Amar Chitra Katha editor Reena Puri issued an apology on Sunday for including Manipuri military hero Paonam Brajabasi in their ‘Freedom Struggle Tribal Leaders’ collection as part of Azadi celebration Ka Amrit Mahotsav.
The apology comes two days after four Imphal-based student associations – AMSU, MSF, KSA and SUK – banned the comic, objecting to Brajabasi’s inclusion in the edit.
Amar Chitra Katha released the comic book edition in collaboration with the Union Ministry of Culture.
Brajabasi was a military officer in the Manipuri Kingdom of Kangleipak and fought the British in the Anglo-Manipur War of 1891. The war took place when the British attempted to control Manipur rule, 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 War of 1891 has nothing to do with the struggle for Indian freedom. The Manipuri army was defending our kingdom. So how could it be included in this book of Amrit Chitra Katha? Also, the Manipuris are not tribal, so how could the government include Brajabasi’s story in a book about tribal freedom fighters? This is highly reprehensible,’ the head of the joint student coordination committee, S Bidyananda, told the Indian Express.
In his 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 the Ministry of Culture, as part of of activities to commemorate Azadi. as Amrit Mahotsav. The warrior’s name was inadvertently placed in the list of tribal warriors. We have removed the story from the collection and apologize for any distress caused to the Manipuri people.”
“Brajabasi is an important figure in Manipur. Its history does not exist simply to give leverage to the state. Registration is an act of appropriation by the Centre. Although this is not the first such case, the government should have kept historical accuracy in mind. It was neither tribal nor was the war related to the independence movement. The government pushes the idea of a unitary and singular India, which is problematic. And through this homogenization, the Center does not allow Manipuris to retain their unique collective memory,” said Homen Thangjam, a professor at Manipuri University. Sources at the Ministry of Culture, meanwhile, said that “mistakes can happen”.
The ministry is responsible for publishing the stories of 75 freedom fighters. It has already published three editions – the first on 20 women freedom fighters, the second on 15 women members of the constituent assembly and the third on 20 tribal freedom fighters.
“There are hundreds of freedom fighters that we are looking at and it is a long process to shortlist the names. We try to represent each state. We pass the list of unsung heroes to Amar Chitra Katha and they then select the names , based on their research. They had already cut out 4-5 names from the tribal freedom fighter book after realizing that the proposed names were not tribal. So of course it is possible that there had a mistake,” said a source at the Ministry of Culture.