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(Archive) Bishnupriyas, Meiteis on Collision Course

The article published on 23/9/1997 by JL Chowdhury in the NorthEast Age

Bishnupriyas, Meiteis on Collision Course

JL Chowdhury

Silchar,Sept 22: A 'language war' seems imminent in Assam with the All Assam Manipuri Students' Union threatening to resort to long-term agitation if the government of Assam decides to implement the Bishnupriya language at the primary stage of education. The Bishnupriya Manipuri Students' Union and Nikhil Bishnupriya Mahasabha, on the other hand, postponed their proposed 1000 hour rail road blockade in Barak Valley which was called to put pressure on the Mahanta government to give effect to its notifications of November 14, 1983, and July 21, 1989, to use Bishnupriya as the medium of instruction at the primary level in Barak Valley. The NBMM described the stand of the state as 'quite incomprehensible' and a denial of the democratic and constitutional rights of its people. The Mahasabha refers to the recommendation of the commission for linguistic minorities which justifies the naming of the language as Bishnupriya Manipuri by the state. The Bishnupriya Manipuri Sahitya Sabha says that the term Manipuri instead of Meitei to indicate caste identity would mean ' throwing out people of the aryan group as non-manipuris' which would be historically incorrect. According to Mr Bimal Krishna Sinha, a spokesman of the Sahitya Sabha, the Bishnupriya are the natives of Manipur whose cultural identity and ethnicity are being tainted by the dominant meitei migrants who invaded the valley in the 18th century. Mr Sinha says the ethnic vaishnavite culture has gradually given way to the culture of the immigrant tribals. Bishnupriya which is related to Sanksrit, was substituted by meitei which became the state language when meitei king pamheiba came to power in 1709. the 2.5 lakh population of Bishnupriya who live in assam, Tripura and Manipur now fear their identity may be lost, he said. The All Assam Manipuri Students Union and Manipuri Sahitya Parishad repudiate the claims of Bishnupriya who say they are Manipuri natives. The two organisations quote Grierson's Linguistic Survery of India to link Bishnupriya language to impure Bengali and a dialect of Indo - Aryan origin. Manipuri and Bishnupriya, they assert, are two different languages, the former belonging to the kuki-chin group of Tibeto-Burman languages and the latter to the Indo aryan group. The sahitya parishad says that the Bishnupriyas never constituted a separate entity mentioned in the royal chronicles or in the British reports. The Sahitya Parishad adds that Manipuri, the state language of Manipur, was recognised by the Sahitya Academy. There is Manipuri literature dating back at least 1000 years, the parishad quotes Suniti Kumar Chatterjee. Besides, Meitei has been included in the 8th schedule of the constitution, it points out. Prof. Ch. Manihar Singh of Aamsu warned the assam government at a recent press conference here that it should not divide the Manipuri to identity to please the Bishnupriyas. As the Meiteis and the Bishnupriyas have adopted irreconciiable stands, the government has been put in a fix.

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