Editorial – Manipur on Dry Tinder

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Manipur stands on a bed of dry tinder today, seemingly ready to break out into an inferno by even the tiniest spark. The hill-valley divide has never been so accentuated, ethnic exclusive politics have ensured the foundation of fraternal bondages between the different communities are shaken, ever expanding population against a stagnant job market has resulted in stiffening competition for them and in unhealthy manner where suspicion is continually bred between the reserved category of job seekers and those in the open category, each believing they have been being short-changed. While those in the reserved category are prone to believe they are being denied their fair share, those in the non-reserved category think they are being made to competed with their hands and legs tied. These perceptions have only resulted in furthering the divide between different communities. While the government remains overwhelmed and clueless as to how to tackle the problem, there are apparently sinister vested interests trying to take advantage of the bad situation and further their dark designs of fomenting ethnic mayhem in the state. The news item in a Nagaland daily in which a previously unheard of organisation called “Naga Crusaders” serving quit notice to Meiteis living in the hill districts is just the latest of these. There can possibly be no other motive behind this than to spark communal hatred and possibly violence. If this indeed was a statement of intent, nothing can be more puerile, considering there are not too many Meiteis living in the hills because of the land regulatory system which prohibits Meiteis and other non-tribals from settling in the hill districts. The opposite however is not true, and hill communities are free to settle in the valley, therefore there is a much greater cosmopolitan mix of population in the valley.

Although the development would have left a bad taste in the mouth, it is not surprising that nobody is taking the threat too seriously. In the past, even at the heights of hill-valley tension, no communal violence of a scale worth mention happened between the valley and hill communities. In fact, observers from outside the state were left confounded that no violence broke out between Nagas and Meiteis even in the aftermath of May 6 last year when two youth were killed at Mao gate protesting the Manipur government’s refusal to allow NSCN(IM) leader Th. Muivah, to enter the state. No communal violence resulted earlier in June 2001 either when there were wide scale street protests against the decision of the Government of India to declare the NSCN(IM) ceasefire “without territorial limits”. It may be recalled that in this protest, on June 18, when the crowd turned violent, 18 protestors lost their lives in firing by security men and several government infrastructures, including the Manipur State Assembly were burnt down. Yet, all fears of an outbreak of communal violence proved false alarm. The inner integrity of the Manipur society is something to be admired indeed.

Although the present threat is unlikely to have its ostensibly intended effect of inciting communal violence, what needs to be noted by everybody is, the continual friction between the different communities in the state is nothing to be proud of. If it is allowed to continue, this will not be the last time communal forces try to foment violence and hatred. This being the case, the people by and large must remain alert, and more importantly work towards a resolution to the tensions. But the current problem also brings to the fore the danger that sloppy vetting for unsubstantiated inflammatory messages by the media before allowing them to go into print, can cause. The editor of the Nagaland newspaper which published the news item has clarified it was an oversight that allowed such a message to find print. Other Naga civil society bodies too have declared that the group is unknown and at best mischief mongers. What the sorry episode has done however is leave a lesson for the media as well. It is imperative now for the media anywhere, but more pertinently in conflict torn states like Manipur where false and provocative news can have grave implication, to be extremely wary of information availed through email by little heard of organisations, especially if their contents are unsubstantiated and can prove inflammatory.

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