The 21st November piece by R.K. Lakhi Kant on the friction brought about by Meetei revivalist in the larger community of Meetei reeks of the usual hollow sermons of any self-styled propagandist of a decaying Hindu consciousness in Manipur. It is self-contradictory, lacks analysis, repressive and statist in tone. It is only to be expected that such an article comes from his pen at such a time when the current dispensation is in the helm.
First thing first, friction is not always a negative indicator of a society. A friction creates a possibility for an equal society; it indicates and is caused due to resistance against injustice and dominance of one over the other. It signifies mobility and a certain level of equality among different groups. Along this line, there is a false narrative of peace, translated as a period of complete dominance by the dominant group over other groups. When the oppressed do not make noise, it is often presumed as a state of peaceful coexistence much to the advantage of the oppressor. Thus, friction is an indicator that below the surface of this superficial perception of peace, all is not well. What the author of the piece ascertains as friction, therefore, is sign that a certain group of people, here Meetei revivalist, who for long were deprived of voice, are now showing their displeasure at the unjust and hegemonic control of Meetei community by the Hindus. R.K. Lakhi Kant should also be reminded that somebody’s friction may not necessarily be everyone’s friction. It is a social engineering, and this engineering be interpreted as friction or assertion or possibility depend on one’s historical and political leaning and awareness.
Reading the article, one is left asking what is spiritualism. Nowhere was there any attempted to define the contour of spiritualism. Even when it is granted that his mere mention of giving and borrowing of cultural and religious traits from one another as a principle of civilisational encounter, he needs to problematise it, in his language, fathom it, the very act or process of encounter. In the case of Meetei community, the encounter between Hindu tradition and Meetei tradition is replete with violence. Burning of Meetei scriptures, destruction of Meetei religious structures, cremation of buried bodies are few examples of violence committed by the Hindus. In the later part, Mahasabha and Brahmins exploited the commoners for their own benefits. The Meetei commoners were ostracised for not being Hindu on the one hand, and, on the other, he was asked to pay taxes to be Hindu. Such a double-edged sword, religious repression with the open support of the palace was met with some resistance in the first half of the twentieth century. For the author, such a violent encounter is perceived and interpreted as syncretic integration, and this only informs of his mentality and worldview.
Many old mainstream Meetei intellectuals have invoked syncretic integration of Hindu belief and traditional Meetei belief as a tool to protect the former and delay the arrival of the latter. R.K. Lakhi Kant does it without mincing words and he should be appreciated for that. His only two sources (he should be told that there are many apart from these two), are ISKCON’s founder, and Khelchandra. One does not need any reminder that theory of Manipur’s association with the stories of Lord Shiva, Parvati, Chitrangada, Mahabharat, have all been discarded. According to Gangmumei Kabui, such a narrative of Manipur in general and Meetei in particular was an attempt to gain respectable place in the Hindu world. Such a false narrative is an act of violence committed on the Meeteis is indiscernible to the author is not surprising. These narratives have been discarded as they were an obfuscated attempt to sanskritise Meetei and Manipur. One cursory read of any history books should inform him of the veracity of such claims and theory. Naoria Phulo, the pioneer of the Meetei revivalist movement has rejected such a claim almost a century ago.
In the article, the author repeats an old trick of the palace to divide the people and create friction. He says that among Meeteis, there are Meetei Hindu and Sanamahi followers. He also seems to suggest that there is a happy marriage between these two groups of people. However, what confounds the readers is his third group, the Meetei revivalist. He only knows how he is able to separate Meetei revivalist from the Sanamahi followers. He accused the Meetei revivalist for creating friction in the happy marriage of Hindu and Sanamahi. Statement that Meetei revivalist create ‘unnecessary friction’ due to ‘misunderstanding’ of the ‘nature of religion’ is paternalistic and is an attempt to discredit a century long social and political movement of the Meetei revivalist. Although he does not mention the word, author is clearly hinting that Meetei revivalists are Angaoba, a term which the larger Meetei society derogatorily used to comment on or describe Meetei revivalists. They are considered to be remnant from the past who could not keep pace with the modern society. They are supposedly parochial and communal. They are seen and considered illiterate until the new generation of Meetei youth began embracing the movement. They are also abused as angaoba because of their sartorial uniqueness, because of their habits and other features which simply are in the bad taste of the larger Hindu society. They also seen as indulging in a cause considered improbable, and derived for speaking a language not easily understandable to the larger society. Therefore, calling somebody ‘Meetei maichou’ is a derogatory remark made to mock and delegitimise what they do, and have done. For them, what Meetei revivalists do are matters to be mock at, and delegitimised for they question and challenge the accepted norms and value of the dominant Hindu. Author’s underlying political assertion is Meetei revivalist are Angaoba, they cause unnecessary friction, and therefore, they should be condemned.
In 1979, in the report submitted to the hitherto Chief Minister of Manipur, Yangmasho Sheiza, the convener of the Meetei Mayek expert committee, Dr. L. Chadramani mentioned that the mayek revivalists are condemned by their society, declared them angaoba. Without the work of angaoba in the script front, 2006, introduction of Meetei mayek in the schools would still have been a dream. For the author, Hindu is a civilised society and thus forgets not just what it did or is doing to not just the Meeteis but most of South Asia as well. R.K. Kant says that ‘no one is with them (Meetei revivalist) because they are ‘selfish’ and carry a ‘contorted’ belief. He is in his dire attempt to vilify, discredit and make illegitimate of Meetei revivalism. He warns the Meetei revivalist not to harm the aspiration of other people in the context of Indian state. It is a threat and nothing else to the Meetei revivalist for they challenge Hindu hegemony. Author’s power to threaten a group of Meetei emanates from the current political environment in Delhi. As a friend of my mine pointed out the author’s vilification of Meetei revivalist in his article amounts to hate speech. His article has the potential to create enmity among different groups.
For R.K. Lakhi Kant, association with India is unproblematic as his Hindu faith is greater than his community. He seamlessly swims with India while questioning the archetypal China narrative of the Meetei. He says that religion should not challenge its government. What worries is his unproblematic acceptance and obedience to state. It is an acceptance of the way how politics is performed and governance is carried out in India. A particular religion’s allegiance with the state or the state’s allegiance to that particular religion in India indicates the blurring of that space between religion and the state. Both enacts in tandem and interchangeably in such a way that we can no longer distinguish them. When secularism in India is in such a state, a warning to the Meetei revivalist from him is a reminder of who is powerful.
However, Lakhi Kant overlooks this fact while reminding Meetei revivalist that India is a secular country, therefore, they should respect other’s religion. He should be asked why such a demand for tolerance from Meetei revivalist is important now. He should look at history and within himself to honestly answer whether he respects the Meetei revivalist at the same time. Reading his piece does not give us any sense of respect but only hate for Meetei revivalist.
R.K. Lakhi Kant’s reply:
First of all Thongam Bipin should not attribute the word angaoba to my write-up as I have enough words of my own if I want to call names. What I only meant to convey through my article is to specify that the Meitei revivalists were never a part of Hindu religion and neither they will ever be.
The author teaches at MECI Explorer Academy, Imphal. His research interest includes language and script debate, minority studies, literary theory. The article is extracted and reworked from his Ph.D. dissertation submitted to University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org