher? Is there any layout procedure to settle difference/dispute between the two? If there are different views on the method of writing/selection of facts/interpretations of facts how would it be resolved? Is there any higher body/arbitrator to appeal against the Committee’s decision? (9) Will there be compensation to author/publisher if in case the Committee’s review exceeded dateline? (10) Who would ensure a guarantee that a manuscript submitted to the Committee would not be plagiarised? In case of plagiarism what is the penalty against the Committee? (11) Is the Order applicable only within Manipur government’s administrative jurisdiction? Does it cover beyond Manipur? If yes, how? If not, does the purpose of the Committee relevant? (12) Under what law the provisions of the Order are framed? Under what law penalty would be sanctioned?
(3) Why I dislike?
I was petrified the moment I noticed the Order. But many supported it. They are moved by uncritical emotions. Not a farsighted vision. Blind support reflects emotion of those swept away by one-sided perception. They presumed that the Order was meant for banning the book of writers who attempted Manipur’s disintegration. Such presumption is short-sighted. It could not convince me to support the Order. To me, the Order is an unprecedented restriction imposed on academic freedom in ‘democratic India.’ Its implication is very diverse and vast. Vigilance/ regulation against attempted disintegration of Manipur may be a small reason. It seems to me that support sentiment has been deliberately orchestrated and aroused to create a majoritarian populism in support of the Order, I suspect that such a sentiment is being projected to make the Order mass appealing while covering up a larger hidden agenda. It seems to me that there is an agenda to regulate conscience, research, and expression. So, I am frightened by this Order. Being frightened, I oppose it. Reasons are:
(a) It is an Order by government. By legislative and administrative technocrats. From a fixed perspective of governance representing certain vested economic and political power interest of the ruling class. Not from scholars’/authors’ perspective. Does not respond to my questions on lack of clarity. Full of vexes and confusions. Lacks transparency and accountability. It is a very difficult situation for an author to submit manuscript to a body that lacks clarity, transparency and accountability.
(b) Since it does not clearly mention the provision of law under which a manuscript would be rejected or penalty would be imposed, the powerful enjoys the discretion to misuse provision of any repressive law one-sidedly. The Committee can become a handy tool of branding a manuscript/book as threat to national security, peace, development, security, and community harmony. In the name of national security, interest, and peace freedom of speech (Article 19 (1) A, Indian Constitution) and Fundamental Duties (Indian Constitution, Part IV-A) can be suspended. Article 15.3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) can be suspended.
(c) Fearing! State/ government is the instrument of the rulers. Rulers can interpret populist jargons such as national security, national interest, peace, and law & order in whatever manner they like to serve their vested interest. In its name anyone can be arrested under National Security Act, 1980 and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. In other words, rulers do not want anyone opposing them. Right or wrong; either support them or remain silent. Don’t write against them. Freedom of conscience, research, and expression must not go against them. Exposing their mistakes and wrong policies can be charged as anti-national. Because, they are the rulers. They alone would monopolise the meaning of national and national interests. Therefore, in such a scenario, the Order can become an instrument of defending the class interest of those indulging in power struggle or economic exploitation. It will become an instrument to supress the books/voices of the disheartened who would raise discontentment against the pains caused by nation’s deteriorating conditions.
(d) The main target of attack are progressive scholars / academics, writers, journalists, columnists, etc. who write critical views. So, I am insecure by this Order. Being insecure, I oppose it.
(3) Needed responsibilities?
(a) We need to defend Manipur’s collective identity, wipe out communal sectarianism, create self-reliant and classless society, and establish peace, tranquillity, and conducive durable order. To achieve it, patriots’ utmost responsibilities are researches, publications, and mass education.
(b) Let’s collect sources of writing. Let’s promote writers. Let’s write continuously. Let’s debate. Let’s academically defeat those who are trying to disintegrate and pull down our nation. Let’s inculcate progressive knowledge through good books in educational institutes. Let’s use diverse means to outreach.
(c) Admit that the government, for several continuous years had committed mistakes, lacked efforts, and disinterestedly ignored history and history writing. Because of lack of research, writing, publication, circulation, and inculcation most of our compatriots are today like an estranged member living in a house but having too little knowledge about and affection for a ‘homely’ household. When others advocated misinformation many consumed it as correct. Even when misinformed/fabricated writings are rejected by emotion or conscience, many could not expose them rationally as they were unable to substantiate to counteract. We need to overcome this weakness. All these should be prioritised. Instead, the attempt to surveillance or censor unpublished manuscript by political/bureaucratic decision in the name of banning misinformation sounds very unconvincing and appears like a ‘hypocrisy.’ Better not be either a gimmick or hypocrite.
(d) We are sensitive about who writes what against defending Manipur’s collective identity, sources they use, methodologies they adopt, selective references they quoted, and whether locally or internally funded for what long term strategic purposes. We also have the skill to confront them in the academic world. The point is, support and coordination are needed to systematically and consistently pursue research and publication. However, though the incumbent chief minister’s rule has lapsed more than seven years, has he given to anybody even thirty minutes appointment to discuss the matter? Have there been positive responses to all those who might have repeatedly approached and submitted memorandums to discuss the matter?
(4) To the rulers?
Nation’s power cord is in your hands. You are powerful. We are weaker. But there are some issues to ponder on which must reach your deafened ears:
(a) Power is instable because there are contenders for the chair. Nothing is permanent. Power strings will slip away from your hands. You are constantly worried/obsessive about it. You do not want to live on a common person’s simple livelihood, though they are not power hungry like you. No matter how great you are while in power, we do not envy your self-centred opportunist political/economic power. We are different from you. Our livelihood is tied to inalienable democratic ideology and continuous efforts to carry on with some steps in our little capacity. But you, you are restless about us. You feel insecure as we write. Engulfed by unrestraint obsession to remain in power; as you fear that our progressive ideology/expression would instrumentalise in exposing and demeaning you in your power struggle, your selfish minds want to silence our voice. Question is, what mistakes/weaknesses have you committed that you would constantly fear that we would expose it? Don’t panic! We are not any supremo that could overthrow you. Not a vampire to suck your blood. We have no interest in your power struggle. We are not rival electoral candidates to usurp political chair. Neither referees to pass judgement on your personal matters. We are enfeebled wage earners, who, while struggling for economic survival would happily spare some time to work for democratic causes of our motherland and compatriots. Not undergrounds. No criminals. No terrorist links. We are common people. We are exposed to vulnerabilities, weak, and defenceless persons whom you could arrest at any time, wipe out any time through fake encounter/hired assassins, and attack by inciting a mob. We are the most vulnerable section.
(b) However, if you have a far-sighted progressive vision for our motherland you may see our positive sides. We have big roles in the society. Change your hateful perception of progressive scholars. Prove by actions that your patriotic propaganda is not hypocrisy. There is no reason that we would not support sincere patriotic works pursued with correct ideology, direction, strategy, and tactics. Read what we have written. Already expressed in the past! You control power. You have money. Big network. You can promote. You can destroy. But we also have the qualities that you can’t compete with. We love our motherland. We have research passion for the motherland. Possess intellect. Know techniques. Have commitment. Can spare time and labour. For the nation, there are some inevitable works that we and you for some time tactically do together. But as for the Order, dated September 15, 2022, it is unacceptable for a civilised democracy.
Uphold freedom of conscience, research, and expression for a brighter nation
Revoke the Order or face defeat in the court of law
Love your motherland: Do not lie
Stop political gimmick and hypocrisy
The writer is an independent researcher, Ph. D. in History from the University of Delhi and a former fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla