On the eve of the India’s Independence Day, Imphal is acquiring the look of a war front. The scenario is not too different in other townships in Manipur as indeed in much of the Northeast. It has almost become a ritual every year. Various militant organisations would call for a boycott of the celebration of what is arguably the biggest and most important day in the country’s history and in response the provincial governments would virtually stage flag marches to demonstrate the power of the establishment and push its way without being deterred by any threat whatsoever. Uniformed gun totting security personnel are on every corner of the streets frisking people, stopping motorists, checking their vehicles, questioning them etc. As expected, even a week before the big day approached, Imphal already began wearing a deserted look, especially after sunset. People return home early so as not to be accosted by security men and go through the humiliation of being made to stand on the side of the roads to be frisked and questioned like potential trouble makers. The ordinary people are supposed to be mere bystanders in this war game, but every time tensions escalate in moments like this, they have no choice than to be prepared to be the undeserved casualties, and sometimes become statistics of “collateral damage”, the well known sugar-coating aimed at making civilian killing and harassment seem like necessary and pardonable fallout of a conflict.
Independence Day, as also all other celebrations of the Indian State and its glory, such as Republic Day on January 26, the day in 1950 that the nation gave itself a republican constitution to replace the British colonial laws which bound it for 200 years, are today not really celebrations in the true sense of the words in much of the Northeast region. Instead, they have been steadily warped and disfigured into shows of power between the Indian State and those fighting it. Even three decades ago, this was not so in Imphal. These occasions then wore the look of carnivals, with ordinary men, women and children thronging the streets and the official celebration site to not only witness the grandeur and pomp of the official functions but to participate in the funs and frolics on the streets. Those days, unfortunately have become a distant memory, and it is receding further and further away. By the turn of another generation, this memory of a more innocent, and by that virtue, happier days, would probably have vanished altogether, unless something happens to alter the situation radically.
We hope this alteration happens and the complex conflict situation in the region gets transformed for the better sooner than later. It must however be underscored that this transformation is a vital precondition to lasting peace. The conflicts we are witnessing are not mindless. They spawned from certain inconsistencies of visions of identity and dignified living. It goes without saying that these conditions are not easily defined anywhere, and are so much a factor of collective experiences of peoples in the struggle for existence through ages. Nobody can be with justice asked to change course of these outlooks to life shaped through the eons, overnight. The rush with which the modern republican Indian nationhood was forged made it inevitable to resort to just this means literally in many cases. The Northeast region unfortunately became one of those at the receiving end of this nation building juggernaut. That insurrections sprang up in the region almost at the time of Indian Independence should be an indicator of this. The Nagas were the first to say no to be part of the Indian Union, but seeds for future unrests were also embedded in many other societies at the time. Many of these societies waited and watched to see if peaceful resolution of their insecurities as well as realisation of their aspirations were visible in the new dispensation. Unfortunately, for various reasons, this was not to be, therefore one after the other, they too began their own resistance to assimilation into the Indian Union. But so much water has flowed down the many rivers of this great country, and as they say, like in the case of the river, there is no way anybody can step into the same time frame more than once, for everything is in a constant flux. What was six decades cannot be what is today. Things have changed and it is in this changed circumstance that the negotiation for the transformation has to begin. This transformation however has to be a reciprocal process. Both sides, or all sides as is more likely to be the case, have to be willing to accommodate the principle of give and take so as to reach a median point where every stake holder’s comfort level is optimal.