Fallen from grace


Rise, decline and fall are common historical realities. They are also a recurrent feature of our personal mortality, where decline comes naturally with age. Even when we fall, a natural instinct is to get up on our feet as soon as possible. Normally this should have served as a humble reminder of the dust that stands beneath our feet. Unfortunately for Manipur, it continues to dig deeper into the dust and ashes of fall and decline.

Perhaps the biggest casualty in Manipur’s fall from grace is the decline of ordinary civility. One of the features of this downward trajectory has been the total disregard for life and property. There is often a thin line drawn between the concept of right and wrong.

You block us, we block you. You kill one of us, we kill ten of you. If this medieval concept was meant to act as a deterrent, it should have succeeded with the first shot fired in anger. It has only succeeded in fanning the flames, and broadcasting our barbarism to the world.

A common question left unanswered is the expectation that common people have of one another. When each of them are bound by geography and occupation, we may have expected some degree of commitment – but to what?

Not to various definitions of homelands; that concept has never really captured the collective imagination. It remains at best a feel-good recording regurgitated by an overload of nostalgia, and an illusory slogan of a far away treasure in an abstract timeless dimension.

Not to India; the appearance of democratic structures has stood in some tension with the practical pluralism of our society. Most of us who mourn our lost civility quickly replace the loss with the all-powerful bargaining chip of the almighty rupee. Our allegiance is to the Reserve Bank of India first, and the rest of India later. Elections and Governments come and go, the rupee remains faithful and steadfast.

It is a special kind of commitment, stripped of the historic mystical connotations of loyalty to God, nation, state and King. We stand partly by choice, partly by necessity, on narrower ground. Ours is a duplicitous allegiance of mutually distrusting cultures, and our people and politics are basically Judaic in character; it does not lend itself to any form of righteousness, but still rubbishes itself and others with the same puritan language.

We only have to look at our own situation to realize the extent of our downfall. It is reflected in our (non) sense of time, our inability to work methodically and sincerely, our acceptance of bureaucratic hierarchies, and our habitual orientation to get the maximum by doing the minimum.

Consider, for example, the fact that each of us, at some point of time, will procure our quota of fuel from the black market with an exaggerated fuss, but we will quietly pay anyone and everyone selling a coveted government job without so much as a whisper.

Consider also, that most of us pay little or no taxes to the government, but we will promptly pay ten times that amount towards extortion demands. We ourselves are the calculators and the collectors; the extortion system could not and will not succeed without our consent. Surely the extortion system in Manipur is a triumph of its civilization. There are very few Nation States within which one can imagine such a system working.

Clearly, our habits have changed for the worse. We have grown less law-abiding and more gun-abiding. The law exists only to be taken into one’s own hands. The rise of the mob and the militia coincided with the fall of civic consciousness, which also suggests that we have become more accustomed and tolerant to violence now than in the past. If civility has been burnt at the stake, then incivility has been raised to a new pedestal.

The loudest voices heard in that elevated place are those struggling with excuses and accountability. The Rambo approach, set it in the context of a larger societal decline, is a game called moral annihilation, in which you don’t just disagree with your opponent, you destroy him.

Contemporary societies require an intense form of social discipline, and this discipline is probably the only factor which sets apart a progressive society from a declining one. Perhaps it is time now to introspect and restore that discipline. History will not only look at how many monuments we have built. It will also record the number of bridges we have burnt.

Source: Imphal Free Press


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