By Amar Yumnam
Critical junctures are significant markers in the trajectory of any society. Plague and its spread was a very significant critical juncture in European social history; it was cause for a substantial transformation in social institutions, including labour and employer relationships. Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio, who witnessed the power of the disease in the middle of the fourteenth century, wrote: “In the face of its onrush, all the wisdom and ingenuity of man were unavailing ….. the plague began, in a terrifying and extraordinary manner, to make its disastrous effects apparent. It did not take the form it had assumed in the East, where if anyone bled from the nose it was an obvious portent of certain death. On the contrary, its earliest symptom was the appearance of certain swellings in the groin or armpit, some of which were egg-shaped whilst others were roughly the size of a common apple…. Later on the symptoms of the disease changed, many people began to find dark blotches and bruises on their arms, thighs and other parts of their bodies…Against these maladies … All the advice of physicians and all the power of medicine were profitless and unavailing….And in most cases death occurred within three days from the appearance of the symptoms we have described.” Fearing the arrival of the disease to England as well, on the direction of King Edward III, the churches were advised to organise prayers for “we must all come before the presence of the Lord in confession, reciting psalms”. These ultimately did not help, and the consequential shortage in labour led to the inevitable social changes in the structures governing relationships between employers and labour.
Fortunately Manipur did not go through a similar experience on a scale as high as this one other than the cholera epidemic which led to the social norm of lighting fire at the household entrances whenever a dead body is taken to a graveyard. (The historians may correct me on this and educate me on the relationship between diseases and social trajectory of Manipur). But my worry today is that Manipur is now passing through a phase of spreading spell of social plague. It is a case where prayers, like in the European plague experience, would not help. It is also a case where physical interventions would not help. It is a case where only collective attitudinal changes on a shared basis would help in transformation.
I am talking of the heightening trend of ethnic-based articulations in a zero-sum game style in Manipur. The social behaviour, the economic actions and the political manoeuvrings are all marked by this behaviour in a very domineering way. One more dangerous manifestation of the recent happenings in and around Manipur is the coupling by violence in such ethnic based articulations and functioning. The moot question – the twenty-five million dollar question – is whether such functioning is sustainable. Would it be possible for us to transform our land and the well-being of the people by actions dictated by such attitude? Can the land and the people of Manipur adopt a system of replacing the age –old inter-ethnic continuities by one of inter-ethnic discontinuities?
The answer to all these is NO in bold capital letters. If Manipur is allowed to proceed further in an environment of deepening and widening ethnic-based articulations and movements, we would face the following social consequences sooner than later:
A. There would be deepening and widening of inter-ethnic violence and Manipur would sink into a difficult-to-reverse social turmoil.
B. The violence would be there even in intra-ethnic social relationships and the casualties of life would be huge.
C. The small-demographic size ethnic groups would face extinction either by elimination or forced amalgamation.
D. The traditional institutions, in the sense of norms for social relationship and functioning, of every ethnic group would disappear with high social costs and with no sign of positive outcomes.
E. Each ethnic group would ultimately find itself socially weakened in the absence of positive interactions with outside. This would spell doom for each ethnic group singly and all the ethnic groups collectively as well in a world of rising globalised economic, social, cultural and political relationships.
These are reasons why the government at both the country and the provincial levels needs to be extra cautious in evolving and adopting any policy for social advancement and economic development in Manipur. These are also the reasons why the governments should be doubly careful in dealing with any group challenging the existing state for an alternative state. What the time demands is the strengthening of the age-old robust inter-ethnic ties. The newly emerging inter-ethnic discontinuities should be transformed by active social policies for enhancing inter-ethnic continuities. The traditional institutions can evolve best and with strength only in a context of broad-based relationships, and never in an exclusivist way. The focus today of the governments, the civil society organisations and the community based organisations should be the speedy completion of building a world where the members of the various ethnic groups compete within a framework of shared opportunities and shared vision. Manipur does not have an alternative to this route. The government at Delhi and the government in Imphal should take every care that no action is action and no policy is adopted that can heighten further the inter-ethnic tensions and aggravate the present scenario. The present critical juncture in the social history of Manipur should be an opportunity for fostering healthier inter-ethnic relationships and not for adopting policies for encouraging exclusivist ethnic behaviour. Let the present juncture serve as the turning point for a brighter future and better Manipur.