This is a familiar theme, and one which has been said in very many ways, at various forums, including the opinion page of this newspaper. In the interest of peace and stability in this strife torn region that Manipur belongs to, this is one theme that must become part of a campaign by all peace campaigners. And like in every serious campaign, unlike say an intellectual postulate meant for the consumption of only a select audience, insistent repeating of the theme with the intent of building up a lobby is essential. As a provincial newspaper, where institutions for checking and balancing policy thoughts are not as abundant, the IFP must confess that it too believes in the importance of the role of media as a campaigner. Hence our readers would have noticed our dogged perseverance in the attempt to provoke debates as well as raise awareness on various issues that present themselves more visibly to those of us who by the calls of professions have their ears and noses closer to the ground. One of these is the notion of shared living space. This is important for much of the conflicts we are immersed in, have directly or indirectly to do with territory, or rather notions of territory. It is fascinating but true that as the social organisation of any given community grows in complexity, the notion of territory also tends to get more abstract. In fact, this notion can actually cease to be physical and tangible, and lean more and more towards the psychological and intangible (Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities). The same is true of the idea of peoplehood too. For simplicity, take the example of the notion of territory or peoplehood in the large Indian canvas. What is it that makes an average man or woman in Chennai or Patna say the forbidding and uninhabited Siachen Glaciers, or the for that matter the Barren Kargil hilltops are Indian territory, commanding enough passion to justify fighting a war with those who encroach. It is another story (or perhaps the same story), that the same people do not feel as passionately when the Myanmarese army periodically intrude into an inhabited border village called Molcham in Manipur. By the same principle what is it that bonds a man in a village in Bihar with another in Tamil Nadu who do not know each other and may never ever come to know each other, into believing they are the same people? These are some of the revealing questions Anderson poses in the book cited above.
These same questions are equally relevant in the living drama (often taking living casualties), unfolding on the smaller canvas of the Northeast’s ethnic cauldron. Their uneasy logics would become even sharper when asked in the Manipur context. For instance, what is it that makes one Naga tribe feel close to another Naga tribe, and not a Kuki? It cannot be genetics, for if a genome study were to be done today, a lot of passionately held pet theories of ethnicities probably would crumble. Perhaps it has a little to do with geography but a lot to do with psychological tuning. Likewise, how is it that the Meiteis’ sense of territory extends to regions they have never inhabited, and where government employees among them would avoid being posted on duty? This is not to ridicule but to nudge a closer study. For all these affiliations must have their reasons otherwise the questions would not have arisen at all. But then, if indeed there are “reasons” behind these seemingly inexplicable notions, it should not be difficult to “reason” out a solution too, for reason is called reason precisely because it is open to reason. We can begin by doing a bit of deconstruction of the various mindset prisons. Fundamental questions on what are inevitable and what are not, should give us a good picture of the approach to the problem. Of the many inevitable issues, the most important is that there is no way any of us can vanish into thin air, hence like it or not, we will have to come to terms with the fact that we have to continue sharing the same living space. This also means that any lasting solution to our most vexing issues of conflict will have to involve all stake holders, big and small, weak and strong, for the factors that led to these conflicts cover all. All must be taken aboard, for the chain, as they say, is as strong as the weakest link.