The gunning down of the Board of Secondary Education Manipur, BSEM chairman, Naorem Kunjabihari, in broad daylight, in his own office, was not only another brutal reminder of the extent the law and order situation in the state has deteriorated and gone out of the hands of the government, but also a demonstration once again of the inward looking cowards that the people of the state by and large have been made to become because of years of exposure to incessant intimidations. It is shameful that none of the office staff of the BSEM took courage to try and help the wounded man, in this case their own boss, but also did not even report the murder to the police, although the police headquarters as well as the Imphal SP’s head office are just a stone throw away. The killing, whatever the provocation, was condemnable, but equally condemnable was the fact that this mindless violence continues to slowly but surely reduce the ordinary citizenry into a bunch of scarecrows with spines of straw, unable to even laugh loud when happy or cry when sad, lest they end up branded as reactionaries.
Come to think of it, Manipur has come to be a land where dissent is not tolerated at all anymore. The abiding logic of tyrants and bigots that “you are either with us or with the enemy”, has come to be the unspoken yet deafening and terrifying slogan ruling everybody’s life. Even the state media has been gagged effectively a long time ago now. No newspaper or any other medium of mass communication can afford to exercise editorial independence, for even sloganeering messages in the guise of press releases by sundry other organisation claiming to be liberators of the people, although in reality they do nothing else but intimidate the people, have become copies beyond the scope of mere mortal editors to retouch, much less spike, and all this on threats of the pain of losing life and limbs. But at least the media can still think of putting up some resistance, even though too passively than called for. The manner in which the staff of the BSEM pretended not to have heard or seen the crime committed, although it happened right in front of their eyes, is to say the least pathetic and disgraceful. They probably would not have been able to confront the armed killers unless they were ready to be martyrs, but at least they should have mustered the courage to take care of the assaulted man after the killers have left.
While nobody will dispute that this brutal culture of assassination and intimidation must end, what is even more dangerous is the corroding of the soul of the place, as evident in the cowardice demonstrated by the BSEM staff. Such cowardice also gets away without even a reprimand every time. Nobody cares about being seen considered cowards anymore as long as they get to save their own skins by not sticking out their necks and court trouble. What they do not realise is that such behaviour only amounts to nothing more than the farcical picture of the ostrich hiding its head in the sand when faced with threats. This kind of timidity can only perpetuate the threats they face rather than drive them away. The crisis that the state faces today warrants the introduction of penalties for overt acts of cowardice. These penalties need not be physical or material, but symbolic. Just as acts of bravery are cited and publicised as acknowledgement of gratitude and appreciation by the people as well as government, acts of cowardice should also be entitled to similar but negative treatments.
Dead men cannot be brought back to life, and what has happened cannot always be reversed. But let the BSEM chairman’s murder case be a lesson for everybody. Running away from a problem is seldom a long term solution. On the other hand, problems can only be overcome by confronting and taking them by the horns. As the saying goes, nothing is more frightening than fear itself, so let us resolve to lose our fears first and then go about wishing that the vexed problems afflicting our lives today will soon be resolved once and for all, and to everybody’s satisfaction.