'We have lost Manipur's history'

Rebels demanding the introduction of a medieval script in India’s Manipur state torched a repository of hundreds and thousands of priceless books, police said on Thursday.

A group of 50 rebels stormed the federal library in the state capital of Imphal late on Wednesday and set it alight by pouring gasoline on racks of literature, some of it up to two centuries old.

About 150 000 books, journals and documents were destroyed in the attack by members of the United Forum for Safeguarding Manipuri Script, which outraged the region’s academic community, police said.

The banned organisation in February launched its campaign demanding the abolition of Bengali script, which has been used for the past three centuries to write the Meitei language, and the introduction of Manipur’s ancient Meiteimayek script.

“There were about 25 library staff and a few students in the building when the fire broke out,” a police official said by telephone from Imphal.

Eyewitnesses said the fire swept through the wooden building and raged for more than two hours, reducing the 47-year-old library to ashes.

“Manipur’s knowledge bank has gone up in smoke and with it we have lost our state heritage,” said H Devendra Singh, the chief librarian.

Since the script controversy erupted in February, the rebel group has burnt down at least a dozen vehicles and a few government offices, besides school textbooks written in the Bengali script.

“The books in the library were all written in Bengali script and so we have set the building on fire ... we can go up to any extent to introduce the ancient Meiteimayek script, a group spokesperson said as police arrested several suspected members for arson.

Academics called it an irreparable loss.

“We have lost Manipur’s history,” said prominent Manipur University teacher Amar Yumnam.

“Probably this is the biggest loss to the state one can ever imagine. The loss cannot be measured in terms of money.
It is irreparable,” the academic said.

Last month, Bengali-language newspapers stopped printing and shut for two days after the rebels threatened publishing houses that refused to switch to the ancient script.

Manipur’s Congress party government said it is not averse to the introduction of the ancient script.

“We are willing to switch to the ancient script form, but then we need to do that in a gradual manner. Maybe not too many can follow Meiteimayek script and so the sudden change could put such people in a spot,” a government spokesperson said on Thursday.—Sapa-AFP

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