Hmars and Their Press

(Extracted from a study conducted in January 2007 by Robert L. Sungte under the title “Impact of Religious Journals on the Hmar Tribe in Manipur”- Hmar Resources Online)

The Hmars had their own share or at least some experiments with the press. Christianity had become the driving force for every aspect of their lives and even in the publication field the story was the same. Pamphlets and journals became a common forum for propagating and strengthening the church and its activities. As Churachandpur District of Manipur and adjoining areas served as a meeting point for the tribe it simultaneously became the centre of information as well. This resulted in the press, in this part of Manipur, to serve as a linkage to their brethren living in other states. The first recorded Hmar newspaper, the Hmasawnna, began its publication in 1941. Prior to this there were some religious publications. Most of them were pamphlets brought out by the Christian missionaries. From then on, there were numerable efforts on the part of the community leaders and entrepreneurs to bring out journals of various kinds. The newspapers were crude and by standard had many drawbacks to be called newspapers. They were not regular and the people involved had no basic training in the art of journalism. But then this was the time of “information revolution”. Much could not be expected from a tribal press even when newspapers in big cities like Calcutta were not so refined and well equipped by then. The remarkable feature of the Hmar newspapers during the initial stage was that it was typed-written cyclostyled and some were published within the villages. The 1990s saw the emergence of a new breed of Hmar journalism. This new interest in journalism was ushered by Pu H. A. Lalrohlu, who brought out a tabloid-size daily newspaper called Shan in 1991. A Diploma holder in Journalism, Pu Lalrohlu turned Shan into a household name not only among the Hmars readers but among other tribes that inhabits in Churachandpur district. However, the glorious years of Shan came to an abrupt end with the “brutal killing” of Pu Lalrohlu in 1999 by one faction of Hmar militants. Shan continued publication for some time but was finally closed down. Despite this event, interest in publication continued and many journals some monthlies, weeklies and dailies were brought out. However, financial constrain remains the biggest check on them. One after another they were forced to put off their publications. It is important to note that these papers receive no governmental support. It was by sheer interest and the spirit of service to the community that they were published. This can be proved by the names of some journals which are mostly canonised to the place of Hmar origin or their cultural history. Some of the magazine and newspapers like Sinlung Weekly, Shan, Rounglevaisuo, Sawrtui, etc are terms which are all closely associated with Hmar history and culture. The Hmasawna Thar is the only running daily newspaper in Hmar dialect now in Manipur. From 2, October 1984 to 1, January 2007 Hmasawna Thar was brought out in a legal-sized format with the help of a “crude typewriter and a cyclostyle”. Its editor Pu Lalmalsawm Sellate candidly remarked and admitted: Though Hmasawna Thar is

brought out in the crudest format and sometimes my readers cannot make out the typeface, it continues to serve readers. Pu Sellate having seen his reader’s plight and the need to keep up with technology now published his newspaper in an offset press starting from 1st January 2007. Even though the offset press was introduced in the late 90s’ in the district it remained out of reach for the small tribal press. This clearly shows the difficult situation in which the Hmar press worked, with no signs of government assistance even to this day. Another important general news magazine, Sawrtui Monthly was started in 2003. It became the only monthly magazine of the Hmars to complete six years of continuous publication. Sawrtui Monthly has become a household name among the Hmars scattered all over the country. Started by Tv. Alfred L.S. Hmar, when he was still a college student, Sawrtui Monthly has been hailed as a distinct magazine. After completing his Master Degree (Political Science) from Manipur University in 2006 Tv. Hmar is examining various option of bringing more surprises in the field of Hmar journalism. Recently, several general interest monthlies like Manmasi Digest (2006), Hmathlir (2006), etc, were also brought out to augment the Hmar press. The Hmars are the most literate among the tribal groups in Manipur at 79.8% (2001 Census). Literacy rate between male and female stood at 84.3% and 75.2% respectively. Their spectacular growth in the field of education within a short span of 97 years is indeed an achievement the tribe can boast about. The increase in reading habits and thirst for information is therefore natural. But with a population of just 42,933 (Manipur only, 2001 Census) the financial viability of bringing out and running a full fledged press is not an easy task for those in the field. Passion and language issue may have served as a motivating factor for many people to bring out community journals and magazines in the like of Inchuklai Nun (1952, started again in 2006 after on-off publication), Sikhawvar (1952, the first Hmar Magazine now not in print), Hringnun (2005) etc., but they could not survive for long. The overall scenario of the newspapers and magazines of the Hmars is that they are by nature socio-cultural and religious. The newspapers and magazines that focused on current affairs and events did not survive for long. Some of these include Sinlung, Churachandpur Times, Ruonglevaisuo, Famfar, Hringnun, etc. However, their religious counterparts – Kristien, Khawnvar, Thuhriltu,etc –continued to fill the gap by bringing out journals at regular intervals with fervent religious touch to every aspect of the Hmar way of life.
(C) 2007 Hmar Resources Online by arrangement with the author.