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


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

A road in Imphal that would otherwise be crowded during Holi, or Yaosang

Imphal/Guwahati/New Delhi:

Violence-hit Manipur saw a muted Holi, or Yaosang, this year. One of the biggest festivals of the Meitei community, a majority of them Hindus, its scale is such that the Meiteis celebrate Yaosang for five days. The celebrations are dominated by community sports events such as football, marathon, volleyball, etc which comes naturally in the state that has given world champion athletes despite its relatively small population.

With over 50,000 people including members of the Kuki-Zo tribes internally displaced across the state and living in harsh conditions in relief camps, the Meitei community has held back on celebrating the spring festival of colours this year.

“A symbolic Yaosang is what the Meitei people want. The festivities may be done away with this year. But Yaosang marks the coming of spring, of being together, of generosity and community work,” Elizabeth Kh, a social sector professional from Manipur, told NDTV.

Yaosang is especially popular with children. Every year, they wait patiently for Yaosang to arrive so they could participate in their favourite segment of the festival on the first day of the celebrations, which they call “nakatheng“. The children dressed in their finest clothes walk from door to door in their neighbourhood and give blessings to adults, who would be waiting for them. In return, the children get loose change that they use to buy sweets and share among themselves.

The Meiteis also did not celebrate another big festival, Ningol Chakouba, last year. Ningol Chakouba, which comes after Diwali, is similar to Bhai Dooj except that in Manipur it is the brothers who welcome their sisters from their matrimonial homes for a grand feast.

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The Kuki-Zo tribes, too, had a Christmas of gloom last year as people struggled to survive with basic needs in hill towns that are cut off from the state capital Imphal.

Some neighbourhoods, or leikais, in Imphal valley did mark the arrival of spring and Yaosang by burning straw huts, a ritual similar to making a bonfire in the evening before or on Holi in other states. Though civil society organisations have requested people not to celebrate Yaosang at a time when thousands have been living in relief camps for 10 months, others have said the community should celebrate the festival with those living in the camps.

“Yaosang makes businesses flourish. Small shops and traders will benefit, while people who have been under mental strain due to the violence will get to calm their mind with enjoyable activity. Children need to be happy, despite the circumstances we are in. We need to be practical about this matter,” Kaito W, a researcher who has done PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology, told NDTV.

Imphal resident Bikramjit RK, who went to the Bijoy Govinda temple today to see how Yaosang would turn out this year, said he hasn’t seen a “darkest period” as the one Manipur is going through.

“Staying alive is good enough I feel nowadays. The people of Manipur have lost their livelihoods. We are affected in all ways – education, economic… Yaosang is an important festival. It’s not just a festival of colours for us; it’s also a time of celebrations and sports events when local clubs organise events and competitions, and encourage young people to take up sports,” Mr Rajkumar, 28, who works at a private firm, told NDTV on phone from Imphal.

“The central government has not taken up any step proactively 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, a majority of whom are Hindus,  offer prayers on the first day of the five-day Yaosang, or Holi (File)

Members of the Meitei community, a majority of whom are Hindus, offer prayers on the first day of the five-day Yaosang, or Holi (File)

Those who want to celebrate Yaosang also say the festival will give brisk business to small shops that have been gathering dust and losses for the past few months. The same sentiment was strong during last year’s Ningol Chakouba. They say the return of some semblance of economic activity would be one of the first important steps towards bringing normalcy.

But the call by civil society groups and influential individuals to keep the celebrations to a minimum or not celebrate at all appears to have found acceptance among a large section of the Meiteis, according to 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 powerful display of solidarity with those affected by the violence. Holi in Manipur spans over five days, featuring not just festivities, but also sports events that instil a winning attitude from a young age, contributing to Manipur’s status as a sports powerhouse,” Mr Meitei told NDTV.

“Amid 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 Imphal resident, Athokpam Shanta Devi, said her generation grew up with sweet memories of Holi, but it is the first time in her life that she saw such a silent and colourless Holi. “It is a poignant reminder of the situation in Manipur. It was a dark Diwali last year, and now a colourless Holi for Manipur. I request the central government to intervene immediately and restore normalcy,” said Ms Devi, 42.

For Laikangbam Reeta, who lives in Delhi, going to Manipur during Yaosang was the most anticipated event. “My daughter’s school exam got over, and it is usually the time I go to Manipur to celebrate Holi with my family at home. This time I have cancelled my trip,” Ms Reeta told NDTV.

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

The Manipur ethnic violence broke out between the Kuki-Zo tribes and the Meiteis in May 2023 over cataclysmic disagreements on sharing land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies. Over 200 have died in the clashes, and thousands have been internally displaced. The Kuki-Zo tribes are a majority in the hill areas in southern Manipur and a few other districts, while the Meiteis are a majority in the valley areas.





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