Mutual respect vital

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There will be only few who keep dogs as pet who have not watched Caesar Millan’s incredible series “Dog Whisperer” on National Geographic Channel, also available on Youtube. Millan’s understanding of dog behaviour is awesome but it is also his consistent message that problem-dogs are more often than not a reflection of the owners’ own inhibitions, insecurities and misconceptions, which is startling and absorbing. Millan provides therapy for homes with aggressive dogs and he insists that it is not just the problem-dogs which must undergo therapy, but also the owners. The attitude he recommends is to see in terms of: “This is my house and I share it with my dog” and not “This is my house and I keep a dog”. The house becomes not an exclusive space for the owner, but equally the dog’s territory. He also says the equation is not as simple as expecting a reciprocation of the love and affection the owner gives the dog, on the other hand, what works is giving the dog the space it needs as a territorial and pack animal. Giving primacy to “respect” rather than “love” is the key in this equation. The latter is necessary, but the former is what the dog reciprocates. Many owners end up devastated because of the failure to understand this equation. There are of course pathological cases, where a dog is instinctually aggressive, therefore beyond rehabilitation and have to be put down (a euphemism for execution), and Millan’s self-professed mission is to save problem dogs from falsely being classified thus.

There is much to take away from Millan’s lessons not just in sizing up pet-owner relationship, but also social psychology that contributes or comes in the way of fostering social harmony. Manipur’s problematic hill-valley relationship comes to mind. At this moment, nobody can say this relationship is healthy and it would be equally wrong to presume any single party is responsible for the current state of things. Here too, while emotional integrity is necessary, it must be acknowledged that what is more vital is mutual respect. As in Millan’s case studies, it is only mutual recognition of concerns of each party which can foster a reciprocal respect for each other. As we are witnessing, the immediate flash point in this chequered relationship is the movement to have the state covered by the Inner Line Permit System or an equivalent measure to give protection to its vulnerable populations from a demographic overturn on account of unchecked migration. Consider this: in the 2540 languages listed by the UNESCO on a scale ranging from “vulnerable” to completely “extinct”, almost all of the indigenous language of the Northeast are featured. All the indigenous languages of Manipur, including Meitei, fall in the category of “vulnerable” and a few in the “endangered”. “Endangered” languages are those which children of the community have begun to abandon as mother tongue in preference of another. There are also “critically endangered” and “definitely endangered” depending on whether this abandoning process began at the parents’ or grandparents’ generations. “Vulnerable” languages are languages still spoken as mother tongue by children, but because of the small number of speakers, still remain vulnerable. It is to the instinctual democratic credential of Manipur that even languages spoken by only a few thousand people have not gone extinct. Most of them remain an option in the languages taught in schools and colleges, although some have shown preferences for “Alternative English” to their own language as a taught subject.

This vulnerability is what calls for understanding in the demand for protection by measures similar to the ILPS, although after purging the colonial DNA from it. If at the moment, the hills feel they do not need it as they are already protected, let it be. Let the new legislation be for the valley only. Till such a time the hills are ready for modern laws, let the valley also have a special protection to suit its sense of security and cure itself of its vulnerabilities. What however needs to be kept in mind is also the fact that the hill-valley administrative divide is a legacy of the British policy of administering only its revenue districts and leaving the non-revenue territories unadministered. Ironically, it was the ILPS system introduced in 1873 which made this policy formal for the first time. This was followed by the Government of India Act 1919, which actually labelled the territory beyond the Inner Line as “Unadministered Areas”, and then the GOI Act 1935, which changed this label to “Excluded Area” but also bringing in some formerly “Unadministered Areas” which had become ready for a degree of modern law, such as the Mikir Hills and Khasi Hills, as “Partially Excluded Areas”. This policy was what was replicated in Manipur by the British, leaving the hills as unadministered by modern revenue mechanisms, but putting them under the broad gaze of the President Manipur State Durbar, PMSD, a British officer. In Assam on which this system was modelled, this role was taken by the Governor. The danger is, this unadministered status tends to self-perpetuate, ever widening the gap between it and the administered regions.

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