Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Charity & Human Compassion: Story of Lunatic

Well-meaning charity!
Recently a group of well intentioned young professionals, sons and daughters of the soil, visited Imphal. Mission was to extend financial assistance, for education and others, to orphans. The "interaction" programme was held in a posh hotel at Imphal. Medium of exchange, at least from the well intentioned, corporate based achievers was in English. This is not to deny that they did not make any efforts to speak in Manipuri. And when they did use their mother tongue, phrases were smacked with snobbishness. For example, one of the daintily dressed sophisticated looking lady asked, Leijadabashe nakhoi kamaina phao-ee (loose translation, "How does it feel like to be poor?"). Well. Then the children were asked to make a list of things they needed most. English to Manipuri dictionary topped the list. This amazed her all the more. "I thought you guys would ask for computers or mobile hand sets or perhaps a pair of sports shoes! And know what, nowadays you don’t need dictionaries. What ever you need to know is available on internet." Her mates supported her view. Nevertheless, they did go back after "donating" money in glaring media limelight, and promised to send more.
Yenning cannot say if the children were happy or intimidated or humiliated. All we can say is that we feel sorry for the corporatised well-wishers. However, we would not like to blame them in toto for their corporate sensibilities. Much before corporate made an inroad to our society, liberal capitalistic values had a collision with our traditional value system. Monetization of our economy (starting from British colonialism in Manipur) and the liberating power of liberalism on one hand and the traditional egalitarian value on the other pulled the self apart. The outcome was an individuated modern self who has nostalgia of the past rarely in humdrums of the daily life but occasionally during times of hardship and calamities. An unending struggle rages on the fragmented self: one that wants to be rooted and egalitarian and the other modern, achiever and solitary. And when this solitary man strives to strike a chord with his traditional value including "compassion", often there emerges a discord – of content in conflict with form.
Understanding Well-Being in Traditional Manipur
Looking after an orphan or extending help to a poor family was not uncommon in our society. In a way, raising a child was considered to be responsibility of the village. This started from the time a mother became pregnant until the kid reached adulthood. For example, the role of the community becomes visible once a woman becomes pregnant. A first-time would-be mother is advised or taught childbirth lessons in special lunches or dinners by friends and relatives. After a child is born, the maternal grandmother or an aunt assists the mother in taking care of the baby. Visitors bring special food items for the mother. The tradition of shared breast-feeding or sharing of motherhood ensures a better chance for survival of every child born in the community. Neighbours and leikai women help in tending and caring the child, giving relief to the mother. Until recently, orphanages were unheard of; relatives or someone from the locality took up the responsibility of rearing up the orphans.
We have grievances against feudalism and the ways of the kings and nobles. However, at the grassroot level our society was marked by communitarian ways of life. In traditional Manipuri society, well-being of individuals was understood in terms of collective responsibility and welfare. The existence of a form of social capital, social support systems and communitarian approaches to livelihood questions sustained well-being.
In addition, the traditional concept of communal ownership of land and other natural resources gave a lifeline to the poor. The prevalence of the lallup system necessitated a communitarian approach to issues related at community level. One could find this ethos embedded either in work culture (sharing of labour known as khutlang) or during response to a crisis. The extension of this social capital operates at other levels of the society and work on the principle of mutual trust and reciprocity. Thus, Lup (community level associations or clubs) served to meet exigencies. Commenting on the significance of shinglup (association that oversees the last rites), one of the many lups, R. Brown writes (in Statistical Account of the Native State of Manipur and the Hill Territory under Its Rule), "In the event of a villager sinking into a state of extreme poverty, these clubs supply him with necessary food. In sickness, they look after him, and when dead, provide the wood etc. for the last rites. In this way, although many of the inhabitants are very poor, actual starvation or fatal neglect is rendered impossible." In this way, deprivations and destitutions were contained.
Subsequent changes brought about by British colonialism and Manipur’s integration to India has brought in new dimensions to well-being and livelihood questions. The abolition of lallup system (replaced by tax system) and monetization of the economy by the British in 1892 brought about changes in our traditional institutions and value system. Subsequent integration of Manipur with liberal democratic India has not done much good. The principles of welfare-ism that India rejoiced (till the last decade of the 1980s) was juxtaposed against the image of a modern nation-state caught in a "game of catch up" – a phrase which has come to be called as "progress" and "development". The desired "trickle down effect" of welfare-ism was minimal. At the same time, "development" and "progress" unleashed violence, which rendered many landless and destroyed livelihoods.
But there are reasons to celebrate: India has produced neo-rich farmers through Green Revolution and at the same time Shining India has produced Naxalites in the heart of India and secessionist forces in the Northeast. Traditional institutions are encouraged, Panchayati Raj is considered as right to self determination. Indeed, we have Shinglups that functions more like money lending institutions. And orphanages are encouraged and NGOs in the name of people mushroom in every street for social justice!
On madness & charity: Story of Lunatic
Yenning loves John E. Steinbeck, United States writer noted for his novels about agricultural workers. We believe it is time to once again re-read his works especially The Grapes of Wrath to learn something about humility and human compassion (Yes, the milk of human compassion). Perhaps, one might say United States is too far away and any comparison too far fetched. If that’s the case, then closer home, we would like to share story of a person whom his village folks call the Lunatic.
Aged about 55 years, he works in a Panchayat Office as an UDC in Imphal East. We heard from hearsay about his visiting habits to the poor families in our village. He does it on the day he receives his salary and that’s too before he reaches home. He talks to the children and ask them to show their books, notebooks, pen, pencil and inkpots, etc. Also, he asks the parents if the school tuition fees of the children are cleared or not. He also talks to the children about importance of education for their future life as well as emancipation from poverty. Yenning met him few days back as he was visiting one such family, a jute bag slung over his shoulder. He refused to disclose the contents of the bag lest the poverty of the families is revealed pronouncedly to us.
He said, "The books and stationary items do not cost much. All of them are in Government run schools and thus, the fees are token amounts. I do not want to hurt their pride and confidence by declaring my acts. Moreover, these are few things I owe them as my village folks."
Once Yenning took a walk at night. There on the river bank, Lunatic was digging a pipe-canal across the road. Nearby stood a sign board: Men at Work. We’re surprised to find him using a generator although there was electricity.
He said, "This is public property. I do not want to be accused of stealing electricity. About working at night? Ahh, I do not want to disturb the commuters during day time. The pipe? Oh yeah, this is to irrigate the field. I am planting watermelons in the field. Children stealing them? No way. One watermelon will weight around 3 to 4 Kgs. Children cannot carry them."
True to his words he harvested a good ton of watermelons. For around a period of two weeks we found his old mother (freely) distributing sliced watermelons to passers-by, under his instruction. Recently, after a social service camp in the village he resigned from Club duty. During the camp, he refused any person to bring any tools. He provided all the required tools (spade, thangjou, thang-hai and so on) reasoning that it was to avoid unnecessary feuds over ownership of tools and prevent misplacement! His resignation was primarily on account of a simple incident. A handful of youths requested for refreshment and the Secretary of the Club was about to sanction money from the Club fund. But the Lunatic objected. His idea was that sanctioning money from the fund was not correct in principle as it will create a precedent. And youths in future would start demanding money for petty reasons once a precedent has been set. "Amount is not much. If we’ve to buy, let’s buy it from our own pocket money." Majority votes prevailed over him and he resigned on the grounds of principle.
Khura (for others, the Lunatic), continues to visit the poor families, whenever he receives his salary. He does it without any pomp and celebration and far away from media glare and coverage.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, November 21


  1. Come out and feel the fresh air of doing something good rather than critizing without understanding the motive, history, hard work and sweat of many. How long you are going to be like RAT trying to pull down everything because you can't. COme out of the masquerade if you have the guts. Contact me at

  2. Mr Khuman Ngakpa,
    Yenning appreciated your noble efforts. But you people only let down your work of charity with the humiliating (rather insulting) words you used to those children.

    Hope, yenning has successfully awakened some insensitive brothers and sisters from their deep slumber.

  3. yenning are u a member of the said organisation? Whether u are a member or not u must be well aware of the fact that being manipuris we all want manipur to be a better place. If you have any grievance or bad feeling in anything or dislike any words which the members use, then u should approach the organisation directly instead of trying to pull down the good deeds. Have the courage to come up with the problem instead of trying to tarnish the effort. Being a Manipuri, i derive that u are not concern about Manipur and show no interest in trying to help each other for our motherland which is in such chaos right now. Being a manipuri we should support each other and rectify each other mistakes instead of just publishing in media.. Please try to understand the responsibility of being a good citizen. All the manipuris will appreciate u if u lend a helping hand for a better manipur... Hope this thing is not repeated in future regarding any organisation who is working hard for a better manipur.

  4. a very nice article yenning. Please keep up the good work and if some people are not digesting the whole article then just ignore cause you cannot ask a dog to stop barking! and if some organisation is working hard however I don't see any name in the article, it doesn't mean that no one can criticized(regarding some comment)

  5. nice article,instead of mushrooming organisations claimimg ro work for a better manipur ban these organisations and a new manipur will come up.keep up

  6. "Corporatised well-wishers"... coun`t help but agree to this very apt description of the various hues of Non Govermental Organisations which has mushroomed to be the catalyst in emancipation of the poor and the disadvantaged section of our turmoil wrecked soceity.These NGOs can indeed bring about a change in the sorry state of affairs that we so much have become immuned to.My opinion is not to deter these NGOs working in a difficult place like Manipur but to bring to their appreciation that the need of the hour would be for these noble intentioned philanthropic organisations to work in a humane yet professional, ethical manner giving due consideration to the social ground reality.Cheers!