Appeals for peaceful coexistence have become commonplace today. That these appeals should at all become necessary is an indication that there are forces pulling the fabric of coexistence apart. There is another often heard appeal today and this has to do with tolerance. However, because of the multiplicity of connotations associated with the latter term, we are a little suspicious of this appeal. Although we are aware of the well intended spirit, there are other meanings, conscious or otherwise, inherent in the appeal itself. For one, tolerance presupposes that the object to be tolerated is offensive in nature. The equation sought hence is never one of equality, but of a superior entity putting up with an inferior counterpart even if this means having to make do with inconveniences, keeping in view longer term self-interests. The question becomes in this way reduced to making a choice for the lesser of two evils. Tolerance has another nasty connotation. It can portray a picture of passivity and inactivity. It can be taken to mean insensitivity and the lack of a natural sense of rights and justice, hence the failure to claim them. Some very often asked question will illustrate: How can the people of Manipur tolerate corruption or violence the way it has? How can Manipur tolerate non performance by its governments the way it has?
We prefer the word coexistence then. The term first of all is value-neutral and there is no implied meaning of inequality buried in it. It suggests an equal partnership, where the different communities exposed to each other by circumstances of geography, economy and politics, live in a free interplay of ideas and customs. In Manipur, as in any other multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religion societies, such a formula will have to be the only route to lasting peace. The foundation for peace must be laid in a salad bowl scenario, where each ingredient remains distinct, but in their totality give themselves a new collective identity and personality. Adjustments, not tolerance, will no doubt become necessary to make sure the vital agenda of governance is given smooth passage. There will have to be, for instance, laws and norms applicable to all, just as all must be deemed to be equals before these same laws. But while an integration process cannot be overt, there will come about unseen, unobtrusive forces that initiate a meltdown of the different ingredients: The compulsions and bonds of economics being the most powerful of these. The salad bowl will then begin giving way to the melting pot precisely at the marketplace which must have a lingua franca that no one can claim as their exclusive, a common currency, ethos, value system etc.
In contemplating coexistence and integration, we are impressed by the call for the return of a moral fabric to bind all into a common humanity. The sobering influence of religion on society cannot be undervalued or rejected as is increasingly the tendency. Of course, in modern times, religion has come to be divisive in nature, but this is only because religion has been put in political garbs. But a reverse of this same equation may not mean the same thing, and so instead of politicizing religion, maybe a better way of looking at things would be to introduce religiosity to politics. A religious State and a theocratic State are certainly not one and the same thing. In Manipuri, the term dharma leiba, does not imply the man possessing this quality as belonging to any particular religion. It just means a good-hearted, God-fearing, moral man. And after all, all religions at their core, preach all men to possess these qualities. Perhaps then we should also strive for a dharma leiba politics and society: A society and politics with a deep sense of belief in morality. It is a thought that needs introspection, but maybe the Western model of secularism, which defines the term absolutely as the separation of the Church from the State, is not complete.