War in a Quicksand

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In Manipuri there is a saying that goes: “Phudita mangjong chongbadi kunja kaukhaini’ basically warning of the frustration of attempting to leap on swampy ground, or quicksand for that matter. One does get the feeling that the loud battle of rhetoric on hill-valley unity on the one side, and on the other their “unique” separateness of the two entities, is amounting virtually to a war in the quicksand as the adage quoted above indicates. While the “integrationists”, most of them in the valley, hold history as alibi that the two peoples have always been together and that they should never be allowed to part, the “dis-integrationists” hold up their perception of the distinctiveness of identities of the two geographical regions as the thrust of their argument that the two must divorce. As we see it, neither of the two sides have gained much ground, and indeed all their attempts to hop forward have fixed them firmer in the same spots they were in. Hence, if there is no apparent love lost or gained, between the hills and the valley inspite of all the many clamour of unity, or the manufactured bonhomie of inter community Ningol Chakouba feasts etc., there is equally no hope in sight that there would be a redrawing of the political map of the region without first working up a holocaust. Let us face it, for these are the realities before us.

This tragicomic scenario is unfortunate, but we must say its seed were always embedded within the unfolding plots of both the integrationists as well as the dis-integrationists. For neither history, nor identity, possess the inflexible, sterile qualities which both seem to assume in forming their respective and antagonistic perspectives. History is a continuing process. What has happened cannot change, but what is still to happen can very much. Fifty years ago, things obviously were a lot different from now, and fifty years hence who knows what the shape of our destiny may be. But the fact is, it is not a constant. Powerful empires have crumbled, as did nations and even peoples. The Soviet Union was a reality about three decades ago. It is not any longer. But if history has been always in a constant flux, so has identity been. Even as late as the middle of the last century, few of the tribes now known as Nagas, knew they were being referred to as Nagas by others. Thirty years ago, nobody, not even Meghalayans would have known what or who the term Meghalayan referred to. The same with Arunachalis or for that matter Northeasterners. Today, these are very real identities, not just in terms of how others view the communities referred to, but in terms of how these communities perceive themselves as. Identity then is very much a constant process of negotiation and renegotiation, internal and external, to come to terms with the changing reality, and there is nothing intrinsic about it, as French philosopher, Michel Foucault, so insightfully said. Upon honest introspection, it may very well be discovered that the qualities that seem to make somebody a Naga are also the same qualities that make somebody else a Kuki. Ditto any other community.

The positive side of the picture is, both history and identity, the two understandings which have been the seeds of much of the tensions and conflicts everywhere in the world, are in their very essence, discursive in nature, hence there will have to be democratic ways of resolving issues within them. The challenge is to find these platforms. Reference to a rigid historical frame or identity to score debating points, have not been able to break the various deadlocks facing us, and we are of the opinion that we must now abandon these parameters and start rebuilding relations within totally different frames of references. It would not be correct for anybody to presume what this new frame must look like, but we do feel it must have to be based on an honest assessment of the present reality, future prospects and above all, a shared belief in the principle that nothing guarantees peace and prosperity like justice for all does.

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