As part of the ‘Young Research Scholars Seminar Series,’ Prof. Hemant Katoch, a visiting fellow at the Centre of North East Studies and Policy Research, JMI and coordinator of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), gave a talk on “Manipur in World War II,” on Tuesday, 3 September 2013 at the Seminar Hall, Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, JMI. The event was chaired by Prof. David Syiemlieh, a renowned historian and a former vice-chancellor of Rajiv Gandhi University, Arunachal Pradesh.
The seminar was the fifth in the series of lectures about the North East and its introduction was given by Prof. Sanjoy Hazarika, Director of the Centre of North East Studies and Policy Research. This was followed by a few words by Prof. David Syiemlieh who talked about the general awareness within the public of India’s involvement in World War II, saying that even though the British took the North East in the third year of the War, many Indians still do not know of one of the most important battles of WW II, the Battle of Imphal, within South Asia. He hinted that this might probably be due to the detachment of the North Easterners with the rest of India. Another famous fact that was not well known to most Indians he said, was that the Indian flag was first hoisted in Moirang, a city in Manipur, by Subhash Chandra Bose. By this he wanted to show how little Indians knew of that part of the world and hopefully the seminar would dispel any ignorance of its importance.
After the introduction, Katoch gave the audience an idea of how important the Battle of Imphal was. Not only was it considered as ‘the greatest defeat on land ever for the Japanese’ but it was also considered as ‘the greatest victory for the British forces against the Japanese.’ According to Katoch, it single-handedly changed the tide of war in the Burma sector. The defeat of the Japanese army at the hands of the British in Imphal had destroyed their morale, which caused them to retreat from South Asia. He stated that the Battle of Imphal was also very interesting from a pan-Indian perspective since there were Indians on both sides of the battle. He noted many impacts on Manipur such as the development of infrastructure by the army, the influx of money into the economy in terms of increase in business; and the exposure of the locals to both national and international politics and propaganda.
Katoch’s main purpose for the seminar was to bring notice to the rest of the world and turn Manipur into a major part of the World War II tourism circuit. He asked “why not make this our WWII tourism?” This could turn into a major source of income for the state. Showing pictures of several dugouts and trenches, he told us that it was amazing to see that the trenches had survived nature for over 70 years, whereas the trenches in France and Austria only survived due to regular maintenance. This could most definitely be a major attraction for tourists. He also hinted that it would be great for the Manipuri economy if the Japanese Emperor and Empress, who are to visit India for the first time on 29th November 2013, were to visit Imphal and witness the scene of the battle.
He also mentioned that they had recently launched a website about the Battle of Imphal with web address battleofimphal.com.