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‘Thengra’ In Manipur Journalism

Homage to nationalist writer & activist NK Sanajaoba, the Father of Investigative Journalism in Manipur

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‘Thengra’ In Manipur Journalism

By: Seram Neken
Sources of Sanajaoba’s scandal stories in his ‘Yukhal Marumda’ were never revealed to anybody during his lifetime. It still remains a secret of his powerful writings. Protection of the source is the essence of investigative journalism.”
During my childhood, a state level essay writing competition was organised by the state Veterinary and Animal Husbandry department on the topic ‘Birds and animals of Manipur’. I requested my neighbourhood ‘Maamton’, who is also a relative to my family to prepare the essay for me for submission to the department.
Even though he wrote the resourceful essay in no time, I missed to submit the same within the last date. He scolded me and said ‘you must have won the first prize, as no write-up of such nature would be there in the competition’. In fact, the essay thoroughly discussed the various types of indigenous birds and animals, their cries and indications of omens, their relations with human beings, the interdependence between humans and the birds and animals etc. etc.
I wondered how he knew the different cries and barks of birds and animals, which he adorned the essay. It was in fact a very resourceful essay write-up, which I failed to submit for the competition at that time. Only today, after years of his death, do I realize the resourcefulness of this personality in almost every sphere of human knowledge.
This is none other than NK Sanajaoba, popularly known by many as ‘Lamyanba Yaoilloi’. On another occasion when Meitei-Pangal communal clashes were going on, this elderly man narrated me how Pangals became a part of Manipur Society. On many other occasions, he informally taught me small techniques of writing English and the grammatical norms.
The author, having associated with this unique personality at the later part of his life, learnt how he loved the flora and fauna, culture and tradition of this land. Early during childhood, we happened to witness NK Sanajaoba scolding ladies around for plucking flowers from his garden. People said Sanajaoba had the habit of purchasing vegetables from the oldest women vendors in the market without any negotiation of price, no matter the quality of the commodity was. He had also reared various animals including tiger cubs, monkeys, goats etc. at his residence. For a long time after his demise, his old traditional thatched Meitei hut was standing at his birthplace.
In the later part of his life, I rode his old blue colour Vespa-150 scooter with him sitting on the back while visiting his friends and others. In my supposition, this great personality whom I realized later after death was full of knowledge, commitment and energy for his nationalistic ends and unity mission. But, apparently for the desperation he might have had at the dusk of his life, he ended his journey on earth as a drunkard. On the death anniversary of this social thinker and activist today, I dedicate this article as homage to this legend.
The true essence of ‘Investigative Journalism’ in Manipur raised its head in the columns of journalist NK Sanajaoba, that appeared in the ‘Lamyanba’, the monthly publication of Pan Manipuri Youth League (PMYL) under the banner ‘Yukhal Marumda’. Written in forceful vocabularies and striking styles that could not escape the eyes of the readers during the late 1960s throughout 1970s, Sanajaoba’s investigative writings served as an eye opener to the public as well as to the establishment. ‘Thengra’ was the pen name of the writer that appeared in the ‘Yukhal Marumda’ column every month.
Earlier, a few years after merger of Manipur kingdom into India, a few of nationalist writers came out to protest the Indian regime in Manipur in the form of a journal called ‘Mother India’. Sagolsem Indramani, Yangmaso Saiza, Wahengbam Prahlada and RK Maipaksana, who published the journal, were put into jail on charges of sedition. Later during the 1960s, NK Sanajaoba with his sharper pen began to unearth the misdeeds of the regime in his ‘Lamyanba’ journal. The government harshly dealt with the publication, as it is said that every editor of ‘Lamyanba’ had their days in prison during the heydays of the publication. There was even a time, people were afraid to bring ‘Lamyanba’ copies in public. The journal was read stealthily, even changing its cover with another magazine, for obvious reasons.
Born in 1963 (December 30) to Nongmeikapam Ibocha and Nongmeikapam Ongbi Muktarei at Singjamei Wangma Kshetri Leikai in Imphal, Sanajaoba grew as a valorous, sportive and enterprising youth during the childhood. He got his primary education at Khongman LP school (presently known as Torban Kshetri leikai Junior High school), and later studied at Moirangkhom ME school and RDS school to pass matriculation in 1956. He completed his graduation from DM College.
In his service career, Sanajaoba also worked as an employee in the Loktak Hydro Electric project, and also served as president of Loktak Project Labour Union. He was also a teacher in Meitei Mayek School, Kongba, and served as second head master in Hindi High school Akampat of which he was a founder. During 1966-67, Sanajaoba served as News Reader cum Translator in the All India Radio Imphal. NK Sanajaoba was also the founder of Boy Scout movement in Manipur. He was in fact the ardent abider of scout laws who believed in scout motto “Be prepared” and “Do a good turn daily”. He dedicated to the Scouts Movement till his 50th year. He always propounded ‘patriotism through scouting’ in his speeches in connection with any scout functions.
As an ardent believer in unity of the various indigenous communities of Manipur, Sanajaoba participated in the campaign for cultural integration by going at various hill villages along with MK Priyobarta and Prof. Gangmumei Kamei. During his hectic days, Sanajaoba went across the Meitei settlements in other parts of India and abroad. He was very familiar to the Meitei residents at Cachhar, Silchar and others.
His writings earned the popularity among readers as early as in late 1950s when he was the Magazine Secretary of DM College. Eminent nationalists like Arambam Samarendra and Nongmaithem Pahari became his lifetime colleagues from the college-days. While serving in the NCC, the trio – Sanajaoba, Samarendra and Pahari got nationalistic inspirations from the NCC Officer, Captain Harnet of the time. NK Sanajaoba took active role in the establishment of the first armed revolutionary organization of the hill and valley people of Manipur, United National Liberation Front (UNLF) on November 24, 1964.
Later, in December 1968, he spearheaded the formation of Pan Manipuri Youth League in Gauhati University. Sanajaoba became the first editor of ‘Lamyanba’, the monthly journal of PMYL. The most striking aspect of the Lamyanba publication was the column ‘Yukhal Marumba’ of NK Sanajaoba that continuously exposed the corruption, bribery, nepotism and misdeeds of the then government officials. His series of investigative writings with ‘Thengra’ as his pen name on the column not only made ‘Lamyanba’ the most popular among readers, but it also earned the notoriety of the then government officers.
In 1969, Sanajaoba was arrested and put in jail on charges of seditious writings in his column ‘Yukhal Marumda’ and for his alleged involvement in revolutionary activities. Even then, his prison-life became a good opportunity for him to expose the maladministration of jail authorities and grievances of the inmates. NK Sanajaoba continued to write from the four walls of the prison. His undaunted pressures on the authority could prove fruitful, as the prison authority was compelled to rectify most of the administrative arrangements inside the jail.
As the then government could not tolerate his exposition, Sanajaoba was transferred to Jiribam Jail on September 29, 1970. He became the first political prisoner to be transferred to Jiribam jail. In his writings from the Jiribam Jail which was later published by NK Sanajaoba Memorial trust in 2008, one can well grasp the personality of NK Sanajaoba as a pragmatic social reformer and undaunted political prisoner.
As late as April 1987, NK Sanajaoba was arrested and detained under NSA in connection with a case of alleged extortion of Rs. 35,000/- by UNLF. 52-year old Sanajaoba resorted to hunger strike inside the prison protesting the non-fulfilment of rights of prison inmates.
A journalist, trade unionist, NCC cadet, a disciplined boy Scout, teacher, broadcaster, social worker, cultural activist and a revolutionary of the 60s and 70s, NK Sanajaoba died at the age of 59 years on November 11, 1995.
In 1998 (January 6), All Manipur Working Journalists’ Union conferred the Award of Honour to NK Sanajaoba posthumously for his contributions in Manipur Journalism. He was also honoured with state journalist award by the state Information and Public Relations Department.
Even after 28 years of his demise, NK Sanajaoba’s life and works in various fields still remain relevant in Manipur. Journalists of Manipur state need to learn a lot from his courageous writings in the field of investigative journalism, while the people as a whole are required to follow his footsteps in maintaining cordial links and unity among the hill and valley residents. In such a situation of rampant corruption and mis-governance eating into the social and political fabric of Manipur, people of Manipur surely remember Lamyanba Yaoilloi NK Sanajaoba as a social reformer and visionary revolutionary.
(The writer is a Senior Columnist available at [email protected])

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