Home INDIA Violence-Hit Manipur’s Mega 5-Day Holi Muted, Colourless This Year

Violence-Hit Manipur’s Mega 5-Day Holi Muted, Colourless This Year

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Manipur's violence-hit Mega 5-day Holi is muted and colorless this year

A road in Imphal that would otherwise be busy during Holi, aka Yaosang

Imphal/Guwahati/New Delhi:

Violence-hit Manipur saw a muted Holi, or Yaosang, this year. It is one of the biggest festivals of the Meitei community, the majority of which are Hindu, and its magnitude is such that the Meiteis celebrate Yaosang for five days. The celebrations are dominated by community sporting events such as football, marathon, volleyball, etc., which is par for the course in the state that has produced world champion athletes despite its relatively small population.

With more than 50,000 people, including members of the Kuki-Zo tribes, internally displaced and living in harsh conditions in relief camps across the state, the Meitei community has held back this year’s celebration of the Spring Festival of Colors.

“A symbolic Yaosang is what the Meitei people want. The festivities may be canceled this year. But Yaosang marks the arrival of spring, of togetherness, of generosity and community work,” said Elizabeth Kh, a social sector professional from Manipur . told WhatsNew2Day.

Yaosang is especially popular with children. Every year they wait patiently for Yaosang to arrive so they can participate in their favorite part of the festival on the first day of the celebration, which they call “nakatheng“. The children dressed in their best clothes walk from door to door in their neighborhood and give blessings to adults, who would be waiting for them. In return, the children receive change with which they buy sweets and share them among themselves.

Last year the Meiteis also did not celebrate another major festival, Ningol Chakouba. Ningol Chakouba, which comes after Diwali, is similar to Bhai Dooj, except in Manipur it is the brothers who welcome their sisters from their marital homes for a grand celebration.

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The Kuki-Zo tribes also experienced a bleak Christmas last year as people struggled to survive on basic necessities in mountain towns cut off from the state capital Imphal.

Some neighborhoods, or leikais, in the Imphal Valley marked the arrival of spring and Yaosang by burning straw huts, a ritual similar to building a bonfire in the evening before or on Holi in other states. While civil society organizations have urged people not to celebrate Yaosang at a time when thousands have been living in relief camps for 10 months, others say the community should celebrate the festival with those living in the camps.

“Yaosang ensures that companies flourish. Small shops and traders will benefit, while people who have been under mental pressure from the violence can calm their minds with enjoyable activities. Children should be happy, despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. to be practical on this issue,” Kaito W, a researcher with a PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology, told WhatsNew2Day.

Imphal resident Bikramjit RK, who went to Bijoy Govinda temple today to see how Yaosang would turn out this year, said he has not seen a “darkest period” like that of Manipur.

“Staying alive, I think, is good enough these days. The people of Manipur have lost their livelihood. We are being affected in every way: education, economy… Yaosang is an important festival. It is not just a festival of colors for us; it is also a time of celebrations and sporting events where local clubs organize events and competitions and encourage youth to take up sports,” 28-year-old Rajkumar, who works in a private company, told WhatsNew2Day over phone from Imphal.

“The central government has not taken any proactive step to bring normalcy in Manipur. The silence of the Prime Minister shows how neglected we, the people of Manipur, are,” he added.

Members of the Meitei community, the majority of whom are Hindus, pray on the first day of the five-day Yaosang, or Holi (True)

Members of the Meitei community, the majority of whom are Hindus, pray on the first day of the five-day Yaosang, or Holi (True)

Those who want to celebrate Yaosang also say the festival will bring good business to small shops that have been collecting dust and losses in recent months. The same sentiment was strong at last year’s Ningol Chakouba. They say the return of some semblance of economic activity would be one of the first important steps toward normality.

But the call from community groups and influential individuals to keep celebrations to a minimum or not celebrate at all appears to have been accepted by a large section of Meiteis, said William Meitei, a sports consultant and talent scout.

“The decision to abstain from Holi celebrations in Manipur is a solemn recognition of the gravity of the situation and a strong show of solidarity with those affected by the violence. Holi in Manipur lasts for five days and includes not only festivities but also sporting events that instill a winning mentality from an early age and contribute to Manipur’s status as a sporting power,” Mr Meitei told WhatsNew2Day.

“Amidst the struggles faced by the Meitei people and the pressing issues of displacement, illegal activities and cultural integrity, celebrating festivals seems inappropriate,” he added.

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Another resident of Imphal, Athokpam Shanta Devi, said her generation has grown up with fond memories of Holi, but it is the first time in her life to see such a silent and colorless Holi. “It is a poignant reminder of the situation in Manipur. Last year it was a dark Diwali and now a colorless Holi for Manipur. I request the central government to intervene immediately and restore normalcy,” said 42-year-old Ms. Devi.

For Laikangbam Reeta, who lives in Delhi, visiting Manipur during Yaosang was the most awaited event. “My daughter’s school exams are over and this is usually the time when I go to Manipur to celebrate Holi with my family back home. This time I have canceled my trip,” Ms Reeta told WhatsNew2Day.

Manipur BJP MLA Rajkumar Imo Singh, in a post on microblogging website, wished X Holi greetings but accepted that the festival will not be loud this year. “I wish everyone the auspicious occasion of Yaoshang. Though there will not be much celebration in Manipur, I hope it will bring happiness and prosperity among you all. Happy Holi,” he said.

Ethnic violence in Manipur erupted in May 2023 between the Kuki-Zo tribes and the Meiteis over cataclysmic disagreements over land sharing, resources, political representation and affirmative action policies. The clashes have left more than 200 people dead and thousands internally displaced. The Kuki-Zo tribes form the majority in the hill areas of southern Manipur and a few other districts, while the Meiteis form the majority in the valley areas.

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