‘Generalisation’ in Manipur strife hindering peace
There is no excuse for the state government’s complete mishandling. The violence in Churachandpur at the end of a tribal solidarity rally should have been anticipated.
Manipur is now on the hot anvil of national consciousness—alas, for all the wrong reasons. Even the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament had to be adjourned for several days because the treasury and Opposition benches are unable to agree on a discussion on the state.
The trigger is a short and shocking video clip from May 4—a day after the ethnic violence broke out in the state—in which two Kuki women were seen paraded naked by a Meitei mob. This video surfaced on July 19, a full 77 days after the crime. One in the mob is heard shouting repeatedly: “It’s okay when you did this to us, is it?” This obviously referred to the swarm of fake news buzzing around at the time, claiming that similar atrocities were faced by Meitei women at the hands of Kuki men.
The 26-second video, apparently filmed stealthily by a possible whistleblower in the mob, was the only known video evidence of the incident. However, many columnists eagerly concluded that the two women were thereafter gang-raped and murdered.
Were they? Even if forced intercourse did not happen, what the two women were put through even during the filming of the video is nothing less than rape. They were, however, thankfully not murdered. An interview of one of them at a relief camp in Churachandpur appeared as early as June 12 on a Delhi-based web portal but went largely unnoticed. Several more interviews of them are now available. Maybe more hues will be added to the story after hearing how they were clothed and helped thereafter to reach Churachandpur, 50 km away from their village, safely. For now, let everybody leave them alone to recover from their trauma.
In the savagery that Manipur has descended into since the afternoon of May 3, there is no excuse for the state government’s complete mishandling. The violence in Churachandpur at the end of a tribal solidarity rally should have been anticipated and measures should have been in place to prevent it. Given the mood of the Kuki-Zo community at the time on account of the government’s unnecessarily loud, accusative and brash handling of issues such as immigration, forest encroachment and the poppy menace, and the tensions which resulted from them, the possibility of violence on May 3 should have come across as very likely.
Manipur’s madness is also strongly reminiscent of the frightful sketch of the human personality by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding in his 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. This is considered a poetic interpretation of the Freudian personality dynamics of the perpetual tension between the Id, representing instinctual drives, and the Superego, representing civilisational norms. In this struggle, the rational Ego is the moderator.
In the novel, a group of schoolboys are the only survivors of a plane crash and are marooned on an uninhabited island. There, in their harsh struggle for survival, the veneer of civilisational values they were groomed in slowly wears off, and they are left to be defined by the primaeval, raw, instinctual drives within them. The dark energy unleashed, devoid of the sublimating influence of any external order, is enough to make them revert to atavism, each capable of extreme violence, including murder. The boys—now savages—seem trapped in this fate until an adult search party discovers them. Almost instantly, as if awakening from a nightmare, they become children again, many sobbing with relief that adults have arrived to take care of them.
Something in the soul of Manipur also snapped. The state is no stranger to violence but has never seen anything like the ongoing strife, where entire populations seem mobilised for a fight to the finish. The perceived senses of insecurities and injustices among its different communities, long ignored as insignificant, seem to have built enough steam within the Manipur pressure cooker with too few safety valves, resulting in the present explosion. Unlike the transformation seen in the boys in Golding’s story after the arrival of their adult rescuers, in Manipur’s crisis, both the Central and state governments have not shown the ability or commitment to exercise authority—moral or coercive—to restore order.
Golding’s portrayal of the human predicament has been criticised as unduly pessimistic and dismissive of the immense bright spots within humans which parallel the dark infantile energy. Empathy is the foremost of these. Two inhibitors prevent this light from coming to the fore. One is the familiar wisdom that when hawks and doves are together, only the hawks are heard and in time, the doves, too, begin to speak hawk language. In a mob, the moral autonomy of individuals generally ends up flattened.
The second inhibitor: the self-righteous commentators who deny the existence of these nuances. They instead demonise entire groups which fall out of their ideological spectrum, thereby eliminating the possibility of bridge-building between the warring parties. This time, Meitei women groups (Meira Paibis), are in their crosshairs. They overlook or are ignorant of the fact that Meira Paibis are not a single organisation under a single command.
Every Meitei village and colony (leikai), as also those of other communities, have these women’s groups, just as they also have youth organisations, student bodies, etc., with each functioning autonomously. It is, in fact, difficult to gather them in a single forum, except when overwhelming threats are felt to their community at large. Even in the course of the current crisis, there have been times when some of them called for the chief minister’s resignation and struggled to reason with others who felt it was not the right time yet for this. Some women are also known to have acted with cruelty, and others with kindness, though only the former are generally noticed.
What one group does, therefore, cannot be generalised for all others. But in refusing to separate the light from darkness vis-à-vis their adversaries, what these commentators should know is that they are themselves behaving like a sophisticated mob. They should know that in vilifying the hated “other” indiscriminately, they may be staring at their own alter egos.
Imphal Review of Arts and Politics Editor,