Disturbing Normalization and Confusions

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By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam

Violence is expected in a conflict zone or area like Manipur. As a state wherein there has been armed confrontation between the security forces that defend the Indian Republic and the rebel groups that seek, or as some of them would insist, ‘defending’, Manipur’s sovereignty, violence is bound to be a part of its life and times. The last week rebel bomb attacks, reportedly aimed at the security personnel, is a reminder of the same. Incidentally, the attacks also sounded a different note to the familiar bomb attacks that have been reported from time to time in the state. In a sense, the last week attacks come as a ‘distortion’ of the violence that has come to preside over Manipur, such as exemplified by hand grenades being planted, delivered or thrown at residences of private individuals and public offices. Nothing conveys that sense of ‘distortion’ as the reaction of the common people to the violence of the last week: that such bomb attacks should not happen in the ‘civilian areas’.

‘Civilian Area’ as a ‘Disturbed Area’: Confusions of a Denial

The above expectation of the common people that the rebels should not indulge in violent attacks on the security personnel in the ‘civilian area’ is, on the face of it, an acknowledgement of a conflict between the rebels and the security forces of the state and an appeal or a concern for the safety of the civilian population in the state. However, on the deeper look, perhaps it reveals a state of confusion which is rooted in a critical denial of reality, which incidentally informs a critical self-denial as well.

A look at the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the notoriously controversial ‘legal fiction’ (a legal measure that cannot have a legal form insofar as the Act smacks of a withdrawal of normative and institutional restraints and imperatives of the ‘rule of law’) shall reveal that confusion and denial of reality as its foundation.

The area wherein the AFSPA has been enforced is termed as a ‘disturbed area’. In fact, only when the area has been declared as a ‘disturbed area’, the army can operate and exercise its ‘special powers’ (powers to kill on suspicion or detain people without warrants or etc). And understandably, the AFSPA has been enforced as Manipur becomes ‘disturbed’ because of the armed confrontation between the rebel groups and the security forces and other agencies of the state. The arguments have been that the military/army can operate only with the ‘legal cover’ provided by the AFSPA to fight the (armed) ‘insurgents’ (or the ‘anti-nationals’ or ‘misguided youths’ as the members of the rebel groups have also been termed by members of the state agencies and politicians). In short, Manipur is ‘disturbed’ (area) and hence the AFSPA is required for the military, an institution which is specifically designed for war, to operate in the state.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court, while upholding the constitutionality of the Act, says that the army (the war machine) should not be used on a ‘prolonged basis’. Of course, the same has been used for 40 years when that pronouncement had come was another issue. But more significantly, in the same judgment, the Highest Court declares that the ‘disturbed condition’ wherein the AFSPA has been enforced is NOT due to ‘armed rebellion’ (khutlaipaiba lallhouba) and that the condition is not of that magnitude that constitutes a ‘threat’ to the ‘national security’. This seems counter factual to what people understand, or for that matter to the utterances of the army and security forces as well as politicians. This being the case, how do we make sense of the pronouncement of the Supreme Court?

A plausible answer to this question is this: had the Supreme Court said that the ‘disturbed condition’ wherein the AFSPA had been enforced was due to ‘armed rebellion’ and the ‘disturbed condition’ threatened the ‘national security’, which is exactly the case as many utterances of the army and politicians and state officials have repeatedly said, then the AFSPA would have been UNCONSTITUTIONAL as the AFSPA bypasses Article 352 of the Constitution which says that if the ‘national security’ is under ‘threat’ by ‘armed rebellion’, a ‘state of emergency’ must be declared. Besides, any admission of ‘armed rebellion’ by any institution of the Indian State would have invited a process of accountability, both from the Parliament as well as international institutions. That is why, the Indian State continues to deny that there is an ‘armed conflict’ in Manipur or elsewhere wherein the AFSPA have been imposed. In that, the judgment comes as a denial just as the official position of the Indian State to the ‘condition’ which is marked by violent confrontation between the rebels and the security forces of the state.

This denial is backed up systematically by articulations of ‘law and order’ and the instrument of war has been presented as an instrument of law enforcing agencies like the police. The normative and institutional erosions thereof are there for all to see.

This where the insistence on ‘disturbed area’ as ‘civilian area’ can be seen as a part of the confusion created by the above process of denial. Such insistence does two things. One, it strengthens the camouflaging articulation that seeks to deny the existence of an armed conflict in Manipur between the rebel groups which campaigned for ‘sovereignty’ for Manipur and the army and other security forces that defend the Indian Republic in Manipur. Second, it fundamentally denies the ‘disturbed’ nature of the territory called Manipur, with or without the AFSPA, due to one of the parties in the conflict insisting it as an ‘occupied’ territory. Thus, the instance on the ‘disturbed area’ as the ‘civilian area’ conveys a confusion that sees a ‘non-conflict’ life in an essentially conflict ridden life.

Diffusion of the Confusion

It is a confusion of a mindset that normalizes an abnormal life by denying the issue that has fundamentally affected their life. It is this abnormality that gives legitimacy to the use of the military, a war machine, as a law enforcing agency of regular administration. And it is this abnormality that gives elements to indulge in illegitimate or criminal acts. It is also the same abnormality that shapes a critical self-denials and flight as a way of life rather than fighting to shape a new and normal life in Manipur.

The take on the ‘disturbed area’ is not the only example that characterizes the confusion. It is the same confusion which can articulate ‘development’ without electricity and afflict by a seduction of some structures such as Ima Market and BT Road Flyover as signs of ‘development’. It is also the same confusion which demands ‘integrity of Manipur’ while holding on the seven colours flag that represent the so-called seven clans of the people who constitutes the Meiteis/Meeteis. It is also the same mindset which demands ‘world heritage’ status for the Kangla while looking at the new structures that have come up in and around the immediate spaces around the Kangla as signs of ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’.

The confusion even breeds mistrust of anything outside. For instance, in a recent seminar, a common refrain that comes as a ‘criticism’ of the definition of corruption given by the World Bank (which reads as ‘the abuse of public office for private gain’) is that it’s a definition from outside (mapan gi definition). Strangely, that the said definition is based on the Weberian distinction between ‘the ‘public/impersonal’ and ‘private/personal’ seemingly cannot be applied (its ‘academic’ and ‘theoretical’ etc). And yet, in the same breath, utterances on corruption go something like ‘masa masa gi maranai oina miyamgi sen-thum chaduna leire’ (people’s or public funds have been used as private or personal property) follow.

Perhaps, it is time to go beyond the rhetoric and postures, be that Anti-India or Pro-India, and the self-denials for a better Manipur. Confronting the confusions of the (self) denials must be a crucial foundation of the effort.

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