Something Is Terribly Wrong and Time Is Running Out in Manipur

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By Amar Yumnam

Violence has become increasingly ingrained into the daily happenings of Manipur and with no visible social response in sight to address the malady. Manorama happened in the hands of the Indian army and there was collective social response which shook the psyche of the nation. But after that we are not experiencing an improvement in the quality of social behaviour, and instead a downward social evolution seems to be in place. All of us cannot evade the responsibility now to apply collective and individual social conscientiousness as well as consciousness to rise to the challenge of evolving a robust social norm in right earnest. We cannot afford to allow the recent incident of the discovery of the dead body of a young doctor instead of her fruition of career efforts going down as an event in the daily history of the society. She was not just a girl but was an important resource of the land. Manipur is too small a society which cannot easily sacrifice such resources.

We must all ponder why such incorporation of violence in the daily social life has come about in our society. The society has experienced the immunity enjoyed by segments of population from all the violence committed on the general population for quite a few decades now. It is only recently, following the Commission of the Supreme Court of India, that the people have started seeing glimpses of the accountability of the crimes of violence catching up on the criminals of the state so long thought to be immune from any possible punishment. Manorama happened and even now the Indian Government says rapes under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act are something outside the purview of the normal law. But this perspective of immunity from the accountability of violence seems to have been absorbed as a social-wide lesson by those who have power of one kind or the other. Let us look back a little. The 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s are very significant in this connection. The immunity from accountability was exploited to the full by the army. This was also coupled by the behaviour and orientation of the provincial security forces. The provincial police during this period was visible by the flamboyancy of a few who imagined themselves as law unto themselves. Their behaviour day in and day out were marked by a display of capability to assert violent capability rather than encouraging and nurturing a social norm of following the rules of law. They imagined public civility as the fear public displayed of them. But global history of the connection between governance and society is that such approaches would not last and would have negative social implications. This is exactly what has happened in the case of Manipur as well. Taking cover under immunity from the accountability for violence seems being practised by some. However thankfully we see signs of a new energy inhabiting the provincial police force with effective country-wide networking and greater commitment to nurturing a culture of rule of law; the flamboyancy approach of the earlier era is now replaced by a newfound commitment to social responsibility.

While the armed wing of the state should take a part of the responsibility of the spiritual nose-dive in Manipur in recent times, the onus should also be put on the shoulders of the quality of governance in the land. It is as if contractor approaches to governance has been put in place as the one capable of taking a society forward. We have not had any encompassing philosophy driving the social energy forward and any enticing social goal to fire our imagination. No society without any social philosophy and guiding spirit can ever be stable; a society needs a moral and an ethics much more than the contractors ruling the roost.

These are important elements contributing to the recent societal decline of Manipur. But we also need to ask if the society as whole does not have any role in this. Here I would like to call the attention to the character of Yaoshang today. Until about two decades back, Yaoshang was very much a social event in which cooperative and collective participation was absolutely ingrained and valued. The nakatheng groups were always representatives from quite a few families and consisted of like-minded children from a cross-section of families. The girls stopping the passer-by on the roads and lanes were also like this. But today the composition of both is invariably from a single household and at most an extended family; the earlier heterogeneity in composition is no longer seen. This implies that the festival which once served the cause of sustaining and nurturing social capital no longer does so. In other words, the factor of social coherence and collective sharing capable of addressing many social issues is now visibly weakened in Manipur. Here I remember the anguish of the elders particularly during the 1980s and 1990s when the period of thabal chongbas would extend till after the Manipuri new year (Cheiraoba). During the 1990s a visible movement for sports during yaoshangs became salient in order to replace thabal chongba occasions by sports events. This was a social response to the rising conversion of yaoshangs into merriment. Now this sports movement has definitely gained momentum and coverage. But in the process the society has lost something valuable collectively. Sports no doubt nurture the spirit of competitiveness and efficiency at the individual level but it does not enhance social capital. We have lost social capital for individualised competence. While replacing the festivities by sports, the society has incurred a collective lost in terms of social capital without putting anything in place as a substitute.

The concatenation of governance failures and erosion of social capital has now put the society into a situation of regularly witnessing the Manorama-like crimes being committed even by social members. It is such a painful social decline and something needing to be addressed collectively; individual responses would not serve the purpose. The society has to put pressure for enhancement of governance quality while at the same time evolving social norms capable of stopping Manorama repeatedly occurring. We need to move much beyond bandhs and general strikes.

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