Remembering Iman Singh Chemjong

Photo: Iman Singh Chemjong

When I remember Iman Singh Chemjong, I remember him in two ways. First, I remember him as an academic person. Second, I remember him as an activist. Chemjong’s academic works are the treasure of Kirati people and of Nepal as well. He has written several books on the account of Kirati people’s (Limu, Khambu/Rai, Sunuwar, Yakkha and others) history. Beside history, he has written and compiled social, cultural, religious and literary works of Kirat and especially of Limbu people. He is the pioneer for taking Limbu community from oral tradition to written tradition. His academic works are the foundation to study and advocacy on Limbu and Kirat people.

Iman Singh Chemjong is die-hard activist of Limbuwan and right to self-determination. Limbus of Eastern Nepal has organized movement against the abolition of Kipat system (i.e. the autonomy and self-rule of Limbus) in scattered manner. But Chemjong started Limbuwan movement in an organized way. He formed an organization called Limbuwan Sudhar Sangh (Limbuwan Reform Association in 1953). He knew that movement cannot be achieved its goal without support of historical and written document. Documentation of historical accounts/documents to claim Limbuwan was must for him. So, Limbuwan movement on his leadership had a strong documentation to claim Limbuwan autonomy. Similarly, he knew that Limbuwan has become a home of multi-cultural communities so he gathered support of non-Limbus in the Limbuwan movement. I knew that respect for multi-culturalism is necessary for the Limbuwan autonomy though the term multi-culturalism was not popular at that time. So, he included non-Limbus in the organization.

He concretized the concept of ‘Kirat’ to build solidarity among indigenous peoples. I think, this is his strategy for the creation of broader and stronger indigenous movement. At that time indigenous communities could not understand his concept. But it came to reality only after 1990s as Adivasi Janajati Movement took momentum.

When I remember Iman Singh Chemjong, I remember challenges he has given to us. First, he has written and published so many books that all Kirat organizations still has not been able to publish. So, there is a challenge for Kirati organizations and Kiati people to write and publish more on the history, culture, religion and other aspects of their life. Second, according to Chemjong, Kirat is a broad group which includes people like Nagas, Khashi from the north-east India to Gurung and Magars from the west of Nepal but until now only four communities – Limbu, Rai, Yakkha and Sunuwar, has claimed to this identity. Other communities have not strongly claimed this identity and this four community alliance has not been able to bring other communities in Kirati alliance. For the strong Kirat identity there is a need for strong Kirat alliance beyond four communities. Third, Chemjong did not have higher academic degree, he has gained bachelor degree but his works are challenging to Ph.D. and Post Ph.D. holders. He has proved that dedication is important than degree. He will always be challenging Master, Ph.D. and Post Ph.D. holders to produce the work like him. Fourth and the most important, is to claim his Kiratologist position in Tribhuvan University. There can be no second Iman Singh Chemjong but there can be another Kiratologist. For the establishment, continuity and development of Kirat people, Kirat culture, religion, history and language, Kirat must claim this position of Kiratologist.

Looking at the Iman Singh’s persona, I must say, “he is a legend” and “he is a one man Institution”.

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