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Why Manipur government wants to censor books on the state’s history, culture, and geography

Why Manipur government wants to censor books on the state’s history, culture, and geography

Manipur government has decided to censor all books on the state’s history, culture, tradition, and geography. All such books will have to be approved by a state-appointed panel before they are published

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N. Biren Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur

The Manipur government has decided to censor all books on the state’s history, culture, tradition, and geography. All such books will have to be approved by a state-appointed panel before they are published, an order issued by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh-led BJP government said.

“It has come to the knowledge of the government that some books published on the said topics contain materials which may either distort facts or disturb the peaceful co-existence amongst the various communities in state or both,” read the order issued on September 15 by Divedita Lairenlakpam, state’s Higher and Technical Education Joint Secretary.

“Therefore, any person/group desirous of publishing of books on the history, culture, tradition and geography of the State may submit an application to the University and Higher Education director along with a copy of the manuscript of the book, for placing the same before the committee for its approval,” the order added saying that violation of the order will invite punishment under the relevant law.

Recently a book, The Complexity Called Manipur: Roots, Perceptions & Reality, by Sushil Kumar Sharma, a brigadier who had served in the Central Reserve Police Force on deputation, sparked a controversy in the state as it claimed that the Manipur kingdom measured 700 square miles at the time of the state’s merger with India in 1949. This claim caused outrage in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley as it implied that the surrounding hills inhabited by Naga, Kuki and Zomi tribes were not a part of Manipur. The valley-based groups said this factually incorrect piece of information could have been deliberately inserted to legitimise the concept of Greater Nagalim envisaging the merger of all Naga-inhabited areas of the northeast, including Nagaland. The NSCN and some other militant groups have been leading an armed struggle against India demanding creation of Greater Nagalim, including Nagaland and Naga-inhabited parts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.

The 15-member committee, to be headed by Manipur Education Minister Thounaojam Basanta, will comprise of university vice-chancellors and college teachers—serving and retired—and experts from respective fields. The director of University and Higher Education will be the member-secretary of the panel. “We have included experts from all communities including Meitei, Naga and Kuki in the panel so that history of no community is distorted,” Chief Minister N. Biren Singh told India Today NE.

As expectedly, the state government’s decision has invited criticism from intellectuals and civil society members who have accused the government of “curtailing academic freedom”. They said that it was another way to stifle the critics of the government.

The chief minister, however, dismissed these criticisms and claimed that the government’s intent was not to censor any book but to ensure that no fact about the state was distorted or misrepresented. “Many writers with vested interest distorted our 2,000-year-old history. We can’t compromise. In the name of academic freedom, can anybody write anything about a community or a state or a country? Distorted facts can create law and order issues and we can’t allow that,” says Biren Singh.