As the ethnic crisis rages on for the past six months in Manipur with more than 150 people dead while thousands are left displaced and rendered homeless, the fate of Ningol Chakouba festival for this year is most likely going to be among the unfortunate ones who became collateral damage.
In solidarity to those who have lost their homes, siblings, loved ones and facing an uncertain future in relief camps, many CSOs, civil bodies and groups have appealed to the masses to forego the festival and drop the celebrations this year. In a noble gesture of extending support to the civilians who have gravely suffered, CSOs are urging the people to donate the celebratory items and gifts of Ningol Chakouba to the displaced persons, especially to the thousands of women who are still stranded at the relief camps. This is a natural move, considering the fact that the traditions and culture of Manipur are rooted in our eastern collectivism. After all, Ningol Chakouba is not just about family reunions; it is one of the biggest festivals which also provide an opportunity for bonding between communities. When the state is facing an unprecedented crisis, such festivities and jubilations would hold little significance or meaning.
But if we are to celebrate Ningol Chakouba this year, on what grounds should we hold this festival where married ningols are invited for a grand feast at their paternal homes? One of the most important aspects of this festival is the upholding of secularism and multiculturalism that exist in Manipur. During every Ningol Chakouba, which is mainly a festival celebrated by the Meiteis, hundreds of women from various tribal communities as well as Manipuri Muslims are invited for the grand feast organised by several CSOs and organisations at various locations in the valley.
When the crisis erupted this year, it was not just an onslaught of armed militants from the hills, but the very idea of secularism and pluralism which have been a part of our society since time immemorial came under a severe attack. The valley was shaken by a rude awakening with endless lies about Hindu Supremacists persecuting Minority Christians, Majority attacking Tribal Communities ad nauseam. Although it took some time, these false narratives have slowly crumbled apart though the damage has been done. But if we forgo Ningol Chakouba, aren’t we letting them win another round? Should we let those attacking our coexistence and multiculturalism have the satisfaction to see us falter and not upholding our core values?
Although this may come as a highly unpopular opinion and may not be feasible at all considering the situation we are in due to the crisis, 2023 is perhaps the year in which we celebrate the biggest and grandest Ningol Chakouba ever in Manipur’s history. By organising the festival for everyone at the relief camps, it could be a show of our resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges and setbacks caused by the external as well as internal aggressors who want to break the spirit of Manipur.
Although the mainstream media has shifted its attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict, they are still more or less focused on the new developments in this small border state. Some of them had been joining the conflict without any clue about Manipur’s rich cultural heritage. They can eat their words by learning a thing or two about how Manipur celebrates this festival with representatives of every community, while the separatists who do not wish to join the party can either return to Myanmar, Bangladesh or go to Mizoram.
(The views expressed are personal)