`You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you`

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By Pradip Phanjoubam

When you point your index finger at somebody, there are three other fingers of the same hand, other than the thumb, pointing back at you. There is something about this rather curious metaphor which makes you want to return to it every now and then, especially while taking account of your own part in any emergent and grave situation, personal as well as societal. It is almost nature’s way of reminding the individual discreetly that there is something as a conscience and you need to look no further for it than yourself.

Of course, the index finger, according to many researchers, is increasingly being replaced as the most important and sensitive finger by the thumb, which till only a few decades ago was almost a vestigial organ, thanks to the advent of the mobile phone and other modern one-hand gadgets which are largely operated by the thumb. These researchers note that the younger generations everywhere in the world have even begun preferring, by instinct, the thumb to point. But even if this were to be so, the old metaphor would still work, for even when the thumb is used to point at people, four other fingers, including the index finger in this case, would be pointing back at the pointer.

The metaphor is apt for Manipur at this moment. At the risk of sounding a little quaint, this seems to be a dear little handkerchief God dropped as a reminder to all not to be too self-centred and thereby reserved about introspection. For every accusative finger pointed at somebody else, there are three fingers of the same hand pointing back at the self. And nobody will dispute that pointing accusative fingers have become a wont in this society, perhaps revealing in the process an acute insecurity and need to hide guilt by finding scapegoats.

Take any of the most vexing issue and work through it. Chances are every average Manipuri would discover his or her own fingerprint in its making. Consider official corruption. Practically nobody can plead innocence in the culturing and perpetuation of this phenomenon.

As to how this is so is quite obvious, for between the bribe giver and taker there is little to differentiate morally. This is on the assumption that corruption in Manipur has two major components. One, it is about the bribe price on government jobs. Two, it is about siphoning off of developmental funds by an elaborate nexus of those in positions of power, their army of middlemen and the contractor-businessmen executioners.

Official corruption in the first sense is the result of a paranoid scramble of an acutely insecure population to book a place under the security coverage provided by government jobs. The first not only prepares the ground for the second but also flattens all semblance of natural resistance within the system to prevent corrupt practices and ensure the state-building project remains on the track it was meant to. How else could this have been after practically every job holder has been made to share the guilt of corruption from the very induction in the big perpetual auction of the government jobs bazaar? All moral grounds for any sense of rectitude within the government system to stand against corruption is thus destroyed, corruption becomes institutionalised, all semblance of work ethics trampled, enlightened visions and joys of achievement made meaningless, and in their places spawn an all-pervasive, avaricious, incestuous, principle of you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours. Quite naturally, the only remaining
worship in such a culture becomes that of Mammon. The corrupt wallow in ill-gotten lucre, those not in a position to partake in this orgy of official cabal, are left swear words in the mouth but green envy in the heart.

Or else, a subterranean fury, explosive, blind, violent, brutal, destructive to the core… Manipur needs no further explanation what terror this monstrous mutation of society can bring. Yet the grotesque revelries around the temples of Mammon continue unabated.

Indeed, the mindless violence which has engulfed the entire state in many ways is a by product of corruption, and therefore denial of justice and equity in society. What goes around comes around, and the abuses everybody has been heaping on the society would have to ultimately have a price to be paid by every abuser. Violence is such a price.

When the system has been so totally discredited morally, rebellion against it, even when it is aimed at destroying it altogether, will have to have a strong constituency of support. The moral legitimacy that the State surrendered so unscrupulously and selfishly is the moral legitimacy that the insurrection has lapped up. In this ignominious surrender of the State’s moral legitimacy, practically everybody who has allowed himself to be part of this moral degeneration is implicated, but most specifically those at the helm of the State cannot be exonerated easily.

The anger at the system’s failure which readers would have noticed even in the tone of this article, is the kind of fuel that keeps the insurrection engine revving even when it has outlived its era. Even when the rebellion has gone wayward, as indeed is happening in Manipur today, it would still find a reason and constituency to survive. For until so long as the system has not done enough to regain the moral legitimacy it lost, the anger would remain to perpetuate the residual animus against it.

The insurrection is hardly likely to conclude immediately the day after the system corrects itself and become morally accountable, but in such an event, the violence would not remain so bitter and mindless. Such a circumstance would also be the soil on which peace efforts can grow and fructify meaningfully, and not as mere gimmicks aimed at winning medals and official awards.

War and Peace

As of today, there is not a single day some violent acts or the other is not reported in Manipur. Almost on a daily basis, the ordinary people are bombarded with news of bomb blasts, life threats, extortion-related kidnapping etc, on one hand. On the other hand the stories are of combined forces of police commandos and army eliminating people supposedly in encounters, but far too often under circumstances that point otherwise.

An important sinew that kept the state’s sanity together seems to have snapped, and a daily staple of mayhem is the new reality everybody has to tolerate. And tolerate they are doing in an incredibly stoic fashion. Nobody responds to these atrocities anymore, except those who are unlucky enough to be direct victims.

So the bomb attacks and extortion kidnappings, as well as the daily killings by the security forces at best are met with isolated rallies and protest picketing by those immediately affected, but never by the larger civil society as such. Either the society has reached a stage of brutalisation that it has become numb to all senses of outrage, or else it has been petrified into this unnatural silence. Probably it is a combination of both.

In either of the cases, there are certain unusual things. To start with the latter, almost all of those supposed insurgents killed by the government forces were found with a grenade or two, or else with a 9mm pistol with one or two unspent bullets in them. Stranger still, there is hardly ever any mention of money in the items recovered from these dead militants and although demand notes for huge sums of money they are sometimes reported to have been carrying with them at the time of their deaths are found. Can it be a coincidence that this is always the case?

Moreover, this does not also tally with the other profile of the men thus killed as members of organisations which have the reputation of being hardened extortionists. Do they always carry only a few unspent bullets, a grenade or two, extortion demand letters etc, and never the extorted money?

In the earlier scenario, the strange, or rather sad thing is, every one of us have become the ostrich hiding its head in the sand in face of danger. Even when confronted with the atrocities all around, as long as the gun is not trained on you, the attitude seems to be it is better to pretend not to see or hear, and thereby not speak as well. All our intellectual elite, senior citizens, eminent citizens, and the civil society by and large have come to convince themselves that such a silence is the attribute of peace loving folks. Nothing can be more short-sighted or selfish.

It would be pertinent to note here an insightful remark by Leon Trotsky: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you”. To take the liberty of a bit of free paraphrasing, this could translate as: trouble has the nasty habit of coming to those who run away from it rather than face it squarely before it goes out of hand.

If all the terrible things happening in Manipur are allowed to continue in the manner they have been without even registering a protest just because they have not come to you, it would not be long before these terrible things do come visiting you. The call is then for a proactive response from the larger society to these terrible things happening to all of us with a view to creating an open and free discursive space on which to thrash out these issues, and more than that, to generate appropriate responses from each and every one of us.

There is no doubt that it will need a great deal of commitment and courage from everybody for this to work. At the risk of repeating the obvious, it would still be pertinent to serve this reminder to everybody that what is good or bad for the society is also ultimately good or bad for our individual selves. If you are not a victim of the mindless violence that has eclipsed good life in our state today, don’t ever be under the illusion that you have no part in the shape of events and developments all around. The regenerative process will have to begin from within each one of us.

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