By Soibam Haripriya
On the 13th of September 2013 an IED device was planted at a make-shift shanty next to the drain of a river in Naga Nullah, Khuyathong, Imphal. As reported in the newspapers, nine labourers killed in the explosion belonged to Assam. They were working for a Kolkata based construction company – Simplex. All of them being members of a religious minorities and migrant labourers, and therefore thought of as non-indigenous to the valley, their death has mostly been a silent affair. Up to the point of this write-up, no organisation had claimed responsibility for the act. The state as usual claims to investigate the matter, but as usual again, the politics of awarding compensation takes precedence and therefore ex-gratia for all the victims, both dead and injured, has been promptly announced. As reported in the newspapers, the state government has announced ex-gratia of Rs. 4, 00,000 for those killed in the blast, Rs. 50,000 for each of the critically injured victims and Rs. 10,000 each for those who sustained minor injuries. The effect of this is that many people, including the affected persons, get caught up in tracing the compensation and therefore have no energy left to go on with the everyday task of following-up on the investigation. The compensation in fact seems doled out in lieu of justice. The newspaper also reports that “The government of Manipur shares the grief and pain of the bereaved family members”. This is of course grossly untrue of both the government as well as the people of the state. The targeting of non locals who were killed and injured reiterates this fact. One has to reiterate the fact that such violence happens with alarming regularity and with no tangible effort being seen from the part of the government to tackle this and the resounding silence on the part of the people.
It is not known yet whether an armed non-state organisation is responsible for the act or not and things are getting murkier with the state government being accused of the same. It could be provisionally stated that both groups are not above suspicion, with the latter been accused of many crimes, many crimes especially against women being carried out with a strong believe in their own invincibility. However previous incidents like this also suggest that the armed non-state organisations too are not above suspicion. These groups if we decipher from their name, do at least superficially seems to show a socialist or a left leaning. It is ironic that none has bothered to identify with the migrant workers and thought of them as being deeply affected and alienated by processes of production and severely exploited by the same political and ruling classes that they are purportedly fighting. The absolute lack of identification with this class of people to the extent that they are targeted with highly simplistic right wing, oft repeated renditions of `they are taking away our jobs`; and more commonly `look at what happened to Tripura` signals a highly lazy engagement with the ideas and ideals that these organisations at least claim to stand for. Attacks on migrant workers occur with sporadic regularity and while the government prattles on, terming such incidents like many others as “inhuman and cowardly”, such incidents will continue with their usual regularity. Representatives of the government have time and again stated that such attacks on migrant workers will be taken seriously. But one can be sure that such incidents do not bother either the government or the people much, except perhaps for one line of thinking that they provoke – that the incident might lead to retaliation which might target people from Manipur staying elsewhere, the large student community outside the state being one of the major concerns.
A vulgar and lazy mixing up of issues of identity and class where identity itself is thought to be a collective monolith with no differentiation within itself is a highly damaging line of argument. Migrant workers move to cities for work. Imphal could be by no dint of imagination conceived of as a city, except perhaps in comparison with the places the slain workers belonged to. One could only try to comprehend the sheer nature of impoverishment for migrant workers who have to seek their living in a place often termed as a conflict zone. Unfortunately as incidents before have proved, it is not the organisations and institutions such as big corporations that shape the living conditions of many that are seen as the enemy – the enemy more often than not is those at the fag end of in the hierarchy of such organisations; or migrant workers comprising the great lot of daily wage labourers of the informal sector; even for the least imaginative person it would not be difficult to picture the sorry state of the people who make up the informal sector and contribute much to the national as well as local economy.
What would be the point of distinction between the nation state which does not treat us as equal citizens, and the groups who claim to be working towards changing this? Incidents such as these remind us that the non-state is just a step away from being the state; the non-state vies to be the state, this image of the new state seem based on politics of exclusion and is neither encouraging nor different from the present condition. Such incidents remind us that the attacks are wilful and the migrant labourers are not thought of as equal human being or as members of the toiling class. Rather the labourer is only thought of as a non-local; the only fact about his existence that matters is that he is not one of us. Such incidents also show that divides of identity have penetrated everywhere, an identity formation on which is based an idea of an ethnic nation. This does not even allow for forms of identification within the same class. What one fails to recognise is that this argument also does not allow us to recognise the gaping differences within the same ethnic community. When ethnicity become the basis of the so called revolution the argument that this could bring about a change and become a social leveller or at least move towards a vision of equality falls flat on the face.