Just who is communal?

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As the unfortunate drama unfolding in Manipur in the last two months following the brazen daylight assassination in Ukhrul of Ngalangzar Malue, an elected autonomous district councillor, gets more intense, having already cost some precious lives, the denouement especially after yesterday’s ambush would seem obvious to most detached observers, but likely still miss the most rabid conflict mongers who see a larger conspiracy behind every leaf that stirs in the breeze, and read between the lines of even the most innocent message to discover hidden sinister meanings.

In the latest series of events in this sorry episode, a Manipur police convoy returning to base from Ukhrul was ambushed and in it one more life was lost and two more injured. This time the casualties were on the side of government’s uniformed forces, and this is expected in an insurgency situation, as much as it is expected of insurgent fighters to come under government fire. Again, because the casualties were on government forces, the question of human rights violation would not arise technically, for the human rights movement is about checking the State’s encroachment into territories of individual rights. By this yardstick, atrocities by non-State fighters would only amount to infringement of the law, therefore remain as matters for the law to take care of.

It is not as if the human rights movement is not aware, or is not uneasy about the seeming injustice in this, and has indeed tried to address the problem, especially in the face of the LTTE when it was at its peak of power and was virtually a State in its own rights. The Geneva Conventions Protocol-II, is a translation of this anxiety, and an effort to bring in the non-State fighters within the ambit of the human rights discourse. Not surprisingly, it is mostly States with active insurgencies within their territories, including India, which refused to ratify this protocol. This is understandable, for accepting the protocol would mean acknowledgement of the insurgents as putative States, therefore the conflict would cease to be an internal matter of the State in question to be handled by its law keeping mechanism. This also means the conflict would have acquired attributes of a war between the States requiring intervention of international legal mechanisms to resolve. The State therefore need not complain that human rights workers do not invoke human rights guidelines on the casualties it forces suffer. This caveat is so that we too are not branded similarly as unsympathetic to the State when we write from the standpoint of human rights.

This editorial however wants to look into another aspect of the unfolding conflict that has little to do with human rights, or the rights issue per se. In the ambush on the police convoy yesterday, tragic as any human casualty is, there were certain other interesting features of the State of Manipur which became apparent. In a random gun assault on a police convoy, three were hit. A Tangkhul police commando was killed, and of the two injured, one was a Meitei and the other a Kuki. This should once again explode the myth of police deployment amounting to ethnic aggression so enthusiastically advocated and propagated by many conflict mongers. It was not the Valley pushing its will on the Hills, but one of the State of Manipur pushing what it feels are within its sovereign duty. The clash of interest therefore should have been portrayed at its worst only as between the government of Manipur and a community (any community), but it seems the opportunity to take vested advantage of an imagined ethnic hue in this tussle was too tempting for those who love courting and nurturing conflict.

As in all other government services, the Manipur police is recruited from all domiciles of Manipur as per the recruitment and reservation norms of the government, with probably some hitches here and there on account of individual corruption and nepotism, therefore it has personnel from every community. So far they have been operating mostly in the Valley districts, and in particular the two districts of Imphal. This is on account of two developments. One is the 2004 agitation against the AFSPA in the Valley districts and partial lifting of the AFSPA, and therefore the withdrawal of the Army from the two contiguous capital districts. But as we have seen, the police commandos can be, and has been, even more brutal than the Army. The other development is the ceasefire and peace-talk agreements between the government and various insurgent groups in the Hills, and we are all praises for the bravery of all involved in being able to come to such a decision. But all will vouch, in the Valley districts, when the commandos operate or commit atrocities, agitations are directed against the government and there has been seldom anybody asking or bothering about the ethnicity of the police commandos involved. They were just police commandos on government service, therefore the government was to be made accountable for their action. We hope it remains this way too. Let the police commandos be abolished if it needs be, but let not the venom they ever end up creating be directed towards the community any particular commando may belong to. We also hope that brutal and savage as they may be, the police at least remain loyal only to their employers and not be swayed by the disease of ethnic hatred and suspicion.

In this light, it is unfortunate certain Naga civil organisations in particular are vehemently against the idea of deployment of Manipur Police in Naga districts. Supposing tomorrow, there were to be a policy of not recruiting Nagas in the Manipur police as the Naga districts do not ostensibly need the police, there will surely be cries of discrimination from many quarters. This cry for justice will also find universal solidarity, for indeed such a policy would amount to undisguised discrimination. However, most will also agree there is something seriously wrong in saying police jobs must be distributed fairly to all sections of the society but their deployment must be restricted to only certain districts. This attitude sure must amount to a bigger communalism.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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