It is pragmatically believed in the true sense that a library is the depository, a carrier of information and a great source for dissemination of knowledge. To begin with, the first person who contributed towards the establishment of printing press which is considered as a watershed for the development of education and library in fifteenth century was the German born scholar, Johannes Gutenberg. Among the big libraries, the first library which was made accessible to the public (in 1642) was established by Cardinal Mazarin and Gabriel Naude.
“In seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, various great national libraries were founded as they represent, in fact a symbol, in the intellectual sphere, of the centralizing tendencies of the absolutist monarchy and the Prussian State Library in Berlin in 1659, the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen in 1661, the National Library of Scotland in 1682, the Biblioteka Nacional in Madrid in 1712, the Boblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence in 1747, the British Museum in 1759 and the Library of Congress in 1800 are some of these foundations that have justified the ambitions of their founders to serve the highest national interest of their countries”. (Sigfrid Henry Steinberg, Five Hundred Years of Printing, Revised by John Trevitt, The British Library & OAK Knoll Press, London, 1996, p. 173.)
Library is of different types such as public, academic or special library. There were a numbers of libraries in India in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods. Some of the famous libraries include Nalanda University’s library in Bihar, Taxila and Vikramashila Universities’ library in ancient India. In medieval India, many new libraries were established in the Babur, Humayun, and Akbar’s periods. It may be worthwhile to mention the highly substantial efforts of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur and Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab could be considered with much applause as far as the institution of the library in India is concerned. Another seventeenth century institution of library, the Sarasvati Mahal Library, was established by the Maharaja of Tanjore, Tamil Nadu. During the British period, some public libraries were established in three presidency towns namely Bombay, Madras and Calcutta and among them, the public library of Calcutta which was established in 1835 was considered as the symbolic one.
The movement for the establishment of library in Manipur began in the early medieval period particularly in the Khagemba’s reign. This is quite different from the present times in terms of structure, nature and the way of functioning. It is opined that the hankering of intellectual, socio-economic and cultural improvements warrants the establishment and ontogenesis of sorts of various libraries in India.
To establish a library is a herculean task though it might be an easy task for those who have a financially sound economy. There is still lack of library facility in the Pangal settlement area that needs to be addressed with immediate and prior basis as it will slowly create a conducive and learning environment for the young generations in their future endeavor. Many of the basic questions related to the establishment of Hakeemul Ummat Library at Phoubakchao Awang Leikai are given as: What is the purpose of establishing such an Islamic-cum-general based library in such a remote area? Why was it established at Phoubakchao area rather than other Pangal settlement areas? Is it looked at the chief vehicle of the prism of educational reforms in such a far-flung area? Who donated the land for establishing the institution of library? Who were the persons who were involved in its construction? Are there any absolute interests for such a reformative move? The article seeks to address these queries.
The historical background of the movement for the establishment of more organized libraries in Manipur needs to have understood before exploring the details of the establishment of the Hakeemul Ummat Library. Such movement has been largely shaped and implemented in the post-colonial period though it has been started in the pre-colonial and colonial periods. History serves as the testimony, which has been recorded in the Cheitharon Kumbapa (the royal chronicle of Manipur), to the event of the burning of the ancient relics of Manipur popularly known as Puyas Meithaba during the reign of Pamheiba (known as Garib Nawaz-Benefactor of the Poor) in 1732. Apart from this, lots of properties including rare books were destroyed in the successive and repeated Burmese invasions including the most devastated one Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (popularly known as Seven Years Devastation 1819-1826 AD). Maichous (scholars) used to sit in the royal court and accessed the royal library. The problem is that of uncertainty of the date of establishing the royal library in Manipur. It is believed from the oral source that Pandit Loishang was established since the era of king Khagemba (1597-1652 AD) but its date of existence was unknown. It is evidenced from the Annual Report on the Native States and Frontier Tribes of Assam for the Year 1897-1898 that they have expended Rs. 319 for the purchase of 25 ancient Manipuri manuscripts for the State Library. There was development of school level libraries, college and university level libraries in Manipur during the colonial and post-colonial periods in Manipur. It is noted that Md. Riyajuddin Choudhury was appointed as the first librarian of DM College in 1952 after he passed Diploma in Library Science from Calcutta University. Further, University based libraries such as Manipur University Library and Central Agricultural University Library were established along with the establishment of universities in 1980 and 1993 respectively.
It is further evident from the Administrative Report of the Political Agency, Manipur, for the year 1904-05 that there would have been no reading place for public except availability of some books in Ukhrul, the centre of the Tangkhul Hills, at the office of Reverend Mr. Pettigrew. It is quite surprising that there was no proper reading place for general people in the state of Manipur till 1911. Therefore, there has been new momentum and great enthusiasm among the general educated people of the state of Manipur for the establishment of public libraries. Such movement that began during the British period kept progressing and gained full vigor in the post-colonial period also. Some of the significant public libraries in Manipur that were instituted during the British and post-British periods include Manipur Club popularly known as Manipur Club Library which came to be known as Juvabati Memorial Library at Kakwa Naorem Leikai in 1920s; Imphal Reading Club Library at Moirangkhom in 1930; Imphal Public Library in 1940; Chitrangada Library at Imphal in 1934; Manipur Public Library at Imphal in 1950; District Library at Imphal 1958. Many district libraries were established by the Government of Manipur in the post-colonial period particularly in the districts including Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul in 1974; Chandel in 1977; in Bishnupur in 1991; Thoubal in 2002; Imphal East and West in 2006; Public Library and Information Science Centre, Khangabok on 17th-19th June, 1989.
First of all, it may be noted that there is bird’s eye perceptive on education of Pangal community in Manipur 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 Cheshaba, 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 three research scholars till today. Moreover, Irong Cheshaba 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 that was thrived in eighteenth century and was instituted at the state level during the reign of king Pamheiba popularly known as Garib Nawaz (Benefactor of 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 27th December 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.
Phoubakchao is a remote area. It is interesting to all of us that how this area is originated and called so on account of the point that it is mythically proved that:
“In the field of Khuman Leima Thingaitol, her grand-daughter Manuleima and Khunjal Menang Leikhamphabee made a dialogue while they were weeding. Manuleima said “My friend Khunjan Menang Leikhamphabee!” Let us compete the width of the paddy corn growing in this field we are working on with that of the paddy corn growing in the neighboring field. The paddy corn grown in the field of Leima Thingaitol was better with larger width of the paddy corn. So the place was called “Phoukachau” ultimately deviated to Phoubakchao. (Phou= paddy + bakchao= width and big paddy corn).” (Extracted from the eminent scholar Dr. Kh. Kunjo Singh’s translated work Lammitlon-Toponymy, p. 75).
The educational status of this area is extremely unsatisfactory and is positioned at the bottom line according to the 2011 census. This area has more than 3500 population. While considering the literacy rate of this area, it is quite low. According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate of Phoubakchao village was 61.28 % compared to 76.94 % of Manipur. Among them, the male literacy was 74.62 % while female literacy rate was 48.11 %. The number of significant degrees in terms of literacy such as BA/B.Sc/MA/M.Sc for this area can be easily counted at finger points. This is a fact that there is only one research scholar in this area. There is not even a single person who is the first-class officer in this area. Most of the menial youths who are unlettered of this outlying area are working excessively in the unorganized informal sectors. While taking interviews, some of the scholars expressed the point that the Phoubakchao market was in times past considered a Pangal market and occupied by Pangals but by and by, this pattern has been switched and most of the youths have moved to the outside states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chandigarh, etc., for working in hotel, mall, call centres, etc. as casual workers.
This Hakeemul Ummat Library was established in 2020 in the outlying area of Phoubakchao village with the purpose to spread the awareness of library cum knowledge expansion within the confinement of Islamic and general based education unlike the other libraries that were established for general English education. The area where the library was established is one of the remotest corners in terms of education, society, economy and polity though the area is categorically developed recently at a regular pace while considering the expansion of general English education. Such public library is of multi-pronged mechanisms in nature. It will help those keen enthusiasts who aspire to become impassioned and zealous readers and who are willing to have interest and accessed both Islamic and general theme based books for Maulvi and general courses. It has more than 1130 books comprising of theological and general theme based books. It gives a moment of inflatus and epiphany to all the people staying in this disadvantageous area regardless of communities principally in the field of education.
The land for the construction of this library was handed out by Mufti Siraj Ahmed Qasmi, Sadar Mudarris Jamia Mahmoodia, Phoubakchao, Mayang Imphal, Manipur in the interest of this highly disadvantageous area in the field of education. One of the pivotal aims was to enhance the reading culture and the expansion of education in this tenebrous society thereby enabling the way for the development of both Islamic and general English education among the masses of this area. He expressed with joyous mood while inaugurating the programme that “if someone is willing to publish any books related to Islam, this library has the facility to publish those books in the name of library”. It was constructed under the chief patronage of Sheikh Abdul Hakim, MCS, Government of Manipur, Manipur, who was the topper of Political Science (Hons.) at Rajdhani College, University of Delhi, New Delhi and secured 45th rank all over Manipur in Manipur Civil Services Exam (2014). He is the 3rd brother of the reputed ‘Sheikh Brothers’ comprising, inter alia, of the 1st IFS from amongst Pangals/Meiteis General and OBCs- Noor Rahman Sheikh, Joint Secretary (Economic Diplomacy), Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India and Sheikh Noorul Hassan- General Secretary (Organization), National People’s Party (NPP) and Intending Candidate of Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency. Hakim bore all the expenditure for the construction of this library. The entire expense of all the books was also borne by him. It is opined that this public library might have been constructed on the model of Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, which was established by one of the civil servants Maulvi Khuda Bakhsh. It provides great intellectual supplement to those people who want to consult many theological perplexed fatwas (a legal opinion on the matter of Islamic law) as well as general people residing in that remote area for consulting general-based books. Apart from that, many people from many different corners of Pangal settlement areas such as Sangaiyumpham, Irong Cheshaba, Kwakta, Pora, Uchiwa Nastao, Santhel, Yairipok, Mayang Imphal Bengoon, etc., throng together for accessing the library. The frequency of the users in such public library has increased day by day. It will give a guiding light to all the people particularly the youths in the field of education.
In the light of the foregoing analysis, it has been penetratingly summarized that the royal library was only accessed by some scholarly people of the state in the early period but rarely used by the common people. The institution of modern library system began in the twentieth century in the state. All the above-mentioned libraries fulfill only one purpose and that is to give information about the general English education. However, the establishment of the institution of Hakeemul Ummat Library signifies dual purposes in such a way that firstly, it serves to provide theological related information and secondly, it also serves to provide information related to general English education in such a remote area. It serves majority of the population of this area as a knowledge resource centre which is expectedly contributing to lifelong learning. In addition, it should be manifestly comprehensible that the development of public libraries in Pangal areas is directly dependent upon professional planning, understanding and involvement of many dedicated and qualified leaders rather than some “token” intellectuals who are specifically discernible apologists and champions in social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The writer is Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi