As a print edition, we are just two issues old now though as a web journal we have been around for a little over five months. We have our August print edition ready but we will be late in releasing it, not for anything else than COVID-19 lockdown. We sell and distribute through book stores and newspaper stands, and since they are currently closed there is no logic in our bringing the edition out while the lockdown lasted. We launched as a web edition in March, though in a rather hurried way as we felt that developments all around, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak was too urgent and important for anybody belonging to the state’s intelligentsia to remain silent. And by intelligentsia we mean the enlightened, educated section of our society who command some degree of influence as public opinion makers. Of course, this would without doubt include journalists, for they are an important agent in generating debates in the society but by no means are they the only ones. All thinkers from any walk of life who are capable of participating and contributing to the generation and honing of an intellectually critical atmosphere in the state, be in politics, theatre, cinema and all the other fields of arts and social sciences that determine the civilisational quality of a society, would automatically come under this category. The dictionary meaning of the term is: “a class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labours that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society.” When this class is either absent or silent, the standard of very agenda in a society gets degraded – politics especially. Under such circumstances, these debates also get to be taken over by semiliterate street-fighting vigilantes and demagogues. It was with these concerns in mind, and an eye on the responsibility on the shoulders of the intelligentsia that we decided to rush things up and join these debates within our own capacity. We felt even more compelled when the COVID-19 crisis broke out although there were much more preparations left to be completed then. We therefore have had to learn to rectify shortcomings on the move, and we must add, we are still having to struggle to overcome many more challenges.
If this is our first and half yearly self-assessment, we must say we have had moderate success so far but definitely not optimal. This is despite very poor material and human resources we had at our command. The biggest of these successes, in our opinion, is that we are coming to be a platform for some very talented young writers in practically every genre, to come forward and express themselves. Though as professional journalists we still remain committed to news and views of current events, our commitment is also to encourage the next generation to develop an interest in writing and communicating not just their thoughts on news events, but also speak the language of their heart and soul and communicate them, not always necessarily as journalistic reportage. We therefore have been carrying short stories, translations of literary works, essays, reviews of cinema, theatre and the arts. We will consider ours mission a success if we do manage to inculcate an enduring love for writing, communicating, debating, and indeed, a desire to set agenda for social debates, among the younger generation. This is also with the belief that a healthy society brimming with the finest creative energy, needs a critical questioning public, hungry to consume the best of thoughts and artistic creations thereby continually raising the bars for creative excellence. Without a mature, discerning, critical and well-informed audience, no artist or social thinker will be tested enough, and therefore no art form or political thought can achieve the potential for excellence they may have possessed. This was also what renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray once famously said with reference to Indian commercial cinema, attributing its low artistic standard to a largely immature Indian audience.
This interrelation is very much true of all fields in the public domain, not the least politics. Because our public and voters are non-discerning, non-questioning, non-critical and often ill-informed of the ideal creed of a democracy, we are in the mess we are in today. The manner in which those in power are making a mockery of rule of law today, and the impunity with which they have begun encroaching into what should have been allowed to remain as sacred domains of individual freedom, even as our people helplessly watch as if this is how power is meant to function, are just some examples of this dangerous trend. Over and above this effort to confuse private and public spaces by those in power, there is also a systematic smothering of critical voices in the society through unwarranted arrests and intimidations, often beyond the call of law. Debates are also being killed in the Assembly as we have all witnessed, and now even the intelligentsia is being sought to be harnessed and chained. The most recent example of this is the Manipur Government’s memorandum of August 10, 2020, citing and adapting Section 9 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rule 1964, forbidding academics employed in government colleges from participating in media debates without explicit permission from the government. The exasperated exclamation of Marcellus, a palace guard on night duty, to Horatio in Shakespeare’s great tragedy “Hamlet” that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” rings loud in witnessing what is happening in the state of Manipur today.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author