Beyond Presumptions

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Academics, and often journalism too, fall prey to what has been referred to as “axiomatic academics” or “axiomatic journalism”, as it were. Conflict studies, particularly in relation to the Northeast, and again particularly done by the numerous well-funded NGOs outside of this conflict region, are fond of this approach. Needless to say these studies are prone to a profusion of patronising advices and recommendations, the favourite one being that the civil societies of the warring communities must break ice and begin dialogue. By civil society of course they mean formal, supposedly “apex” representative bodies of the various communities. The presumption again is that in the Northeast, there are only communities and no individuals. They need only to go back and study the result of any of the Assembly elections held in the region to realise how superficial this presumption is. Time and again the voters have proven they are individual moral thinking agents, capable of making independent decisions, rather than someone easily swept by propaganda. Well, talks happen practically every day of the year, in the market places, amongst friends, colleagues, and the aggregates of all these daily interactions have been what enabled the communities to overcome even extreme and periodic strains in relationships. To be fair however, perhaps there is a certain degree of inevitability about “axiomatic academics” which involves conjuring up a “broad picture” or worse still, “conclusion”, about the issue to be scrutinized, and then going about trying to establish the veracity of that “axiom”. Undoubtedly, it will take supreme academic honesty, and indeed bravery, to at any stage own up that a preconceived “axiom” may have been imperfect, if not altogether unfounded, all along. So most of the time, the preoccupation of this brand of academics is to defend their pet “axioms”. The other fact is, these supposed “axioms” would have elements of truth in them, hence they will seldom appear totally wrong, but as the saying goes, half-truths cannot make a truth. In fact, it can in the ultimate analysis amount to a dangerous untruth.

Take a popular “axiom” about the ethnic relations in Manipur. Are Meiteis and Nagas, or Nagas and Kukis, sworn enemies? The same rhetorical question would equally apply to the relations between various communities in the state and indeed elsewhere. Especially in the event of the shape of underground politics in the last couple of decades, there can be no denying that a dangerous clash of interests has evolved. While the danger must be acknowledged, what needs also not to be ignored is that the history of relationships between these communities is not just about the last few decades, but extends much beyond. And the memories of their relationships are not always about conflict. Perhaps it is these abiding memories of good neighbourliness and fraternal bonds through the aeons that have prevented carnages even when everybody thought they were imminent. In June 2001 for instance, even in the midst of the inferno that state was in after the formal territorial extension of the Naga ceasefire to all Naga inhabited areas, not a single incident of communal killing resulted. Not in the valley nor in the hills, nor for that matter in Dimapur or Kohima. Instead amidst the cacophony of abuses and counter-abuses, there were touching stories of how the different communities went out of their ways to ensure safety of the other “supposedly” bitter rival communities. A lot did leave their places of stay, especially from the valley, but after the storm passed, everybody returned to their homes and went back to their normal lives. The “axiomatic” academics ignore this fact. They are quick to quote the fleeing but never the homecoming, for the latter phenomenon does not fit the popular script of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, where the IDPs are never ever able to live normal lives again even if they are brought back to their original places of residence. But the half-truth of quoting the fleeing without balancing it out with the homecoming amounts to a big untruth. The dishonesty may sustain a presumptuous “axiom” on which a whole theory was constructed, but hardly explain the reality, hence can never be in a position to recommend a realistic solution to the problem at hand. Unfortunately however, these inputs have been the mainstay of much of the Union government’s Northeast policies.

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