Amar Chitra Katha Executive Editor Reena Puri on Sunday issued an apology for including Manipuri military hero Paonam Brajabasi in their collection “Tribal Leaders of the Freedom Struggle’’ as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebration.
The apology comes two days after four Imphal-based student bodies — AMSU, MSF, KSA and SUK — banned the comic book, objecting to the inclusion of Brajabasi in the edition.
Amar Chitra Katha has brought out the edition of comics in collaboration with the Union Ministry of Culture.
Brajabasi was a military officer in the Manipuri kingdom of Kangleipak and fought against the British in the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891. The war took place when the British tried to control the rulership of Manipur, placing their own ruler in the King’s seat leading to an uprising. It is believed that Brajabasi received an offer to work for the British and when he refused, he was executed.
“The 1891 war has nothing to do with the Indian freedom struggle whatsoever. The Manipuri military was defending our kingdom. Then how could it be included in this Amrit Chitra Katha book? Moreover, Manipuris are not tribals, so how could the government include Brajabasi’s story in a book about tribal freedom fighters? This is highly condemnable,’’ Joint Students Coordination Committee convener S Bidyananda told The Indian Express.
In the apology, Puri said: “Amar Chitra Katha regrets the use of the story of the Manipuri warrior, Paonam Brajabasi, in their collection Tribal Leaders of the Freedom Struggle, published in association with Ministry of Culture, as part of activities to commemorate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. The name of the warrior was inadvertently placed in the list of tribal warriors. We have removed the story from the collection and apologise for any distress caused to the Manipuri people.’’
“Brajabasi is an important figure of Manipur. His story does not exist simply to give leverage to the state. The inclusion is an act of appropriation by the Centre. Though this is not first such case, the government should have kept in mind the historical accuracy. He was neither tribal nor the war was related to the Independence movement. The government is pushing the idea of a unitary, singular India, which is problematic. And through this homogenisation, the Centre is not allowing Manipuris to retain their unique collective memories,’’ said Manipuri university teacher Homen Thangjam. Sources in the Culture Ministry, meanwhile, said “mistakes can happen”.
The ministry is charged with putting out stories of 75 freedom fighters. It has already brought out three editions — the first on 20 women freedom fighters, second on 15 women constituent assembly members and the third on 20 tribal freedom fighters.
“There are hundreds of freedom fighters we are looking at and it is a long process to shortlist the names. We are trying to represent each state. We forward the list of unsung heroes to Amar Chitra Katha and they further shortlist the names, based on their research. They had already cut out 4-5 names from the book on tribal freedom fighters after realising that the names proposed were not tribals. So, of course it is possible that there was a mistake,’’ said a source in the Culture Ministry.