MANIPUR A state in northeast India, Manipur has an area of 8,628 square miles (22,347 sq. km), and its population in 2001 was 2,388,634. Its capital is Imphal. Most of its people speak Manipuri, a Tibeto-Burman language. The name of the state means "jeweled place," and Manipur has been called the "jewel of India" because of the beauty of its green valleys and deep blue lakes, set on a highland plateau surrounded by jungle-covered hills that rise to elevations of 8,500 feet (2,590 m). Manipur, which has long been an integral part of India's history and culture, is mentioned in the epic Mahābhārata, the Purāṇas, and ancient Chinese texts. The game of polo, called sogol kangiei in Manipuri, is believed to have originated there. Manipuri dances, including its famous ras lila, are together considered one of the six major dance traditions of South Asia. It was also the site of bitter fighting against Japanese forces during World War II.
Manipuri polity has historically been controlled by the majority Hindu Methei people. Christian Nagas (25%) and Kukis (15%) and Muslim Pangals (7%) make up most of the remainder of the population. Ethnic rivalry, recurrent patricide and fratricide among its former traditional rulers, and their predilection for waging war with the powerful neighboring kingdom of Burma ensured that premodern Manipur was continually subject to threats both internal and external. Burmese forces occupied Manipur in 1819 until the Anglo-Burmese War of 1826 forced the invaders to waive their claims to the region. This step saved Manipur from certain absorption into the Burmese state, but also established a precedent for British control. What remained of its independence withered away after a series of assassinations, self-interested regents, and popular rebellions led the British government of India to repeatedly intervene in Manipuri affairs, usually at the behest of the ruling prince. The last of these debacles led to the Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891 and the formal assumption of British paramountcy in August of that year. Subsequent attempts by the British to force the pace of modernization in the state strained political relations between the increasingly Christian Naga and traditional Hindu Methei populations. It also poisoned center-state relations, which were further exacerbated in 1949, when Manipur was compelled to merge with newly independent India under unfavorable terms, which included the cession of the Kubaw Valley to Burma (present-day Myanmar). These tensions persisted after Manipur became a Union Territory in 1956 and a state on 21 January 1972, and increased thereafter due to political corruption and poorly conceived development policies emanating from Delhi, such as a panchayati reform program that acted to exclude women, long a force in modern Manipuri politics and society.
The early 1960s witnessed the emergence of an ethnically exclusive Methei nationalist movement, which opposed what they declared to be the Indian occupation of their land. A decade later, Naga political aspirations across the Northeast region of India included the incorporation of Naga districts in Manipur and elsewhere into a sovereign state of Nagaland. This angered the Methei population, but also attracted the wrath of the government of India. In 1980, in an effort to quash any secessionist ideas, the Indian authorities evoked the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 in support of counterinsurgency operations across the entire state. These operations not only added fuel to existing secessionist fires, but also sparked demand for an independent Kuki homeland. Since the mid-1980s, several of these competing movements joined to form the Manipuri People's Liberation Army (PLA) and other umbrella groups, though its members were and remain chiefly united only in their desire to break free of Indian control and act against the migration of Muslims and others into the state from Bangladesh and elsewhere.
However, continued malfeasance in the management of development funds and the brutality of the paramilitary Assam Rifles have helped to sustain these otherwise hopelessly splintered independence movements. All sections of the population were enraged at the Assam Rifles' arrest, torture, and murder of a thirty-two-year-old woman activist, Thangjam Manorama, on 11 July 2004. In response, the state government has sought to nullify the operation of the Armed Forces Act and has demanded that the Assam Rifles be withdrawn. Long-term unrest in the state has opened the door to drug lords, whose trade in heroin and other narcotics operates freely within this chaotic political environment.
Marc Jason Gilbert
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Gilbert, Marc Jason. "The Manipur Disaster of 1891 and Indian Nationalism in Bengal: A Study in Rebellion and Revolution in the South Asian Context." In Research on Bengal: Proceedings of the 1981 Bengal Studies Conference, edited by Ray Langsten. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1982.
Roy, Jyotirmoy. History of Manipur. 2nd rev. ed. Kolkata: East Light Bookhouse, 1973.
Tarapot, Phanjoubam. Bleeding Manipur. New Delhi: Har Anand Publication, 2003.
Thomas, C. Joshua, R. Gopalakrishnan, and R. K. Singh. Constraints in Development of Manipur. New Delhi: Regency Publications, 2001.