The lack of representation of Pangals at various levels of public sphere was acknowledged by the Manipur Government which granted 4 per cent reservation to Manipuri Muslim community in Government jobs and higher education. Still, the ratio of Pangals’ share in the public offices to their population remains very low
‘The Muslim community in Manipur, locally known as Pangals, has been witnessing issues of manufactured insecurity of late. Despite the tall promises and claims in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections for the uplift of the Pangals, their “marginalisation” and “otherisation” continues.
It seems there is a conscious and political sidelining of the Pangals in Manipur. Although at present, Pangals take part in politics, but they don’t have political representation in institutions.
A second case of a political snub was the non-inclusion of a representative of Muslims in the State Level Drafting Committee of the Bill for the Protection of Manipuri People proposed by the State Government on May 23, 2018. As per the Government spokesperson, the proposed Bill would ban the entry of illegal migrants with an emphasis on Rohingyas, leaving other migrant communities aside.
A communally-charged narrative was created around the issue by blaming the Pangals and its leaders of giving asylum to Rohingyas. The ensuing Bill was seen by the Pangals as a deliberate attempt to harm the community. After an outburst on social media, the Chief Minister of Manipur had verbally assured to include one representative from the Pangal community.
Politics of displacement
On July 2, 2018 around 400 Pangals were evacuated from a reserve forest land, Kshetri Bengoon Mamang Awang Ching, for the alleged encroachment. The All Manipur Muslim Organisations’ Coordinating Committee (AMMOCOC) and other representatives of the Pangal civil society organisations (CSOs) through a total shutdown across the State had on April 10 demanded the withdrawal of the show-cause notice issued to the residents as they had been inhabiting the place since the late 1970s and availing a host of civic amenities or entitlements of a citizen.
The Government demolished the residential structures disrespecting the agreement signed between the Government and the CSOs of Pangals, particularly under the leadership of AMMOCOC, on April 10, 2018. The Government’s indifference and the politics of de-recognition affected the residents. The affected people are yet to be rehabilitated though lots of meetings, agreements and back-end efforts have been put in by the CSOs.
In a case pertaining to the acquisition of homestead patta land belonging to the minority community for the construction of MLA quarters in the Mantripukhri area, the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2014 was invoked to displace the settlers in the name of protecting the area from non-agricultural usages.
However, nothing of this sort happened in certain paddy land in other areas of Manipur. Encouraged by such moves of the Government, Nagaram and adjoining areas of Khuman Lampak inhabited by many Pangals and running business establishments therein have been threatened by the locals and asked to vacate the place.
This is in gross violation of the Right to Life (Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) under which the right to settlement and right to earn livelihood are enshrined.
The anti-minority sentiment in the State led to another issue in this chronicle of lynching on September 13, 2018. There had been many mob justices in the State, including of Pangals, on the pretext of cattle theft, bicycle/bike lifting and other flimsy grounds. In the past few years, the rate of such heinous crimes shot up. The most shocking incident was the lynching of Md Farooque Khan from Lilong Mayai Leikai, Thoubal district, Manipur.
Immediately after the crime, videos of torture of the victim emerged on social media that led to spontaneous outrage and protests across the State resulting in the passage of The Manipur Protection from Mob Violence, 2018 by the Government.
The Government of Manipur constituted a committee to investigate the incident, but the report has not been produced to ascertain as to why Farooque was lynched.
The systematic exclusion of Pangals at various levels of public sphere and governance was acknowledged and tried to reverse by granting 4 per cent reservation to Manipuri Muslim community in Government jobs, and higher education, especially for admission into professional programmes of study in Manipur.
The role of the State towards the improvement of Muslim community in Manipur is dismal if the available data on health, education, employment and other relevant public services are any indication.
The number of first class officials, second class officials and third class officials are much below the 8.4 per cent (the per cent population of Muslims in Manipur) even after 12 years of implementation of the reservation order, reason being the absence of any mention of filling up of the backlog vacancies in the order.
Several CSOs have demanded to conduct a socio-economic survey to assess the impact of reservation and take appropriate corrective measures, but the Government has not paid heed to it. In a pre-poll stunt, the Government hurriedly picked and chose a few “token intellectuals” who are its discernible apologists to discuss and conduct a socio-economic survey by sidelining the most prominent CSO of the Pangals, the AMMOCOC.
The AMMOCOC was invited to be a part of the initiative, but the apex body could somehow sense the hidden plan of suppressing the unfulfilled promises by merely initiating a survey which by all means will not be completed before the model code of conduct for the general elections 2019 sets in.
The Pangals are a mixed breed of Meitei women of Manipur and Muslim soldiers from Taraf in Sylhet (the soldiers were settled in Manipur through a political arrangement as described in “The Formation of Muslim Community in Manipur during the seventeenth and eighteenth Centuries”), implying that they were either born in Manipur or assimilated into the Manipuri way of life four centuries ago, and the then King Khagemba (in the early 17th century) recognised their skills and enterprising nature and tapped into it by presenting land, women in marriage and servants for settlement.
Because of seven years devastation war (1819-1826 CE) many Manipuris, including Pangals, fled from Manipur to present day Myanmar, Bangladesh and Assam where they are now naturalised citizens.
Today, Manipuris, in general, and the Pangals in particular, form a Diaspora in western south-east Asia. Manipur’s total population in 1951 was 5,77,635, of which 37,197 were Muslims (including non-Pangal migrant Muslims who came in the late 19th century or in the early 20th century to Manipur). In 2011, corresponding figures were 28,55,794 and 2,39,836 as per the Census of India. In 2011, Muslim growth was -0.4 per cent against that of 2001. The increase of Manipur’s total population around 4.94 times during 1951-2011 was slightly higher than that of the Hindus (3.4 times), lower than the Muslims (6.45 times), but the Christians added 17.24 times. Since 1901, Manipur’s population has increased 10 times. The peaceful co-existence of the communities started receiving communal blows since the 1980s as a consequence of which the minority community of Pangals has been marginalised, excluded and subjugated. The identity politics in the State became competitive and sub-nationalist forces emerged resulting in mainstreaming of the reactionary elements that hitherto formed the fringe of the political discourse.
The situation has been further endangered by the politics of vilifying the Pangals (by blaming that the community’s population has increased dramatically as a result of harboring migrant workers or Rohingyas who are also Muslims) over the Citizenship Bill 2016 passed by the Lok Sabha a few months back creating a fresh wave of insecurity among certain sections of the Pangals even though they have been considered indigenous people in recognition of their four-century-long roots in the land. Although there is no empirical data to support the myth of accommodating outsiders, it has been doing the rounds for quite some years and, no wonder that in this post-truth world, this propaganda has been even endorsed by some self-proclaimed social scientists and academics.
Hence, the fear and the identity crisis are here to stay. And, if the systematic marginalisation as described in the aforementioned instances of the Government is taken beyond its face value, the hidden agenda seems to “strip off the nationality, but do not kill the individual”.
(Md. Chingiz Khan is a PhD Scholar at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; and Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan is an Assistant Professor at Gauhati University, Guwahati)