The enduring ethnic violence in Manipur is not only claiming lives but also jeopardizing the vibrant cultural fabric of the state. Among those bearing the brunt are the artists of Shumang Leela, the traditional Meitei courtyard theatre, who find themselves compelled to abandon their craft for alternative means of survival.
Current Situation and Challenges
Shougrakpam Hemanta, lifetime secretary of Manipur State Shumang Leela Council and a leading comedian in the theatre, revealed that some artists have transitioned to driving auto-rickshaws, while others have taken up construction work like masonry. The situation has reached such extremes that the promoters fear the age-old tradition may face extinction if the violence persists.
Historical Significance of Shumang Leela
Shumang Leela, with its unique portrayal of male artists in female roles and vice versa, started as a comic genre for royalty and has evolved into a powerful medium for mass education, entertainment, and relaxation. However, with approximately 15 male and 18 female groups in the state, each comprising nearly 20 artists, the ongoing conflict since May 3 has left the performers in dire straits.
Economic Impact on Artists
Before the violence, each male artist could earn between Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 monthly. Now, unable to stage performances and earn a single rupee, many have turned to construction work, blacksmithing, and driving taxis or auto-rickshaws. Some have even resorted to selling their possessions, including gold ornaments and vehicles.
Moral Dilemma Amidst Violence
Hemanta stressed that, though not explicitly instructed, their conscience prevents them from performing Shumang Leela amidst the violence that has claimed over 170 lives and left the state in shambles. Having endured a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ethnic conflict has dealt an unexpected blow to their aspirations for recovery.
Call for Government Support
Fearing the potential demise of Shumang Leela if the violence persists, Hemanta called on the N Biren Singh government to increase financial support for the artists under the “Chief Ministergi Artistesinggi Tengbang (CMAT)” scheme.
Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) with Answer:
- What is Shumang Leela?
a. Traditional dance form
b. Meitei courtyard theatre
c. Tribal ritual
Answer: b. Meitei courtyard theatre
- How many male and female groups of Shumang Leela exist in Manipur?
a. 10 male, 15 female
b. 15 male, 18 female
c. 20 male, 10 female
Answer: b. 15 male, 18 female
- What alternative means of survival have some Shumang Leela artists resorted to?
b. Driving auto-rickshaws and construction work
Answer: b. Driving auto-rickshaws and construction work
- What scheme does Hemanta urge the government to support Shumang Leela artists?
a. Cultural Preservation Scheme
b. Artist Welfare Initiative
c. Chief Ministergi Artistesinggi Tengbang (CMAT) scheme
Answer: c. Chief Ministergi Artistesinggi Tengbang (CMAT) scheme
- Why do Shumang Leela artists refrain from performing amidst the violence?
a. Lack of audience
b. Financial constraints
c. Conscience and moral reasons
Answer: c. Conscience and moral reasons