Is coexistence about sharing or is it about segregating? This is the million dollar question a multi-ethnic state like Manipur is left grappling with practically at every turn of event. As we see it, it will have to be a fine balance of a bit of both, especially if development, both in terms of physical infrastructure as well as empowerment through appropriate knowledge and skills, is marked by wide disparities between different regions and communities because of various historical and geographical factors. Which other state can be a better case study than Manipur for this, torn as it is by different pulls and pushes, some seeking a meaningful sharing and others seeking segregation as the answer in varying degrees of extremity. In looking for an answer to this vexing problem, the underlying principle must be that only an understanding and acknowledgement that unless there is a semblance of equality of opportunities, ensured precisely by this balancing act, there can never be a sense of justice. It also follows, that without this sense of justice, there also can never be peace. In arriving at this equilibrium, it is also evident from whatever has been happening in the state, all stake holders have equal responsibility to shoulder, and that the victims and victimisers can reverse position easily. Indeed, both can also end up with a sense of being the victim in the same bargain.
Coexistence must have to be both an art and a science. That is to say, it has to draw its logic from within as much as it has to be formulated from without. If its inner logic comes from a shared sense of destiny compelled by geography and history, the external challenge is about having to come to terms with the changing times. It is about discarding anachronistic and problematic old paradigms that could explain past challenges but not the new and modern ones. It is about scientifically evolving a working formula whereby each can have the most without infringing into the other’s legitimate and private spheres. It also further entails that the understanding of what is legitimate will have to be periodically negotiated and renegotiated with reason as the primary arbitrating tool. There is no other way too begin this journey of self discovery than to first come to terms with the reality that Manipur is a multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-religion society. The fact also is, each cannot also continue to live in separate enclaves as in the past, for those impervious walls have crumbled long ago. This is the 21st century, the age democracy, and like it or not, that of the free market. All the contests for resources, between the hills and valley, tribal and non-tribal, the business community and the rest etc, many of which are proving to be frustratingly benumbing and hostile, must be tempered by this thought.
Coexistence is about sharing and benefiting together from that sharing. When this noble principle is forsaken and communities allow enclaves to form around themselves, it can have very dangerous consequences. Among the less heard reasons forwarded by political thinkers for the fall of the former USSR, is a rather amusing notion, echoed also by renowned sociologist and a recipient of the Padma Bhushan this year, Prof. (retd) TK Oommen, in a lecture in Guwahati recently. It says USSR’s fall was scripted in the very fact that it was coming to be “a nation colonised by itself.” The multi-ethnic USSR was becoming in reality a “Greater Russia” and the non-Russians citizens could not at all have been comfortable at this. He also cautioned India to be wary of this advice from recent history in the light of the virtual million mutinies that it is plagued by in contemporary times. The Mumbai outrage in which north Indians were hounded out, the aggression against Hindi speakers in Assam, problems of Kashmir, northeast,
Maoists, revival of Tamil nationalism in the wake of LTTE reverses in Sri Lanka etc, are all indicative of a serious malaise, the professor warned. If on the smaller canvas of Manipur, ethnic enclaves are proving to be dangerously vexing problems, the same disease can afflict equally dangerously the much larger constituency of India as a whole. Let all then heed the warning and agree to step out of each’s enclaves. Or is ghetto the more appropriate term?