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Driving into a script row in Manipur

There is a new 'menace' on the roads of Manipur these days — vehicles sporting registration numbers in an ancient script few can read.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2007 05:06 IST

There is a new “menace” on the roads of Manipur these days — vehicles sporting registration numbers in an ancient script few can read. And the authorities are coming down hard on it.

It all started earlier this month when an organisation called Meetei Erol Eyek Loinasillon Apunba Lup (Meelal) set a July 25 deadline for all vehicle owners to change their number plates from English or Bengali to Meetei Mayek. Meetei Mayek was the Tibeto-Burman script for the Manipuri language until the 18th century, when king Ningthau Pamheiba adopted Vaishnavism and ordered its replacement with the Bengali script.

Meelal has warned that anyone found violating its diktat from July 26 will be targetted. “The indigenous script is an important part of the identity of the people,” it said in a statement.

The threat has had an impact. Vehicle owners have been driving to automobile dealers and painters specializing in drawing or embossing number plates.

The police too have not been inactive. They have arrested a number of Meelal activists and pulled up artists and number plate dealers across the Valley while cautioning vehicle owners.

“Vehicles that sport Meetei Mayek on their number plates will be violating the Motor Vehicle Act and as such, will be liable for prosecution,” said Manipur police chief Y Joykumar. He added: “The majority of people here are yet to read and write Meetei Mayek, and if any such vehicle is involved in an accident or a criminal case, no witness will be able to give the registration number.”

The State Motor Vehicle authority too has warned against the decree, saying the Meitei script is not included in the Indian scheduled language, though the Bengali script presently used in Manipur is. However, Meelal has denied it is doing anything illegal. Its statement says what it is demanding is not against the law of the land as the script has been included in the Government Gazette apart from being introduced in state educational institutions. Caught in the middle of the clash are vehicle owners and number-plate painters.

H Sanaton, the proprietor of an arts centre in Imphal, said: “We don’t know what to do … Meelal has served us a notice to draw number plates in Meitei Mayek while on the other hand, the police are arresting painters.”

Meelal had earned notoriety in 2005 by burning down the Manipur State Library, destroying valuable documents pertaining to art, culture and socio-political aspects of the state.