The recent incident of two students being killed by armed groups was reminiscent of ‘the kidnapping and killing of late Lungnila Elizabeth’ daughter of former Cabinet Minister Francis Ngajokpa, in late 2003. Manipur stayed united, every heart cried out for her, irrespective of hill, valley, or religious affiliations came out in the open against the cold-blooded murder of eight-year-old Elizabeth.
There is, however, a subtle difference this time, it was the Meitei who did the protest while the ‘others’ stood by watching people die. It would be a mistake to think of it as an anomaly since the perpetrators chose to kidnap and kill an innocent child. Having to coexist with people who they knew were responsible for their loved ones; deaths may not be simple for the parents of victims.
The Government’s position on the ongoing crisis infuriated the students. This can be visible through reading the many posters that ‘students’ protesters were carrying: ‘Justice for 2 victims’, ‘Unarmed teenagers cannot be treated like criminals, ‘Merciless beating of students, ‘Bring peace back to Manipur’, ‘Police brutality on students to be stopped’, ‘Let peace prevail in Manipur’, amongst others.
Ugly scenes broke out in the street despite the democratic protest, and the security forces—including members of the RAF—began firing several rounds of tear gas shells to disperse the rallyists, injuring around 50 students as per media reports. In the meantime, feelings of outrage and rage were gaining strength. The episode, on the other hand, is a manifestation of Manipur’s pervasive culture of violence and intimidation.
The Government held that the agency was holding a lawful investigation. The Central Government did nothing except watch and did not attempt to soothe or quell Manipur conflicts. This is evident in the summary extension of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the six hill districts. Everyone’s main thought was ‘human rights abuses and isolation enhance as military force engaged in counter-insurgency.’
Nothing has been settled here with militarisation for many years as in other parts of the country. However, nothing has been learned. More people are willing to believe that an extensive military presence at the border is blameworthy for the present crisis. The already fractured Manipur society has now further divided. What a shame—a hopeful tale has split apart and shattered.
The other story that surprised everyone is that of Chief Minister N. Biren Singh’s words the Central and State Governments are very serious about this case-‘Union Home Minister Amit Shah-ji called me up yesterday evening and told me that he is sending a CBI team on a special flight to investigate the particular case’ (ndtv, 28 Sept). But in this instance, there was a problem with the reasons best known to ‘themselves.’
Generally, it is brought up in private conversations about the numerous divisions within the ruling party. Not just the Government of India is blameworthy for the setback. The State Government’s failure to come up with a feasible and agreeable alternative is another source of disappointment.
Increasing number of people are accepting the notion that the people’s representatives are there just for financial gain and gladly dancing to Delhi’s tunes. The trust deficit has become visible. It continues into the depth of division, wherein the possibility of a peaceful society seems quite impossible to attain. In a sense, from the Meitei perspective, a deep sense of identity and ‘territorial integrity’ cannot be compromised — ‘illegal immigrants,’ demand for separate administration by the Kuki group. They (Meitei) assert that they and their ancestors held this land for thousands of years. The Kukis, on the other hand, under the nomenclature of the Kuki National Organization (KNO), quest for a separate Kuki administration. It is possible in the circumstances for Naga’s territory to be compromised. Sensing that the Naga aspiration for the integration of all Naga inhabited areas may be resumed, fuelling the conditions for a potentially greater inferno while intensifying the tension already created. From this perspective, in short, this impacts not only the multiethnic community’s ability to live in harmony but also the hostility among them.
On a deeper level, it is imperative to mention that social progress is hard enough to achieve in society with parochial identity thinking: ‘I’m the lynchpin of the society.’ The simple desire of every ethnic community, be it dominant or the minority in the State is to live in a ‘dignified manner.’ In another word, when others treat them as though they are useless, people feel resentment because they have a sense of self-worth. Such anger of emotion lead to the formation of different ethnic identities crafted in the idea of separate administration. I am often asked why people stay mute spectators if people appeal: ‘There are only dead bodies in this village. No crops in the fields. No proper school in the villages. Let’s live a dignified life without suppressing others.’ Sadly, such stories hardly get taken into people’s hearts. Key questions then aren’t societies egocentric and shortsighted, unable to address the needs of society ? Engaging with these questions lies at the heart of everybody. Nonetheless, it is crucial to stress, that this conflict may be only short-term, and that the trauma caused by the conflicts will take many years, and even generations, to heal.
But now, it is pointless to discuss who was responsible. The destruction of these institutions and other pillars of our society was caused by ‘all of us.’ It would have been good if one wish did not dominate others, but when all wishes unite the issue shall be productive. As a matter of fact, the Kuki intellectuals as well as the Meitei intellectuals should have taken up the ‘issue’ to solve collectively instead of having one’s interest. Is it too much to ask? One should think wisely peace cannot achieved without the capacity for mutual respect and in the present context this would entail respecting each other’s opinion and working together to find a solution. And let’s not murder to be the solution!
Heed the words of the former Union Secretary GK Pillai: ‘We must rebuild trust by dealing with the core issues. An apology, say by the Prime Minister or the Home Minister, for the mistakes made in the past could be a start.’ The writer is a PhD scholar (Economics) at Central University of Karnataka, Dept of Economics Studies and Pla- nning. He can be reached at [email protected]