Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Use is Food to a Dead Person ?

“Dear Sir, [T]he heart of every Indian beats with pride when you so courageously proclaimed that no citizen of this nation will go hungry despite the severe drought we are facing. At this juncture, we have one fundamental question! What use is food to a dead person?”

These are the opening lines of a memorandum submitted to Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, by 28 young Manipuris, residing across various parts of the world, on August 18, 2009. In addition, the memorandum, submitted in connection with the fake encounter at BT Road, Imphal on July 23, 2009 demanded imposition of President’s Rule, media attention to events taking place in the Northeast, resignation of Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi, prevent killings in Manipur and identification of able leaders to take the State forward.

Food, suffering & death

One needs to remember that as much as the French and the Russian (February) Revolution had their origin in bread (scarcity of food and starvation) and associated forms of oppression, food would carry no meaning if all the people were dead. In Manipur, too, the same question posed to the PM evokes irony if one looks at it in the context for demand for food. Two events are worth mentioning. One dates back to the British colonial times, in 1939, when womenfolk rose against the King-British-Marwari traders alliance that starved the people of Manipur through artificial creation of rice scarcity on account of exports for profit. Womenfolk were bayoneted, fired upon and thrashed. This historical event is popularly remembered as the Nupi Lal II in the history of Manipur.

Similar drama quite akin to the previous one of the colonial period was re-enacted in the post-independent era of India. Nearly four and half decades from today, to be precise on August 27, 1965, during Koireng’s Chief Ministership (before Manipur was “granted” Statehood), people were once again fired upon, thrashed and bayoneted for demanding food. For more than three weeks, the womenfolk of the valley begged rice from their own officials who recurrently promised to issue ration cards, but did not keep their words. Thousands of people, largely students and womenfolk gathered at Pologround, Imphal. Major demands of the people included assurance in writing for providing ration cards and keeping food reserves for the people. Instead of acceding to the demands, the State used violence as a solution. Four were shot dead, fifty were grievously injured, hundred were assaulted and sixteen were held captive. This day is popularly known as the Hunger Marchers’ Day, the 44th anniversary of which we recently observed. In spite of prolonged demand for judicial inquiry, the Delhi Government constituted a Mitra Administrative Commission, which obviously could not punish the killers or the perpetrators of violence, but indeed blamed the firing!

Two incidents, one occurring during the colonial period and another in the post-colonial era, centering on the issue of food, are too similar to be brushed aside as coincidental. In both the cases, the States relied upon the use of violence as if justifying the Weberian notion of the political. Max Weber defined an organization as ‘political’, for example the State, in so far as its existence and order is continuously safeguarded within a territorial area by the threat and application of physical force on the part of an administrative staff. Yenning’s inference, the character of the modern Indian State does not qualitatively differ from a colonial State as personified in the British Raj. Today, in case of Manipur, the issue is not about food to sustain life but about life itself. Subsequent happenings gripping the lives of the people only substantiate this analogy. Corollary understanding is Manipur is ruled by oligarchs, and they are remote-controlled by New Delhi.

Oligarchs ruling Manipur, today, consists of “elected” representatives, rent-seeking bureaucrats, police and army officers, and compradors consisting of Class I contractors, members of the State Chamber of Commerce and select local media owners. They are bound by an iron law as propounded by Mosca. Circulation of wealth and sharing of power is within these select few, rightly in a manner stated by Pareto. Under these conditions, it would be impossible to identify from amongst them, ones who genuinely stands for the people. Tacit silence from the Congressmen and others regarding the fake encounter at BT Road is a case in point. Over and above, oligarchs suffer from vice of “rewards”. They work for rewards from their masters under whose patronage they are bound together and in turn reward those under them. Gallantry award instituted by the Government of India is a fitting example. Killings in Manipur in the name of “law and order” are opulent shows, orchestrated to please those masters watching the ‘reality show’ from beyond the nine hills, so that spoils are equally distributed among themselves. Spoils here refer to doles/mullahs from the Central Government. The oligarchs mistakenly think that those who are superior in wealth should also have superior political rights. Aristotle rejected oligarchy on the ground that it assumes a false conception of political justice as well as the ultimate end of the State. The State is not a business association to maximise wealth, certainly not at the cost of the citizens.

On deaths & numbers
Death here refers to the victims of the armed-opposition movement in Manipur. We take the liberty of (further) analysing the data compiled by the 28 comrades (see Table). For want of space as well as to avoid repetitions, we have not included the data compiled by Coordination on Human Rights titled “Right to Life”. The report still remains one of the most authentic besides being a pioneering work related to human rights abuses and killings in Manipur, under the veil of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) up to the early phase of the 1990s.
An enigmatic aspect of interpreting numbers is that numbers cannot speak for themselves; plus, numbers can be misleading. For example, until the Tehelka exposure, none could verify existence of fake encounters in Manipur. (Here it is worth mentioning that fake encounters under the carpet of “real” serve the interest of the oligarchs; it is not so much about finishing insurgency in the real sense.) Thus, analysis pertaining to killing of underground activists is yet to be aided by a tested tool to exactly underpin the number of civilians tagged by the security forces as insurgents. Moreover, we are sorry for treating the departed souls as mere figures without telling the circumstances under which they died or about their lives.

Table : Estimated number of people killed in “armed encounters” in Manipur.
Source : Calculated from the data given in the memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister of India and others.

As the Table shows, close to 4,600 people have been killed in armed conflict in Manipur. Civilian casualty ranks highest comprising 44 per cent of the overall total, followed by underground activist with a percentage share of 39 and security forces with 17 per cent. In terms of compound annual growth rate (CAGR), killing of underground activist ranks the highest with 15 per cent over a period of 12 years. In the same category, a near double increase is witnessed during the second term of the SPF Government. Constraint of space forces us to omit interpretations of other details of the data.

Taking the current CAGR of each category of victim (see Table, 2008 as base year), Yenning estimates that by year 2013, close to 780 people will be killed in armed conflict. Number of underground activist is estimated to be highest with a percentage share of 61, followed by civilians and security forces with 46 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively.

Following assumptions (in the next five years) are taken into consideration for this linear projection:

1. AFSPA continues to be in operation
2. Counter insurgency operations by security forces in isolation or as combined teams continue at the present rate or escalates
3. Government continues to rule with the present
attitude and security forces given a free hand
4. Fake encounters continue
5. Current rate of militarisation of jobs in terms of recruitment in security forces continues
6. Current rate of expenditure on “modernisation” of State forces continues
7. Character of the Indian State and attitude towards Manipur remains the same
8. Others, such as insurgents continue to be on the run as is being witnessed today

These are not necessarily efficient and immediate conditions. Nevertheless, under these sufficient conditions, annual death toll is estimated to cross over 750 by year 2013.

What use is food to a dead person ?

In the face of the glaring statistics, a fundamental question that refuses to depart from our minds is that of value of a human being. More precisely as raised by the memorandum, “what use is food to a dead person?” We leave it to the larger populace including those at the helm of affairs to ponder over its normative content and take a moral stance. Time is ripe, we believe, to re-engage ourselves in values other than material. Perhaps, it is also the time we learn lessons from history and put our faith in the power of the people, not in the hands of a few oligarchs, for justice.

(posted on The Sangai Express, Imphal, english edition, on Sunday, August 30, 2009)

1 comment:

  1. love the article da homen. please keep writing this is what we can only do...