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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Socio-economic survey of Manipuri Muslims

By Our Special Correspondent

Imphal: Muslims in Manipur, a long marginalized and neglected community, have been reeling under considerable hardships. Even the basic demands for their socio-economic development have been neglected by the successive govts on one pretext or the other. The idea of Muslim reservation was placed before the Alimuddin cabinet in 1977, but was deferred indifinitely, not brought back for discussion — so far. In this background the govt’s recent launching, decided to this effect on last year, of a "Socio-Economic Survey of Meitei-Pangals" is seen as a refreshing and encouraging step by the progressive elements of the state. 
Pangals are now a Muslim people within the Islamic fraternity. They are different from other Muslim peoples because they have a different history and a unique process of their ethnic evolution. They are a naturalized people of Manipur, following Islam. Meiteis follow Hinduism, Nagas follow Christianity, Pangals follow Islam. And Pangals are equally at ease being a part and parcel of Manipur and Islamic Ummah at the same time.

The survey is being conducted by the Directorate of Economics and Statics, govt of Manipur. The main reason behind the survey , as put by the Directorate, is "contributions of the minority communities in the overall socio-economic life of the state are required to be assessed and suitable measures are to be taken up for their upliftment but adequate dates relating to the minority communities of Manipur are not readily available from any source". And the survey seeks to "fill up the data gap".

As conceived by the government the survey is intended to get a comprehensive picture of the community – on social, religious, cultural and economic aspects. The survey schedules show that the survey actually aims at eliciting a near-total picture of the community. Apart from the data relating to rural labour, enterprise, drinking water, cooperative society, schools, hospitals, dispensary, vocational centers, the survey seeks to gather information about the year of settlement and history of the villages and towns where Muslims are found. The Masjids, Qabarstans, Idgahs, Madrasas, Peerkhanas etc are sought to be enumerated as well.

The state cabinet had also recently taken a decision to appoint a "one-man minority commission" – a long standing demand of the Muslims. Muslims protested four years back when the govt. had clubbed minority and OBC offices under one ministry. The most interesting part of this 24-man ministry is the fact that not a single person is a Muslim! Abdul Salam, the MOBC (Minority and Other Backward Classes) minister, recently said that the bill for a Minority Commission was likely to be tabled in the next session of Manipur Legislative Assembly.

A note on the "Meitei-Pangals"
In an ethnically volatile state as Manipur, the term "Meitei-Pangal" has created a lot of unnecessary misunderstanding in the state and confusion outside. Imposing the term on Muslims (Pangals in Manipuri) has led to the assertion (in popular culture and common parlance) that "Meiteis live in the Manipur valley", excluding the Muslims. When objected, it would be argued that "Meitei" covers Muslims since they are "Meitei-Pangals". This is against the spirit of tolerance, respect and above all against the underlining principle of co-existence. Meiteis and Pangals are different from social (social systems are different completely), ethnic and religious perspectives. Yet they are united by language, the respect they have for each other and undying love they have for the land, and they are also bound to a common destiny through the thick and thin of the state as has been the case down the ages. In other words, they are one in their Manipuriness. 

Yet, if the Meiteis say they are Meiteis , Pangals are naturally Pangals, certainly not "Meitei-Pangals", a term imposed, confusing between an ethnic group and a linguistic community, by the Britishers and later carried on by those who wanted to absorb the Muslims. Most disturbing part is that the Muslim "leaders" in their servility push all serviles into insignificance when they refer shamelessly to themselves and other Muslims as "Meitei-Pangals". This slave mentality propelled some "intellectuals" into forming a Muslim association which they christened "All Manipur Meitei-Pangal (Manipuri Muslim) Welfare Association", writing meekly "Manipur Muslim" in the bracket trying to hide their Muslimness – from whom? They may be thinking that by adding "Meitei" to Pangals Muslims will be treated fairly. This is the mentality of a defeated people who are certainly not Muslims. Centuries of contribution to making Manipur a better place does not . count for anything. And it will change once you change to become "Meitei" is an argument best suited for fools and ignorant, not for self-conscious Pangals who have a sense of dignity and believe in coexistence with other cultures and peoples without being overtaken by the other. Meiteis and Pangals could be good to and for one another without being fossilized into one – whether ‘Meitei–Pangal’ or ‘Pangal-Meitei’.

Pangals are spread across some states and two foreign countries. Meitei-speaking Muslims during (1819-1826CE) the persecution carried out by the Burmese who then occupied Manipur had fled to other states and countries. Tripura , Assam, Nagaland, many places in Bangladesh(about two lakh Meiteis also live in Bangladesh) and Myanmar. In these places they are still speaking Manipuri language and are known by the term Pangal. In other words, the present Muslim population of Manipur is a much-reduced population effected by the devastating Burmese occupation. The Pangals now living in Myanmar are the descendants of those taken by the Burmese (captives with many Meiteis).

Pangals are now a Muslim people within the Islamic fraternity. They are different from other Muslim peoples because they have a different history and a unique process of their ethnic evolution. They are a naturalized people of Manipur, following Islam. Meiteis follow Hinduism, Nagas follow Christianity, Pangals follow Islam. And Pangals are equally at ease being a part and parcel of Manipur and Islamic Ummah at the same time.
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