In the midst of ongoing ethnic strife that continues to plague Manipur, there are concerns that Ningol Chakkouba, the largest and most significant festival celebrated by Manipuri women, may not be observed with its usual fervor. This year, many individuals and local organizations in the state have chosen not to partake in the festivities due to the volatile situation resulting from violence.
Ningol Chakkouba, traditionally celebrated on November 15, sees Meitei women, particularly those who are married, don their finest traditional attire and return to their natal homes to partake in sumptuous feasts with their parents and siblings. The occasion is marked by the exchange of simple gifts and blessings from parents and brothers, with the Ningols (women) returning home with high spirits. Elaborate entertainment programs, including music concerts and Shumang Leela (courtyard theater), are also held on this auspicious day.
However, the festival, which has over the past few decades embraced other communities, now stands as a poignant testament to love, unity, and integration amidst a starkly contrasting backdrop of violence. The ethnic conflict that erupted on May 3 has claimed the lives of over 175 people, injured 1,108, and left approximately 60,000 homeless, taking shelter in relief camps. Thousands of houses and other properties have been destroyed, casting a shadow over the normally joyous Ningol Chakkouba.
Saikhom Ongbi Tombi Devi, a resident of Thangmeiband in Imphal West district, expressed, “Had there been no violence in our state, we would have already planned everything for the ensuing Ningol Chakkouba, from the fish menu for the family feast to the simple gift items for our married daughters and beloved Ningols (women).”
She added, “When bereaved families are grieving for their loved ones killed, injured, and maimed in the ongoing conflict, when people have lost their homes and are now seeking refuge in relief camps, and when others are suffering from the public unrest, there will be no joy in Ningol Chakkouba. Hence, we have decided to forgo the festival this time.”
Sharing similar sentiments, Premjit Singh from Imphal East district revealed that he has no inclination to celebrate Chakkouba this year and has chosen not to invite his married sisters.
Keisham Ongbi Aruna, a former journalist from Konba Laishram Leikai in the same district, concurred, stating, “Celebrating Chakkouba, a time of merriment and joy for Manipuri women, feels inappropriate when so many people are affected by the ongoing strife. Moreover, many civil bodies have appealed to forgo the upcoming Chakkouba. In solidarity with the victims, we will not celebrate this time.”
The World Meitei Council (WMC), a prominent civil body of the Meiteis, has issued an appeal in light of the current situation, urging all community members around the world to stand in solidarity with the conflict's victims and abstain from celebrating 'Ningol Chakouba' this year. The WMC noted that the current strife has brought about widespread destruction not experienced by the Meiteis since the Burmese invasion of Manipur from 1819 to 1826.
The crisis has resulted in the loss of many lives and the displacement of thousands of families, particularly in Churachandpur, Moreh in Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi, and surrounding hill districts.
Several local civil bodies, including the Kakching Khunou in Kakching district, have also called for the suspension of Ningol Chakkouba and other festivals in solidarity with the victims. At a time when sharing the grief and pain of those affected is vital, festivities appear out of place.
S Tomba, the convenor of Kakching Khunou, emphasized, "It is not the right time to celebrate Ningol Chakkouba when thousands are going through pains and sufferings owing to the crisis."
In a united front, two bodies in Kyamgei areas of Imphal East, The Peace and Integrity Committee Kiyamgei (PICK) and All Kiyamgei Nupi Chaokhat Thourang Lup (AKNCTL), have decided to forgo Ningol Chakkouba celebrations this year to show solidarity with the suffering population.
In Jiribam district, which borders Assam, three local bodies – Jiri Ima Meira Paibi Apunba Lup (JIMPAL), Jiri Development Organization (JDO), and United Jiri Youth League (UJYL) – have urged the district's residents to scale down their upcoming celebrations, including Durga Puja, Ima Panthoibi Erat Thouram, Diwali, and Ningol Chakkouba, in light of the ongoing chaotic situation in the state.
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