Panel Discussion on Manipur, Northeast in Western Ghats Lit Fest
After decades of neglect post-independence, it has been since the last 12-15 years that issues pertaining to Northeast are discussed in the national context. Various developmental projects have brought this region of Bharat to the forefront. For the first time ever in any Literary Festival in India, a panel discussion on Northeast was conducted in the two-day long Western Ghats Literary Festival 2.0 organised by The Verandah Club in the city of Coimbatore on 28-29 October. The event hosted a session titled ‘Look Northeast’ with panelists Manoshi Sinha, author of the best-selling series Saffron Swords and Northeast India expert Dr. Ankita Dutta.
Manoshi Sinha opened the panel with several references to Northeast Bharat and certain stereotypes about the region and its people in other parts of the country. The conversation was taken over from here by Dr. Ankita Dutta who aptly narrated the reasons behind the misinformation surrounding the Northeast as a region.
Dr. Ankita Dutta spoke in detail about the continuous neglect of the Northeast post-independence by the successive Governments at the Centre. She delved on the tacit support provided to the religious proselytisation activities of the Christian missionaries by the Central Government post-1947 and the ensuing rise of numerous armed insurgencies in the region, instigated by many non-state actors. She elucidated the reasons behind a negative portrayal of the Northeast in mainstream media and academic narratives.
Citing the Khumal Purana, Adi Parva of the Mahabharata, and other ancient historical chronicles of Manipur, Manoshi Sinha beautifully narrated the history of the Manipuris. There are two sections of Manipuris – the Meitei and the Bishnupriya. A Bishnupriya Manipuri victim of exodus, Manoshi Sinha narrated about her lineage, herself being a descendant of Apokpa, also known as Khumal, the sixth generation from Kuru prince Arjuna and Manipuri princess Chitrangada. She stressed on the fact how the Manipuris have been following the Sanatana traditions, i.e. Hindu in present terminology, since pre-Mahabharata times. Drawing source from the Khumal Purana, Sinha describes how in the 18th century, during the rule of Pamheiba (Gharib Nawaz), Vaishnavite saint Shantidas Adhikari, also called Shantadas Goswami, initiated the existing Hindus of Manipur to follow a proper ritualistic tradition of worshipping Vishnu. Shantadas coined the Khumal clan of Manipuris as Bishnupriyas.
Manoshi Sinha drew reference to the brutal Burmese invasions of the 17th-18th centuries that led to the exodus of the Manipuris, both Meitei and Bishnupriya, to different parts of the Northeast and even neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh. A touch of emotion was added by her in the speech when she spoke about the several dying languages of India in general and Bishnupriya Manipuri language in particular.
Dr. Ankita brought to light the cultural genocide of the Hindu civilization in the Northeast. The impact of a Western culture upon the people of this region has changed their sense of identity and belongingness, especially the youth. With various inputs from her decade-long experience of working in the field since her days as a PhD student, she enlightened the audience how Hindus have been systematically annihilated from the Northeast.
Both Manoshi Sinha and Dr. Ankita Dutta referred to their upcoming book titled The Manipur Conundrum: History. Exodus. Conversion, co-authored with social activist Vladimir Adityanath, while talking about the Manipur conflict. They delved on the ongoing crisis in Manipur during the discussion. Dr. Ankita dissected the causes of the conflict, the civilizational struggle of the Hindus in Manipur to survive amidst the changing demography of their state, and the larger agenda of the anti-India forces to destabilise Manipur at a time when many vital infrastructure projects are almost on the verge of their completion.
Noted Pune-based writer and social media influencer Shefali Vaidya was the chief curator of The Western Ghats Litfest 2.0. The event saw 12 book launches. Top authors, journalists, and people from various professional backgrounds graced the event.