On September 15, 2022, the Manipur government Education department issued an order for constituting a committee that will look into publication of books on Manipur. The committee is to accord approval before publication of any books related to the state’s history, culture, tradition and geography.
The committee is to be set up with the state Education minister as its head, vice chancellors of Dhanamanjuri University (DMU) and the Manipur University of Culture, historians, geographers and social anthropologists as members, and the director of Education department) as the member secretary.
The government issued the order, saying there have been claimed instances of books published in these areas which distorted facts or are likely to disturb peaceful coexistence among the various communities in the state.
It indicated that anyone publishing books in violation of the order will be penalised under relevant laws. It, however, does not indicate under what provisions of the law the order was issued.
Also Read: Committee to oversee publications on Manipur
For published work or words which may lead to disturbance of peaceful coexistence of communities, action can be taken up under the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
Academic freedom is a moral and legal concept providing the conviction that the freedom of inquiry of scholars is essential towards the principles of academia.
Scholars should have the freedom to teach and communicate ideas or facts without fear of repression, dismissal or imprisonment.
The only condition imposed is that faculty members while expressing their views should not drag his or her institution. The scholar should be solely responsible for his writing and utterances.
Although academic articles in good and reputed journals undergo peer review before publication, in no democratic country was such pre-publication censorship of academic works imposed by an establishment.
Such imposition happened in autocratic countries, and in such countries the development of academia is stunted.
Knowledge undergoes changes, with new discoveries and inventions. What was felt correct today may not be so after some time, with new discoveries, and which is how science and other related subjects grow.
Even in history, with new findings, there are changes in the interpretation. There is now hypothesis that indicates that the Indus Valley civilisation is proto-Dravidians, though there are scholars who contested it.
The beauty of academia is after discussions and deliberations, an acceptable viewpoint is formulated. Claims are to be met by counter claims and not by banning publications with alternative narratives.
During the sixties and early seventies, there were claims and counterclaims regarding the universe between the proponents of Big Bang and Steady State, but now the Big Bang theory is generally accepted due to the evidence available.
The order seems to be fallout of the writings of Mark Haokip who quoted the book of one Brig Sharma mentioned that the total area of Manipur was only 700 sq miles, which led to serious opposition from many quarters.
The claim is untenable as after the Maharaja of Manipur signed the Merger Agreement on September 21, 1949, the whole of Manipur of 8,638 sq miles was merged with the Dominion of India on October 15, 1949.
If the area of Manipur was only 700 sq miles, only that would have been merged! Claims of such nature should be rebutted academically citing the records.
There seems a belief within the government circle that what is to be recorded relating to the history, culture, tradition and geography of Manipur had already been said and published, and any deviation will be regarded as a violation. In other words, the final words on these topics have already been spoken.
Grierson in the Linguistic Survey of India classified Meiteilon (Meitei language) as Tibeto-Burman, while RK Jhalajit believes it is an Indo-Aryan language.
Suniti Kumar Chatterjee puts Meiteilon among the Sino-Tibetan languages, while IM Singh strongly opposes inclusion of Meiteilon among the Tibeto-Burman languages.
Now, both the Manipuri authors are not experts in linguistics. What will the committee take if another writer comes up with a new classification of Meiteilon based on linguistic study of the old archaic language and not the present one spoken as is done by RK Jhalajit?
Similarly, there are many gaps in the history of Manipur, with the Cheitharol Kumpaba, limited to one page each for the early rulers. More understanding was derived from other texts and oral traditions and the gaps are slowly filled up. Should any new findings be discarded?
The committee will find it next to impossible to determine what are the facts.
Will the Committee object to the claim that the ophiolite belt in Manipur is rising by about one centimetre every year?
The dispute of the boundary between Manipur (India) and Myanmar on certain stretches is ongoing.
Can anyone as yet indicate the Pemberton Line or the Johnstone Line? Will the line agreed to between India and Myanmar prevail; with no notice to the objections from Manipur?
Has the Manipur government written any proposal to the Union Government highlighting that consultations with the locals were never carried out while drawing the line except for requesting to suspend the erecting of fencing as a civil society organisation (CSO) is strongly objecting to it?
Curtailing critical thinking will only retard academic development
What is required is to point out the history of the agreement of 1836 and subsequent agreements and indicate where it had erred and then seek correction.
One or two CSOs objecting will not cut any ice. And, what will be the reaction of the Committee on writings on this controversial issue?
Khongjom Parva artistes who sing Ningthourol refers that Khamba and Thoibi lived during the reign of Meidingu Loiyumba (1074-1112 CE). But if the claimed apparels of Khamba at Ngangkha Lawai or Ningthoukhong undergoe carbon dating and the age of the apparel come out to vary by more than two centuries of the reign of Meidingu Loiyumba, there can only be two interpretations.
Both the interpretations are likely to be controversial. One is that the apparels are fakes and the other is that Khamba and Thoibi do not live at the time of Meidingu Loiyumba. Either of these interpretations will be objected to by scholars.
The Shroud of Turin which is claimed by many to be the burial cloth of Lord Jesus, debunked by others as a medieval forgery, was found to be a fake as carbon dating suggests its origin between 1260 to 1390 CE which was also contested.
A forensic study on the blood stain clearly indicates that it is not the blood stain from an injured person but actually handmade by an unknown artist who created the shroud. Despite such scientific evidence, people still believe that it is the burial cloth of Lord Jesus; as faith cannot be moved by scientific evidence.
The earlier practice is the banning of books which are believed to be inimical to a certain individual, community or the Government.
The tendency to bring censorship in academic works will only retard academic development as it curtails critical thinking. Academic sphere needs free exchange of ideas and intellectual debates without which ideas cannot grow.
The Dark Age in Europe was due to severe censorship by the establishment and the Church, but this changed due to the industrial revolution and the growth of the Enlightenment Era with philosophers propounding new ideas, including individual rights.
The ideal should have been to counter the narratives
The obvious reaction to any new ideas should have been academic work, challenging the idea but that was not to be.
India also banned many books like Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Arthur Miles 1937 book The Land of the Lingams, Bernhard Stern’s The Scented Garden, Aubrey Menen’s Rama Retold, and many more.
Nagaland even banned Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the well known novel which was made into a successful film with Tom Hanks portraying symbologist Robert Langdon.
Banning has limited effect and people can still read online, and the ideal should have been to counter the narratives.
There has been instances where book were forced from publication like Harnish McDonald’s unauthorised biography of Dhirubhai Ambani titled The Polyester Prince which was not published in India due to legal threat from his family. But many had read the book and an updated version Ambani and Sons was sold in India since 2010 without any hindrance.
The governments in India have not stopped works from publication though there may have been instances where pressure were made not to publish certain works which the power to be finds uncomfortable.
If the author is not a Manipuri or the work is published outside Manipur or even abroad or published in an academic journal, what can the Committee or the Government do?
With well known publications firms ready to publish any works and with the option of online publication such review by a Committee is considered not relevant. The establishment, perhaps, is not aware of the changes that had occurred in the publishing industry due to technological advancements.
The orders besides being seen as bad in law are unworkable and that, it only makes one infer that the state government is against free exchange of ideas and is autocratic.
(The views expressed are the writer's own)