Symbolism of shame

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The term ‘banana republic’ first made its entry into the English vocabulary when the American writer O. Henry used it to describe the fictional “Republic of Anchuria” in the book Cabbages and Kings , a collection of thematically related short stories inspired by his experiences in Honduras, during the 1896–97 period. The term acquires a different nuance in political science, where it is used to mean a servile dictatorship that abets or supports, for kickbacks, the exploitation of large-scale plantation agriculture, especially banana cultivation. In economics, a banana republic is a country/state/society operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by a collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, in which the profit derived from the private exploitation of public lands is private property, while the debts incurred thereby are a public responsibility. On all three accounts, Maipur rightly fits the description of being a banana republic. Tick point one for the lack of law and order where the public takes things into their hands and the law enforcers stand by, not to forget getting involved in crimes on their part and fake surrenders too. Tick point two for even without the banana cultivation, there are the cultivations of Government jobs and pay backs. Yes, we have a Government but one only in terms of seat numbers, and not in terms of governance or taking welfare initiatives for its citizens. Tick point three for how public property and even private property are being taken over for the commercial interests of the elite which translates to the contractor class and many others who cannot be named. But what truly makes the state of things in Manipur a pure banana republic is the nature of mob justice based on emotions and morality. With mobs, there can be no strategically planned actions since the main focus is on what is called the ‘heat of the moment’. Even as civil society groups and organizations demand that Government, ‘concerned authority’ and even the Courts must award befitting punishment to those involved in social crimes, there is growing habit for such groups to storm Court premises and take the law into their own hands.

More surprisingly, there has been no legal action being taken against such groups. Apart from the lack of any legal action being taken against those who incite mob culture, there manner in which anything and everything that a small vocal group shouts out loud is considered gospel and sacrosanct by the silent larger majority is disturbing. The role of women in leading such emotion ranting mobs into taking action and subsequently law into their hands in the manner they deem fit is cause for worry and calls for a serious contemplation on the nature and position of women in the society as they see themselves. If on one hand women are claiming that they are no second rate citizens and must be treated at par with their male counterparts, there must be a realization that women should not build stereotypes for themselves. But stereotypes it is they end of building and perpetuating when they use parts of the traditional women’s attire to shame people or stop people in their tracks. In doing so, they do not realize that they are party to the fact that women’s attire is lowly and impure. It means that women agree that the clothes they wear is not just a piece of material but a symbol and one that is not necessarily held sacred. Not surprisingly, such protests also takes place in others parts of the country with women asking those whom they think need to be shamed to wear bangles. In Manipur, it is the act of stringing phaneks together or using it to ‘beat up’ the other person that is considered shameful and humiliating. In both cases, the materials being used are   identified only with women. By using them on men, there is a tacit acknowledgement that women are inferior since the women are associating shame to the objects. The symbolism inherent in the objects used and the manner in which they are used only feeds to the social stereotype that women are second class citizens and accept that themselves. What greater irony could there be that women would go out of their way to shame but not realize that they are abdicating the shame of being a woman to others.

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