On Thursday, the people of Manipur celebrated Ningol Chakkouba, the biggest social festival in the region, although the families whose bread earners have not been paid salaries for over 24 months did so with dampened spirits.
Governor Gurubachand Jagat, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi, Deputy Chief Minister G. Gaikhangam and other public leaders greeted married women invited to their parental homes for private lunches. A few outlawed underground organisations, while greeting the women, exhorted them to accept the local handloom products only and buy local fruits and other eatables for taking to their parents and brothers.
For ages, the women and their parents and brothers have been exchanging gifts on the occasion, but for the past 20 years, an unhealthy competition has sprung up among the well-heeled parents and brothers — that of gifting very expensive items. The artificial gap between the haves and the have-nots has become unbridgeable. This happy occasion has become a curse for the poor parents and brothers who cannot afford expensive gifts. Many sections of the people, including educated women, have been campaigning for ending this unhealthy competition and brazen show of ill-gotten lucre.
A contributory factor is the exorbitant prices of merchandise that on festive occasions becomes even costlier. Fruiterers and costermongers say that as insurgents extort illegal taxes along highways, they have to hike the prices of the same in Imphal.
In the past, this social festival was prevalent among the non-tribal Manipuris. However, members of other communities have started emulating this practice of cementing the bond of love among families. This practice is also reported among the Manipuri settlers in different parts of Assam and Tripura. Women from several tribes and the Muslim community are also given handloom garments. The grateful women say that such a social intercourse based on trust and understanding will go a long way in bringing about an emotional integration among the various communities.