Manipur – where the mortars and guns boom loud, but the peoples’ voices of protest are louder still. Manipur, the erstwhile princely state that resisted British colonialism, is now resisting the Indian State’s policy of militarisation, its spirit of freedom intact. Why should one’s own State treat its citizens as security threats, it questions, and unlike many of the other aggrieved voices in the Northeast, Manipur remains largely vocal and free from co-option. It is true that there is a proliferation of insurgent factions – making the formation of rebel groups seem almost like a cottage industry there. It is also true that the political establishment no longer reflects the mandate of the people. And yes, it is also true that ethnic conflicts and economic blockades are so routine there that the people have started devising alternative strategies to live with, rather than to confront, them. But it is also true that only Manipur has an Irom Sharmila, who continues to challenge the State from her hospital bed. And only in Manipur can a group of unarmed, undressed women force the State’s armed forces to retreat in the face of their anger.
This issue of NELit review tries to capture a little of this indomitable spirit of Manipur through a close look at some contemporary Meitei poets. Preetika Venkatakrishnan takes our readers through the verses of some of these poets and finds what makes their ‘poetry of survival’ so different. Images of violence and conflict can be found in much of the poetry from the Northeast, but it is only a Meitei poet who could so poignantly pen a line that says: ‘I want to be killed by an Indian bullet.’ The younger, upcoming lot of poets is also today following in the footsteps of their predecessors, critically capturing their lived experiences in verse. Our book review section, Close Reading, takes a critical look at the poetry of three such women who recently anthologised their gendered politics of protest and finds what would raise their voices above the ordinary.
Finally, through our Inkpot section, we have tried to go beyond the conflicts of a violent and political nature. A forbidden love and the conflict it creates within a woman who tries – but perhaps fails – to go against the sexual mores of society is the subject matter of the translated short story included in this section.