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Even in the darkest prosaic times of turmoil, hope in the poetry of life emerging as winner is never lost

Manipur’s Atavistic Nightmare Has Become a Free-For-All Feast for Armchair Commentariat

Manipur is now on the hot anvil of national consciousness – alas for all the wrong reasons. Even the ongoing monsoon session of the 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 – one 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, 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?” obviously referring to the swarm of fake news then of similar atrocities supposedly perpetrated by their adversaries.

The 26 seconds video, apparently taken stealthily by a possible whistle blower in the mob, begins rolling with a view of the floor of the road opposite the crime spot and then pans 180 degrees to where the women were being paraded, before panning away 360 degrees to return to the crime spot and then cuts. Was he avoiding the impression he was filming the crime? No more visual evidence is available than this, but many columnists eagerly concluded 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 duration of the video is nothing less than rape. They were however thankfully not murdered. 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 in the wake of the video. Maybe the story will change hue further 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 May 3 afternoon, there is nothing to excuse the state government’s complete mishandling. The May 3 violence at Churachandpur at the end of a tribal solidarity rally should have been anticipated and measures taken to prevent it. Given the mood amongst 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 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 since 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, considered a poetic interpretation of the Freudian personality dynamics of a perpetual tension between the instinctual drives of the Id, and the Superego representing civilisational norms. In this struggle, the rational Ego is the moderator.

In the novel, a group of school boys are the only survivors of a plane crash and are marooned in an uninhabited island. There, in their harsh struggle for survival, the veneer of civilisational values they were groomed in, slowly wear of, and 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 revert them back to atavism, each capable of extreme violence, including murder. The boys – now savages – seemed 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 nothing of the nature witnessed currently where entire populations seem mobilised for a fight to the finish. Residues of 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, leading to the present explosion. Unlike the transformation brought to the boys in Golding’s story after the arrival of their adult rescuers, in Manipur’s crisis, both the state and the central 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 phenomena inhibit 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 flattened.

The second inhibitors are often self-righteous commentators who deny the existence of this nuance within, and instead seek to demonise entire groups who fall out of their ideological spectrum. This eliminates the possibility of identifying areas with hope for bridge building between warring parties. This time, Meitei women groups (Meira Paibis), are in their crosshairs. They overlook or are ignorant of the fact Meira Paibis are not a single organisation under a single command.

Every Meitei village or colony (leikai), so also those of other communities, have these women’s groups, just as they also have youth organisations, student bodies etc., and each functions autonomously. It is in fact difficult to bring them on a single forum, except when overwhelming threats are felt to their larger community. 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 with others who felt it was not time yet for this. Some women are also known to have acted with cruelty, others with kindness, though only the former are generally noticed.

What one group does therefore cannot be generalised on all others, which these commentators insinuate freely. But in refusing to differentiate light from darkness in their adversaries, what they should know is they are themselves behaving like a sophisticated mob. They should know that in vilifying their hated “other” indiscriminately, they may be staring at their own Alter-Egos.

A slightly shorter version of this article was first published in The New Indian Express under  different heading. The original can be read HERE

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