Tragedies should be avoided, but if they have occurred, you might as well learn some vital lesson from them. They must make you rethink and reassess old ideas and beliefs in order that the society is better equipped to face similar challenges in the future. Paradoxical as it may sound, there is something to be gained from the tragedy that the state went through, or is going through as the case may be, by way of fresh insights into evolving administrative mechanisms and structures to contain the engaging issues of ethnicity and identity. The mass slaughter of migrant labourers in the past few days have added another indelible scar to the soul of the place, but ethnic friction in the state is hardly a two dimensional affair. If the government is not prepared, more disastrous explosions of communal violence in the near future are not at all impossible. Internal economic migration is one thing, but there is also the question of migration from neighbouring countries, most notably Bangladesh which has been a major issue in many neighbouring states, most notably Assam, but also including Meghalaya and Nagaland too. Manipur falls in the same belt, and there is nothing to stop this becoming an explosive issue here too.
It is now history that if the then Hiteshwar Saikia led Congress government had been a little more sensitive about the migration issue and not tried to make political mileage out of it, things in Assam could have been a lot different, and perhaps even the gory climax in 1983 culminating in the horrendous Nellie incident in which 3300 Bangladeshi migrants were massacred in the matter of a single night’s raid may not have happened. The incident, it may be recalled, was consequent upon the then Assam government insisting on holding election amidst protests by the All Assam Students Union, AASU, and others demanding the deletion of the names of “illegal” migrants from the electoral roll first. Saikia had even insisted that there were no “illegal” immigrants in Assam much to the chagrin of the agitators. Condemnable and undesirable as the Nellie massacre was, it needs to be also pointed out that the script of the story is still changing, and for the good or the bad, there can now be no question of another massacre of migrant settlers in the Morigaon area where Nellie is located, for according to news reports about a recent recall event of the tragedy in its 25th year in New Delhi, in which a book on Nellie was also released, the migrants are now in an overwhelming majority.
Migration into Manipur is also happening from the Myanmar side. The demographic profile of the south eastern region of the state is also in this way in a flux. This shift however has not been as conspicuous because of the similarity and affinities of the tribes living on either side of the border. Moreover, the danger of demographic upset is also far less from this side, as the areas adjoining the state from where the migrants originate are very sparsely populated. All the same, it would do well for the government to take stock and keep track to avoid bigger troubles in the future. Demographic changes, especially when it is too quick has always proven to be more than what the social organism can absorb without causing dangerous social trepidations. It is a sensitive issue, but one which must not be left unaddressed. A total ban on immigration is not possible or the suitable answer, but the state must know its absorption capacity and decide on plans of action. Those behind the Inner Line movement must factor these considerations in their future plans of action. If not for anything else, then at least for the sake of avoiding dangerous tensions in the future, the state must introduce some regulatory mechanism acceptable to all in the state.
Then there are also the traditional frictions between communities within the state, largely on account of incompatibilities of notions of land and ethnic homelands. Instead of rubbishing these issues outright, the government must sit down and begin the process of administrative and structural remedies. Maybe it could even think of partnering with the Manipur University to do peace studies on which policies can be based, for instance by offering scholarship for doctoral researches into these issues. Maybe it could also enlist the support of NGOs with established academic credibility in this project. Alternately, what may be the need of the hour are a few competent think tanks which are capable of providing research inputs and insights on these issues to policy makers.
Source: Imphal Free Press