Enchanting Chandel District of Manipur
By Lunminthang Haokip
INTRO: “We had been fed with all kinds of news about Chandel district that earlier, made me think twice before going to the district headquarters (DHQ), but now that the challenging task of managing conflicts of the much misunderstood district had been thrust upon me as the chief administrator, my views are changed and I enjoyed the place and the job assigned to me so much that I think several times before leaving station,” said the dynamic new district commissioner (DC) of Chandel, Mr. H. Deleep Singh recently.
Apparent odds are aplenty in the Myanmar-bordering county of Manipur but once you get under the skin of the state of affairs out there, things are a lot calmer that the general misperception. That the district houses, perhaps, the largest number of tribes in North East India had often been made out to be a face-saving excuse for slow pace of development. But for positive thinkers, as the new DC had observed, the contradictions of Chandel district offers ample opportunities to perform and achieve greater things unthinkable in other administrative units. The belittling mindset of majoring in minors needs to be got rid of.
THE SET-BACKS: The ramifications of the unfortunate momentary madness of 1993 and 1994 still have intangible social and cultural impacts upon the otherwise intertwined peace-loving communities of the erstwhile beleaguered district. Sense of belongingness to some of its towns and villages had been seriously affected. But thanks to the collective prayer of the churches, concerned parties bartered land and property through mediators even in the thick of communal tension in the preceding decade.
As of now, realising the bitter truth, albeit a little late, that the only alternative to harmonious co-existence is co-destruction, civil societies from both of the major apex organisations had taken pains to restore pre-1993 status-quo in liberty for every community member to freely travel, if not settle, in any town or village of Chandel district. Some hearts may still ache over human displacement and dislocations of home and hearth. But as it is said that the years a woman subtracts from her own actual age are never lost, they are added onto another woman’s age, the clashes-displaced citizenry of the district of the early nineties, had added to and enriched other districts.
THE HIDDEN ASSETS: We talk of the good road connectivity and village electrification of Ukhrul district, the mushrooming concrete buildings and civil servants of Churachandpur, the juicy reports on the orange-fests of Tamenglong, the passion-fruit produces and passionate blockades of Senapati, the culture-sensitive people and effective bandh-calls of Sadar Hills and the massive infrastructural undertakings, excellence in sports, arts and drama in Imphal East and West etc. As regards Chandel, the only good news we got to read in the papers hitherto were the ad-items. But if you venture to discover, like Wordsworth’s Lucy, there are “many roses by the mossy stone, half-hidden from the eye which are fair as the stars, when a few are shining in the sky,” in our enchanting border district.
EDUCATION: In the distant past, folks residing in both the right side and wrong side of the serpentine emerald-green Chakpi river, for reasons beyond their control, could have been said to have produced many Ph.Ds – (Passed Higher Secondary with Difficulty). Of late, the results in the education scenario in the Chakpi valley and Lokchao neighbourhood had changed. The picturesque UCL – United College, Lambung, located in the fringes of the DHQ, almost equals UCC, Barapani in infrastructural provision. The subjects and courses on offer and the teaching standards are on par with state-level average. Students who do not have easy access to the district’s premier higher education centre are taken good care of by the centrally located Komlathabi College and the locally convenient Moreh College.
In fact, Chandel district is one of the few boroughs where administrators from All India Services do not have a problem communicating in English, Manipuri, Hindi etc. A Hindi-conversant army of organised retired-and-retyred ex-servicemen make their presence felt in various welfare activities. Well-placed NRCs (Non-resident Chandelians) man more GOM and GOI office establishments than outsiders imagine. High Schools and Higher Secondary Schools of Chandel, Moreh, Chakpikarong, Sita, Komlathabi etc. yield high. Komlathabi may be counted as a singular tribal village with the highest number of grads, post-grads double MAs and government employees.
DEVELOPMENT: Fighting impulses to succumb to occasional human inclination to the Kalidas-like self-goal scoring machinations of public scheming in developmental schemes, multi-tribed Chandel gallops fast to catch up with the forward districts. Successive administrative functionaries at the helm of affairs, contributed valuable inputs to achievement-oriented implementation of DRDA schemes. Due to lack of media infra and their representatives in the under-rated district’s key areas, Chandel-specific outstanding works may not hit the headlines. But the truth of the matter is that the so-called backward district is far ahead in progress under MOPR’s brain-child, BRGF- Backward Region Grant Fund. Great assets positively surpassing stretched expectations had been created. Efforts are on to showcase success stories widely.
Under the overall disciplined governance of Respected chief secretary of Manipur, Sir D.S Poonia, and the incumbent DC’s pulls and pushes towards the right direction, NREGS and other implementations in the district will soon be a commendable point of reference state-wide. MORD-propelled Special Package IAY is turning the obscure flicker of hope in Khengjoy Block into a veritable ray. KVK-Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Japhou village, may not have the superb concrete structures and visually attractive landscaping of Hengbung KVK, Senapati dist. But they conduct round-the-year skill development and farmer-awareness training sessions with the sole target to prop up productivity sector. Human Development Indicators indicate social uplift.
SOCIAL LIFE: In the past, the favourite joke circulating around the DHQ was, “If you want to win the heart of an Anal girl, put on Jungle boots (to be taken as a military service-man); if a Lamkang lass, carry some official files (to impress); if a Moyon-Monshang, take along sufficient stuff of fresh vegetable; and if a Kuki girl, display a bunch of keys (as a show-off to appear to possess many almirahs). In fact, a decent but gullible Thadou maiden had been duped to marry the job-less brother of a custom official of her own tribe who flashily put on his in-service brother’s uniform in the course of courtship. Of course priorities are different today. Motor cars of all makes galore. That bad hilly roads, sooner or later, cause all the parts of the vehicles make noises, except the horn, is another story.
Most of the youth, who are below 25 and the unemployed elderly, who are twice 25 years old, flood district and block offices with petitions for grants and loans. We understand the lack of alternative means of livelihood in the absence of Private Enterprises and factories. The rest, who are ill-at-ease in being upwardly mobile, go for hunting on mo-bikes. Shall we call it motor-bike safari? Take it from me, as Chandelians, we may not sing as well as our Mizoram singers, but when it comes to preparing dishes, we are much better. Meat-curries sold openly on the road-sides of Chandel rival the best of Thai-food. Annual Chavang Kut and Chavan Kumhrin festivities reflect the cultural bonding and similarity of the origin of all the tribes inhabiting the district.
MORE ABOUT MOREH: The border destination of many tourists was touted as the El-Dorado of Manipur once upon a time. Purse-proud foot-loose and fancy-free businessmen, with surplus cash to ostentatiously throw around, used to wine, dine and gamble. Today, Moreh is the poorer twin brother of richer, well-planned Tamu. Economics of day-to-day survival perils meaningful visionary town planning. But the twin towns are inseparable. Like the rhymed naming of proverbial twins, if one is Peter, the other is Repeater; if one is Kate, the other is Duplicate. Whereas our shrewd neighbours strategically lure us into buying heavily-under-invoiced Chinese Consumer-durables with doubtful durability, every day, and beautify their town with lanes of Spanish villas adjacent to glitzy pubs (we don’t grudge but enjoy the view), our popular border town is left with home-grown problems and conflicts that defy solutions.
Moreh, critics say, is like a thin cow who everybody milks but forget to feed. In the run-up to become an unavoidable junction of the much-hyped up India’s Look-East Policy and the Trans-Asian Highway, we ought to get our acts together to create Investment climate, invite builders, connectivity facilitators, business tycoons to tap resources and start suitable factories, create Infra like auditoriums, more conference halls, the classic-like 3-star hotels for respectable hospitality and make governance receptive to international traffic and transactions, winds of progress and build up a booming town becoming of a national gateway to the Eastern corridor.
CONCLUSION: All said and done, it is my sincere appeal to all my dear Chandelian brothers and sisters that we should go for a paradigm-shift in our approach to life. Let us tire and hire the best brains to utilise the natural, financial and human resources at our disposal to increase the prestige-percentage of our lovely district. Re-building should begin with change of mind-set. Narrow-mindedness should be replaced by futuristic Nehru-mindedness. We have the Bible and principles of Christianity to guide, correct and teach us to be gen-next-concerned citizens. Clannish and communal chauvinism had taken us backward in reverse gear.
We must immediately get the basics of the Church and society right. Our colleges should produce enough tech-grads to man the future tech-vacancies. We need technocrats and visionaries endowed with Dhirubhai Ambani-type of resilience. And above all, theology should not become Me-ology. Let us not lose faith in God. The most high God who sees us (Genesis 16:13) rules in the kingdom of men (Daniel 5:21). He will surely do what we cannot do when we sincerely do what we can do.
In the following poem-turned-song, this obscure Pen-pusher puts down in verses, his humble poetic suggestions to transform our backward district into a forward district where “every tear-drop is wiped away from every eye”.
Nearer home is a shire non-lesser,
A border sapphire that links Myanmar;
Hills and dales that God’s wishes unveil;
In a no-frills county called Chandel,
That warm vibes His own may share and fuse,
The Lord wills firm tribes to dwell in peace.
We like pride and to the land bring fears,
We love fights and to women bring tears;
Lure of wealth covers cure of the Word;
Word of men rules o’er way of the Lord;
Mend your flaws and live God’s laws will sail
As end-chant to bail and hail Chandel.
Shrewd plans badly moved our own folds ail,
Good moves sadly proved make the souls wail;
Life-lifting schemes make us all scheming,
High-living cream too keep on seeking;
Will this augur well to thirst for more,
Here where Christ gave His all and sins bore?
The riches the Maker blessed us with,
The Churches sinners in stress visit;
Will do less to lift up ties and traits,
Unless we give up lies in true-faith,
When the world pants in vain to Look East
The whole stands to gain most in Look Christ.
The writer is additional deputy commissioner under Manipur government and currently posted in Moreh.