Manipur’s tragedy beyond distortion

TK Arun

A constructive response to the atrocity in Manipur is to shun the politics that pits communities against one another.

Schizophrenia or hypocrisy? What explains the easy revulsion of the Indian public at the sight of two defenceless Kuki women being paraded naked by a mob in violence-stricken Manipur, even as the same public continues to endorse, by and large, the politics of casting an identifiable group in the role of the enemy, and stripping it, layer after layer, of dignity, liberty, security, the freedom to earn a living and, ultimately, citizenship?

Violence and actions that would debase our collective humanity are immanent in the project of creating and attacking internal enemies. If we see matchsticks and kerosene in the hands of someone who has been ranting about the accumulating rubbish in our midst as well as the purifying beauty of fire, and yet refuse to register the possibility of arson till we see a conflagration roaring its way in our direction, are we stupid or in thrall to the supposed virtue of the arsonist?

It is easy to hang our heads in shame at unmistakable atrocities, once they have been committed, but that is not the primary use to which that part of our anatomy has to be put, in the face of ample evidence of criminal intent on the prowl. It is our responsibility as citizens, as voters, to reject the politics of division and hate, and reject justification for such politics in terms of past grievances and the misdeeds of former rulers. And that calls for using the head not as a passive receptacle for sophistry that justifies sloughing off layers of culture and civilisation and stepping out as feral creatures wielding tooth and claw, but to discern and decide.

Constructive response is to revolt against politics of hate

The constructive response to the abdication of humanity in Manipur is to revolt against the politics that conditions people to, at the local leader’s cry, twitch their limbs into a reflexive but determined march towards division and destruction.

Lebensraum, urged the Fuhrer. Literally, that word means living room or the space that a people require to thrive, in the sense in which a tiger requires 20 sq km of grassland to sustain itself. Lebensraum served as the justification for war and German occupation of other parts of Europe.

Termites! Radio Rwanda spat out that epithet to describe the Tutsies. If the listening Germans and Hutus had used their head for purposes other than nodding in agreement and holding high in synthetic pride, history would not have been stained by the genocides that followed.

Sangh Parivar is conspicuously silent

The BJP and the larger Sangh Parivar have been seeking to build a Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu nation where non-Hindus live as second-class citizens. With a BJP government in power, its activists have attacked, intimidated, and humiliated India’s religious minorities, with relative impunity. The Sangh no longer openly justifies such behaviour, as it did in the works of its second, and most revered, Guru, MS Golwalkar, and claims to stand for equal treatment of all communities, in contrast to the appeasement of the past. But when its supporters wield its heady mix of religion and nationalism to justify their serial violations of the constitutional rights of anyone who stands in their way, the Sangh is conspicuously silent.

This politics of majoritarianism overlays the events in Manipur, whose BJP-led government has failed to quell the hostilities that started more than 80 days ago. The impotent Biren Singh government should be dismissed, the state brought under President’s rule, and violence stamped out at the earliest.

The relations between communities in Manipur have been fraught, for ages, true. Factors ranging from mass conversions to Christianity and the role played by the Indian state in mediating the balance of power among the region’s ethnic and religious minorities to extensive smuggling across the Myanmar border, tussle for control of smuggling routes and cultivation of poppy all probably play a role in keeping the cauldron of trouble in the region on the boil. Even in the absence of the BJP’s majoritarian politics, this cauldron could boil over.

Failure to stop violence leads to speculation of design and intent

But majoritarian politics of the party ruling the state, far from cooling passions, certainly works to inflame them further. Failure to stamp out the violence for nearly three months can only lead to speculation of design and intent, rather than to signal incapacity.

For the rest of India, it is vital to appreciate sectarian violence as something integral to majoritarian politics and subversive of building national integrity in a varied, complex country like India, with its myriad identities and pervasive material want that can be exploited to deepen fissures along the fault lines around each identity.

If we are truly shocked by the videos from Manipur and want to respond constructively, we must stop indulging politics that seeks to replace India’s constitutional idea of non-denominational citizenship with the concept of Hindu Rashtra. To continue to support majoritarian politics while posting WhatsApp messages of shame over Manipur is to lay the ground for replicating such atrocity right in our midst, yet again. That would not be mere shame but tragedy beyond travesty.

The article was first published in The Federal as The tragedy beyond travesty from Manipur on July 22, 2023. 

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