Violence it seems is back in Manipur in all its different shades. The blast yesterday at Koirengei not far from the gate of the BSF base on the tarmac of the old abandoned Koirengei WWII airport, announced this in the most terrifying way. Two BJP troopers and three civilians were injured in the IED attack, re-introducing the smell of tragedy of conflict back in the state after a long lull. Earlier, it was JCILPS activists who took the law into their own hands to evict non-local fruit vendors occupying a pavement without permit but seemingly permanently. Though nobody was injured, the aftermath made a dramatic, if not macabre picture. In the latter case, as many have pointed out, the government was also largely to blame for taking a partisan stand, for whatever its compulsions, on the question of street vending, ruthlessly evicting some, while turning a blind eye to others. The question however remains as to whether violence can be the legitimate language to address these problems, and indeed whatever other problem. The fact is, there are many who still believes violence indeed is a legitimate language of the those who see themselves as disempowered, just as the most articulate messiah of this worldview is arguable none other than the iconic Martinique psychiatrist the late Frantz Fanon, author of the timeless “The Wretched of the Earth” and “Black Skin, White Mask”, which for many of the 1980s generation were the virtual bibles by their bedsides during graduation days. It is also quite obvious there are many who still hold whatever Fanon wrote as gospel truth, and are ready to justify, and even condone, the resurfacing violence in our society.
The trouble is, the colonialism Fanon wrote of is a very different animal than the conditions of social oppression that we are familiar with today, even with the AFSPA and other draconian laws. It was one of raw and complete racial segregation between the White settlers and Black (or coloured) natives of Africa over which they ruled. There was absolutely no room for intermingling. It was a world in which even Creoles were looked at with suspicion, but Mulattos were spurned and criminalized. In this Manichaean world, Blacks native were no more than beasts. Fanon, who was also Black, but curiously married to a White, was reciprocating this vision after turning it upside down. So he too saw the anti-colonial struggle through the lens of an irreconcilable “clash of civilization”, and we would even think Samuel Huntington borrowed this idea from Fanon, although with the dramatis personae changed. So for Fanon “decolonisation is quite simply the replacing of a certain ‘species’ of men by another ‘species’ of men,” or “decolonisation is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature…” or in decolonisation “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” This anger and radicalism and so too his advocacy for violence in the campaign against colonialism, is consistent throughout “The Wretched of the Earth”, the best known of his works. This advocacy can only be understood fully in the context of White colonialism in Africa but taken out of this context it does get a little too morbid. Where Fanon has had few or no peers, is in his understanding and articulation of the mind of the oppressed. “We have seen that the native never ceases to dream of putting himself in the place of the settlers – not of becoming the settler but of substituting himself for the settler.” In this same vein he even explains the desire of the elite amongst the native to have spouses from the settler ‘species’. Ironically, he himself ultimately was an example of this.
There are other Blacks who saw colonialism in other shades, and some example from literature will illustrate. Literature indeed often does come across as much more incisive in getting at the heart of any given human predicament intimately, and probably accurately too. Literature after all is life as seen by those who live it and not as by scientists in a laboratory. Nigerian writer, the late Chinua Achebe, a man who many believes should have won a Nobel, provides such a view. Achebe too laments strongly the loss of the native’s identity to transform into a new Colonial being, but at the same time looks at how this was part of an irreversible tide of time. Achebe acknowledges honestly that the native world Fanon wished to place on top was no paradise either, scarred by ugly customs of female oppression, child barter and human sacrifice. It is because the White settlers’ world offered liberation from these that the younger generation natives opted to abandon their leader Okonkwo, the chief protagonist of Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart”. Another French Algerian writer, Albert Camus, also tells of another aspect of the soul corrosion Colonialism brings to humans in his short story “The Guest”. In this touching story, the natives and settlers remain as different ‘species’, precluding any possibility of reconciliation even when the settler identifies, empathises and fights on behalf of the oppressed. Manipur must be cautious and know where to draw the line, and not allow itself to be carried away by rhetoric and sentiments.