Limits of Freedom

What is happening in Manipur today once again has underscored why rule of law is important, and even if any section of the public is unhappy with any law, it does not help to resort to lawlessness. It is precisely this understanding which makes democracy work. There are democratic and legitimate ways of addressing these issues, and even if things do not shape up as fast as desired, there are no better ways of getting justice done. It can be any of our several so called civil society bodies, claiming to represent the entire people, or else entire communities, who resort to lawlessness plunging the state into total chaos. There is also always an air of a larger mission and sacrifice among those resorting to these means and obviously they think there is nothing undemocratic about their actions. The trouble is, everybody thinks democracy is what he or she intuitively thinks what democratic should be, even without ever having delved into its edified principles, both the obvious and the nuanced. They generally hinge their understanding of democracy to the famous but nebulous articulation of it as a government for, of and by the people. Their idea of democracy and democratic rights is somewhat akin to the plebeian understanding of freedom. Here too everybody thinks he or she knows what freedom is, but in all likelihood, if asked to define it, most would be at a loss. Very often however, what many call freedom, as Erick Fromm told us, is actually ‘Escape from Freedom” in a book by the same title, for freedom in its real sense is burdened with responsibilities and can often be frightening.

The fact is, democracy and freedom are extremely important values, but they cannot have existence outside of the law. In the Hollywood movie of the 1970s, “The Ten Commandments” this point is driven home quite dramatically. In this particular scene, Moses after his penance on Mt. Sinai where he encounters God in the form of the Burning Bush, returns with the Ten Commandments from God, etched in stone tablets, descends from the mountain to the Israeli slaves he freed from the Pharaoh’s custody in Egypt. There he finds his people revelling in hedonist pleasure and worships. An enraged Moses calls for an immediate halt to the madness and one amongst the crowd screams at him “We want freedom”, and Moses retorts back “There is no freedom without the law”. For the Christian faith, the Ten Commandments of God then were the first set of laws, and these laws were what defined freedom. The implication is, abandon the law and what we have will not be freedom but total anarchy. Democracy too works this way. Abandon the law and democracy will wither away. Manipur knows this all too well. It has been there many times before and it is currently caught in such a situation again.

It is true the state is not such a benign institution that it can be trusted completely in everything. It can also get unimaginably violent and coercive, causing violation of individual rights. It is this realisation which led to the Human Rights movement immediately after the WWII. This cataclysmic event, more than any other, disillusioned all optimism of the Enlightenment Age and the trust it calls upon to place in the modern state. There were no doubts whatsoever then that the state needed to be checked. But it must be noted that all the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are also about upholding the law and making the state abide by the law too. This being so, while it is perfectly legitimate to hold protest against the state or any power structure, coercive means to hold such protests are strictly unacceptable. In any case, such coercive resorts would also only justify the state to use its own legitimate coercive powers to counter them. Not only this, the situation often becomes such that the state’s use of its ‘legitimate coercive strength’ have often come to appear like a responsibility to the larger public. It may also be added that for many the AFSPA debate too reduces to this logic – that coercive undermining of the law must have to be dealt with the coercive strength of the state. Here it is difficult not to be reminded of a TV show organised by an American channel in the 1990s in which Nobel Peace Prize winners of the past were made to discuss the NATO bombing of Kosovo in intervention against the Serbian state’s meditated violence on its Muslim subjects. The house was divided on the issue but one voice was an eye opener. He said the NATO bombs were a terror but he imagined a persecuted Albanian Muslim subject hiding in his attic from marauding soldiers looking out of a window and upon witnessing the NATO bombs falling exclaimed silently in ecstasy: “Beautiful Bombs”.

End polygamy

In 2008, Manipur Compulsory Registration of Marriages Billl, was introduced in the February session of the Manipur Legislative Assembly and passed in the Winter session in October the same year. The Bill, it will be recalled came as part of a directive from the Centre to the states. This Act, it was then hoped would end all hangovers of the feudal and pre-modern past which have put women in Manipur at the receiving end of conjugal life, as well as inheritance of parental properties. The first of the institutions that this new law, was expected to make illegal is bigamy/polygamy and its more shadowy sibling concubinary. Keeping an atonbi (second wife), is definitely considered a deviant male behaviour which would earn him a roguish philanderer’s reputation but all the same socially accepted. A woman matching such behaviour would not be similarly seen as merely naughty, but spat upon as a whore. We are not suggesting that prostitution should be socially endorsed, but only throwing in the reminder that if prostitution is bad for the woman, whoring should be equally bad for the man. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so they say, and there can be no two ways about this. To go into a little more nuances about the term atonbi, she is less than a wife (that is why parental neglect, and so too governmental neglect, is often described as atonbigi macha, atonbi’s children). She is not a courtesan, for a courtesan is generally a professional enchantress who cohabits volitionally with important men for return favours. She is definitely not a whore too. She is a second class wife, who does not even get to live in her “husband’s” home, or her children considered legitimate heirs of their father’s property. Most of the time it is not love that makes a man keep a concubine, but lust. On the woman’s part it is generally poverty and a desperate need for a sense of security which make her willing to offer herself as a concubine to a well provided man. In other words, this despicable institution is a rich man’s disease. The question now is, what has become of this Act?

It probably reflects on the guilt shared by a good many legislators in the Assembly, ruling and opposition alike, that everything is so quite now and the matter has seemingly been swept under the carpet. If the Act is invoked, many of our high and mighty probably would be facing criminal charges. This brings us to the next point. The Bill would seek compulsory registration of marriages, which would mean that if somebody seeks a second marriage for whatever the reason, he or she will have to legally divorce from the first marriage first or else face penal action. This is all very well, except while considering what status those already in such liaisons would be categorised in, especially because a majority of those guilty would be VVIPs and VIPs. Probably the resort has been to not to make the Act have retrospective coverage, but come into effect only from the day it is promulgated so that those already into such relationships can be exempted. Moreover, it will have to be also assured that children born out of such cohabitations are not left victims of the legislation for no fault of theirs. Even if the Act was not made applicable for offences committed before 2008, it has been nine years since 2008 and there probably are new violators. Why has the Act been allowed to remain in hibernation? If those in the government have a vested interest in silencing the Act, what are the reasons for campaigners of gender equality also silent?

While polygamy is one practice this legislation seeks to end, if we remember the discussions in the Assembly, the Act also had a lot to say about giving the girl child equal inheritance rights. Here too, the silence of child rights activist has been deafening. The Act also had a clause on alimony if a marriage were to end in divorce. We suggest the matter be brought back into the public domain once again. In the years that have gone by, there have been so many incidents of legally wedded wives being subject to domestic harangue and forcefully divorced. This is a crime of a different order, but even if it was only divorces which were being sought, the alimony clause should have restored some semblance of justice. Besides having a legal handle to deal with such offences, alimony would also be a deterrent to the corrupt rich men every time their philandering and wayward instinct prompt them to enter into a relationship they do not intend to keep or respect.

Back to AFSPA

The state cabinet last Wednesday decided to extend the Disturbed Area Act, DAA, for another year.  Accordingly, the Governor of the state, on the very next day, issued a notification that by the provision of Section 3 of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, the entire state, with the exception of seven Assembly constituencies in the Imphal municipal area, was placed under the DAA for another year. The silence of the Manipur public on the matter should raise some relevant and perhaps disturbing questions. Have they become cynical that no good can come out of the demand for AFSPA’s repeal and have resigned, or have they become indifferent to the issue? It could also be a question of the AFSPA returning cleverly cloaked in all the seeming public largess of development packages that the BJP government has so eagerly declaring, and the public euphoria generated, false or otherwise, have seemingly lulled all senses on the question of the AFSPA. Even Wednesday’s declaration of the DAA extension was packaged with another Cabinet decision of rationalizing the extent and manner of transfer and posting of government employees. Indeed, most newspapers the next day led with the transfer and posting news, and the DAA development was buried deep in the same story away from easy notice, therefore removing the sting that it would probably have come with, had the media given it the space it deserved.

The extension of the DAA was expected. It has been doing so for as long as the AFSPA was in force in the state without much ado except for occasional explosions of public anger whenever security forces go on rampage in the name of counterinsurgency operations. It was indeed after one such explosions of public rage in 2004 in the wake of the custodial rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by the Assam Rifles, leading to the historic naked protest followed by weeks of violent street protests, that the Government of India had to reluctantly concede to the proposal by the then state government headed by Okram Ibobi, to lift the AFSPA from seven assembly constituencies in the Imphal municipal area, and law and order upkeep in these constituencies be handed over to the state police. Although there has been no tangible changes on the matter of containment of insurgency thereafter, the difference is, the state got to see that unlike forces acting under the AFSPA, state police do not have the impunity therefore victims are not totally disempowered. This was more than adequately demonstrated in the BT Road custodial killing case where the law ultimately caught up with those who broke it, regardless of whether they were in uniform. It is also not a coincidence that custodial killings took a dramatic decline after the case. In AFSPA all such mechanisms of moderations are done away with, therefore it remains a more cynical and draconian legislation. It is also for these same reasons that it is considered a law unfit for a democracy.

Are we then back to square one? Is this then saying that all that have gone by are of no consequence at all? Not Sharmila’s 16-year hunger strike or the naked protest outside Kangla that took the world by storm, or Chittaranjan’s self-immolation. As of now, few seem interested in the answers. It may be interesting to explore how such a state of mind might have come about. Probably there are a combination of factors behind this. One plausible cause is fatigue. People are tired so would want a breather. Two, is desensitization. When exposed to extreme conditions for a prolonged period of time, there is a tendency for these conditions to become normalized. In a skewed way, this is a show of life’s resilience. It absorbs and adjusts to whatever condition it is exposed to for long. The third reason probably is a clever design of subterfuge of the powers that be. It has through its own ingenuity succeeded in dissociating the DAA with the AFSPA in public consciousness. Indeed, when the news of the DAA extension was reported in the media, few brought up the fact that DAA is a precondition to the imposition of the AFSPA. But let there be no mistake, these are only a question of buying time and no solution can said to have been reached. The public rage now muted is probably ticking like a time bomb somewhere waiting for the next provocation to explode again. Thus while the present lull is encouraging, it must be said it is also deceptive. Let the government then not be too quick to celebrate and be humble that there is still much work left to be done.

Refocusing on AIDS

In 2008, there was what seemed like a revolutionary step taken by the Manipur Legislative Assembly to launch a “Legislators’ Forum on AIDS” following the visit of a team of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, to the state. Although we do not remember the forum being formally dissolved, today nobody ever hears of the forum or any action it has ever taken. We bring this topic up in the wake of the recently observed World AIDS Day, in which so many in position of power paid lip services that their hearts were with those unfortunate to become victims of the disease. Knowing the commitment of politics and politicians in the state, it is a foregone conclusion that nobody who made these tall promises will ever lift a finger to do anything on the matter. If we remember correctly, the idea was not just about lending moral support (or lip service as this is more often the case), but also of contributing substantially to the fund to fight the pandemic locally in the state. This fund was to have come as a fixed percentage from the local area development fund available with each MLA and MP. However, as far as we remember, no MLA or MP has so far announced a contribution. This is sad. While we are nobody to advise our legislators on how they should spend their public funds, we have every right to remind them of the solemn monitory pledge they made towards this social cause of utmost relevance to our society, and in many ways to the world community as such at this juncture. Remember, even the money of an American businessman, Bill Gates, is reaching Manipur toward fighting this social scourge, and there can be no reason why our own leaders should hesitate to make their own contributions from their public kitty. We would have even loved it if there were to be even a separate head in our state budget for tackling the problem. Unfortunately it seems, this is too high an expectation and seemingly our government heads do not agree with the idea at all for the state budgets ever since did not even make even a passing mention of the issue.

Without being too cynical about the whole affair, let us still presume that the Legislators’ Forum on AIDS, would get past platitudes and sermons, down to concrete action plans. The first and foremost of such a plan would be to establish a fund with their contributions, perhaps as a joint kitty, for otherwise, considering the magnitude of the problem at hand, the resources generated could end up spread out too thin. Even as a joint kitty, it may still be far from being awesome, again especially when pitted against the intimidating nature of the problem. But even if it is not awesome, it would definitely be a substantial contribution to the local campaign. Perhaps the campaign could decide to focus on certain specific areas of the problem each year. For instance, it could sink most of the money in training AIDS workers one year, through workshops, lectures etc. In another year it could also think of training the media in AIDS related issues so that the reports they write will be much more well-informed. After all, this is not general reporting which anybody with a little bit of aptitude and nose for news can do, but rather a specialised field. As for instance, a reporter who does not know what ART is all about, is unlikely to be able to report well on AIDS. Not only should such training be about upgrading the reporter’s knowledge of the virus and the disease it causes, or for that matter the treatments available etc, but it must equally be about sensitizing him or her to the human and social aspects of the disease.

As for instance, as of today, reporters, as also a larger section of the society still see issues of prostitution, homosexuality, drugs etc, as merely law and order problems. They may or may not be all these, but when somebody looks at these as social scourges that has a profound relevance to the AIDS question, perspectives would shift significantly, if not totally. Just as all of these problems are multi-faceted, having as they do economic, social, cultural angles contributing to them, so too in the case of AIDS. The Legislators’ fund for AIDS campaign, if it were to materialise, cannot possibly be big enough to be invested profitably in fundamental researches into the virus and the hunt for a vaccine etc. But it would definitely be a boon if it was to be invested in educating AIDS workers, and other force multipliers of the campaign, as these sections of the battlefront are often referred to. Amongst these force multipliers, one of the most prominent foot soldiers would be the reporters on the field, belonging to the many print and electronic media organisations in the state.

Amoebic short sight

A fascinating question posed by German philosopher Karl Popper in All Life is Problem Solving (Routledge Classic), a collection of essays by him, in the opening essay by the same name, should provide new insights into many of the problems faced in the Northeast. It would be a lesson worthwhile reflecting by those of us in Manipur in the thick of the anarchic crisis we are faced with currently. The essay is an attempt to size up an idea that most of us take so much for granted, therefore seldom bother to give a closer scrutiny. The conclusion that Popper, a physicist turned philosopher comes to is fascinating for its simplicity, but opens up larger questions about existence and survival. In its essence, what he says is that all life is about problem solving, and the drive behind this, in the ultimate analysis, is survival. He thus goes somewhat further than Darwin for whom the survival instinct is encoded in our genes and this manifest in the urge in all species to unendingly procreate and multiply. This departure is important, for while instinct to procreate is vital, this instinct is not able to foresee non biological external problem that life is so full of and therefore threatened by – climate change, deadly epidemics, water crisis, food crisis, deadly conflicts etc., to name just a few.

Popper does not go into all these details in this book. He only provides the fundamental principles behind different kinds of problem solving and how higher life forms do this much better. In a rhetorical way, he poses the question what is it that distinguishes the problem solving strategies of a rudimentary life form such as the single cell amoeba and that of a Albert Einstein? At its very basic, problem solving as Popper explains, involves first the identification of the problem, then the attempts to solve it and finally arriving at the right answer through a series of elimination of failed or false solutions. Popper presumes, as any scientist would, that no problem or its solution is final, and that a new solution or theory will always pose new problems, and in this way the cycle of problem solving will continue endlessly. So the original question: How does the amoeba differ from Einstein in solving problems? The basic difference, according to Popper is, while the amoeba is unable to distance itself from its problem solving strategy, higher life forms, to which category Einstein belongs, can and most often do. The result is, the amoeba is part and parcel of its own problem solving strategy, so that if the strategy fails, it perishes with it. For instance, if a trap comes up suddenly before a colony of amoeba in traversing a distance, amoeba after amoeba will run into the trap and die, until one amoeba happens to find an alternative route, which all other amoebas will follow, until another life threatening situations comes up before the community.  Humans, (that is humans with brains larger than an amoeba), are capable of externalising their problem solving theories, so that even if his theories perish, he does not perish with them. In fact, Popper’s definition of progress and scientific enquiry is a constant attempt to falsify existing theories, even if they are ones own. A good scientist will therefore be trying to find faults with his own theories the minute he has proven it, and thereby continually improve it, and in the worst case scenario where the theory is incapable of solving a problem, discard it altogether. Indeed, the belief in the infallibility of theories, always results in dogmatism.

The proposition is interesting because we identify this strain of rigid dogmatism in the way many of us approach our problems. Viewed against Popper’s definition of problem solving, these exhibit a syndrome similar that of the amoeba. Often, so many of the firebrand champions of indigenous causes for instance argue (undoubtedly powerfully, though often sentimentally too) that the identity of the indigenous man is non-objectifiable, as it is deeply rooted in his subjective realm of his culture, land, mythology, history etc. They also discard the causal and scientific explanation of life’s problems as non-applicable to their situations, claiming theirs is an alternate universe, and their problems can only be solved within their universe by the intuitive wisdoms of that universe alone. While not trying to oversimplify the problem of identity, the stubborn refusal to accept scientific enquiry can only amounts to shying away from hard reality in the belief this is a solution. This can be dangerous, as the line that divides the subject and the object can become confused. The end result can very well be, like the amoeba, those who are incapable of distinguishing themselves from the problems before them, may end up becoming part of the unfolding experiments, so that in the event of their theories failing, they may perish with them. History is so full of tragedies befalling those who fail to see the fallibility of ideas and beliefs, even the most dearly held ones. History is also replete with success stories of others who were resilient and ever ready to change with the winds of changing times.

The world and the virus

The world was shocked when actor Rock Hudson declared to have AIDS on July 25, 1985. He was the first American celebrity to publicly admit it. He died few months later, on October 2. Since the day the first case of HIV in human was known from a man who died in Congo in the late 1950s, the world is living with distress. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been suppressing the immune system of many persons globally, including hundreds of important people. Many had died and many are surviving. The virus was first clinically detected in 1981 in United States and in India the first case was reported in 1986. Since the 1980s, more than 70 million people have been infected and about 35 million have died, according to data from WHO’s Global Health Observatory. The major threat to the humankind has ushered the formation of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) in 1992. Later, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) was also constituted for its implementation so as to fight and control the HIV epidemic.

It was estimated last year that around 36.7 million people live with HIV infection worldwide, out of which approximately one million people had died due to HIV related illness in 2016 alone. In India, people living with HIV are estimated to be around 2.1 million. Since the year 2010, new HIV infections have decreased by 46 percent and AIDS related deaths by 22 percent. However, in 2016 alone, there were around 80,000 new cases of HIV infections and 62,000 deaths. Among the states and union territories, the highest prevalence of HIV infection has been in Manipur with 1.15 percent, Mizoram with 0.8 percent and Nagaland with 0.78 percent. Apart from the records, probability is high that there must have been many more HIV infected persons who have not tested yet due to fear of the deadly truth or have not expected at all of such infection. Apart from the fear of death, people living with HIV still face stigma and discrimination in a state like Manipur. Iconic figure like Khundrakpam Pradipkumar Singh should exist more in the society so that HIV positive people can live their lives with dignity. The 45 year old building champion and the brand ambassador for HIV/AIDS by the Manipur State AIDS Control Society, has been living with HIV more than a decade. His journey so far in fighting the virus gives the strongest inspiration to every HIV infected person though out the world.

During 1990s, most of the HIV infections in Manipur were due to injected drug abuse and physical relation, however with effective awareness programmes organised by various organisations and NGOs, the infection has reduced in the last two decades. Even though, it is hard to explain that HIV infection is now under control. Facetiously, it can be said that HIV is a kind of virus which is infected only through the most gratifying human practices or nature, whether it is through drug abuse to stay high or physical intimacy. Additionally, there has also been rapid rise in homosexuality in the state and unlike olden days, this could be one of the factors of widespread of HIV infection nowadays. Night life in Imphal seemed to be introduced very recently but the state capital has never been slept since long time ago for many transgender and gays. The activities they do post midnight are needless to explain. However, it is highly important for every person, irrespective of all the sexual orientation, to be really careful while gratifying their time and space.

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day global campaign is ‘Right to health’, and under the slogan ‘Everybody counts’, World Health Organisation (WHO) will advocate for access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines, including medicines, diagnostics and other health commodities as well as health care services for all the people in need, with protection against financial risks. With the aim to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, global leaders had signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and the framework of UHC is now at the centre of all health programmes. Many individuals and important persons have also been putting lots of effort to save the lives of HIV infected people. To name few, there is former US president Barack Obama, who has teamed up with Jimmy Kimmel, Bono, Coca Cola, and Project Red to fight HIV. Apart from all kinds of initiatives by different individuals or organisations, the whole people of the world should be fully responsible to minimise or even wipe out the virus from the face of earth.

Leader Writer:  Khogen Khoibam

Market as integrator

The protest against the construction of a Mao Market at Lamphel by the Lamphel Super Market Development Joint Committee, is unfortunate, but the matter could and should have been handled more sensitively and imaginatively by the government so that the need for such a confrontation did not arise in the first place. As it stands today, it is looking as if the protest is sectarian, when it may not at all be so. Probably the protest has to do a lot with competition for vending spaces in an increasingly congested urban environment of Imphal city, but also the voice that needs to be heard and given more attention is the one that cries against segregation of markets along community lines. The first is a vested interest, but a somewhat understandable one, but the latter can be made part of a grand vision in social engineering. The market is a great integrator and market places are where ordinary people meet and get to know each other closely. In such an environment, the growth of empathy is inevitable. Women vendors – and we qualify vendors as women because most vendors in Manipur are women – sitting by each other day after day would invariably realise the commonness of their economic circumstances, fortunes and misfortunes of life, challenges of raising children, illnesses in the family etc. They also would invariable begin to help each other out, extending small favours and loans, or else minding each other’s wares whenever one is absent etc. Indeed, this is where strong human bondages can begin to be built and the roots for the much hyped emotional integrity amongst the various communities to grow.

This human soul-scape must be the cue on which social projects are designed on. It would have been great for the architecture of our keithels to have had such an outlook as the foundation. All markets would then have been designed for all communities to be neighbours without being intrusive. As for instance, meat and fish vendors many not rub shoulders well with sellers of fine fabrics and shawls, and may actually result in embittering their owners against one another. The groupings in every market can therefore be based on the types of merchandizes the vendors sell. This would also be convenient for shoppers, for then they will know the choices available to them while making a purchase decision were exhaustive and that it is less likely for them to discover better and cheaper samples of what they have already bought at some other corners of the same market. This is obviously the reason why retailers dealing in the same goods tend to cluster together in any given market. They know shopper prefer places where wider choices of the commodities they want to buy are available and so if they remain away from the cluster, they are less likely to have shoppers coming to them. The names of these markets could be retained, and each can remain to be called by what they were already popularly known as. Hence Nupi Keithel, Nupa Keithel, Tribal Market can retain their old names, or new ones can be named as Mao Market, Chandel Market or whatever else, but their names must not literally determine the community composition of the vendors. The beauty of these names is in the poetry they command, replete with memories and images they evoke, but each of them in terms of the literal vending spaces they are made up of must be designed to translate into Manipur’s own brand of beautiful diversity.

We do hope our town planners and their concerned ministers give this thought a consideration in future projects. Maybe this can begin with the planned Mao Market at Lamphel. Let it be called Mao Market, but let the market be open to all communities, with some weightage given to vendors from Mao bringing their peculiar merchandises of flowers, fruits and vegetables. We hope they also agree to the contention that a lot of everyday frictions any given society is prone to, can be managed and mitigated by imaginative and creative designing of architectures of public and private spaces. As for instance, from everyday life of even individual families we know sharing a living room or dining together at a table can enhance bondages, but sharing bathrooms or badly planned passages that intrude into private spaces such as bedrooms and studies can cause unwanted frictions. We imagine the same logic would hold in the management of public spaces too.

Sangai and Hornbill

The ongoing Sangai Festival of Manipur will conclude in two days. The very next day, the Hornbill Festival of neighbouring Nagaland will begin. It is curious that the two festivals dovetail each other, probably a coincidence, but this is understandable. For any traditional and agrarian society, end of harvest is time for celebration and relaxation before hard work for the next crop cycle begins. It may be recalled that not in immediate proximity as Sangai and Hornbill festivals are, there was also another traditional harvest festival, Kut of the Chin-Kukis in the beginning of November. The explanatory background of these festivals aside, what we are concerned here is the manner in which Sangai and Hornbill festivals are often pitted as rivals, just as Manipur and Nagaland are also often pitted similarly. This in our opinion is a false binary for without our knowing it, the two festivals are actually partners, complimenting each other. They are different in many ways, but the differences also help enrich this partnership and make them even more meaningful. In fact, we would even suggest the two state governments to put their heads together to sell the two festivals together. To use the analogy of a familiar marketing promotion line, “buy and get one free”, this would be like telling putative visitors that if they go to one, the other is a step way and can be had in one trip. Moreover, what the visitors get will be a more composite picture of the sub-region, and it is this composite picture which the two states together in partnership can sell, and undoubtedly such a strategy open up a bigger market than each selling their half only. We already have proofs of this. Many who have been covering Sangai festival would have come across foreign visitors who come here with also an aim to go from here to Kisama, the venue of the Hornbill festival.

The two are different and indeed offer very different attractions for tourists. In terms of exotic value, it must be said Hornbill is much better known in the world outside the Northeast. The atavistic charm of the different tribes in their tradition costumes is irresistible for photographers too, and many of these photographs make it to the pages of different publications, national and international, much more than pictures from Sangai have done. A google search of each of the festival and the results thrown up will somewhat be an indicator of this. But in terms of business volume, Sangai is always far ahead. The number of visitors each day at these two festivals will loudly say this. Sangai has much more to offer than just cultural events. Unlike the Hornbill, this one is also a carnival of sorts, where men, women and children, throng the venues throughout the day and late into the evenings for each of the ten days it is celebrated. This can hardly be said of the Hornbill. This is also because Imphal, located very centrally, and in a valley, is far more accessible from other towns and villages, both in the valley as well as in the hill districts of Manipur, than Kisama near Kohima, is from the districts of Nagaland.

But the differences should be celebrated and both festivals should see this as opportunity. Nobody is interested in seeing the same thing over and over again, and therefore changes of scene always come across as exciting. This should be what Nagaland and Manipur strive for together. In any case, for Manipur, the Hornbill is also very much a big part of its culture. This is not just of the hill tribes, but also the Meiteis in the valley. Our folklores are full of them and in the case of the Meiteis, Uchek Langmeidon as the bird is known, in most of the fables are represented very fondly as friends, companions and guardians of lonely and desolate children. It is another matter, and a grave one, that the bird is no longer ever sighted in the state, or for that matter in Nagaland. This has to do with climate change and habitat destruction. The bird, it is reported, still nests in the much more pristine forests of Arunachal Pradesh – thank our stars for that. But the bird is a reminder of the days of yore and the changes that have come about in the decades that have gone by. Its memory is also a reminder of the dangers of climate change and deforestation. The Sangai (Brow Antlered Deer) still lives, but it too is endangered. The memory of the disappearance of the Hornbill from our land should also prompt all to reaffirm the commitment that the fate of the Hornbill should be spared the Sangai, and that we can do something about it.

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About IFP

Imphal Free Press is a widely circulated English daily published in Manipur, North-East India. Started in 1996, it has relocated its head office from Sega Road, Imphal to Palace Gate, Imphal.

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