Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Moral Imagination is about the ability to discover the commonality of griefs and losses with other humans

In Any Conflict, Ability to See Commonality of One’s Grief and Those of the Adversary, Can Bring Mutual Redemption

Manipur is now into the second year of an unprecedented bloody ethnic clash between Kuki-Zo tribes who are concentrated in the foothills surrounding the central Imphal valley and Meiteis who live in the valley, claiming over 200 lives and displacement of an estimated 60,000 people. There have also been a matching scale of loss of homesteads and properties to arson attacks, and worse still the two sides have mutually ethnic cleansed each other from their traditional home grounds. In the higher reaches of the mountains are the Nagas.

Kuki-Zos have taken the heavier casualties especially in the initial days the violence erupted as there were more of them settled in the valley which is open to settlement by any Indian after the introduction of modern land revenue law in 1960 while Manipur was still a Union Territory, although Meiteis still form an overwhelming majority here.

This land law does not extend into the hills, except in some townships which opted in later years to integrate into the modern banking and financial system with mortgageable land holdings as currency. Although no law specifically states it, the general outlook is, Meiteis are prohibited from owning land anywhere except in the valley, hence Meitei settlement in the hills and foothills were limited to these few townships. There were also some more from the labour and professional classes taking residence in rented spaces to meet the calls of their professions and livelihoods.

The death toll ratio between Kuki-Zo and Meiteis hence would roughly be 3 to 2. This imbalance would be even more acute in property losses not only because there were more Kuki-Zos settled in the valley, but also because Kuki-Zos who chose to make the valley their home by and large belong to the affluent class.

However, in terms of displaced populations, the scale would be more balanced, and even may tip the other way. This is because besides homes abandoned in townships, there are also many wrecked peripheral villages where the hills meet the valley, belonging to both the communities, but Kuki-Zo villages are generally small, sometimes no more than a few houses, while Meitei villages on the average run into several hundred houses.

The displaced are now living in community run relief camps on both sides of the divide. Those who have visited even some of these would know of the sense of grief and loss the displaced are burdened with. None expected this crisis to last so long and now as initial anger slowly transform into despair, health workers predict onset of mental health issues of epidemic proportion if nothing is done.

All the while, the state as well as central governments have remained outrageously conspicuous by their absence, either clueless or else unwilling to intervene aggressively to bring the situation under control. Instead of any resolve to end the mayhem, they still seem more concerned conjuring scenarios behind which to hide their failures. The vacuum they have thus left in providing public security is now being filled by a plethora of armed militias.

Nobody has any doubt that the longer this conflict is allowed to persist in the absence of any tangible state intervention, more mutated versions of these conflict actors would emerge. These are no doubt grotesque phenomena the public dread and detest but at the same time cannot disown or rubbish, for they are also seen as their defenders.

Meanwhile, missing as the crisis continues to unfold is what has been referred to as the moral imagination by peace and conflict scholar John Paul Lederach. This is the ability of humans to see their own griefs and losses in their adversaries, and in the identification of their common sufferings, find mutual redemption. This generosity of spirit obviously is not going to come easily in the midst of a bloody conflict but for the return of peace, there will have to be some with the courage to swim against the tides of hatred and vengeance to discover what another scholar Steven Pinker has called the better angels of our nature. If hatred begets hatred to complete a vicious cycle, the faith must remain that love also will ultimately be reciprocated with love in a virtuous circle.

This article was first published in The Telegraph under a different heading. The original can be read HERE

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