Meet Dr. Immanuel Z. Varte, the man who stands by the view that if the pen is mightier than the sword then a PhD degree is the general of all the pens.
Born on March 11, 1981, to Pu Varrohlun and Pi Lalremzo at Thanlon village in Churachandpur district of Manipur, Dr. Varte completed his high school from Standard English High School, Sielmat, in 1997. Thereafter, he passed out the higher secondary from Bethany Higher Secondary School in 1999 in Science stream. In 1999, he went to Shillong to pursue higher education and he passed out from Morning Star College with a BA (General) degree and then there was no long back for the “’average student” who went on to get a Gold Medal in MA (Anthropology) under North Eastern Hill University in 2004. After clearing the UGC-NET, he registered for a Ph.D in October, 2005 and with the support from the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship, he did a research on the “Impact of Development on the Hmars of Tipaimukh in Churachandpur District, Manipur” which earned him a Degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the North Eastern Hill University on May 4, 2011.
Lalmalsawm Sungte (LMS) talks to Dr. Varte on issues affecting the Hmar community and other issues.
LMS: What motivates you to take up the PhD programme in Anthropology?
Dr. Varte: Even though my original plan was to go for the Civil Services, I veered away from that plan during my Masters days at North-Eastern Hill University. We had a course on development and Dr. Lucy Zehol (who became my Ph. D guide) vividly brought out the issues of development afflicting the tribals in India and the studies done on them. Unfortunately most studies were at the superficial level that really does not bring out a clear and proper picture of development. Such misleading studies and reports are often the fuel for further deterioration of development scenes in North East India thereby plunging societies and modern nation- state machineries further into a chaotic state of existence. Furthermore, I realize that information on the development scenario with respect to the Hmar communities per se and the tribes of Manipur in general are also sorely lacking. Therefore, the dual aim of delving deep into the very fabrics of planned development to fill the gaps so evident in development studies and also to qualitatively and analytically study the development of the Hmars of Tipaimukh and to bring out their plight to the world were the two main factors that motivates me to take up the Ph.D Programme.
LMS: In what ways can having a PhD degree helps?
Dr. Varte: If the pen is mightier than the sword then PhD degree is the general of all the pens.
LMS:Some people think it is a wastage of time to do research. Your comments.
Dr. Varte: It will definitely be a wastage of time for someone who is not very much into research things and without any real passion for one’s research topic. The same goes for those who are doing research just for the sake of doing it or just for the fellowship or degree. For quality research, one needs patience, time, money and grit determination. Many people don’t have these or are not ready to commit all those and I can’t blame them for it. It is just a matter of perspective, motivation and commitment.
LMS:Your subject was related to the Hmars in Tipaimukh sub-division of Manipur. What are the findings or conclusions a common man needs to know?
Dr. Varte: One thing is visible everywhere in Tipaimukh (Hmar Hills)- the traditional system is adapting or trying to adapt itself to match modernity. The present Hmar society of Tipaimukh is constantly facing challenges to accommodate the contesting values generated from their tradition on the one hand and rapid modernization as a result of development processes on the other hand. Notwithstanding some successful adaptation and transition, such process of adaptation and transition often disturbs the original equilibrium of the society leading the entire tribe to search for a new equilibrium between original traditional ideals and new concepts of development and practices resulting in haphazard confusion; breaking up of the original equilibrium and encouraging the emergence of elements like corruption, materialism, dependency and strife that has led to disintegration rather than integration within the society.
In yet another instance of the confusion, planned development under the banner of democracy has attacked the patriarchal tradition of the Hmars of Tipaimukh leading to opposition and rejection of such attempts by the men and, to an extent by the Church. This opposition and rejection is challenged by women groups resulting in a power battle between male and female groups. Since no group or class is able to dominate all other groups (because of checks and balances built into a democratic system of governance), a ‘plurality’ of competing interest groups, political parties and so forth is seen to characterize the present Hmar society of Tipaimukh.
The study also revealed that inspite of more than half a century of planned development in India, development programmes have not directly had an impact on the life of the Hmar of Tipaimukh in most cases as desired but only help to indirectly trigger changes and to hasten the process of changes that have been going on even before the advent of planned development in the area brought about by forces which are external to the system as well as by forces which are internally
present within the system.
While many development programmes in Tipaimukh are often based on the belief that culture can be changed from the outside by means of materially and financially induced development interventions and material enhancement, this concept often relegates to the side many traditional values and concepts on ‘changkangna’ (development) or ‘hmasawnna’ (progress), inter-dependency and solidarity (for example, the concept of hnathlang where people of the village come together to help a person or for the village as whole), non-monetised concept of wealth, obligations and counter-obligations (for example, the concept of Inlawm where a person help another so as to be help by the other another day in return for the help rendered thus protecting the dignity of both the giver and receiver of the help), ‘tlawmngaina’ (altruism), etc that are often the bases for solidarity and equilibrium within the society.
LMS: What are the solutions to these issues?
Given the importance of tradition in development process, real development in Tipaimukh can be achieved only if it is fully recognised by planners, administrators, church leaders, that some traditional concepts and ideas of the Hmars actually fit and complement a model of planned development and of modernity itself. The planners can try to match at the conceptual levels of development programmes such traditional concepts that will enable development and changes entailing a synthesis of old and new. They need to understand that it is important to renew and reaffirm the bonds of the community and the links with their past while redefining them for the future.
LMS: What is most lacking in Tipaimukh sub-division of Hmar Hills and what measures need to be taken to address the issue?
Dr. Varte: There is total absence of monitoring. This has led to lack of accountability of development programmes implemented in the area. Coupled with poor implementation, the total absence of monitoring has allowed the continuance of several faulty development programmes that do not address or meet the needs of the people. This has weakened the peoples’ faith and trust in development initiatives undertaken by the government. To correct this lacuna and ensure the greater possibility of tailoring and engineering development programmes to meet the needs of the people, proper monitoring is the need of the hour in Tipaimukh.
LMS: In what ways can these findings be useful for the community?
Dr. Varte: I will shortly be publishing my thesis and once it is read by development planners, administrators, academicians and others, it is hoped my findings will open up new avenues for research into development issues while at the same time also exposing the problems of development that have hitherto been missed or hidden.
LMS: Okay, let’s get a bit personal here. You got married during your studies. In what way does it affect you?
Dr. Varte: Getting married actually strengthened my resolve to finish my Ph. D and it also incidentally brought me closer to the actual problems faced by parents.
LMS: You were president of Hmar Students’ Association (HSA), Shillong Jt Hqrs, for two terms besides taking part in other social activities. What is your take on students’ participation in HSA activities and other social organizations?
Dr. Varte: Education is not only about classroom and books. I learnt how to speak in public; learnt public relations; learnt and experienced, first-hand, social issues from close quarter; meet and interact with different people from different socio-cultural, socio-economic and socio-political background through my involvement in social activities. This holistically transformed and developed my educational journey. In short, I was imparted many educative elements that were not taught in the classrooms or books by HSA and other social activities. However, a word of caution for students- It is always a priority to learn and practice time economy so that one’s learning experience is well balanced.
LMS: As you are very active in the social front. Which one would you prefer. A government job at some universities or taking up independent assignments.
Dr. Varte: I think I’ve a been more of a social activists rather than a researcher. So, if I was given an option to choose between the two, I would love to be more independent by taking issues close to my heart.
LMS: What are your immediate priorities now?
Dr. Varte: Right now I’m working with the people here in Jiribam and Vangai areas whose lands have been taken over by the forest department.
LMS: Well, wishing you all the best and I hope you get what is best for you.
Dr. Varte: Ka lawm (Thank you)