Editorial – Benumbed Society

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Last fortnight was marked by yet another step in Manipur’s decent into uncontrolled madness. Readers of newspapers will recall there was a spate of custodial deaths at the hands of both the Army and police. Regardless of the official clarifications that these deaths were not caused by third degree treatment in the course of interrogations, there will be few who believe these stories. But even if some benefit of the doubt were to be given to these desperate excuses, the fact remains that Manipur’s desensitisation to violence has climbed another notch. The deaths were shocking, but what was even more disturbing was the lack of public outrage at these events. Everybody seems benumbed to this gross violation of the most fundamental of human rights, not by any madman or gangster, but by the various instruments of the state. From the point of view of the victims and their next of kin, there obviously would be little difference who the killers were, for in the end the reality they face is the profound and unnecessary loss of loved ones. But from a broader perspective, there should be no dispute as to why atrocity by the state is far more sinister than those by non-state agencies.All violence, especially which cause death, should be condemned unanimously and unreservedly. However, the qualification between violence by the state and non-state cannot be ignored. Max Weber’s notion of “legitimate violence” would have to be invoked here to explain this qualification further. Weber noted not only that there ought to be a notion of legitimate violence but also that the state is supposed to be the repository of all legitimate uses of violence. This legitimacy cannot also be anything arbitrary. It has to be strictly defined by constitutional law, which in turn would have to be informed and mandated by the collective sense of moral legitimacy of the people by and large. The latter caveat is necessary especially in a state like Manipur, for the constitutional law itself can become objectionable and in contravention of this public sense of moral legitimacy. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA-1958, is a case in point. The sweeping monopoly over violence given to the armed forces under this act is indeed made legitimate by the constitutional law, and in fact, several challenges to in the court of law have been struck down, yet in the eyes of the conscientious citizenry not just in Manipur but also in the rest of the country and indeed the world, the AFSPA is a gross transgression of the universal sense of moral legitimacy. This is, we would say, an aberration, but apart from such overkills, the notion of legitimate violence and the need for the state to exercise monopoly over it cannot be any better highlighted than in the situation in Manipur where unspeakable and murderous violence have become a part of everyday life. Practically everybody with gun and commands violence, are now justifying their brand of violence as legitimate skewing up the very idea of legitimacy. By contrast, the state which is supposed to exercise this monopoly, is neither able to meet the challenges from non-state power centres or keep within what the law prescribes as its limits of the exercise of legitimate violence. The rising cases of custodial deaths of prisoners are just the most recent and prominent examples.This being the case, the onus is now on the people to come out and assert their sense of legitimacy. Through human history, the gut instincts of the masses have always been the beacon light in the shaping of notions of legal legitimacy. One of the radical highlights of this is the French Revolution, but there have been numerous others, including bloodless ones led by towering moral leaders such as Gandhi, Mandela and King. The recent developments in Manipur in this regard have been nothing but depressing. The masses have withdrawn into their shells, hounded into submission and cowardice by decades of atrocities and intimidation against the exercise of their free will and moral judgment on issues of gravity of the state, by the state and increasingly now, the non-state challengers to the state power. This is unfortunate for it can spell the ultimate doom of the quality of the character of the people here, who once prided themselves for their uncompromising independence and courage in chalking out the blueprints of their individual and collective futures.

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