For memory's sake
Plan is on to build a Second World War Museum in Imphal with Japanese help
Tucked away in one of the fartherest corners of North East India, Manipur is a State with many distinctive features than what it is typically known for. Unknown to many, the State, though long riled in unrest and often finds itself in news for it, has many experiences to offer a visitor which can be one of a kind. Though most know about the graceful Manipuri dance as one, few may also know about the brow antlered deer unique to the State. It is also the only place for the Shiroy lily, can't be grown anywhere except in the Shiroy mountain in Ukhrul district.
Manipur also faced the Second World War. Though the Battle of Kohima is far better known as a remnant of the Indian experience of that War, it was through Manipur that the Japanese advanced into the country --then under the Allied Forces, and many bloody battles were fought in its hills and valleys. The State has commemoration of it, two Second World War memorials at Chingmeirong and Hatta, both run by the World War Graves Commission.
With such distinctive features to offer, Manipur has a huge potential for tourism. Though the State Government keeps talking about using them to attract tourists, not much has been seen on the ground in terms of putting in place the required infrastructure and promoting the State's assets. Interestingly, a recent initiative to set up a Second World War museum in the State may bring in the necessary impetus for it.
The initiative to set up the museum in Imphal has been spearheaded by the Manipur Tourism Forum (MTF) and II World War Imphal Campaign Foundation. Japan has reportedly assured all assistance for proposed museum.
According to R.K. Sharma, the general secretary of MTF, a high level meeting of the representatives of Japanese embassy in New Delhi with those of the State Government, MTF and IIWWICF will be held on the issue on the side lines of the Sangai Festival to be held in Imphal from November 20. Sharma says a blue print for construction of the war museum will be finalised in the meeting. It may be added here that the Japanese Government had once offered to construct a fully equipped ultra modern hospital in Manipur in memory of the Japanese soldiers killed in the battles with the Allied Forces in the State. However, for unexplained reasons, the Indian government didn't allow its humanitarian gesture to kick start which would have helped a lot of people in the State who otherwise have to travel elsewhere for modern medicare.
Giving details on the museum, Sharma says it will showcase artefacts of all the battles fought in Manipur by the Japanese with the Allied Forces. It will include the involvement of the Indian National Army led by Netaji Subash Chandra Bose in the battles at Moirang and Torbung; the first Indian flag of independence was hoisted at Moirang. It will also include information and artefacts from the major battles fought at Torbung, not far from Moirang. There will also be rare stills and moving clippings and other audio visual presentations and representations relating to the battles. He says the aim is to make the museum contents the resource centre for researchers on the subject. Besides family members and relatives of the slain soldiers could see many things connected with their loved ones.
Till recently, family members of the Japanese soldiers killed in those battles visited Manipur, also Kohima, in search of any remains of bones, etc. The soldiers were not given a proper burial during the War. The skeletal remains were reportedly carted away to Japan for the last rites.
According to T. Dhabali, president of MTF, the Japanese army stayed in Manipur for four months. From there, they advanced to Kohima, then a part of Assam for more battles. However, it was in Manipur that the Japanese soldiers were locked into bloody confrontations for four months. There were major battles in places like Sangshak, Modbung, Kanglatongbi, Kameng, Red Hill aka Point 2926, Runaway hill, Nungshigun, Silchar track, Bishenpur and Tengnoupal. The INA soldiers fought the British forces only at Moirang and Torbung.
Dhabli further says during those four months, an estimated 53,000 Japanese soldiers were believed to have been killed in the armed confrontations. The Allied Forces lost 16,000 personnel. Manipuri civilians who looked like the Japanese soldiers were not spared when spotted here and there by the Forces since there was reasonable suspicion that they were Japanese. There is, however, no reliable record on the casualties of Manipuri civilians during that time, he adds. He also said that there are just six veterans of the war in Manipur. They are Lalbiaka Lushai, Manjathang Zou, Lalminthang, Thangsham Baite, Manjathang and Lalmingthang Lushai. Dhabali says that since all of them are above 90 they do not have many days on this earth.
The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal was observed in the State Capital from March 23 to 28, 2014. A proposal to build a war Museum at Maiba Lokpa Ching, 10 kms from Imphal, was presented to the State Government then. It was in Maiba Lokpa Ching that the the Allied Forces opened a camp on top of a hillock which the Japanese soldiers attacked several times.
With the fresh initiative on the museum rolling now, there is every chance that those visiting Manipur will soon not only be able to experience its unique culture and flora and fauna, but also get a peek at an important slice of Second World War that concerns Indian history.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Imphal. He can be reached at email@example.com)