Insane Manipur

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By Pradip Phanjoubam

No adjective at this moment can describe the Manipur scenario more accurately than the word “insane”. Violence and bloodshed is becoming not just a norm but reducing to a delirious and mindless mass hysteria. Lost in this maddening orgy of blood and gore are all clear cut demarcation between victim and perpetrator.

A scan of the number of protests on the streets of Imphal on any given day should be revealing for anybody sensitive enough to notice this emerging frightening confusion. If there are a group of people staging a “sit in protest” on the side of an Imphal street against the growing menace of kidnapping government officials for (astronomical) ransoms, in another corner of the city there would another group protesting against an equally frightening and seemingly officially sanctioned campaign of custodial executions under cover of (fake) encounters.

Elsewhere there would be another group calling for the total repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA, but there would also at the same time be others wanting a highway protection force as the highways are now no longer under the control of the state authorities but in the hands of coercive underground “taxmen” and more often uncommitted fulltime extortionists.

If the underground movement is increasingly taking the visage of a hydra-headed monster, continually fragmenting and each unit becoming a vicious beast, special forces raised by the government specifically for counter insurgency purposes, in particular the police commandos, are also turning into menacing loose cannons, capable of training their guns on anybody.

Take just the incidents that happened in the course of a day and reported on the front pages of local dailies on March 24. There was a sit in protest demanding the release of an engineer kidnapped and held hostage to squeeze a huge ransom out of his department. He has since been freed but another engineer has reportedly been kidnapped for a similar demand.

In the late afternoon, one businessman was shot dead, ostensibly for extortion reasons. In the wake of the murder and not very far from the crime site, police commandos shot dead two men supposedly in an encounter. However, according to eyewitnesses they were brought there and shot.

The day also marked the conclusion of an ineffective general strike called by another one of the many joint action committees, JACs, protesting a case of supposed fake encounter. The justified outrage over the alleged custodial killing and the lack of public response to the general strike over it, again tell the same story. Between supposed victims and the supposed perpetrators, there is little to distinguish anymore. The general public are sickened by both, for indeed in their eyes both are perpetrators.

A vital nerve giving the place its integrity and humanity has snapped. Manipur has lost its orientation altogether. If at this moment somebody were to ask what it is Manipur wants, there probably would be a thousand answers with absolutely no semblance of a commonality of desire or aspiration, and instead pulling the cart in as many directions as there are answers.

Many of these answers would be diametrically opposed to each other too, as indeed the brief sketch of the current Manipur scenario in the preceding paragraphs indicated. And yet, amidst all this, “In the rooms the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo” (courtesy T.S. Eliot). In a matching show of unconcern, in the corridors of state power, corruption still remains the name of the game and unaccounted for money, its reward.

The problem is awesome, and the danger is for all of us to be lulled into petrified mediocrity, waiting for the intervention of providence for something to change for the better. Ours is a clarion call then urging the brave and honest remaining on this soil to stand up and resist, morally, spiritually and even physically if need be, to arrest this total and irredeemable spiritual devastation. Remember the rousing, soul stirring lines from the popular Manipuri song: “Ye sons and daughters of this land/ Your Fatherland is on fire/ Come save it from the raging inferno…” These thoughts cannot be more significant than they are at this juncture of Manipur’s troubled times.

Who is Innocent?

It is always very tempting to seek simplistic answers to difficult questions, but the problem is, the answers thus arrived at are most likely to be illusory at best and self-deceptive at worst. The fact is, too many willingly fall into this trap. The lure of the “convenience of prejudices”, a phrase used by many critics of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s controversial “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust,” seems too irresistible to many in the intelligentsia.

The objection is not so much that the book is badly written or conceived but that the author as a historian allegedly abandons the position as an interpreter of sources and instead resorts to retelling the events in the light of his own imagination. What is essentially the private opinion of the author hence were, according to the criticisms, passed off as conclusions arrived at through the rigours of academic inquiry.

We cannot with justice join the debate on the controversial but famous book, as we have neither read the book nor any of the criticisms in their entirety. We have however read commentaries on the debate by other scholars of international renown, in particular Dominick LaCapra in “Writing History, Writing Trauma” which dedicates a few pages to the issue.

We will hence focus on two ideas, one flagged in “Hitler’s Willing Executioners…” and the other by its critics, both of which we are of the opinion are of great significance to contemporary Manipur. We will also pursue these ideas, not necessarily in line with or to the extent of how they were used in the debate mentioned, but also simply as thought provoking independent ideas.

The base argument of the book, the commentaries on the debate inform us, is about how the ordinary German public is complicit in Hitler’s genocide against the Jews not because they participated in it actively, but because they allowed and indeed nurtured what was supposedly the sole motivation for genocide – “the long-incubating, pervasive, virulent, eliminationist anti-Semitism of German culture…” The idea as we gather is, a society must stand implicated in crimes especially those that involve racism, if the entire population or a great section of it has allowed or nurtured any all-pervasive culture of hatred and xenophobia within the society.

This is to say, if the society has infused racial hatred in the hearts of its children, or if a culture of racial hatred grows in a society and the adult members of the society do nothing about educating their children to put up a resistance against it, as and when race crimes explode, or a Hitler is born to orchestrate pogroms, the society as a whole cannot shirk away from owning responsibility. It will do well for Manipur to re-examine its own myriad communal frictions in the light of this insight. Are we, the adults of this society, enough of a moderating influence on our younger generations?

The other idea of the “convenience of prejudices” in explaining away inconvenient truths is a danger that so many, especially the state intelligentsia, is not all too cautious about. The spirit of rigorous inquiry, physical, intellectual and moral, before making conclusions, has become a rare quality rather than a necessary disciplinary regime, even in academics and indeed journalism.

The vogue of explaining away all the ills of the society, its economic backwardness, the multiple communal frictions within, the plummeting quality of politics, the fall in the standard of education, by shifting and attributing their causes to alien forces and influences, and never believing they are to be found in the place’s own heart is a symptom of this.

A great deal of these prejudices probably have a basis in actual experiences of the dark reality the people of this region have had to go through in the decades that have gone by, but surely these prejudices need to be validated not by more prejudices – a tradition of cross-referencing in lazy academics so well satirised by a line from The Dictionary of Received Ideas quoted by Dominick LaCapra in Writing History, Writing Trauma: “Blondes. Hotter than brunettes. (See brunettes). Brunettes. Hotter than blondes. (See blondes).”

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