Manipuris settled outside state face threat to distinct identity

Imphal Jan 15 (IANS) Cut off from their Manipuri roots for several generations, the state’s people now settled in Myanmar and Bangladesh as well as Assam and Tripura are increasingly losing their distinct cultural identity.

Worried over the situation, community leaders of the Manipuris settled outside the state want authorities to do something to preserve their distinct linguistic and religious identity.

Manipuris have their own script, and among the mountain tribes are the only ones following the ‘Vaishnavite’ branch of Hindu religion since the 18th century.

K. Sunder Gopal Sharma, a community leader, told IANS that the Manipuris in Myanmar were fighting a losing battle in protecting their culture.

“Today, Manipuris in Myanmar hardly number 10,000 as against over one lakh decades ago. Thousands of Manipuris, including devout Vaishnavas, have since converted to Buddhism,” he said.

He said military rulers in Myanmar did not encourage the community members to study their own language in schools or converse in it at social gatherings.

Gopal said he feared that if nothing is done, the Manipuris in Myanmar will soon see their distinct cultural identity lose out to the native population there.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, Manipur natives live in a few small villages. However, they have taken to speaking the local languages and only very few are able to converse in Manipuri.

A cultural link with Manipur is maintained through visits by cultural troupes from the northeastern state every now and then.

There are several Manipuri villages in Assam and Tripura as well.

Khaidem Kanta, vice president of Manei, an organisation of the Manipuri diaspora in Barak Valley in Assam, said the Manipuris in the state are facing cultural and linguistic problems.

“The younger generation of Manipuris getting schooled in Assam cannot speak fluently or write their mother-tongue. There is job reservation for people of Manipuri origin, but most educated youths do not get through in the absence of an elected leader to champion their cause.”

The Manipur government and non-governmental organisations ought to do something for the promotion of arts and culture of the Manipuris in the Barak Valley of Assam, Kanta said.

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