Education and Conflict: A Perspective of Manipur

Published in JOURNAL OF THE INDIAN ANTHROPOLOGICAL SOCIETY. VOLUME 44 NUMBER 3 NOVEMBER 2009. Pages 299-306.

 

Education and Conflict: A Perspective of Manipur

 

Abstract: The article attempts to examine the impact of conflict on education. It specifically focuses on Manipur state, which has multiple ethnic groups within one boundary, from Meitei (Manipuri), the dominant group, to the small tribal groups like Tangkhul, Zeliangrong, Paitie, Gangte etc. Affirmative actions, policies of positive discrimination, allocation of educational resources, ethnic identity, linguistic crisis, struggles around integrity, as well as the impact of militancy towards education in the state will be examined. This article mainly examines the complex relationship of the dimensions of ethnic conflict to educational development in the tribal hilly region of Manipur.

Kashung Zingran Kengoo

 

Introduction:

Manipur is a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious state. Due to paucity of land resource there has been intense competition among the different ethnic groups to gain control over them, the ethnic conflict had far reaching consequences and has impacted education adversely. According to Smith, “there are number of ways in which state education can add to tension or fuel conflict. These include system of governance, particularly as they relate to participation and policies on such things as the language of instruction, access, curriculum content, and pedagogy. It is necessary to ensure that the provision of education is consistent with human rights principles and practices” (Smith 2003, p.2). In Manipur, the struggle for education has interlinkages with all these dimensions. Table 1.1 Distribution of Ethnic Groups in Manipur

 

 

District Ethnic Group
Imphal, Bishnupur and Thoubal Meiteis, Pangans, and few Settlements of Kom
Ukhrul Tangkhul Nagas and few Settlements of Kukis
Senapati Mao Nagas, Poumai Nagas, Maram Nagas, Thangal Nagas, and few Settlement of Kukis
Tamenglong Zeliangrong Nagas (Zeliang, Rongmei and Zeme), Chiru Nagas, and few settlements of Kukis
Chandel Maring Nagas, Monsang Nagas, Lamkang Nagas, Chothe Nagas, Monyon Nagas, Tharao Nagas, and Kukis
Churachandpur Paite, Simte, Raite, Mizos, Hmar, Suhte, Purum, Gangte, Vaiphei, Kuki

Source: Shimray (2001)

The ethnic conflicts in Manipur emerged right from the historical times when hordes of migrants move into the region from its eastern borders. The wars intensified with the British policy to settle the migrant Kuki tribes next to the Naga settlements so as to create a buffer between the Naga and the Meitei population. The conflict between the Meiteis and Nagas with the Indian state began right after 1947. But the ethnic conflict intensified in the early 70s, with Kuki-Naga clashes in which hundreds of people were killed, thousands of homes and villages were destroyed, and many people were displaced among both the communities. During the period of Kuki-Naga clashes the Kuki population living in Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul districts were compelled to flee to the Churachandpur district, displacing school children from one place to another, disturbing their academic schedule. The economic and, no less, psychological impacts of disruption and human loss are believed to have affected the education of children.

After the Kuki-Naga clash, there were the Meitei-Pangan (Manipuri Muslims) riots in Imphal valley killing many innocent lives. During 1970s there was conflict between the Kuki groups and the majority Thadou groups due to aggression perpetrated within the Kukis. The Hmar, Paites and other minority tribes claimed separate identities for themselves distinct from the Thadou dominant majority groups who held the Kuki identity.

 

Identity and Linguistic Crisis :

The language issue is one of the central issues for ethnic conflict in Manipur. Manipur state comprises of several distinct ethnic groups and each of them have their own language. Meiteis as a dominant group, under the leadership of Meetei Erol Eyek Loinasinlon Apunba Lup (MEELAL) has been trying to impose the Manipuri language (Meiteilon) in the tribal areas, but tribals do not know how to read and write Manipuri script, and not unexpectedly opposed the move. Struggles over language are tied to struggles for cultural and economic power. “Compelling smaller groups to accept the linguistic dominance of the majority is a major cause of ethnic tensions and political instability” (Bush and Saltarelli 2000, p.18). “The language problem in Manipur began during the early 1980s when state government tried to introduce Meiteilon as a compulsory subject in class X” (Shimray 2000, p.3008). On April 13, 2005, stepping up the agitation to demand the implementation of Meetei Mayek (Manipuri Script), MEELAL activists set on fire the state central library destroying books, besides damaging a large part of the building.

Contestations around language, particularly the introduction of Meetei Mayek, have been expressed through political protests by student organisations across different ethnic communities. Nagas and the other tribals in Manipur rejected Meetei Mayek outright as an instrument of cultural domination, and student organizations like All Tribal Students? Union, Manipur (ATSUM), All Naga Student Association, Manipur (ANSAM), and Kuki Student Organization (KSO) protested against its imposition. The United Naga Council (UNC), the Naga apex body of Manipur articulated their opposition towards introduction of Meetei Mayek to the tribal communities. Linguistic conflict has further fractured the sense of a Manipuri identity. “Recent Manipuri language [the indigenous language of the Meitei community] movement to replace Bengali script by Meetei-Mayek in fact threatens the ethnic relationship. Certainly language being an important cultural component has immense social and political implications. Language is also the glue that holds societies together; therefore language policy constitutes one of the backbones of assimilation efforts” (Shimray, Meetei Mayek: Uneasy Script, webcast at e-pao.net on 03 October 2007).

The struggle has been particularly intense in areas with significant and high populations of Nagas. The demand for a syllabus that speaks of Naga identity stems from an understanding that this is a right that is systematically denied. “All children have a right to know and to understand their own personal story, that is, they have a right to know their own place in a larger history” (Bush & Saltarelli 2000, p.19). In 2006, four districts located in Naga inhabited regions of Manipur took out rallies demanding the process of shifting affiliation from the Board of Secondary Education Manipur (BOSEM) to the Nagaland Board of Secondary Education (NBSE). In Senapati district which is located in the Northern part of the state, one of the placards read “We respect Meitei?s history, please respect our history too” (Nagarealm News, 29 August, 2006).

Speaking to the gathering after the rally in Senapati district of Manipur, N. Heni, President of Naga Private Schools Forum, Manipur, said that the ” rally is a gesture to the world that the Nagas are dejected and isolated in Manipur by Meiteis. Nagas today are like a body torn apart into pieces and made to walk like a dead man without identity, as every development in Manipur is cause for some serious threat to every Naga. Specially when it comes to education, the textbooks of Manipuri have denied our rights, culture and identity. Now the time has come for Naga people to realise this, and we today take this step in moving hand in hand from BOSEM to NBSE to fulfill our aspiration to study textbooks that respect our history, culture and wisdom” (Nagarealm News, 26 August, 2006). In 2007, all the private high schools affiliated under Manipur Board which are located in the Naga-dominated districts of Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Senapati and Chandel, were transferred to the NBSE and students appeared High School Leaving Certificates (HSLC) examinations in Nagaland for the first time.

In Ukhrul district from 2007 onwards, under the direction of All Private School Association, Ukhrul District (APSAUD) all private aided and unaided schools changed their syllabus by using the Nagaland board syllabus till class VII, but in class IX and X, the private schools continued with Manipur board syllabus. Since after the first appearing of examination in Nagaland, Manipur government opposed the affiliation and the students had to be back to Manipur board. The government schools have continued with the Manipur board syllabus. Class VIII of NBSE syllabus of social sciences has chapters that include references to Naga history and regional geography (Nagas after Independence, mountains and river of Nagaland etc.). The government schools located in the hilly tribal regions are underdeveloped, with little infrastructure and are paid scant attention by government authorities. The pursuit for better education and the need to foster integrity among the Nagas who have been divided into different parts of the state by the central government, and courses that fulfill the aspiration of the people have compelled the educational institutions to adopt this position.

Due to disaffection and opposition by Manipur government in affiliation process, presently, according to the ANSAM, sought No Objection Certificates from the Manipur government to affiliate HSLC and Higher Secondary School Leaving Certificates (HSSLC) to NBSE. The Manipur government threatened to derecognize if the private schools that tried to affiliate them to the Board of Secondary Education Manipur (BOSEM). The apex Naga Student Organization, Naga Student Federation (NSF) vice president, Charles Lotha states, “The Manipur Government has become the main hindrance in affiliation of Manipur schools to Nagaland as it has not only threatened private schools but also stopped issuing No Objection Certificates to willing schools” (Newmai News Network, webcast on 10 February 2009, at tangkhul.com). The main motive to stop schools from affiliating to the Naga Board is to deter integration of Nagalim, the larger region dominated by the Naga tribes in four states of northeastern part of India-Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Myanmar (Burma) into a single cultural identity, in which the curriculum will have a specific focus on Naga history, culture and tradition. According to Paul Leo, President of the United Naga Council, apex body of Nagas in Manipur, “We want all the Naga-inhabited areas in Manipur be merged with Nagaland immediately as this is our aspiration, to live together as one people under one political roof” (Hussain, Nagas in Manipur Demand Greater Nagaland. Indo-Asian News service, 04 November 2001).

 

Tribals’ Struggle for Equality

According to Shimray (2000), the population of Meiteis community is the majority in Manipur an they are predominant in Imphal valley, Bishempur and Thoubal districts. The Meiteis Pangans and other non-tribal population comprises 65.57 percent of the state population. Tribals comprise 34.43 percent of the population of Manipur. Different tribes inhabit the hilly regions and some parts of the valley. Among the tribes in Manipur, Nagas consist of 18.72 percent and Tangkhul Naga tribe has the second highest population in Manipur. Almost the entire population is settled in Ukhrul district, (which is dominated by the Tangkhuls and some Kukis). In Manipur according to state policy, reservation for the STs is 32 percent and 2 percent is for the SCs. The quota that has been implemented by the state does not function equally for the minority. There is concentration of power in the hands of the Meiteis. The Meiteis cornered the reserved seats for students in Manipur University as well as the faculty positions. In Chandel district, at a rally against deprivation of tribal rights in Manipur University, playcards were displayed which read as “Don?t turn MU into Meitei University”, “We demand a separate hill University”, “MU is Manipur University not Manipuri University” (The Sangai Express. Webcaste on 14 October 2008, at e-pao.net).

Within this situation of inequality, education is a central focus of tribal assertion. Basic infrastructure that should be given in tribal areas in the hills is not provided. ATSUM has been engaged in struggles with the government to improve the education system in tribal areas, through strikes, bandhs and economic blockades in Manipur to focus on the issue. These actions have not yielded desired results: Talks between the ATSUM and the government were held several times but no action has been taken. Government schools remain stagnant in tribal regions, condemning tribals to economic backwardness. Domination by the Meitei majority has resulted in alienation for tribal communities. As Narang (2002) suggests, this has implications for the perception of marginalization “The promotion of minority identity requires special measures intended to facilitate maintenance, reproduction and further development of the culture of minorities. The issue is not one of conflict between rights or of discrimination, but of generating confidence among minorities about the protection of their identity” (Narang 2002, P.2696).

Problems of quality (inadequate teachers, lack of infrastructure) affect the secure transition of tribal students, and this can be seen in the low intake of tribal students in the Manipur University. “The rationalization policy of State Government will definitely belie the aspirations of the hill peoples as the said approach is unlikely to work as anticipated since it has already failed to address the basic issues of education-students, infrastructure and teachers. ATSUM observed that it is advisable for the State Government to first give on thought why there are so few students in many government schools” (The Sangai Express, webcaste on February 2008, at e-pao.net). This is compounded by the unsatisfactory implementation of reservation policies by the state government and inequalities in educational participation and educational development between the general category and tribal people within the states. Most elites, especially politicians and bureaucrats, even Nagas and other tribes send their children to other states for higher education and are not interested in possibilities of better education within the state. An ATSUM statement brings out the dissatisfaction with the state?s neglect of education: „Too much energy and resources have been wasted trying to get a dignified share of our rights to education. We do not have any faith in the government?s will or capacity to develop our human resources. We have reached a limit where we have to look for alternatives? (The Imphal Free Press, webcaste on 9 September 2007, kanglaonline.com).

 

Insurgency versus Civil Organization

The Meitei militants groups played positive and negative role towards education whereas on the other side civil organization demanded the militant groups to free education from disturbance. Education in Manipur is reported to be beset with corruption. It is evident that unfair means during examinations are rampant, with parents and relatives assisting candidates and invigilators and teachers helping their students in order to get good results. This in the long run affects the education. Competition between private schools and government schools, and among these as well, leads students to make notes, copy from others, and have teachers solving questions to get their students a good grade and better results for the schools. „Better the result the more popular the school? is the credo underlying this market driven corruption, since schools with better results attract higher enrolments. Government schools cannot compete with private schools, and a large majority of their students failed in HSLC and HSSLC examinations.

On 27 February 2006, in Imphal, the Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup (KYKL) a Meitei militant group tried to control corruption by imposing certain rules. In a statement, the outfit stated that during the examination period there should be no bandhs, blockades or general strikes. The Special Task Force of the ONK has been given the license to open fire at anyone who violated the guidelines. A statement of the KYKL (2006), states that defaulting officers will be punished through imposition of fines or forced retirement. “If anyone is found intimidating, threatening with revenge, assaulting or inciting anyone against officials of the board, Officer Incharges (OCs), invigilators and teachers for carrying out their duties then stern punishment will be awarded. The punishment will range from barring them from appearing in any exams for five years to capital punishment” (The Sangai Express, webcaste on 27 February 2006, at e-pao.net)

Due to excessive misuse of teacher post in Manipur, KYKL militant group searched out many fakely appointed teachers, and persons holding three, four post of teachers with different fake names. The guilty people were punished in several ways- shot in the leg or forced to retire.

The insurgency has had severe consequences on children as there are real fears of kidnapping and abduction, leading to a confined existence. School going children are kidnapped for recruitment into cadres, or for ransom. Militant groups are known to make demands in hospitals, Regional Institute of Medical Science (RIMS), Zonal Education Office (ZEO). Large sums of money are demanded by one or the other insurgency group from schools; those that do not comply are forcibly shut down. On 10 September 2008, the Don Bosco High School in Imphal, which is run by Catholic missionaries is reported to have been forced to close down due to a huge ransom demanded by one or many militant groups. Similarly Kanan Devi Momorial School at Pangai Imphal was reportedly closed down because of monetary demand of Rs.5 lakhs by a militant group called „Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)?. All such disruptions lead to a denial of children?s fundamental right to education, apart from their emotional and psychological trauma.

In the recent past, there have been public protests against disruptions to education caused by the insurgency movements in the state, in which children, parents and teachers across the state have participated. A mass rally was held on 5 July 2008 in Imphal organized by the Democratic Student Alliance of Manipur (DESAM) under the banner of „Disturbance Free Educational Zone? (The Sangai Express, 6 July 2008). The organisation appealed to insurgency groups and civil organizations not to make monetary demand on educational institutions and on officials of education departments. But within a week of the rally, the Imphal Free Press 2008, reported the case of two 13 year old boys from Thoubal district studying in class VIII, being kidnapped and recruited by a militant group „People?s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK)?. These boys were released after the mounting of public pressure on the militants.

 

Conclusion:

Ethnic conflicts are endemic to Manipur almost since the time of independence. The conflicts most often have turn violent for protracted periods. Such violence severely affect the lives of ordinary people causing loss of property and life. This dislocates the life so much that people are compelled to remain confined to their house for long durations. This also causes the frequent closure of schools, college and other educational institutions. Naturally, students prove to be the greatest casualty. Apart from this, frequent kidnapping and their recruitment to the militant outfits put a break to their educational aspirations. In the recent times some of the parent bodies and civil societies have woken up to the menace of militancy and have rallies protesting against child abuse and forced recruitment. The tribesman in the hill districts too have risen to the occasion and have organized many protest and prolonged movements. Concrete results of such drives are yet to come by. But some flickers can be felt.

 

Acknowledgement

I would like to give sincere thanks to Prof. J.J. Roy Burman, for assisting me in my academic career.

 

References

 

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